Bitwise Industries: The future of Fresno
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When people think of technology hubs, their first thought is not Fresno, California. Most people think of Silicon Valley (located in San Jose, California) or Austin, Texas, both of which are known for their major technology outbreak, most notably Apple and Google.
However, there are some Fresnans that hope to break the stigma that new technology is only in Silicon Valley Jake Soberal, a Clark Intermediate and Clovis High School alum and lawyer-turned-businessman, is one of these Fresnans.
Who is Jake Soberal?
A short answer to this question: a man who is one of the key creators of Bitwise Industries.
However, Jake proves to be much more than just a brilliant business man, but a hard worker and pioneer in many areas.
“[Following Jake] is like following an older, more ambitious version of yourself,” Jed Soberal, Jake’s younger brother said. “He was the trailblazer of the family.”
Born in Los Angeles, California, Jake moved to Clovis in eighth grade when his father ironically took a job with a technology company based in Fresno. He went through Clark and Clovis High, playing baseball until his senior year, when he severely injured his knee.
Because of his injury, Jake decided to join Clovis High School’s student newspaper, the Cougar’s Growl, run by current AP Language and Composition teacher, David Menendian.
“I remember him fondly and with respect. He was a very good reporter,” Menendian said, who had Jake for both journalism and AP Language and Composition. “You could tell that he was in the upper portion of both courses and was a strong student.”
Jake loved being on the Growl and said, “[The Growl] wounded up being the most fun I had during my time at Clovis High. It opened up the world to me. You start most high school activities, and end up finding the beginning and the ending of those activities [while in high school], but the Cougar’s Growl was this very real-world thing.”
Jake spent his time at the student newspaper doing a variety of stories.
“A story that you are doing [at the Cougar’s Growl] very well might run into a story that the Fresno Bee is doing, which very well might run into a story that a national publication is doing,” Jake said.
After graduating high school, Jake entered that real world on the East coast. He attended Hofstra University, in New York, for one year before transferring to University of North Carolina where he finished his schooling, majoring in history and political science. When he was done getting his degree, he and his wife, Sarah (also a Clovis High alum), moved back to Los Angeles, and Jake began a degree in law.
During the summer after his first year of law school, Jake applied to an externship in the court of appeal in Fresno, California, got the job, and moved back to Fresno thinking that it would be “free lodging with the in-laws, free food, a good job, and a good letter of recommendation.”
In reality, moving back to Fresno was a catalyst for something bigger.
“Each place [we lived], we thought, ‘Surely, this will be the place that is going to be home and where we want to build a career,’” Jake said. “You leave Clovis and [think you will find a place that] will be the spot where [you] will want to be forever. That wasn’t true, and neither was it truth in the South, and it most certainly wasn’t true in Los Angeles.”
During his time in Fresno, Jake worked for a judge named Stephen Kane, who, in Jake’s words, “began doing something very strange.”
Kane, who is currently one of ten justices who currently works in the Fifth District Court of Appeal, came to Fresno from the Bay Area in 1976 after graduating from Hastings Law School and practiced law with well-known, local law firm McCormick Barstow for fifteen years, before being nominated to Fresno Superior Court and then to Court of Appeal by former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Kane, while working in Fresno, had his own dream about improving Fresno’s courtrooms.
“When I practiced civil law…it was difficult to get a case to trial on the first or second trial settings due to overcrowded courts and ineffective calendar management,” Kane said. “One of my “visions” as a lawyer and later as a judge was to reduce the number of trial continuances due to courtroom unavailability.”
Kane’s vision became a reality after an extensive and long career in Fresno courtrooms, and he passed on that to Jake.
“He wouldn’t just let me do my legal research, get my letter of recommendation, and leave. [Instead], he began to take me out in the community. What I began to see [in Fresno] was a quality of person that I wanted to be when I grew up,” said Jake.
Kane recognized Jake’s potential even as a young, first-year law student.
“Jake was a superb intern,” Kane said. “He grasped things easily, asked good questions, and was timely in turning in work. He was well on his way to becoming [a superb lawyer] when he left the practice of law to pursue a different career, [but] I respect his decision to chase a different dream.”
Because of his exploration of the Fresno community through Kane, Jake began to realize that what he was searching for “was a place that I felt mattered and also that I cared about,” something that he found where he grew up.
“[Fresno people] are people who have a value system, a way of life, that I would aspire to,” Jake said, “and my wife and I moved back to Fresno very intentionally, not because I couldn’t get a job in LA, but because Fresno is exactly where I wanted to built a career.”
Jake began practicing property law at a firm in Fresno, where he ran into current Bitwise CTO Irma Olguin Jr., which “started the road of our wild idea” that would eventually become known as Bitwise.
While Jake had never set out to be the CEO of a technology oriented company, others saw that he had it in him.
“He had that entrepreneurial angle to him that developed early in life,” Menendian said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that he’s found his niche in that area.”
What is Bitwise?
According to their website, bitwiseindustries.com, Bitwise is “the mothership of technological education, collaboration, and innovation in Fresno.”
