Beyond Tech: Oakland’s Young Entrepreneurs

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Khalil Whitaker is 21-years old. He runs his own business with a friend. It started in East Oakland. It’s official name is O.A.K. A Town Business, but Whitaker explains, “Oak Boys is our nickname.” And that’s what most people call it.

The business started out of his car. “Just doing it out the trunk on Instagram and popping up places and getting it off,” says Whitaker.

Today, Oak Boys has a kiosk inside Bayfair Mall in San Leandro. When they started, they barely had enough money to buy supplies. Now, their graphic T’s, sweats and shorts with funny logos have blown up. Miley Cyrus even posted a picture of Oak Boys clothes on Instagram.

Whitaker and his partner aren’t techies. But they want those dollars. So they make their shirts appeal to hipsters.

“You want it to keep up with all of their Nautica, Polo, Burberry, you know, and it’s just a graphic tee,” says Whitaker. “You want it to feel not like your other typical graphic tees that’s ten dollars and stuff like that.”

While Oak Boys are building their business around tech newcomers, Monifa Akosua and Rashawn Moore are starting a non-profit called: A Brighter Health. They see themselves as building something completely outside of tech.

“I feel like we’re different because we’re part of the community we serve,” says Akosua. “So us being a part of the community, it makes our students relate more to us.”

Moore adds, “We are youth. We are very young. We are African Americans. Also, connecting one-on-one with youth and finding different ways to enhance their knowledge about health is very important. And I think that’s what really differs us from tech companies.”

Akosua and Moore are 24 and 21 years old. They started their business with just a $500 grant. They provide low-income youth with nutritional education. So, many afternoons you find them teaching teenagers. Akosua and Moore do workshops at nonprofits and schools. They teach kids not only how to read food labels, but also how to harvest their own food in a community garden.

Matt Warner’s business is also focused on community, but a music community.

“We’re really about providing a place for the content that’s coming out of the Bay Area and coming out of the local scene,” says Warner.

Warner’s blog “Thizzler on the Roof” highlights artists like Iamsu. His content gets more than 10 million views a month. Warner makes a living from his business. But it took years living at home and struggling to pay for gas before it paid off.

He says he’s all about the material, not the technology. “It could be the ugliest site it could be. Something that’s totally not 2015 technology,” explains Warner, “And just the content that we bring and that we have access to, it’s really what powers it.” The growing party scene also powers his blog.

Whitaker, Akosua, Moore, and Warner say they’re all different from tech entrepreneurs in the Bay Area. But they also represent a larger trend in the state. Most business are small. In fact… 92 percent of all California businesses have less than five employees.

And let’s face it, it’s trendy now to be small and local. These young people plan to ride the wave as long as they can.

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