Building a community where there wasn't one before.
San Diego Sport Innovators started within the CONNECT organization. Recognizing San Diego's thriving sports industry as a growing vertical in the region, CONNECT SI was formed to create a central platform that brought businesses, entrepreneurs, research, resources and ideas together to move the industry forward. In 2010 CONNECT SI adopted its own name, and branched out as San Diego Sport Innovators or SDSI, as NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Walton, lead the organization as Executive Chairman of the Board.
Today, San Diego Sport Innovators mission is to establish San Diego (and Southern California) as the core of the healthy living, sports and active lifestyle community. Through supporting companies at all stages, we help create jobs, but not just any jobs, jobs that make our city and our residents, and ultimately our nation, a healthier, happier place to be.
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!"
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.
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
Dana Rowley, Mentoring Programs Coordinator
Dana has worked with SDSI in multiple capacities, first working with the organization as the Marketing Director for a member company, to volunteering as a mentor and now joining SDSI part time as the Mentoring Programs Coordinator. A marketing professional with over ten years of experience, Dana is a Marketing Consultant and Brand Strategist serving small businesses and startups, and enjoys bringing her unique multi-angled perspective to the SDSI team. With a degree in Sociology from the University of California Santa Barbara, Dana has varied experience spanning many marketing disciplines and industries from FM Radio Promotions to Sports Accessories. In addition, Dana has a life long love of the water and has a history of coaching and teaching swimming to all ages and ability levels.
Raised: San Diego, CA
Education: University of California, Santa Barbara
Favorite Sport: Oh so many!! I love all things water and regularly swim, surf and stand up paddle. I've also maintained a consistent yoga practice for over 10 years, as well as love to snowboard and hike with my husband and dog. I'll even admit my guilty pleasure is dancing - you can catch me from time to time in a Zumba or UJam class at the YMCA.