Change-Makers by the Bay

A startup incubator with a social spin thrives in Oakland

Chacón, Ekundayo and Mason (Image credit: DaKarai)

Despite its challenges, Oakland is on the cusp of a revival – an economic growth period fueled in part by technology and the arts. Within this city, a group of entrepreneurial individuals – led by three women – decided to take a chance to help promote entrepreneurship in their hometown.

The end result: Impact Hub Oakland is an entrepreneurial incubator and membership-based community with a social spin. Founded by Konda Mason, Lisa Chacón and Ashara Ekundayo, the facility opened its doors in February, thanks to some $1.7 million in investments and loans the partners managed to secure. In just three months, Impact Hub Oakland has grown to nearly 400 members representing a host of industries.

This isn’t just your typical business incubator. Impact Hub Oakland is part of a network of some 60 hubs around the world with a mission to make an impact in their local communities and the world as a whole. “It became clear that’s what my calling has always been, to help others, to collaborate with others, to do something bigger than myself,” explains Konda Mason, CEO and co-founder. “And that’s what Impact Hub Oakland is doing, and at the same time, be financially stable and sustainable and successful.”

That message carries throughout its membership. Many of the ventures housed at Impact Hub Oakland have a higher calling – some altruistic objective to help improve their communities or the world as a whole.

For example, one such member is Black Girls Code, a nationally acclaimed nonprofit that teaches technology and computer programming skills to African American girls. Then there’s Better Ventures, a venture capital firm that provides funding and support to companies creating scalable solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Another member is the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, a non-profit focused on connecting leaders, spreading solutions that work, and driving investment toward local economies.

Impact Hub Oakland consists of three components:

  • A 16,000 square-foot facility that serves as shared office space complete with Wi-Fi, conference rooms, a gallery, a stage area (made from reclaimed wood, of course) and a meditation area. “We decided that we all wanted to bring what made us come alive, into a project and to be part of the conversation and the movement to really spur this economic boom that is happening here in Oakland,” recalls Ekundayo, who in addition to being a founder serves as chief creative officer.
  • A community of some 400 members who are encouraged to collaborate and do business together. “It’s a really interesting ecosystem where members can support each other in growing their businesses,” says Chacón, COO and co-founder.
  • A host of programs designed to help members accelerate their work – entrepreneurship training and education programs. “We had hired a consultant to help us with our financial model and go about the balance sheet and do all the more difficult finance modeling and she’s now offering that workshop to our members,” says Chacón.

Entrepreneurs accepted into the incubator pay for the number of hours they intend to use the facilities – increments of 25, 50, 100, and unlimited hours. Pricing starts at $30 a month to as high as $415 for unlimited access. “Membership gives you an opportunity to spend time to work in a space of like-minded individuals who potentially can be your co-collaborators, your clients, your customers, people who are of like mind,” says Mason.

In a city that’s nearly equal parts Caucasian, African American, Hispanic and Asian, it’s especially important to see economic growth in its communities of color. “It’s important for us to hold and maintain a container for our members and our soon to be members,” says Ekundayo. “To scale their creativity and to use that creativity, hopefully, to develop more innovative business models, business plans and ways of doing the work that they’re doing, that’s about changing the world for better.”

 

 
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  • Orlando Coombs

    Oakland has a lot of successful black entrepreneurs not just with restaurants, bars, and night clubs. In the tech industry and even in the Hotel industry. Blacks are doing so many amazing things all over America. It’s about maybe 10 to 20 percent of black people living on the margins of society. As for Oakland, I’m from the Bay Area San Jose and I know Oakland well. I’ve been there many times, hung out there many times, and even visited the black muslim bakery which is now closed on San Pablo Ave in North Oakland. Oakland is an extremely amazing place. There are lots of successful black owned businesses there doing well and positive things are happening in the black community in Oakland. Oakland is home of the black panther party. The Ethiopian community is spiking black entrepreneurship in Oakland along with Souleyvegan, Pican, Elaine Brown, and the People’s Grocery and Mandela Co op in West Oakland and many others. Black owned businesses are on and popping in Oakland.
    I’ve seen for myself that Oakland has a very large black middle-class community all over town. The media and self serving black leadership thrive on showing you black people living on the margins of society. Blacks continue to thrive and be successful in all human endeavor under the sun. You got places in America where blacks are poor but every race and ethnicity have poor people among them. The poor will always be among you. But sorry Dr. Claud Anderson, we are not part of your permanent underclass. Most of us are living success on a level previous generations could’ve only dreamed of.

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