Envisioning a vibrant tech ecosystem in Oakland

Karen Wertman · July 28, 2014 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/384c

As the tech money flows in, how can Oaklanders optimize it for good?

At Vator Splash Oakland, one of the themes was how the city, its residents and businesses, could leverage the opportunities created by the emerging tech ecosystem. It's an exciting time for Oakland as an increasing number of entrepreneurs set up shop, successful companies such as Sungevity create jobs, and local Bay Area startups, like TubeMogul reach IPO exits.

Learning from what has happened in neighboring cities like San Francisco (sky-high rents displacing residents as the nouveau riche move in), Oakland can be smarter about managing growth that's sustainable and equitable.

To that end, The Kapor Center for Social Impact, in partnership with 2.Oakland and Live Work Oakland sponsored a 90-minute discussion at Vator Splash Oakland. The session was entitled  “Envisioning a Vibrant and Inclusive Oakland Tech Ecosystem.”

“This is a great chance for us to start an important and defining conversation,” said moderator Cedric Brown, managing partner of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which moved to Oakland to work on that very issue. The discussion involved opinions and thoughts from varioius interest groups in Oakland, from city officials to tech executives to non-profit organizers.

Kelley Kahn, Special Projects Director, City of Oakland, spoke on "Why Oakland? Why is the city so ripe for growing a tech industry? Tech in Oakland is emerging but hasn't fully arrived, she said. Today, 2.5% of Oakland's workforce, it's a small percent vs 8% in San Francisco. But fortunately, the millennials are choosing the city life over the sterile suburban landscapes where the traditional tech industry has been traditionally housed. The city life and 'creativity breathes' more innovation."


Marta Riggins, Director of Talent Brand at Pandora is a proud Oakland resident for the last four years. She spoke about how Oakland became the Pandora's home 14 years ago. Pandora would not be as successful outside of Oakland, she said. The city is rich, diverse and vibrant. She also spoke about Pandora's vision. "Pandora wants to be to Oakland what Cal is to Berkeley."


Jose Corona, CEO of Inner City Advisors grew up in an immigrant farming family. As a farmer, they were early adopters of  technology that changed their processes. He says that tech needs to be thought about in a much broader sense. "It's not about people creating apps software. It's about creating jobs across multiple industries. When we think about tech, we should think about all the potential jobs and services that can be created around them."



Mike Ghielmetti is president of Signature Development, a real estate developer focusing on Oakland. Ghielmetti discussed how his firm was building unique live-work environments. The reason Ghielmetti loves Oakland is 1) People love it. 2) People are in Oakland for a purpose. "There is a sense of purpose in Oakland. There is a sense of mission, particularly a social mission." He also talked about the diversity of housing in Oakland.


Ashara Ekundayo, Chief Creative Officer of ImpactHub Oakland talked about what works in Oakland. She was inspired by her experience of growing up with an illiterate grandfather. She wanted to be sure she could create choices and opportunities for others through her work and believes that in Oakland, the community must advocate for one another.


Karen Engel is Interim Director of Development for the Peralta Community College District. She's been working in Oakland since the late 90's and addressed the importance of workforce development through education. She tlaked about the vital role community colleges play preparing young people and discloated adults for jobs in the new tech and innovation economy in both Oakland and the East bay.



Maria Poblet is Executive Director, Causa Justa, an organization that unites people who feel displaced. Among some of the services Causa Justa has provided has been to help push rent caps for local residents. Poblet spoke about the charm of Oakland, such as its diverse community. She also shared a story about how gentrification affected one longtime Oakland resident.  In the last 10 years, Oakland lost 25% of its African American community. Oakland and San Francisco are seeing the highest rent increases, pushing people to outlying suburbs. She believes that the communities that need development are being left out.



Catherine Bracy, Director of Organizing, Code for America  recently moved to Oakland where she feels a strong sense of community.  She stressed that Oakland needs to preserve this sense of community as the tech community grows. Civic technology is about collaborating with local government and using technology to solve problems.


Interested in keeping the discussion going? Post your feedback here. We'll take your thoughts into account as we prepare for Vator Splash Oakland 2015!!!

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Karen Wertman

Karen's career spans 25+ years in marketing and management, where she's built brands in publishing, education & consumer electronics. An entrepreneur and independent consultant, she's had several startups and is Executive Producer for Vator Splash.

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