Downtown in Fresno, California, isn’t the same place it was eight years ago.
Jake Soberal’s hometown has seen immense revitalization and growth downtown, in part thanks to his multimillion-dollar tech company, Bitwise Industries. The software company strives to help minorities and underrepresented populations get jobs in the tech industry.
“The mission of Bitwise is to connect folks who have been historically excluded from opportunity in the technology industry to the skills that they need to access it, so that they can enjoy prosperity,” said Soberal, who serves as one of Bitwise’s co-CEOs. “That work, for us, takes place exclusively in what we call ‘underdog cities’ — places that are not associated historically with the technology industry or the opportunity or wealth that comes with it.”
Bitwise accomplishes its goals in three parts: by connecting people to opportunity to gain skills, connecting them to opportunities in the industry, and by making an investment in its communities by improving blighted real estate.
Soberal and Bitwise co-CEO Irma Olguin will share their experiences and expertise with Colorado Springs when they kick off the Downtown Partnership’s City Center Series. Soberal and Olguin will give a virtual presentation via Zoom 4-5 p.m. Jan. 20. The event is free, but pre-registration is requested through the Downtown Partnership website: downtowncs.com/citycenter.
Soberal said he hopes those attending the virtual presentation leave with the knowledge that Bitwise’s success can be achieved in other industries and in any city, including Colorado Springs.
“The reality is the wonderful things happening at Bitwise are threads that are possible at any place,” he said. “The technology industry can be a wonderful tool for accomplishing that anyplace. … Maybe it’s not the technology industry. Maybe it’s the manufacturing industry. Maybe it’s something entirely different in Colorado Springs, but there isn’t any ceiling for what is possible in that community, particularly if we think differently about how we use business models to achieve what we want for our city — for your city.”
Bitwise Industries has four locations in California. It was founded in Fresno and has expanded its reach to Bakersfield, Merced and Oakland. Soberal said the company plans to announce six new locations across the country soon.
Bitwise has found success in helping people move out of poverty and investing in their education through the company’s Geekwise Academy, which works to equip students with technology skills. The company hires the very best Academy graduates for its software firm.
The company’s impact on its cities also has many layers. First, the company invests in property, breathing new life into many long-forgotten downtown spaces. But it also educates and employs people who live and invest in those communities.
In downtown Fresno, the revitalization isn’t complete, but Soberal said it used to be difficult to find “pockets of vitality” while now that is becoming more frequent.
Beyond transforming communities, Bitwise is also transforming the tech industry. With a focus on diversity and inclusion, Bitwise believes the tech industry should reflect the demographics of the community. In California, as in the rest of the country, that means a diverse industry made up of people from all ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and immigration statuses, Soberal said.
“When we talk about doing this work in Fresno, certainly our heart was to take these historically excluded people groups and invite them into the technology industry knowing that if only given the opportunity, they had something really wonderful to add to the industry as a whole,” he said. “Their skills and talents could actually advance companies and entrepreneurs and all of the rest.”
Bitwise’s influence has already extended to Colorado. In March, the company partnered with Gov. Jared Polis to launch OnwardCO, a platform that helps those displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic connect to jobs, services and training. Through the platform, thousands of Coloradans have been reconnected with jobs and assistance.
Soberal said the company has continued its work with the Governor’s Office and the Colorado Department of Labor and is preparing to launch an apprenticeship program to help even more people get back to work.
“Instead of routing them back towards an industry that’s been deeply affected [by the pandemic], such as restaurant, retail and the like, we’re routing them back toward the technology industry, so that they’re able to re-enter the technology industry as software engineers and perhaps a more durable spot in the economy in these uncertain times,” Soberal said.
As Bitwise continues to expand, Soberal said he hopes the company serves as a model in “that we’re able to do extraordinarily well by our community and that that ultimately drives commercial returns within the business itself.”