Creating an Innovation Ecosystem

By Office of Innovation
In Uncategorized
Jul 29th, 2013
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San Leandro Tours Freespace and 5M Innovation Ecosystem in SOMA. 

By Chief Innovation Officer, Deborah Acosta. 

On Wednesday, July 24, Greg Delaune of UIX Global guided San Leandro City Manager Chris Zapata, Business Development Manager Jeff Kay, West Gate Property Manager, David Holley and me on a tour of the future 5M Project in a section of San Francisco’s South of Market (SOMA).

To be developed by Cleveland, Ohio based developer, Forest City, the 5M Project is being designed through a collaborative partnership “designed to catalyze the innovative ideas that build our economy and strengthen our communities. It is a place that utilizes a collective need for innovation to encourage shared resources and ideas across traditional boundaries. Where artists, makers, students, changemakers, entrepreneurs, local food, and technology are coming together day and night. A place designed for people to be creative.”  

This was an opportunity to learn from innovators and creators already in the thick of creating an innovation ecosystem!  Our morning journey began with a tour of HUB Bay Area, a San Francisco based co-working space where collaboration, community building and trust is creating an environment that both attracts and creates change-makers.  The physical environment of this space is very different from traditional work places, emphasizing open spaces that encourage the collision of new ideas and collaboration.

HUB Bay Area is one of a number of HUB’s located in 30 cities across 5 continents, all connected through a virtual platform to help them collaborate and exchange ideas.  In addition to HUB Bay Area, HUB Berkeley is located in the David Brower Center and HUB Oakland will move into its 20,000 s.f. center in the Downtown later this year.


Around the corner from HUB Bay Area we ventured into TechShop.  TechShop targets its services to “a community of makers” with “cutting-edge tools, equipment and computers loaded with design software featuring the Autodesk Design Suite”.  It was there that we met Espen Sivertsen, CEO of Type A Machines, who recently launched a 3D printer company and currently has a fast-growing staff of 15 people including himself.  Type A Machines is facing the dilemma faced by all “maker” companies that try to launch in San Francisco: real estate prices, to lease as well as to own, are so steep that it is not financially feasible to manufacture in that city.  Espen has already toured West Gate for the potential of relocating his growing manufacturing company in San Leandro.  His concern?  Can a robust maker community be created in San Leandro that will support the kind of innovation that he experiences being located in San Francisco?  Espen expressed tremendous appreciation at being able to explain his product and his expansion challenges to the San Leandro team, which included its City Manager, Business Development Manager and Chief Innovation Officer!


5M project area - cool art signage hanging on cyclone fenceLeaving TechShop, Greg pointed out to us the spontaneous art covering walls and fences in the area, and where “Off the Grid” food trucks park twice weekly to activate a space that is otherwise seldom used.

We ended our walking tour at Freespace ( , located on Mission Street several blocks from TechShop in an area still struggling for new investment.  Freespace was launched by a passionate, collaborative group of people, supported by a number of public and private organizations, as part of the White House challenge to create a “National Day of Hacking” on June 1, 2013.   In typical West Coast style, these innovators decided that if one day was good, 30 days would be better!  So, with the support of the SF Office of Economic and Workforce Development, they convinced a Mission Street property owner with a vacant, 14K sf building to lease it to them for $1 for 1 month.  The result: going into its second month, Freespace has innovators that have visibly transformed the building and the adjacent parking lot, activating these empty sites with community-building events and projects that have caught world-wide attention.  Freespace has announced that it is officially closing tomorrow evening, Tuesday, July 30th, with a final celebration on Saturday, August 3rd from 2-10 p.m.  If you are interested in participating, please RSVP on Facebook here!

I participated in one of those events in June, led by Greg and James of UIXGlobal, that focused on identifying things that are working in the Bay Area to foster creativity, business development and innovation.  The next day included a “Dark Fiber Hackito”, which included San Leandro residents Derrick Lee and Herrick Fang, and San Leandro partner Will Barkis of Mozilla Ignite, to brainstorm around new applications of high speed fiber.  Topics included building on OEWD focus on business development, local 100gps network in San Leandro, and specific fields like medical care.


Stay tuned San Leandro…..would these community-minded innovators consider expanding to San Leandro’s West Gate?  Discussions with Freespace lead organizers (including Mike Zuckerman, Mike North and James Hanusa) are underway, inspired by the interesting new opportunities presented by West Gate’s immense spaces, connected to the Lit San Leandro fiber optic loop, and the welcoming team of West Gate property managers and owners.

This effort is consistent with City Council goals that lead to the transformation of the City of San Leandro into a center for innovation.  Turning a former auto manufacturing plant into the next generation of making things — this time powered by Lit San Leandro’s fast broadband — is evidence that San Leandro is rapidly moving into a new era of job creation, continuing its proud tradition as a Maker City!

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