Bitwise Industries is expanding across the U.S., fueled by venture capital and a mission to introduce tech and build tech careers in marginalized communities.
The next stop is Western New York.
Bitwise — a Fresno, California-based company that trains tech workers in underserved communities, develops software and invests in tech-friendly real estate — has chosen Buffalo for its latest project, Business First has learned.
The project, which has been in the making for more than a year, is viewed locally as a major step toward the long-term goal of using tech to unlock economic potential in Buffalo.
The recruiting effort included heavy involvement from leaders at 43North Foundation, M&T Bank, the Ralph J. Wilson Jr. Foundation, TechBuffalo, Empire State Development Corp. and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York.
While many details of the project remain under wraps, Bitwise has hired its first Buffalo employees and begun enrolling students into classes.
Led by co-CEOs Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr., Bitwise raised $50 million in venture capital last year to bring its unique business model to cities across the U.S.
Soberal declined comment on the details of Bitwise’s involvement in Buffalo until the company is ready to make a formal announcement.
“Our excitement only continues to grow around the city of Buffalo,” he said in a statement to Business First.
Bitwise has a three-prong platform:
• A workforce training program that aims to introduce underprivileged individuals to careers in technology.
• A software development firm where graduates of its academy can work.
• A commercial real estate campus for the Bitwise program as well as other technology businesses.
It’s unclear where Bitwise will site operations in Buffalo, but in other cities it has been a major project. The company’s first home base in downtown Fresno, for instance, hosts its own programs and more than 200 companies in 250,000 square feet.
In 2021, Bitwise announced Toledo, Ohio, was to be the first location outside California, and plans are to renovate a 100,000-square-foot building in downtown Toledo. Bitwise has four sites in California (Fresno, Bakersfield, Merced and Oakland).
Soberal and Olguin were featured in Forbes last year for their company’s unique ideals, bringing a venture-funded approach to the problem of diversity in tech.
“Bitwise can deliver to the world and to the cities a diverse and inclusive technology workforce, where those high-wage, high-skilled jobs now are creating and endeavoring to bolster that local economy,” Soberal told the magazine.
While startups and tech jobs have proliferated in Buffalo in recent years, leaders in the space have grappled with how to make diversity a meaningful strategy. TechBuffalo, for instance, seeks specifically to connect opportunities in tech to Buffalo’s impoverished inner-city communities. M&T’s Tech Academy, introduced publicly last year, is also partnering on programs that introduce tech careers to non-traditional labor pools.
In the meantime, Bitwise is the latest high-growth tech company with national cachet to make a meaningful investment in Buffalo. Business software firm Odoo chose Buffalo as its East Coast hub in 2020 and is now preparing to occupy a second full floor at Seneca One Tower. Buffalo native and AML RightSource CEO Frank Ewing is quickly building out that firm’s presence at Seneca One. Atlanta-based Rural Sourcing announced in fall 2021 it would open a software hub in Buffalo.
Bitwise doubled in size and revenue last year alone, and it has trained more than 5,000 people from underserved communities, according to a company news release from January. More than 80% of those trainees have gone on to find technical employment.
Bitwise’s apprenticeship model has created more than $285 million in wages for mostly women and people of color, the company stated.
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