by Cedric Brown and Susan Mernit
We love Oakland. This city has strong assets: diverse demographics, great transportation, a thriving commitment to progressive social action, moderate weather, and comparatively affordable real estate. Our proximity to San Francisco (8 miles), Silicon Valley (34 miles), and numerous quality education institutions position Oakland to take full advantage of the tech innovation boom.
But up until a few years ago, Oakland seemed relatively untouched by the Bay Area’s huge tech engine. Oakland seemed out of the action, even with the presence of significant tech companies like Pandora Media and Ask.com, as well as local residents who commuted to work at Valley stalwarts like frogdesign, IDEO, Yahoo, etc.
Over the past two years, we’ve witnessed a shift in that old dynamic, largely driven by home-grown innovation and entrepreneurship. The community of Oaklanders who are building software, web tech, and mobile apps has expanded. The number of Oakland makers, designers, and artisans who are creating and utilizing tech tools as a key component of work has also multiplied, as have the number of green tech and solar companies operating in the area. The intense real estate markets in San Francisco and Silicon Valley are also a major factor in Oakland’s growth, as new-style entrepreneurs are increasingly looking to Oakland as a great place to innovate and put down roots.
Oakland has the foundational components for a strong “tech community”: four local Chambers of Commerce, multiple business networking organizations, an engaged City of Oakland economic development group, and numerous programs and meet-ups to promote civic tech, open government, digital equity and inclusion, mobile development, and start-up funding among other elements. But there hasn’t been a fuller understanding of who and what tech and tech-related businesses and organizations in Oakland existed—and how to find one another—until now.
At its core, The Oakland Tech Ecosystem (OTE) is an interactive map and directory of Oakland-based tech entities and players. We have over 180 Oakland organizations mapped in this first iteration of the database, plus another directory of almost 100 Oakland bloggers. Each entry has information about who they are, what they do, where they are located, and how to get in touch and/or follow them through social media.
As a living tool, these resources enable community members to add new companies and organizations to this list. We will also be sharing and updating the site to empower the OTE as an embeddable widget for other sites.
But at the same time that we recognize the value of this tool as a way for the growing community of Oaklanders using technology as a core of their businesses and mission, we also know OTE is a way to say to the world “Technology companies and innovative tech-focused businesses are alive, well, and growing in Oakland.”
We know that too many people stop at Oakland’s crime statistics and look no further; we want those people to understand how many companies—creating a wide range of products and services—choose to operate in Oakland.
Finally, it was impossible to create this database and map without marveling at how Oakland’s diversity manifests in our tech community. Oakland’s companies have more women, people of color, and openly LBGTQI folks as founders, board members, and senior staff than one typically finds in companies based in San Jose, Palo Alto, or San Francisco. And this diversity at the top means that the ecosystem of workers—so often structured to gloss over diversity as an asset—also has a greater range of perspectives backgrounds, and yes, ethnicities.