Mitch Kapor: Oakland's time is already here!

Steven Loeb · May 6, 2014 · Short URL:

Kapor kicked off Splash with talk of Oakland's unique and diverse culture making it a great tech hub

To kick off our inaugural two-day Splash Oakland event on Tuesday, Mitch Kapor took the stage to sit down with Vator founder and CEO Bambi Francisco to talk about what makes Oakland special, as well as how, and why, it is transforming into a vibrant new tech hub.

First, he compared the emerging tech scene in Oakland to, of all things, climate change.

"Oakland's time is coming. In fact, it is already here. Like climate change, it is not some future thing that may happen, tech is coming to Oakland already!" he said.

And that is partially because of rent pressure in San Francisco and other parts of the Bay, to be sure, but there are also those factors that make Oakland so unique.

"The thing that is particularly exciting is that Oakland not just any place and, exactly contrary to Gertrude Stein's 'there's no there there,' the here here, for us, and our focus on social impact, is terrific because of the history of progressive politics in Oakland, and the fact that it is multi-ethnic, racially diverse, community, and it has been for a long time. It has been a home to the arts and to creativity in multiple space," he said.

Those factors also are a big contributor to how Kapor chooses to invest through his Kapor Center for Social Impact.

Startups are not neutral, he said: they either have a positive or negative impact. They either create value, and add something to the world, or they don't. 

"Our approach to startups, and why he think its a good match for Oakland, is to talk about it and to fund and work with entrepreneurs that are not just creating economic value but social value as well, for instance by closing gaps and access or an opportunity in an area of education or health or financial inclusion, and Oakland is a terrific atmosphere and environment for those kinds of startups," said Kapor.

"With this history and who lives here and what the community Is like, our hope is that we’ll not just see startups in general here, but Oakland will become known for a significant number of social impact startups, which we aim to be one of the principal funders of."

For example, he pointed to a company called Schoolzilla, a data management and analytics dashboard that helps schools, teachers and administrators know what’s going on and how students are performing. The company focuses on underprivileged children, in the least advantaged schools, and ensures that they have the best tools.

In another example, he spoke of a health company that developed a wireless sensor on top of emergency asthma inhalers, so that when the person uses it, it broadcasts message to cloud. This helps the company to identify patients who are heading to crisis, or to remind them to take their medicine, thereby saving them trips to emergency room.

"We look for entrepreneurial commitment to building a business that's in ways that disproportionately benefit in low income, communities of color or other underserved kinds of groups," said Kapor. "We've looked for business models that the more it succeeds economically, the more impact it has"

The Center looks for founders with a diverse background because "we think it's very important for the success of a business that the team reflect the community that is being served." 

"Entrepreneurs scratch their own itch. The problems that they face become the opportunities that they see. And, if you've had a different lived experience, you're going to see different problems and, therefore, different opportunities," he said.  "It turns out that entrepreneurs from a more diverse background see a broader and more interesting, set of issues and problems, and we seek out entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds for that very reason. They are very often doing the most interesting social impact startups and they're doing things in a way that others really can’t do because their knowledge and passion really comes out of their experience." 

That being said, he made sure to note that the Center does not try to fill quotas; what's most important is that the entrepreneur, be it a white male or a minority, is trying to a serve broad consumer market that reflect the market.

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

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Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.