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Main Spotlight: Creating a Community for Inclusive Entrepreneurship in Fremont, CA

June 15, 2021 | Main Spotlight: Creating a Community for Inclusive Entrepreneurship in Fremont, CA | By: Tina Kapoor, Economic Development Manager, City of Fremont | 
Fremont, CA
Photo credit: Fremont Economic Development

The COVID-19 pandemic caused layoffs and closures for businesses nationwide, especially minority-owned small businesses. Both minority workers and business owners including people of color, women, and low-income families in the retail, hospitality, transportation, and travel industries were most heavily affected. As we enter the next era of entrepreneurship, local governments are aiming to support inclusivity, level the playing field, and provide a solid foundation for all business owners to overcome both old and never-before-seen obstacles such as the pandemic and, ultimately, achieve long-term success.

In April, Fremont participated in a panel during the Main Street Now Conference where we discussed just that: various ways to rebuild stronger and more equitable Main Streets and strategies to strengthen small businesses. For Fremont, we had to think outside the box to make sure that business owners benefited from the City’s support throughout the pandemic (and now beyond as we enter the next phase).

As a minority, immigrant woman, I am honored to work for a City that prides itself as a hub for inclusivity and entrepreneurship. To best support these diverse entrepreneurs and the vitality they bring to our local economy, it is our job to provide resources and tools, so their businesses can reach their full potential. These tools must be handcrafted for the community they serve and take into account the strengths of the surrounding economy.

The Diversity of Fremont

The City of Fremont is known as the “Hardware Side of the Bay” and is the fourth largest city in Silicon Valley. Home to 900 manufacturing companies as well as countless mom-and-pop establishments, Fremont’s strength is found in the diversity of its business community and, of course, its residents.

PrinterPrezz_w_cap_larger_two_line.jpgOur five historic districts are full of people from all walks of life. Back in 1956, five individual townships came together to form the City of Fremont. Now recognized as districts, Centerville, Niles, Irvington, Warm Springs, and Mission San Jose meld together to represent the unique characteristics of Fremont. This history created multiple Main Street environments; we recognize that each of its neighborhoods and Main Streets keep Fremont unique, inclusive, and most importantly, economically resilient.

With over 98 languages spoken in Fremont homes and more than half of our population born outside the country, Fremont continues to go above and beyond to help these communities thrive. Part of these efforts includes supporting the many entrepreneurs who have made Fremont their home (68% of businesses in Fremont are owned by minorities). In fact, the City is honored to have more startups per capita than any other city in the U.S., not including all the small businesses that are the foundation of our districts. We also have the most patents per capita (1.4 in every 100 Fremont residents holds a patent).

Needless to say, the entrepreneurial spirit of Fremont is strong and extends to small businesses, the tech industry, and beyond.

Our Partnerships and Programs

Our shared vision of being an inclusive City is a driving force for many of our initiatives. Fremont partners with many businesses and stakeholders to ensure entrepreneurs, startups, small businesses, and their respective families are taken care of now and in the future.

Small Business Working Group. With the help of our community partners and business district leaders, we formed a small business working group responsible for sharing resources and distributing information to businesses in all our districts. The group's latest initiative included providing essential personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic, where they partnered with PrinterPrezz, a local company that donated face shields.

Gift Fremont. Another program that came out of a partnership is Gift Fremont, which launched in May 2020 toward the beginning of the pandemic. The City of Fremont and the Fremont Chamber of Commerce partnered with Yiftee to create an eGift Card marketplace to encourage the community and larger companies to shop with and support local small businesses.

The program was free for all small businesses to participate, didn’t require businesses to have a website, provided marketing and ecommerce support, and brought new and repeat customers to businesses at a time where many businesses were losing large volumes of business. In addition, larger companies such as Seagate Technology and Facebook provided funding for the program as well as encouraged their own employees to shop local and use the platform.

During Small Business Week in May, the Gift Fremont program allowed us to predominately showcase women and minority-owned businesses in addition to providing them with support through the Fremont Resource Center, including one-on-one financial coaching, legal clinics, and connections to partner agencies. Our Business Grant program’s eligibility requirements were especially favorable toward women and minority-owned businesses, and our Start Up Grind chapter frequently hosts women-owned panels to showcase local women CEOs and founders.

Earn and Learn Fremont (ELF) Pilot Program. Additionally, the City of Fremont Economic Development Department launched the Earn and Learn Fremont (ELF) Pilot Program to provide low-income, women, and other minorities affected by COVID-19 layoffs the opportunity to begin a new career in advanced manufacturing. Participants received paid work experience at Fremont-based medical device company Evolve Manufacturing Technologies, Inc. and an industry-recognized Certificate of Competency after completion of a short-term, customized occupational skills training program developed by Ohlone College, a local community college that offers innovative STEM programs.

This program was a prime example of bridging the gap between businesses that desperately needed talent and recently laid off employees that needed work. The certificate from Ohlone College combined with their newly found expertise allowed participants to pursue manufacturing jobs after completion of the program. To date, 17 participants have graduated from the program, 14 of those who graduated went on to work at Evolve, and three others accepted job offers from another manufacturing company based in Fremont.

Career Connections. Finally, Career Connections is a new partnership with Facebook launching this summer that trains Fremont’s low-income youth to become well-versed in social media and digital marketing at no cost. After the training, program participants will be eligible for a paid internship where they can use their newfound marketing expertise to create and implement a digital marketing strategy for an assigned small business. Through this program, we are not only helping minority-owned small businesses with extra marketing power, but also empowering underserved youth to jumpstart their own careers.

Promoting Equitable Entrepreneurship

Fremont is advancing entrepreneurship and building a world-class inclusive city, and we encourage members of Main Street America to follow suit. When beginning new initiatives in your city, face and acknowledge the inequities in your community as well as the strengths of what is working and keep that perspective front and center. Like Fremont, diversity is woven into the fabric of many Main Streets across America, and no one size fits all.

We need to tailor the resources offered and continuously work to identify more ways to support underrepresented groups. A good way to do this is by asking for feedback periodically, with questions like: "How can we better serve your business?", "What do you need as an entrepreneur to be successful?", and "What challenges have you faced because you are a minority?". And don’t stop after programs and initiatives are created; check in with the business owners to see how helpful the programs were and what areas could be improved.

We can all help entrepreneurs in our respective communities achieve their dreams, create new jobs for others, strengthen local economies, and celebrate success.

About the Author

Tina Kapoor is the Economic Development Manager for the City of Fremont, California, where she brings her expertise in business district revitalization, downtown management, and workforce development to her hometown. Tina also serves on the Alameda County Workforce Development Board to craft innovative and customized solutions for businesses looking to find and retain talent. Tina started work in local government with the 10th largest city in the U.S. — San Jose, CA. Over a 20-year period, Tina built a career in economic development, excelling in the creation of innovative programs in partnership with private partners to nurture businesses and entrepreneurs.