Bitwise came to be when Jake and Bitwise co-founder Irma Olguin Jr. met and began talking about their mutual frustrations over the lack of growth in Fresno. Through an exchange of ideas, the two realized that they could create something amazing together.
“We both wanted to change how people felt about their city,” Olguin Jr. said. “Bitwise was the answer to that.”
With two locations (Bitwise Mural District or Bitwise South Stadium), Bitwise is comprised of a multitude of different software companies that are housed under one roof, but it is so much more than just a house for local companies. It also functions as a facilitator for young, budding coders’ education, appropriately called Geekwise, and pairs tech companies together and creates something of an “open market” between companies housed in the Bitwise building.
“Companies share knowledge with each other and come together to solve problems,” Jed said. “A lot of the benefit is that shared information, knowledge, and resources.”
The creation of Bitwise does not stem from technology alone. Olguin Jr. finds her motivation through Fresno’s population.
“The people we hope to serve are the inspirations,” Olguin Jr. said. “We respond to what they want and try to build it.”
Mission and Vision
However, Bitwise is more than just a tech company; it is also a way of reviving Fresno and the people living there.
“We are our own worst enemy when it comes to the way we view our city,” Jake said.
Bitwise is not only providing amazing opportunities and gateways for young coders, it is also providing a way for people to start a career.
“[We are] a city in desperate need of anything economic [we] can get,” Jake said. “We need jobs, we need wealth, we need innovation, and all of that is going on [at Bitwise].”
But, in order to start creating these jobs, “[we] begin with one.”
Bitwise argues that the young “geeks” in Fresno are not aware of the growing tech business opportunities, and if given the opportunity, those Fresno-born geeks “would learn to write game-changing code, solve important problems, and work with smart people.”
Believing in providing opportunities rather than gaining employees, Bitwise not only empowers geeks, but also benefits all of Fresno. Bitwise teaches people of all ages how to program, how to code, and how to become “a rock star technologist.” Perhaps the most unique factor about Bitwise is the fact that they “ask [the geeks] what [they] want to do.”
“We will do more to invest in the individual geek than any other company,” said Jake. “What that looks like is providing the very best education on whatever it is you want to become, and connect you to whatever opportunity you want.”
Olguin Jr. agrees, saying her favorite things are “the human stories, of course.”
Because, wherever Geekwise graduates want to go, whether it be in Fresno or in Silicon Valley, “[Fresno] wins.” If the graduate goes to work for Google, their coworkers will ask them where they learned their skills. What is this graduate going to say? Fresno.
Suddenly, Bitwise is no longer just a technology company who teaches code and supports local coders. Now, it is an advertising agent for Fresno and its growing technology hub.
But that one geek is not just one geek, because Geekwise sends out thousands of graduates a year into the workforce, whether it be local or otherwise, and those graduates then are able to go out and reach thousands of more people who might be unaware of Bitwise.
“You take the individual and connect them to skill that connects them to opportunity,” Jake said. “Once they get connected to opportunity, now they are the person that is pushing forward to a positive outcome, whether it be building a career, buying a house, or sending their kids to school.”
This opportunity is huge to many people in Fresno, where unemployment is at an astonishing 11.1% and is currently ranked number eight in the highest unemployment rates by Forbes magazine.
“People are changing their own lives using Bitwise as a tool. That’s exactly what we want to happen here in Fresno,” Olguin Jr. said.
Because of this advertising and job creation, Bitwise and other technology companies will not just be one building, but “entire districts of Downtown Fresno,” and the benefit will come full circle.
“[We’ve seen] really profound growth,” Jake said. “When we started, the technology in Fresno was very isolated, [but] last year, Fresno was identified as the third-fastest growing market for technology jobs in the state of California. That is just on a macrolevel.”
Fresno is not the only industry growing. Bitwise itself, which started with just 28 companies, now currently has over 100 and has moved from an 8,000 square foot building to a 50,000 square foot building.
“[Bitwise] is a lily pad to the next thing,” Olguin Jr. said.
What is this next thing? Bitwise’s answer: Extraordinary growth in Fresno.
“Within the next five years, [Bitwise plans] to develop about 2.5 million square feet of real estate,” said Jake. But this is not just a plus for Bitwise, but for all of the city of Fresno.
“There are really great things going on that [Bitwise] has nothing to do with,” Jake continued. “People are doing exciting things with technology [and] that is now possible in Fresno. [Our] strategy is working, and it’s really exciting.”
Geekwise Academy: Empowering People in Fresno
Along with bringing many major technical companies and opportunities to Fresno, Bitwise Industries also provides resources for a person of any background to learn more about computer programming, code, graphic design, and other technical skills through Geekwise Academy.
“We have a ton of students that go through Geekwise,” said Bitwise secretary Cherish Stockdale.
Clovis High Junior, Colten Shirey took classes at Geekwise Academy for about a year to learn more about computer programming.
“Bitwise is awesome,” Shirey said. “It’s a technical hub for Fresno. It’s a place where you can go and do whatever creative stuff you want to do.”
