How One Central Valley City is Supporting Entrepreneurs
One of the first cities in U.S. history to pilot a universal basic income, or UBI, program, Stockton, California is not a city afraid of a little experimentation. That kind of creative thinking isn’t limited to the city’s social programs, either. Recognizing that entrepreneurship is — and will be — at the heart of the economy of today and tomorrow, the city offers a range of innovative economic development programs that have already attracted entrepreneurs from across the region and around the country to establish their businesses in Stockton. As young businesses and startups — particularly in their infancy — require a lot of support, that’s where public sector policies and programs make a real difference. These programs assist these emerging companies while entrepreneurs refine their ideas and business plans, seek investment, and scale their operations.
Here’s how the city of Stockton has created a strong support network for entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurship grants The city of Stockton created its Entrepreneurship Grant program, funded by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, which aims to promote economic opportunity for low and moderate-income individuals. The Entrepreneurship Grant program offers funding to Stockton-based business service providers and entrepreneurs, startups and established businesses in the city. 2020 was the first year that the grant, which offers up to $200,000 in total funding, was extended to Stockton entrepreneurs directly. In prior years, the grant was only available to business service organizations that provided services and assistance to Stockton-based small businesses or entrepreneurs. The extension has been well-received by the Stockton business community, and work is already underway by the city to bring the program back again next year. Information on how to apply for a 2021 grant will be announced soon.
Non-traditional spaces One of the most enduring concepts to arise out of major entrepreneurship ecosystems is the co-working office space. These innovative shared offices combine the infrastructure and service level of commercial office rentals, the economy of a flexible, scalable workspace, and the comfort and community of a neighborhood coffee shop. Co-working spaces help foster a culture of entrepreneurship in a city, and have even led to innovative synergies with other startups under the same roof. Entrepreneurs who make the move to Stockton will feel at home in one of the city’s familiar, though distinctive, co-working spaces. Via Ventures offers the comfort coworking veterans are accustomed to in a design-centric setting, while Huddle x Launch Pad serves as the Stockton annex for Launch Pad’s national network of quality neighborhood office spaces. Located just a couple blocks from each other, the spaces have been a welcomed addition to Downtown Stockton, a vibrant district located along the San Joaquin River filled with attractions such as cafes, shops, galleries, restaurants, bars, theaters, and a minor league ballpark, home to the Stockton Ports, the Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Oakland Athletics.
Guidance and mentorship The most diverse city in the country according to a U.S. News and World Report analysis, Stockton is creating an entrepreneurship ecosystem that reflects diversity and leverages the strengths of the city’s community. Historically underserved entrepreneurs often lack the access and know-how to navigate entrepreneurial spaces and ecosystems. Strategic interventions can help reduce that gap. Supported in part by the city of Stockton, the Launch Pad Foundation (the nonprofit arm of the Launch Pad co-working network) has developed an innovative scholarship program aimed to reduce gaps in opportunity and access to entrepreneurial spaces. The foundation provides free full memberships for co-working spaces to qualified entrepreneurs, who are selected together with strategic partners in the city. The program also provides access to curricula and programming designed to help entrepreneurs and their businesses achieve success.
Stockton also offers a number of mentorship and training programs available to minority entrepreneurs, such as Centro Community Partners’ Basic Entrepreneurship Program, which offers business planning instruction in both English and Spanish to local entrepreneurs. Other minority-geared programs include the African American Chamber of Commerce’s BRIDGES Entrepreneur program, which holds workshops and webinars geared towards African American business owners and entrepreneurs, and the Main Street Entrepreneur-In-Residence program, which includes a 10-week business training boot camp, office space, financial capital, a monthly stipend and more to eligible Stockton-based African-American business owners accepted into the program. All three programs are either currently funded or have previously been funded in part by Stockton Entrepreneurship Grants. Also noteworthy is local nonprofit Stockton Community Kitchen, which works to help under-resourced food entrepreneurs succeed by offering mentorship and education in the skills necessary to succeed in the food industry. Utilizing its fully-staffed commercial kitchen and classroom spaces, the Community Kitchen provides low-income entrepreneurs with innovative food concepts a program rich in technical and emotional support. Accepting applications on a rolling schedule, Stockton Community Kitchen programs are offered three times per year.
Artists and makers welcome Artists and makers feeling shut out by the prohibitive cost of living and lack of resources for emerging creatives in many major cities will find Stockton’s low cost of living and high quality of life a welcome change. For young creatives looking to develop their technique and sensibility, resources such as Hatch Workshop Center for Emerging Makers are available. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization offers low-cost memberships to the workshop’s ceramic, wood and metal-working, and fabrication tools and machinery as well as expert training and education from makers and artists. Creatives will also benefit from a strong local demand for their work fostered by marketplaces like Stockmarket, which (due to Covid-19) currently functions as an all-online virtual artists and makers fair until open air markets are once again deemed safe.