Twenty five years ago, the City of San Diego, UC San Diego and the private sector set out to stimulate the commercialization of science and technology discoveries from the local research institutions. They created CONNECT with the mission of commercializing research discoveries through education, mentoring and access to resources needed to grow and scale. 

In 2008, the CONNECT Board, and a few local Sports and Active Lifestyle Business Leaders, recognized San Diego's thriving sports industry as a growing vertical in the region. However there was no organization acting a central platform to bring the businesses, entrepreneurs, research, resources and ideas together to move the industry forward. CONNECT SI was created to do just that. In 2010 CONNECT SI re-branded as San Diego Sport Innovators or SDSI, and NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Walton, was recruited to lead the organization as Executive Chairman of the Board and a dedicated staff was brought on to support organization and the mission of SDSI.

Today, SDSI's mission is to make San Diego the Capital of the Sports and Active Lifestyle Industry. Our membership is comprised of nearly 90 SAL companies across San Diego County and SDSI has established itself as the go to resource to help SAL businesses, and the industry, grow through; networking & connections, executive education and supporting young and growing companies through business mentoring.


Bob Rief, Executive Director

Long-time businessman in the ski, outdoor, golf, and surf world. "I started as a ski technician and lift operator while struggling through the University of Colorado. In the course of too many years to recount, or recall, I held positions as marketing director and sales manager at Nordica USA, VP of sales and marketing for Swiss-based Raichle-Molitor, GM of Merrell Footwear, president of Nike Golf, VP/assistant to Ely Callaway of Callaway Golf, CEO of Reef sandals and Sanuk Footwear,  Operating Officer for Boardworks and C4waterman and most recently CEO of OTZ shoes. In the course of life I have had the pleasure of working with bigger than life founders, great retailers, and  a deep group of Waterman. I have seen it all, from failure to transactions, and occasionally wonder at it all while perched on the tailgate of my Woodie, usually at the Cardiff Reef; usually over a BBQ and a cerveza. I hope to pass on the experiences I have had to younger entrepreneurs here in our amazing San Diego, in the hopes they will rise higher and make one less mistake than I did!"

Phone: (858) 245-5943


Renne Catalano Gussman, Director of Business Development

Renne has dedicated the last seven years to supporting the growth of the Sports and Active Lifestyle (SAL) industries and helping aspiring SAL entrepreneurs reach their goals through her work with San Diego Sport Innovators (SDSI) and its business accelerator, SDSI Springboard. Since joining SDSI in 2010 as its second employee, Renne has played a pivotal role in the organization’s growth, the development of SDSI Springboard, helping to establish San Diego as the home of the SAL industries and educating the business community on the $1.8B (and growing) impact the SAL cluster has on the regional economy. As the Director of Business Development, Renne oversees the organization’s membership, which is at a historic high of 100 member companies. Renne also oversees SDSI Springboard growing Springboard’s mentor group to nearly 40 executives and developing the program to one with a meaningful impact on the entrepreneurial community. A staggering 89 percent of SDSI Springboards’ 61 graduates are still in business. They have created nearly 400 jobs and raised $47.5M in funding.  

Raised: Averill Park, NY
Education: State University of NY College at Geneseo and Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC
Favorite Sport: Surfing is my favorite obsession, running keeps me sane and soccer was my first love.
Phone: (518) 265-1777


Nick Roth, Program Manager

Nick joined the SDSI team in 2013 and assists Executive Chairman, Bill Walton, supports the SDSI team for events, assists with membership, and helps as needed for the day to day business the organization. Nick came to SDSI from South Florida after a 9 year hiatus from Southern California.  After college, Nick worked for Fenway Sports Management in Boston before taking a position with the Miami Dolphins Youth Programs Department doing a number of community events impacting over 140,000 kids in the area.  Nick has also coached various lacrosse teams ranging from 7-8 year old travel teams to High School.

Raised: San Diego, CA
Education: Santa Clara University
Favorite Sport: Grew up playing many sports but lacrosse and surfing are the two things I still love to do as often as possible
Phone: (858) 353-1428