Bitwise, Google team up on program to bolster tech startups. Here’s where it’ll happen

Bitwise Industries, Fresno’s self-proclaimed “mothership” for upstart technology businesses, and Google are teaming up on a six-month pilot program to help entrepreneurs from non-traditional backgrounds in Fresno County to grow their businesses.

“We’ve been working with Bitwise for the better part of this summer in what they’re calling their Founder Development Cohort,” said Daniel Navarro, global brand leader for Google for Startups. “We’re going to work with eight aspiring entrepreneurs, all from diverse backgrounds, by providing workshops and assistance for six months.” They will receive training in using various Google technology tools to develop and advance their product ideas, with the goal of producing a revenue-generating product or project by the end of the program.

“This is a huge departure from what we’ve done historically,” said Irma Olguin Jr., co-founder and co-CEO of Bitwise Industries. Since its inception in 2013, “we have focused on educating entry-level developers” and teaching people how to write computer code so they could get jobs in the technology industry.

“We’ve never participated in building a growing startup that we didn’t own,” Olguin added. “What we’re hoping to accomplish is to see the rise of the next Bitwise or Ordrslip” or other growing technology businesses outside of the Bitwise umbrella.

But as a pilot program, it’s going to be a learning process. “There’s a number of things we don’t know about what success will look like, so we’ll make adjustments to the timeline as we move along,” Olguin said.

Natural partnership

Olguin said Bitwise, from its earliest days, has depended on Google’s technology tools to help it support new technology businesses. “This is a much more intentional and strategic partnership with Google to work directly with other startups that are not affiliated with Bitwise,” she said.

Navarro said by providing technology tools and curriculum that are being used with similar startup projects nationwide, “we think we have a role to play and we can be helpful, particularly through supporting (Bitwise’s) high-growth entrepreneurship program.”

Navarro said that Google for Startups has been on the hunt for clusters of tech startups in areas across the country that are not traditionally known for technology. “We’re finding really innovative organizations that are supporting entrepreneurs,” he said. “When we caught wind of what Irma and the team at Bitwise are doing, I realized that it’s a magical group that I needed to get in touch with very quickly.”

Finding diversity

For Olguin, bringing technology opportunities to underrepresented people in the Valley is a personal quest. Olguin grew up as the child of farm laborers in rural Fresno County.

“The story of what it takes and how we can change that narrative for people to make it in the technology industry, not only in the Central Valley but in America, is a storyline that is incredibly empowering,” she said. “That young person, in whatever little rural town, previously had not been invited to the most exciting part of the economy. … I want that young person to know that this is something that can change their lives.”

Navarro said promoting diversity in the technology workforce is important for Google, particularly because the company is based in California’s Silicon Valley – where many technology giants have been criticized for a lack of diversity among their leadership and programming ranks. “We know that we need to be better supporting people and organizations that are fostering a diverse community,” he said. “A more diverse perspective will lead to better products.”

The announcement by Google and Bitwise this week came on the heels of the grand opening of Bitwise 41, the company’s third major site in downtown Fresno for leasing space to small and mid-sized technology businesses. Bitwise 41 is in a former raisin company building at Ventura and R streets – a site many longtime Fresnans may remember as The Old Spaghetti Factory.

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Lifelong Valley resident Tim Sheehan has worked in the Valley as a reporter and editor since 1986, and has been at The Fresno Bee since 1998. He is currently The Bee’s data reporter and covers California’s high-speed rail project and other transportation issues. He grew up in Madera, has a journalism degree from Fresno State and a master’s degree in leadership studies from Fresno Pacific University.