Once a recurring punch line in Johnny Carson’s monologues, the agriculture-and-oil town of Bakersfield, California–home to the country’s most prolific carrot farm–is not the most obvious example of a West Coast startup hub.
But the Central Valley city, population 400,000, has vaulted onto this year’s Surge Cities list by outperforming 46 other metro areas–including the Bay Area, Boston, and Seattle–in net job and business creation in the past year.
“Incredible things are happening here,” says Irma Olguin Jr., co-founder and CEO of Bitwise Industries, a Fresno-based tech academy and software startup that’s helped create about 1,000 jobs in the area. It’s opening a Bakersfield location in 2020. “We’re seeing validation from VCs and investment banks, and there is a momentum around local revitalization.”
According to Anna Smith, co-founder of local real estate firm Sage Equities, this Bakersfield boom has been helped by entrepreneurial Millennials who’ve returned home from more expensive cities. They’re finding a growing tech community, bolstered by events like the 59-day hackathon led by nonprofit 59DaysofCode.
Latinx founders, whose ranks swelled by 36 percent from 2007 to 2012 in Bakersfield, have also been essential to the city’s evolution. Today, approximately three of every 10 companies in town are Latinx owned, and membership for Bakersfield’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has ballooned from 200 businesses to 1,200 in less than a decade.
Rosibel Hurst’s Bellissima Medical Aesthetics is one of 8,500 local Latinx-owned businesses. In 2014, the founder, who was born in Honduras, launched her beauty clinic, which offers procedures such as Botox injections and skin-tightening treatments, from a single room inside of a supportive doctor’s office. Today, Bellissima is profitable, with roughly $2 million in annual sales and 13 employees. “I was able to grow this company because of the help I got from people here,” she says. “Bakersfield is a giving city.”
As the field of startups grows in Bakersfield, so do the resources to sustain it. In 2018, Bakersfield businessman John-Paul Lake co-founded the city’s first angel investing firm, Kern Venture Group, and worked with the city’s community college to create Launchpad, which helps local entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Originally created in Fresno to assist refugee farmers, loan fund Access Plus Capital has doled out 22 microloans worth more than $1.6 million to Bakersfield entrepreneurs since it began servicing the city in 2012.
“People are realizing that the Central Valley is changing,” says Edward Palomar, manager of the fund’s Bakersfield office, which opened in 2017. “They see the opportunity for growth here.”