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With so many unique and inspiring companies popping up throughout the neighborhoods of San Diego, we decided it was time to highlight those entrepreneurs who are leading the booming businesses of this thriving, cultural city. After polling the people, we received nearly 10, 000 votes for the winners of San Diego’s Entrepreneurs to Watch. In this feature, we want to share with you applicable career advice from these five, outstanding entrepreneurs (chosen by you!) as well as how they are applying the guidance of their former mentors to make an impact in their industries. From bananas to bartending, this group of business owners is driven by the desire to make a difference in their local communities.

An Interview with San Diego Entrepreneur: Matt Clifford

Barnana & TEDx La Jolla

Q: How long have you been in your roles as COO of Barnana and Program Director of TEDx La Jolla, and what do those roles consist of?

MATT CLIFFORD: We started Barnana in November, 2011. I have two incredible partners, Caue Suplicy and Nik Ingersoll. As COO, I focus mainly on operations and sales.

Mitch Thrower started TEDx La Jolla about three years ago. TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference, bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. All TEDx events are independently organized and bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less.

Q: Can you take us through a typical work day in the life of Matt Clifford?

MC: Funny, we started Barnana to avoid the typical work days. Actually, we strive to perpetuate oddities and randomness in the workday; however, some habits tend to develop. (E.g.: Yerba Mate in the AM, a solid run sometime in the afternoon.)  The day varies considerably, but I spend a lot of time working with our partners to spread the goodness of Barnana, from the Farm to our manufacturing facilities to our retail outlets such as Whole Foods and Sprouts. entrepreneur

Q: What influenced you to choose your career path?

MC: I’ve never had a defined carrier path. As a sophomore in college, I thought I had it all figured out, but I think that only lasted a semester. I believe a genuine interest in others and a thirst for learning has helped me navigate the incredible journey. There is no clear correlation between technology and banana’s, but I’m sure when looking back, the dots will connect in some logical fashion. I’ve been blessed with incredible mentors that have reminded me to stay curious; they have provided priceless sage advice and guidance when presenting a host of wild ideas and opportunities.

Q: How do you hope to change or impact your industry?

MC: Since neither my partners or I have a specific background in the food world, we are able to see the industries’ opportunities and challenges in a different light. We are applying a lot of interesting technologies to our internal operations, as well as our supply chain to produce a premium organic product at a reasonable price for our customers. entrepreneur

We want to build healthier communities by spreading the goodness of natural and organic foods. There are a few notable brands with deep values holding the flag high for organic foods. We are working with the industry to promote simple organic wholefoods to the masses. As a product we are seeing a shift, with more and more traditional grocery outlets adopting a wider range of healthy organic foods, the less high fructose corn syrup we see on the shelves, the better.

Q: Why do you think you were chosen as one of San Diego’s Top 5 Entrepreneurs to Watch?

MC: Is this a trick question? Maybe it’s because someone was crazy enough to nominate me, and I have a lot of friends on Facebook…

Or maybe because there are not many people who are in the banana business, and everyone loves bananas!

On a more serious note, there are a host of incredible entrepreneurs in San Diego, many of whom deserve to be featured here as well. I’m a firm believer in community and diligently selecting who you surround yourself with. I’ve been fortunate to have an incredible peer group that makes the lows in entrepreneurship much less painful and the highs much more enjoyable. Perhaps we find comfort in uncertainty and have an incredible passion for what we do. I have a simple tenet in life: “To leave people happier with every encounter;” that’s probably why I have the same smile on my face when I wake up as when I go to bed.

Q: For our aspiring entrepreneurs, what one piece of valuable advice would you give them? entrepreneur

MC: Eat a lot of bananas.

Heed the advice of all, but act on the advice of few.

Always give more than you receive.

Have an obsession for what you do.

Lastly, it’s better to be lucky than smart, but you better know the difference.

Q: If you could have lunch with any prominent figure – either historical or present-day – who would it be, and why?

MC: Hands down, Dr. Benjamin Franklin. Dr. Franklin was not only an incredible entrepreneur, but a scientist, an inventor, a civic activist, and a statesman. He was proud of his working-class roots, and spent incredible time developing his character. Franklin was foundational in defining the American ethos and the practical values of thrift, hard work, education and community spirit. He was a man of great success and accomplishment but never let the follies and foibles of achievement get the best of him.

Q: When you’re not changing the world at work, you are …? entrepreneur

MC: Training. We usually do one or two Iong-distance triathlons each year. This year, it’s Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, which I should be training for now. I also like to get lost in audiobooks, usually books on history, behavioral economics and business. Lastly, enjoying the beauties of life. We try and travel as often as possible, preferably somewhere tropical.

Q: Where is your favorite San Diego hangout?

MC: Brick n Bell Café, La Jolla. I love coffee and the vibe at coffee shops. It’s an opportunity to connect with others, share stories and collaborate. entrepreneur

Top 3 Proudest Career Accomplishments  

1) Starting a banana business – The team we have at Barnana is world class. We’ve entered what many would call a crowded and commoditized market, and brought life, energy and loads of fun. Additionally, the untraditional nature of what we do makes it inherently exciting. It reminds me of an Emerson quote: “Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”We’re leaving a trail of banana peels so it’s easier to follow.

2) Producer of TEDx LaJolla – at TEDx LaJolla we brought the community together to share ideas and make change. We’ve produced three events challenging the community to collaborate and expand horizons of what is possible. entrepreneur

3) Founding Member of Junto  –


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