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Oakland Small Business Week: Resources, Workshops, Networking, Oh My!

April 27, 2016 • 5 mins read
Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson


The official purpose of Small Business Week, including, of course, Oakland Small Business Week, is to “recognize the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.” We’d argue that recognition isn’t reaching far enough. The President has been issuing a proclamation announcing Small Business Week every year since 1963, according to the Small Business Association, and yet, you could be forgiven for not realizing that the first week of May is National Small Business Week—even if you’re the owner of a small business. 

The small business community in Oakland is determined to change that, and it has the makings of a very powerful force. On the one hand, Oakland’s manufacturing economy includes 500 manufacturing companies with 10,000 workers and over $2.5 billion in sales (Info USA, 2014). On the other, Oakland’s creative industry is one of the largest and most diverse in the country, a dynamic community of artists, designers, architects, animators, and more. The Town has a long history of activism to draw on, as well.

All week, the City of Oakland is sponsoring a variety of free events for Oakland small business. But the highlight of the week, if we do say so ourselves, might be the second annual Oakland Makers Small Business Training and Resources Day, on Thursday, May 5. (Townsquared is one of the co-sponsors.) The day is organized by the City of Oakland and Oakland Makers, a nonprofit group working to grow the diverse local economy, especially by strengthening the arts and custom manufacturing sectors. Many of the day’s seminars and workshops have been specifically designed to provide additional resources for the artists and makers who run small businesses, as part of recommendations presented last year to Mayor Libby Schaaf from the Affordable Housing and Workspaces for Artists and Makers Task Force.

As Townsquared member Hiroko Kurihara, founder of 25C: 25th Street Collective and Oakland Makers member, put it, “Oakland Makers Day during Small Business Week is important, if not vital, to assessing whether a manufacturing sector still has the opportunity to thrive in this quickly changing town. We may need to evolve from Oakland Makers into East Bay Makers as real estate, zoning, and the cost of living and doing business for artists and artisan producers becomes prohibitive.” 

The question of what would happen to the Town’s economy (and culture) in the wake of the apparently inevitable gentrification sweeping across the Bay has been the subject of articles in outlets from the New York Times to Wired. As the Times noted in 2012, Oakland’s small-business owners “have had to band together…like pioneers in an unsettled urban frontier.” Back then a group of small businesses were “talking about creating an emergency fund for those who can’t cover their payments in a given month.” Uber’s purchase of downtown’s historic Sears building in 2015 was perhaps the high-water mark of the discussion.

And Oakland’s downtown in particular is still vulnerable—the influx represented by Uber may send rents beyond the reach of small businesses. In order to make sure that doesn’t happen, the Town will need to have a plan that includes current residents, especially small businesses and entrepreneurs hoping to open small businesses there. In that, the Oakland small business community has something in common with those in other popular urban areas, like Brooklyn, where commercial rents have already been shutting local businesses.

“The reason [Oakland Makers] exists,” says Kurihara, “is to bring makers together to be able to support each other and create new ways to work together that can sustain us, help us grow a diverse maker community and keep Oakland, Oakland!” So, Oakland Makers and the City are working to make Oakland Small Business Week a meaningful resource in strengthening the local economy and maintaining Oakland’s cultural identity. The day’s events offer business, financial, and real estate/workspace information and resources to Oakland’s makers and manufacturing sector. Workshops will be focused on creative business model generation, financial projections, marketing, accessing Good Local Money, and resource-networking. Panelists will include local makers and manufacturers, along with City Officials, property developers committed to the local economy, marketing gurus, including Townsquared’s own Lucy Bartlett. The day provides a rare opportunity to learn from Oakland business owners, lenders, realtors, and others with successful local experience.

The Oakland Maker Workshops will take place at the City of Oakland in Hearing Room 4, City Hall, 1 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. All the day’s events are free and open to the public.

The City’s events are nothing to sneeze at either. They’re kicking off Oakland Small Business Week on Sunday, May 1, with an all-day online pledge drive for Kiva Oakland. Kiva supports small businesses by crowdsourcing 0% interest loans, starting with as little as $25. In 2013,

Mamacitas Cafe Oakland
courtesy of Kiva Zip

Oakland was the first city to become a Kiva Zip trustee; each business requires a trustee when seeking a loan through the program. One of the more recent beneficiaries of a local Kiva loan in Oakland is Mamacitas Cafe, a woman-owned and youth-operated small business, including Townsquared member Alyah Baker. Founders Renee Geesler and Shana Lancaster were overwhelmed with orders and had to turn down big jobs they wanted. Their $10,000 loan meant they could purchase a high-quality espresso machine and were able to expand. All Kiva loans pledged on the first day of Small Business Week, Sunday, May 1, will be matched by the City of Oakland, Main Street Launch, Capital One, and the Miller Family Foundation, up to $225,000.

So, what about that recognition of small businesses that National Small Business Week is meant to inspire? Oakland’s got it covered. The City is sponsoring two events recognizing local businesses. One honors family-owned businesses, and no less than the Small Business Association’s Administrator, Maria Contreras Sweet, Congress Member Barbara Lee, and Oaktown’s Mayor Libby Schaaf are hosting. The youngest business being recognized is 33-year-old Vien Huong Restaurant—but their three decades is just a blip in in the 90 years construction and civil engineering company honoree McGuire and Hester has been open for business.

But what about recognizing your Oakland small business, you ask? You don’t need to have been around for 90 years—or even 30. The week culminates with a bonus Small Business Saturday for local businesses. The City is eager to make Oakland Small Business Week more successful for local businesses, and they’ll promote any Small Business Saturday event of yours. Just send them the details (business name, offer/event, website) with the subject line “Small Business Saturday Promo.” You can download a flier to put up at your business and share on your website and social media.

shop oakland small business

And as you publicize your Oakland small business next week, don’t forget to take advantage of the Small Business Administration’s #DreamSmallBiz and Google’s #AllForSmallBiz to help your marketing, and Small Business Week, gain a little more of the attention they deserve!

photo courtesy of Tony Webster

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