If you haven’t heard yet, Oakland is gradually moving into the spotlight as a notable hub for tech companies.

The state of Oakland’s business landscape is constantly in flux, and has been for the past few years. Businesses who have put down roots in Oakland’s diverse soil are growing rapidly, and smaller companies are turning their gazes here in favor of more affordable living and an innovation landscape ripe with potential.

One of the most notable larger companies in Oakland is Ask.com, whose headquarters are housed right in the heart of downtown. Ten years ago, Ask put a stake in Oakland and never looked back. Today, they have 211 employees in their offices and pride themselves on maintaining their loyalty to Oakland and the East Bay through their hiring process; almost half of their employees are from East Bay cities.

“Years and years ago, there wasn’t much downtown except Fortune 500 companies, but now there are so many jobs here,” said Lisa Ross, vice president of Ask.com human relations. “We actually get a lot of San Francisco candidates that want to move to Oakland too.”

There are many reasons why startups are moving to Oakland; among them are the socially conscious missions of most companies based in Oakland, the strong support system that exists for entrepreneurs of color, and a continued emphasis on the city’s community connections.

“Oakland stepped in to help us when we needed it — it’s no exaggeration to say we wouldn’t have survived without the active support of City Hall and local elected officials,” said Tim Westergren, co-founder of Pandora Radio, in an email. “And now as the company grows, the community is in our DNA. We feel like we are home.”

Pandora Radio is one of the more well-known tech giants coming out of the city, settling in downtown Oakland in 2000. Westergren said Pandora is also committed to nurturing Oakland’s community-driven environment in many ways, like encouraging employees to visit local businesses for lunch and giving each employee a paid week of volunteer time during the year. During this time, employees typically work with Oakland schools or Oakland-based organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, Qeyno Labs and Hack the Hood.

While the unpredictable business landscape of a city can invoke some anxiety, Westergren views the influx of small eager companies as positive, ultimately attracting undiscovered talent to the area and creating a “natural ecosystem” where all companies can work in harmony with a common goal.

“People are discovering Oakland and the energy is palpable,” Westergren said. “Oakland is a diverse and creative community ready, after some tough years, to embrace this change and realize its potential.”

Oakland isn’t all tech companies, though, and it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for smaller startups, either. Zoo Labs, a music start-up based around helping artists and other creatives turn their passions into business powerhouses, is seeing its alumni struggling as Oakland’s rental prices begin to rise and they try to grow their passions as the sole way to sustain their livelihood.

“How do we keep artists at the center of our culture? I think Oakland as a whole is thinking about this because we stand to lose some of the color that artists bring,” said Vinitha Watson, co-founder of Zoo Labs.

The fact of the matter, Watson said, is that the Bay Area is quickly moving towards being too expensive for most folks who plan to move here or already live here — even in Oakland.

“I believe it’s really Oakland’s job to protect that and they are making concerted efforts, but I can already see that it’s stressful for our artists,” Watson said. “We’re looking at how to diversify their portfolios and exploring how they can survive in this atmosphere right now, and hopefully we come up with things, but for an artist who is making original work and playing in a band, it is very, very difficult to live here today.”

About The Author

Natalie Meier is currently writing about issues in public health, tech and small business innovation as a freelance contributor for Oakland Local. Meier is a senior at Mills College studying English and Journalism and is also cross-registered at UC Berkeley. She currently interns for ABC7 News in San Francisco and has written for The Daily Californian, Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), StuVoice, and KALW.

8 Responses

  1. OaklandNative

    I hope this doesn’t mean we’ll be another San Francisco. I just watched that video of the “Bros at Dolores Park.” We don’t need them here “discovering” Oakland for us.

    • NotOaklandNative

      Lets be the next Oakland and stop being so freak’n xenophobic.

    • Nathan Barley

      If you think those were “bros” in that video you’re massively disconnected from modern reality. But whatever gives you an excuse to moan and complain, right?

      • OaklandNative

        “Bros” was the name of the video. I didn’t make it up.

        Before calling someone “xenophobic,” perhaps you should better understand the meaning of it.

    • gk

      That wasn’t the name of the video as ascribed by the original poster on FB. That name got attached to it by a website that repurposed the video. Go to the source. They were definitely not “bros.”

      • OaklandNative

        I used the title that got you to the video.

        What difference does it make calling them “bros”?

  2. Garrett

    we’ve been in Oakland for 15 years, but recently moved our web design company downtown (right across from Pandora) and are blown away by the energy and creativity that swirls around the Uptown and Downtown area.

    • OaklandNative

      I used the title that go you to the video.

      So what is your problem with calling them “bros”?


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