MC Hammer helps unveil CoBiz Richmond

MC Hammer delivers the keynote speech for the grand opening of CoBiz Richmond, a new state-of-the art coworking space and business incubator that opened Nov. 1 next to the Richmond BART Station. (Photos by Mike Aldax and Mike Kinney)

Everyone knows MC Hammer, the hip hop legend.

But have you met MC Hammer, the tech-savvy entrepreneur?

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, the Oakland native who transformed himself from a multimillion record-selling artist into a respected technology investor and entrepreneur visited Richmond, but not to tout his successes in Silicon Valley. Rather, he came to help plug West Contra Costa County entrepreneurs into the Bay Area’s booming digital economy.

MC Hammer delivered the keynote speech for the highly-anticipated grand opening celebration for CoBiz, a new state-of-the-art co-working space and business incubator at 1503 Macdonald Ave., adjacent to the Richmond BART Station.

The modern, 9,000-square foot space, seen by civic leaders as transformative for Richmond’s downtown, equips local entrepreneurs and small businesses in West Contra Costa with state-of-the-art technologies and resources in the middle of the city’s central transit hub.

CoBiz provides small businesses, innovators, nonprofits and freelance creatives with cutting-edge technologies, collaborative spaces, a sound-proofed creative space for podcasting and vlogging, spaces for Ted Talk-type seminars, hacking events, a communal kitchen, and even a few relaxation spaces.

More than space, there’ll be ample resources. CoBiz’s partners include the Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, and the Richmond Main Street Initiative and all of these organizations will be onsite offering tools and connections to entrepreneurs and businesses. For example, joining CoBiz automatically connects members to the Richmond Chamber’s network of nearly 300 businesses and to monthly business mixers planned for the facility, among other programs, said James Lee, the Chamber’s president and CEO who helped in the long-running plans for CoBiz.

A website builder seeking prospective clients would be connected to establishes local businesses needing that service, Lee said.

“As a partner, we want every entrepreneur that rents a desk or office space or simply uses a conference room to be supported by the local business community,” Lee said.

And with CoBiz, companies throughout the Bay Area now have the option of having their employees from West County avoid long commutes while having access to a highly-equipped office.

CoBiz is a project of the Chevron Richmond Refinery’s eQuip Richmond initiative, a multi-year $10 million investment that funds strategies to fundamentally improve communities by encouraging small business development, workforce development, and pathways to sustainable, living wages and careers in growth industries.

Wesley Alexander, CEO of CoBiz, speaks at the CoBiz grand opening event on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019.

Chevron collaborated with the previously mentioned organizations and others to create CoBiz in the long-vacant ground floor space of the BART parking garage, not just near major transit lines but also in an area experiencing a housing boom.

“Our ambition is to see the seed funding really be prolific in that it not only facilitates CoBiz’s operations, but supports all the innovators, entrepreneurs and nonprofits who use the space collectively, “said Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager at Chevron Richmond and also chair of the CoBiz Board of Directors. “The success of opening CoBiz’s doors involved many community partners, and we want that type of collaboration to continue with its members.”

MC Hammer called the community collaborations crucial to economic success. He brought up, as an example, regular gatherings he’d attend among elite entrepreneurs and investors in a suite at AT&T Park (now called Oracle Park). Despite attending many San Francisco Giants games, MC Hammer said he wasn’t often aware of the score.

“I notice we’d have 30 people in the box, and probably we’d check the score of the game maybe once every four innings. Who’s winning? I don’t know who’s winning…we’re winning. Because we’re bouncing ideas off each other and solving problems.”

CoBiz is seen as a collaborative space for creatives, innovators, entrepreneurs, nonprofits and others.

CoBiz “has the ability to change a lot of lives,” MC Hammer added. “A lot of companies can come out of here. The people who know how to best use these new platforms, they’re right here in Richmond.”

CoBiz CEO Wesley Alexander said the incubator’s aim will be to uplift all community members bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.

“We are going to celebrate diversity, we’re going to welcome it authentically,” Alexander said. “If you’re a person with purpose, regardless of your socio-economic background, if you come to CoBiz, we’ll customize something and make it work. Great things come from where you’ll least expect.”

CoBiz aims to uplift anyone from small businesses to nonprofits and freelancers, said Chevron Richmond Refinery Corporate Affairs Manager Hector Infante.

“It can be a group of young students working on what could be the next billion dollar idea,” Infante said.

Hector Infante, Chevron Richmond Public Affairs Manager, speaks at the CoBiz grand opening event on Nov. 6., 2019.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said the opening of CoBiz marked a tipping point for the return of a vibrant downtown Richmond.

“All of these offices and nooks and crannies and conference rooms are going to be crammed with creative and energetic people,” the mayor said. “A lot of young people, you’re going to see a lot of millennials here.”

CoBiz is the third core program launched through the Chevron eQuip Richmond Initiative. Other projects include the Construction Resource Center, which works to prepare local residents, contractors and construction companies for future economic development projects in the region, as well as Pogo Park Products, a for-profit social enterprise staffed entirely by Iron Triangle residents that designs and builds parks and park amenities.

CoBiz Grand Opening Photos