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Place, Execution & Education

At last night’s Shasta EDC Beer & Bytes event, held at Redding’s new Venture Hub on Caterpillar Drive, Irma Olguin, Co-Founder and CTO of Bitwise Industries and Geekwise Academy in Fresno shared her inspiring story of building a vibrant and skilled tech community in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley.

Olguin told of how she grew up among agricultural workers and “went to college and got an engineering degree by accident.” She gained some valuable experience working in Silicon Valley for some great employers, but then returned to Fresno and asked herself “why wasn’t Fresno seeing the same type of tech activity happening in other places?”

She did not set out to copy somewhere else, but wanted Fresno to be “the very best tech place that Fresno could be – unique to the area.”

Bitwise identified and went to work in three key areas: Place; Execution; and Education.

Offering an interesting Place to work was the first goal. The initial startup hub they created was leased out in 3 days and became a coworker space for 24 companies in downtown Fresno, where they deliberately contribute to each other’s success.

Execution (going out and getting business) was not just for the direct benefit of Bitwise – they now refer one new job per week. There are all sorts of jobs that help tech people be gainfully employed. Designers all want to build their own ideas, but as they are starting out they are willing to do things they may not be particularly interested  in doing.

For five years Bitwise founders sponsored an annual 59 Days of Code contest, where tech designers competed to deliver their product in less than two months.

“Education is the single most important thing they do.” They expose students to opportunity. Their coding school, Geekwise Academy has had over 2,500 individuals take their coding classes. Most got interested in tech by taking 6-week classes. If they like what they learn they are encouraged with “here are 9 other things you can do.” They celebrate teachers, realizing that the best teachers want to give back, so they rotate senior level tech developers every 6 months allowing them to earn $65-90 thousand annually.

Today Bitwise Industries is “the mothership of technological education, collaboration, and innovation in Fresno.” Their next plan is to grow from 50,000 sf to 2.5 million sf in the next 6-8 years. They are an inspiration of what can be done here in Redding. By the way, this was all done through private rather than public actions.

When posed with the question “What should Redding do next?” Olguin’s answer was “Focus on talent!” Bitwise celebrates personal success stories and helps people discover who they can become.

Yes, Fresno has poverty, unemployment, crime and a less than desirable downtown, but Irma Olguin is an entrepreneur who has given Redding a vision of hope with our similar challenges. Her same type of creative, determined, geeky, plucky and generous spirit is being nurtured and is now blossoming at the Venture Hub, here in Redding.

Last night Shasta Economic Development Corporation also introduced their new president, Tony Giovaniello to replace Mark Lascelles who is retiring May 1. Together with the talented Hope Seth, who organized the Beer & Bytes event, their mission will be more than just selling real estate, but fostering hope, north of expected.