Plans for a hip co-working and business incubator space in Richmond’s downtown corridor received a large funding boost Wednesday.
It was one of two projects that won big at Chevron’s Project Pitch contest at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts.
The contest, which loosely resembled ABC’s popular TV show Shark Tank, had nonprofits attempt to convince a panel of six local industry experts that their proposed projects would create jobs, grow small businesses and expand job training opportunities in the Richmond area.
The panel of experts (pictured below in front row), which included a venture capitalist and a bank executive, chose two winners, with each receiving Chevron grants of up to $1 million over three years. ABC7 News anchor Dan Ashley (back row, on right) emceed the event.
The winners include the Richmond Main Street Initiative (RMSI) in partnership with Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, who will team on an initiative to improve downtown, and Pogo Park, which employs Iron Triangle residents for the purpose of turning dilapidated spaces into vibrant parks.
RMSI plans to use its Chevron grant to launch Co-Biz Richmond in the heart of the city’s downtown – at the corner of Harbour Way and Macdonald Avenue. The co-working space will allow small business owners inhabiting the building to network and access resources to grow their business, from advice to capital. The building, which features a coffee shop in its plans and is within walking distance of BART, will help inject new life into the city’s commercial corridor, said Amanda Elliott, executive director of RMSI. You can hear Elliott begin to explain the project here:
“There will be more vitality downtown; a new vibe,” an excited Elliott said after learning that her group’s pitch won.
Pogo Park similarly aims to inject more vitality in Richmond. The award-winning nonprofit founded by Toody Maher trains Iron Triangle residents to design and build vibrant play areas in their own neighborhood. The effort has thus far resulted in two parks – Harbour 8 and Elm Playlot – that have been a hit among residents, particularly kids. Project Pitch judges praised how Pogo Park’s beautification projects incorporate public health and economic benefits.
Now Pogo Park (team pictured below) wants to use the Chevron grant to expand the concept by creating Pogo Park Inc. The new venture aims to hire and train 100 Richmond residents to design and build play structures and areas for public spaces throughout Richmond and surrounding communities. It also wants to take its ever-expanding line of park products to the private sector, and intends to do so in partnership with Scientific Art Studio of Richmond, whose proprietor, Ron Holthuysen (back row, black jacket), designed the large baseball mitt sculpture at AT&T Park as well as the new playgrounds at San Francisco Zoo.
The partnership will “provide hands-on training to our local resident team to unlock the talents and inherent potential, the human capital, of folks who are living here in this neighborhood,” Maher said.
Unlike the actual Shark Tank TV show, no one walked away empty-handed after Wednesday’s contest. Chevron donated $5,000 to the three teams that did not win the grants, as all of the participants proved their projects are worth pursuing, said Braden Raddell, public affairs manager for Chevron.
One of the teams pitched the idea of creating a new Arts & Cultural District near the Civic Center. Another wants to train youth to build boats that can be used to for community services such as shoreline cleanups or education and scientific research. A third idea involves purchasing multi-unit properties for the homeless, seniors and the formerly incarcerated with access to career training and other services.
“Every single one of these pitches will improve our communities on multiple fronts,” said Andrea Bailey, the Chevron community engagement manager who was the visionary behind Wednesday’s contest. “Along with funding projects that are going to make a real difference, Project Pitch brought some of the community’s best resource providers into one room with the ultimate goal of tapping their greatest resource of all: local residents.”
Funds for the grant are one part of Chevron’s eQuip Richmond, an Economic Revitalization Initiative (ERI) that includes a $10 million investment to improve the lives of residents in Richmond and North Richmond. Similar economic initiatives funded by the ERI will be unveiled over the next three years, according to Chevron officials.
Ashley said he was honored to emcee the event, and had some very nice things to say about Richmond, as well:
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