by Bambi Francisco Roizen

On May 6-7, Vator will bring its popular Splash tech startup event and competition to Oakland, after four years of holding it successfully in San Francisco. The question I’m asked is: Why move to Oakland from San Francisco?

Firstly, I live in the East Bay. Secondly, I like the Oakland A’s and the movie, Fruitvale Station. For years, Oakland residents encouraged me to move Splash to their town. Having lived in San Francisco, it seemed the fastest way to lose attendees. My perception was that it was far and unsafe.


Over time, my perception began to change. I found myself attached to Oakland’s scrappy baseball team – the A’s – and what they came to represent: a resourceful team facing outsized challenges. The movie Fruitvale Station brought home another Oakland asset – its residents – facing overwhelming odds amid a world forging ahead with prosperity. The movie is, as I wrote at the time in the fall 2013, “a candid look at the murky reality and morality of life in an environment with few opportunities.” My takeaway: To reduce the probability of Fruitvale Station incidents, Oakland desperately needed economic development. Oakland, a place with a diverse, passionate community, deserved the prosperity that was accruing to its wealthier Bay Area neighbors.

In 2003, 5% of venture capital dollars poured into San Francisco. In 2013, San Francisco saw $4.8 billion, or 36% of the $13.2 billion invested in the Bay Area, according to DJX VentureSource. At the same time, Oakland went from a tenth of a percent to now 1% of all venture investments.

In San Francisco, 30% of jobs created last year were technology related. Those jobs helped to drive down unemployment to below 5%. Oakland’s unemployment is almost double, but shifting, from 13% in January 2013 down to 9.7% by December, according to Oakland’s Department of Economic & Workforce Development. In fact, it’s a significantly greater rate of decline than San Francisco, which went from 6.9% to 4.8% in the same period.

San Francisco’s economic engine has been powered largely by the tech boom and entrepreneurial spirit that drives its residents to create their own opportunities, and strive for greatness. This culture is a big part of San Francisco’s allure and has helped it to flourish. Oakland, on the other hand, is still struggling to find its economic footing.

Yet the city has so much to offer with growing assets that can drive economic prosperity, including favorable infrastructure for both office and residential space being developed on several-billion-dollar budgets. There are flourishing co-working spaces, such as The Port Workspaces, and new investors, from Better Ventures, Base VC and Kapor Center for Social Impact joining long-time Oakland resident Claremont Creek Ventures and putting money to work in local startups. There are also organizations trying to make tech jobs more accessible to local residents, such as Hack the Hood, Black Girls Code, and Techbridge as well as organizations boosting the tech ecosystem, like 2.Oakland.

There’s world-class academic infrastructure in the East Bay with Cal, St Mary’s, Cal State East Bay, Mills College and a bevy of other academic institutions. And one only has to look to the vibrant maker, hacker and small business community to find plenty of creative entrepreneurial spirit.

In addition, there is a growing tide of positive press that not only pays homage to Oakland’s hip food and art scene but the great neighborhoods that make it attractive and affordable for people to actually live here.

The weather is hard to beat (5 degrees warmer than San Francisco) and Jack London Square could serve as a perfect startup district, being largely wide-open and non-residential, as well as having an enviable, world-class waterfront location.

The pieces are all here. The question was, how could I make others appreciate the Oakland I came to embrace? Bringing Vator Splash to Oakland was the answer.

I know there are folks who eschew this idea. They see this tech event as another symbol of gentrification – a scary and ugly word that conjures up images of low-income housing, marred with graffiti and barbed wire, standing in obscurity and neglect amidst beautified, million-dollar condos. But I believe clean and safe neighborhoods shouldn’t be an amenity reserved for the rich.

As I wrote recently in an article about Oakland’s renaissance, there are ways the city can create opportunities across the economic spectrum and build a culture of entrepreneurship. For our middle school youth, who will join the workforce in another 10 years, it ensures they can participate as the local economy improves. No one wants to be left behind. But we may leave everyone behind, if we use labels to shut out the possibilities happening all around us.