The Port Workspace, Jack London District (317 Washington Street)

I was struck when reading a recent article published in the San Francisco Business Times about the amazing success that creation of co-working spaces has had in San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area.  Not one single mention of Oakland in that mix: San Francisco, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Walnut Creek — all get a mention, but not the City in between San Francisco and these far, far East Bay cities.

Interesting. The home to innovative and growing tech companies like Livescribe, North Social, Orb.com, Lucid, Outbid.com, Forcebrain; larger enterprise companies like Pandora, Bear River Associates, Ask.com; and a growing class of young techies and geeks that fill up Awaken Cafe, Farley’s East and other eateries — not a mention.

Oakland is a startup City.  Of 16,681 total businesses in Oakland, Demographics Now 2011 business data reports:

  • 67% of Oakland businesses have fewer than 5 employees (11,171 businesses)
  • 16% of Oakland businesses have fewer than 10 employees (2,704 businesses)
  • 1.4% of Oakland business have over 100 employees (219)

Demographics Now doesn’t report how many of these businesses are technology businesses.  It reports only that 4.5% of the total 170,000 Oakland jobs are “technologies and technicians”.  This number ignores the thousands of Executive Managers and Administrators, Administrative Support, Sales Professionals and others that support Oakland’s growing tech industry.

““There’s an amazing number of entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. It’s almost a bit overwhelming at times,” said Sande Golgart, western region vice president of Regus, a large business center operator in SF.  So it’s not a stretch to assume that many of these entrepreneurs are located in the East Bay.

We’ve clearly heard the plea at techies who gather at Tech Liminal, Code for Oakland, SV Forum East Bay and other tech spaces and events: “We don’t want to go to SF and Silicon Valley for events, meetups and space — we live in Oakland, we want to innovate, create and grow technology here in Oakland. We just need space to do it here in Oakland!”

Their plea has not fallen on deaf ears. Oakland is on the edge of an explosion of co-working and incubation space:

  • Tech Liminal, 268 14th Street: Anca Mosoiu founded this community-focused technology salon and co-working space several years ago.  With a degree in technology from MIT, experience in startups and gigs at companies like Razorfish, Sony, Juniper Networks and Cisco, Anca came home to Oakland to develop her vision of a world of accessible technology tools.
  • The Port Workspace, 317 Washington Street: With a soft opening in June 2012, this gorgeous if atypical co-working space is being developed by The Oakland America Company, partners Joel Poole and Michael Carilli.  Space offers traditional plug and play co-working and small office space with shared meeting and meetup spaces.
  • CallSocket, Tribune Tower, 409 13th Street: With Allan Young, serial entrepreneur and graduate of Y-Combinator at the helm, the renaissance of the Tribune Tower into a tech-based call center, software incubator and co-working space just may turn the iconic Tribune Tower into the center of technology entrepreneurship in Oakland.  Chris Pastena, the co-creator of Jack London’s District’s popular Chop Bar, is opening his second Oakland restaurant in the ground floor, the Tribune Tavern. Food, drink and technology — we’re excited!  The building should be ready for occupancy early in 2013.
  • Hub Oakland, 23rd and Broadway: There are 8 co-Founders of this franchise space, looking to expand the success of Hub San Francisco and Hub Berkeley to the former Saturn dealership space in the Uptown District.  With over 20,000 s.f. to fill, Hub Oakland is expected to provide community co-working space to a variety of industries: food, technology, social enterprise — if there’s an entrepreneur out there who is looking for a home, you’ll want to check this space out sometime in Spring 2013.
  • SFUN Solar Incubator: Sungevity is using its space at The Market building in Jack London Square to shepherd the kind of tech companies that Founder Danny Kennedy believes will be most transformative to the solar sector.  Solar Mosaic is Sungevity’s first partner in this space, and Hub Oakland is working there while its space in the Uptown is being readied.

There are other opportunities also being explored.  With Digital Realty anchoring the access to broadband in the Jack London District, combined with the plentiful existence of cool and relatively empty industrial space favored by growing technology companies, look for more tech business activity along Oakland’s waterfront in the months and years to come.

What will it take for these spaces to succeed and grow in Oakland?  It’s not just about building community in these spaces — it’s also about providing these entrepreneurs with the resources they need to succeed: skilled workforce, the right kind of affordable real estate to expand into, access to capital, ease of doing business with the City and other governmental agencies, networking opportunities with other entrepreneurs, access to affordable event space, access to excellent and affordable business services.

And yes — maybe even some effort by the City of Oakland to develop and maintain an experienced economic development team that is properly resourced to become an effective partner for business in this City.

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