Vator Splash: Silicon Valley is coming to Oakland

Steven Loeb · May 9, 2014 · Short URL:

Speakers from Oakland Mayor Jean Quan to MC Hammer to Gary Rogers talk Oakland's emerging tech scene

The big theme of this week's Vator Splash Oakland was the emergence of Oakland as a tech hub, with entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders from the community coming to discuss what makes the city such a unique and, ultimately, good place to foster innovation. 

Here's a recap of just some of the people we were honored to welcome at the event, and what they had to say about Oakland's future:

To kick everything off, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan made a brief speech in which she talked about making tech in Oakland a big priority going forward.

Tech is key to the city's future, as well as its revival, going forward, she said.

Vator's founder and CEO Bambi Francisco (pictured above with Quan) kicked off the event with a slide show, where she spoke about the evolution of Oakland, how much VC capital has gone into the city in recent years, and the benefits of not having to work in San Francisco (hint: rents are a lot cheaper in the east bay!)

"If you're a startup or investor, you don't have to consider planting yourself in Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is coming to us and together we can shape it and create it in an inclusive way," Francisco said.

She emphasized the parallels between Oakland today and San Francisco circa 1999 and how SOMA (south of market)/China Basin was at the time a desolate and barren place but over 10 years would become the epicenter of the tech boom.

The reason for that was because "PacBell Park helped bring in surrounding real estate development that created neighborhoods that attracted today's generation of entrepreneurs: young, hip, cool, single, newly-married, desiring urban density and affordable housing. Oakland has the same assets and the proposed ballpark on the waterfront for the Oakland A's would be a great catalyst to ignite Oakland's tech ecosystem."

The numbers tell the story, she said.

In 2003, San Francisco accounted for 5% of all VC dollars invested in the Bay Area. Today, in the first quarter of 2014, SF accounted for 50%, according to Dow Jones VentureSource.

Importantly, San Francisco accounts for the lion's share of seed- to early-stage funding which is creating a city that's full. And that's an opportunity for Oakland. 

Oakland has an opportunity like never before because the foundation is now in place, and it's already seeing the venture dollars flow in, she said.

In the first three months of this year, Oakland saw $98 million in venture capital financing invested in Oakland-based startups, that's nearly 80% of all the dollars invested in the city last year. 

"Oakland has VCs, accelerators, startups, and developing neighborhoods that's making Oakland cool for today's generation of entrepreneurs," Francisco said. 

On the next day, Ezra Roizen, investment banker at Ackrell Capital, and Chairman of Vator, underscored these same points. "As Oakland's tech ecosystem is built up," he said. "We need to be mindful about preserving diversity, maintaining our neighborhoods and creating jobs at all levels.

"Oakland is in an unique position to be thoughtful about how the tech ecosystem evolves and it should embrace the creative class and ensure opportunity for all," Roizen added.

Here is Francisco and Roizen's full presentation:

Another of our honored guests was Mitch Kapor, of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, who discussed what makes Oakland unique, and why he likes to invest in startups in the community.

"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 spaces," Kapor said.

One of the coolest guests we had (at least to me) was MC Hammer. Most people still probably think of Hammer as the "U Can't Touch This" guy, but in the ensuing years he has become much more than that: not just a big-time tech investor but also a major promoter of Oakland as a city.

“I’m very sensitive to the way words are phrased when we speak about Oakland,” said Hammer. “Any time Oakland is spoken of in the sense of ‘lesser than’ or ‘stepchild’—that’s not the character of Oakland. You never meet anyone from Oakland who gives off a lesser-than spirit. We’ve never looked at ourselves that way.”

Another of our speakers was Sungevity co-founder and President Danny Kennedy, who spoke about the future of solar.

"The future of solar is the market we know now as electricity," said Kennedy. "The disruption that is coming is not just the disruption of telephony, through a semi-conductor or a silicon ship, but it is the disruption of the market known as electricity."

And where is that change happening? You guessed it: Oakland.

"Oakland is the heart of the future of solar," he said, and specifically he called Jack London Square, where the event was held, the "epicenter of the future of solar."

We also welcomed two entreprenuers who, while not neccesarily from tech companies, still represented the pioneering aspect of Oakland. 

For Gary Rogers, who built Oakland-based Dreyer's from several thousand dollars to a multi-billion-dollar business (Dreyer's was sold to Nestle for $3.2 billion, giving Dreyers' investors a 42% per year return for 25 years), Oakland is seeing an entrepreneurial renaissance. 

For James Freeman, who started Blue Bottle with one Farmers' Market stand, Oakland has been an affordable location to start a company.

Also, we want to thank Bryan Parker, Oakland Mayoral candidate and sponsor of the Winners' Dinner and the video production, who joined us on stage to let the audience know that he too is a big tech supporter and that he stands for a better Oakland, not a different Oakland

Parker moderated the FUTURE of bitcoin panel, showing the Oakland community that he wants to bring new technologies to the city. He also hosted the Oaktown competiiton, one of the first major tech competitions for East Bay startups. Check out the winners here

What do you think of Oakland's emerging tech scene? Share your comments!

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