Start-ups, non-profits flock to downtown Stockton’s Café Coop

July 15, 2014

 

CAFE COOP

ELIZABETH STEVENS/CVBJ
Café Coop’s Executive Director Esperanza Vielma stands in one of the incubator’s conference rooms where local artists are encouraged to display their paintings.

STOCKTON — Café Co-Op or Café Coop? Though not intended, the latter pronunciation stuck.

“It is a co-op, but because a lot of people didn’t know what a co-op was, they started calling it ‘coop,’ so we went with that,” said Esperanza Vielma, executive director and founder of Café Coop. “And then, since we do incubate both the non-profits and the start-up companies, everybody liked the name, in terms of ‘chicken coop,’ I think. Either way is correct now.”

So came to be named the business incubator headquartered in downtown Stockton. The company currently serves close to 30 different members, including organizations like PUENTES, Placeholder Magazine, San Joaquin County Bike Coalition, and Restore the Delta.

But what exactly is a business incubator?

According to the National Business Incubator Association, a business incubator offers “management guidance, technical assistance and consulting tailored to young growing companies.” To this aim, business incubation companies provide their members with networking opportunities, office space, tech support and access to shared services and equipment.

Café Coop does all of this, offering three different levels of membership: Artisan ($25 per month) City ($55) and Espresso ($110). Each year-long lease buys members office space in its building at 42 N. Sutter St., Wi-Fi, coffee, and a reservable conference room. The higher-cost membership options provide a mailing address, a 24/7 office key, and access to capital and entrepreneurial communities such as Keiretsu Forum.

In addition to these basic amenities, Café Coop also provides discounted services and admission to networking events. “You have networking and more like a community atmosphere, so people can exchange ideas and help each other in all matters,” said Vielma. “We assist them with all the other components, like obtaining the legal information that they need, and tax information.”

Both brand-new and long-established organizations have flocked to Café Coop.

“It depends on what level they’re at, because some have already started up, and they just need the space and the networking,” Vielma explained. “And some are just in concept stage, and they need to go and set everything up.”

Restore the Delta, an advocacy group for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, already has an office on Trinity Parkway in north Stockton, yet has remained with Café Coop since the incubator’s inception as a non-profit earlier this year.

“They have their own office off of Eight Mile, in the Spanos building,” said Vielma. “They’re still our members because they want to engage in the different resources and the networking opportunities that we have.”

Subhash Sil has enjoyed Café Coop’s services for about three months. His company, eBeer, sells software technology for electronic beer dispensing. The company originated in India and has spread across Europe.

After moving to and settling down in Stockton about a year ago, Sil became interested in setting up eBeer projects in the United States. He searched in Sacramento for office space, but his disappointment with the high cost of rent and the hour-long commute from Stockton led him to Vielma, who encouraged him to join Café Coop.

“(Vielma) has been really helpful, because… she’s really reached out and put me in touch with a lot of people,” said Sil. He said that the company’s networking resources distinguish it from other office space rental options in the Central Valley.

The Northern California Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Alliance SBDC agree that Café Coop is one of a kind. There are no other businesses that offer comparable services to start-ups in either San Joaquin or Stanislaus counties.

That needs to change, says Mike Ammann, President of San Joaquin County Partnership and a key promoter of the Greater Silicon Valley – San Joaquin County Extension.

“We need to group our entrepreneurs together, so that they can benefit from all of the advantages of Silicon Valley,” said Ammann. “Forty percent of all the venture capital in the world is located in Silicon Valley.”

Ammann hopes to attract not only capital and trade to the county, but also Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and employees.

“Café Coop is a landing place for entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who don’t want to fight the ever-increasing cost and the difficulty in finding and retaining talent,” said Ammann. “Those are entrepreneurs that we would like to have come up here, because they’ll build rapidly-growing companies and employ more people.”

Vielma says that the biggest challenge currently facing Café Coop is informing the local community about what a cooperative is and how it can benefit them.

“It’s more in terms of just trying to get the message out on a local level,” said Vielma. “Because, I mean, when you’re outside here in the Bay Area or anywhere else, people understand what that is; you don’t really have to explain it.”

For more information visit cafecoop.org or call (209) 645-0692.

 

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