Bitwise Industries, Fresno’s home-grown hub of technology innovation, training and entrepreneurship across California, will drastically expand its profile this year with plans to double the number of cities in which it operates nationwide.
Company co-CEOs Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr. announced Wednesday that Bitwise will be opening new locations in Buffalo, New York; Cheyenne, Wyoming; El Paso, Texas; Greeley, Colorado; and Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Since it was established in mid-2013, Bitwise has established itself in three redeveloped buildings in Fresno’s downtown district, with a fourth one near completion. It’s also creating sites in Merced, Bakersfield and Oakland where people can receive entry-level training in computer coding and programming as a jumping-off point for paid apprenticeship training in technology.
The Bitwise locations also provide leased office space for both upstart and established technology companies.
The expansion boom to locations across the US is one manifestation of successfully raising more than $100 million in venture capital in early 2021.
“We started Bitwise Industries nearly a decade ago with the hope of helping out the local community,” Soberal said. “Since then, Bitwise has positively impacted thousands of lives, driven economic growth in underestimated cities, and is creating the tech workforce of the future.”
“Our goal is to bring our proven, repeatable approach to as many communities and people as possible,” he added. “What has been successful in our first five cities will become part of these new regions’ stories of how investing in underestimated people and places can create a more inclusive and representative economy.”
Last year marked the company’s first foray to an out-of-state location, opening a site in Toledo, Ohio, where Caruthers native Olguin went to college to learn computer engineering. Some of the cities targeted in the latest expansion plans are not exactly on the beaten path, and that’s part of what makes them appealing for Bitwise.
“Toledo was an obvious move because of Irma’s connections there,” Thilani Grubel, vice president of Bitwise Fresno, said in an interview with The Fresno Bee. “I think for every location we get into, we’re looking for the same markers we saw in Fresno: lots of potential, but not nearly enough investment.”
“We’re drawn to places that others are not – the sort of gritty cities that get overlooked, where we say, ‘exciting things don’t happen in those places,'” Soberal said Wednesday. “But what we know is not only there is exceptional talent to be unearthed in those places, those places are essential to the future of our country.”
“So the places that people treat as ‘flyover’ or ‘less than,’ those are exactly the cities that Bitwise is designed to serve,” he added.
Olguin, who has described her own path from a farm labor family in Caruthers to heading up a technology company as both “accidental” and “unlikely,” said Bitwise represents opportunities in communities where the prospects for technology training and jobs are limited.
Grubel said the average annual income for people who enter the initial training classes before advancing to a paid apprenticeship is about $20,000. The average salary for those who find work after their apprenticeship is about $60,000 a year, “and once you grow into your skill set, it’s easy to get into a six-figure salary,” Grubel added. “That’s how we end up lifting an entire economy.”
Bitwise stated that more than 8,000 students have completed its pre-apprentice training; of those, about 80% have gotten jobs in technology.
“The aggregate effect of that is to build a bridge for folks coming from stories of poverty and exclusion into the industry that is driving the macro economy of our country, the technology economy,” Soberal said.
The majority of the new and growing workforce trained by Bitwise “are female or gender non-conforming, minority and first-generation,” Olguin added. “These folks represent the counties that they’re from and therefore create almost certainly the most diverse technology workforce anywhere in the country.”
In addition to technology classes, training and apprenticeships, Bitwise provides technology consulting to customers in its communities, and as a real estate developer renovates blighted buildings where other companies can lease space for their offices.
“Part of our ethos is that we go into downtowns,” Grubel said. “If you can activate a downtown, it’s like a shot of Vitamin B12 or adrenaline for those communities.”
The next step for Bitwise will be to identify and finalize its real estate acquisitions in the expansion cities and undertake the building renovations.
That’s not necessarily a fast process, illustrated by the five years – including two years of the COVID-19 pandemic – that it’s taken Bitwise to move from announcing its purchase in 2017 of the old State Center warehouse building on R Street in downtown Fresno to approaching readiness to open.
Bitwise leaders say the ongoing expansion to more cities and states will pay dividends for Fresno. “As we expand across the country, we are looking forward to supercharging our efforts in the cities we are currently serving and getting started in new communities,” Olguin said.
This story was originally published March 30, 2022 9:01 AM.