Six week courses at Geekwise Academy are $200-250, but Shirey believes that the cost is worth it and said, “With the skills you get, you can make a lot more money.”
However, the classrooms within Geekwise Academy are not limited to only Geekwise courses.
“People can rent out [the classrooms] as well,” said Stockdale. “It’s $100 for a five hour block, which is super affordable and comes with everything in the classroom.”
In fact, even Fresno State and Fresno Pacific hold classes at Geekwise Academy.
In addition to providing educational opportunities, Geekwise also opens opportunities for its students to enter the technology industry. One of these routes comes in the form of Terry Solis, known as the “Champion of Geeks.”
“She connects people [who] have graduated from Geekwise, or just people from the area in general, with jobs,” said Cherish. “It’s really cool that people here, [at Geekwise], not only get the skills, but they also have Terry, who is pounding the pavement trying to find them jobs.”
Students at Geekwise Academy can also receive paid internships by being invited to and applying to join one of three cohorts within Geekwise. These six-month-long internships involve real, hands-on projects and real work, teaching students how to become fully-functioning programmers with the help of a development fellow, [or teacher].”
Geekwise is passionate about providing such state-of the art opportunities and resources for individuals in Fresno.
“You don’t have to leave here,” said Stockdale. “You don’t have to go the Silicon Valley. You don’t have to go to Austin. You don’t have to go to all these places that have these [technological booms] going on, because we’re making it go on here [in Fresno].”
The Effect on Fresno
With the hope of taking Fresno through a technological transformation, Jake, Olguin Jr, and Bitwise CFO John Dodson founded Bitwise Industries to bring “place, education, and execution” to the technology scene of Fresno.
After two years of relentless persistence, hope and patience, the Bitwise trio is finally on their way to bringing to Fresno the elements that have made places like the Silicon Valley successful.
“We are still definitely at the beginning [of the journey] but we are at a tipping point. After the tip, that is when things really begin to snowball in a very good way,” said Jake. “You have a relatively small number of people pushing at a very high velocity to achieve a goal, but what’s happening is that they are slowly multiplying, and now they are all pushing in positive and complementary directions. [At this point] you no longer need the same velocity as the catalyst, and now we get to step back and ask, ‘What’s next?’”
Once one surpasses the expectations of everyone around them, and successfully embarks on never before treaded territory, there is not much guidance available for the next step. Although Bitwise may be the first of its kind, the company is lead by revolutionary thinkers that know exactly where they want to take their company.
“[Fresno] can take on the companies, the kind of work that is being done in the Silicon Valley at Central Valley Prices. It’s going to cause a lot of business to shift our way, and we are already seeing this. There are a lot of big companies that are taking interest locally,” said Jed.
There are countless stories of technological stories starting in Fresno, but quickly relocating to larger tech hubs that provide more support and clientele. However, these instances might be a thing of the past as Bitwise is bringing the exact type of support and opportunity that Fresno needs in order for it to harvest the abundant talent available.
Small-scale improvements are already beginning to show. The Fresno Bee reports that Fresno’s housing market this year is one of the healthiest in the nation with “Austin, Texas, and Honolulu [coming] in second and third, respectively, with similar results.”
Fresno mayoral candidate, Lee Brand, said, Bitwise is “something to revitalize downtown because young people like the urban experience and want to live downtown.”
Brand wrote the Economic Expansion Act, which provides a blueprint for economic progression and recovery for the city of Fresno, using a series of incentives to get citizens on board. Part of this act includes venture capital, finding a way to put together the entrepreneurs, investment bankers, and job trainers of Fresno, and promoting the field of technology and agriculture.
Bitwise is exactly the type of company that this act relies on and is just a part of a puzzle that, once assembled, will revolutionize the downtown Fresno experience. “Piece by piece you see different things coming together in downtown and [Bitwise] is the catalyst,” said Brand.
A once agricultural hub and global leader of prune production, among other commodities, the Silicon Valley wasn’t expected to ever become a trendsetting bubble of technology and business, yet it is one of the most economically diverse and profitable regions in the world. What took the Silicon Valley from an agricultural region to a technological one (which still produces a significant amount of agricultural commodities) was innovation, the desire to challenge standards and create something new.
This is exactly what Bitwise Industries is doing here in Fresno. Fresno is in a state similar to that of the Silicon Valley prior its technological advancement, with vast pools of untapped potential, interest, and innovation, and Bitwise is targeting these invaluable pools by providing education and empowering individuals of all ages to take the first steps into the Fresno tech scene. Given Bitwise’s already impressive growth, the seed of innovation has taken root and within a couple decades, Fresno will be among the nation’s, even the world’s, leading technology centers. Things are happening in Fresno, subtle things, but Bitwise is the trigger to an era of unprecedented technological development. What’s more is that this growth will be lead head-on by the current youth, the “geeks” that dare to dream and dare to believe in accomplishing them.
“Some people look out the window and they see a crummy city,” said Jake Soberal. “Some people look out the window and see something that has immense beauty and a picture of tomorrow that is really, really exciting. We, [Bitwise], are in the latter category.”