Ask.com's Nan Guo, Director of Engineering, Content & Answers, accepts an OakTech Innovator Award Thursday
The notion of Oakland as a center of technology innovation is starting to look real.
Thursday night, the business association TwoPointOak held its OakTech Innovator Awards and drew hundreds of tech entrepreneurs, investors, tech industry employees and people who want to believe in Oakland as a slice of Silicon Valley. Sure, it was a beautiful night in the rooftop garden of the Kaiser Convention Center where the award celebration took place, but it was much more than that.
In the weeks prior to the awards night, 800 votes were logged online from people wanting to choose the most innovative companies in Oakland.
"And they were informed votes," Deborah Acosta, one of the founders of TwoPointOak and organizers of the event, said. "They were from people who know technology."
The four winning Oakland companies chosen among 21 nominees were honored not only for their innovation, but also for job creation and investment in growing their businesses.
Solar Mosaic - a start up that pioneered a way to use crowd funding to allow nonprofit institutions to install solar photovoltaic panels on their rooftops - won the innovator award in the community/open data category.
Integral Group - a mechanical, energy and electrical engineering company focused on green building - won the innovator award in the clean tech category.
Grow California - which organized a giant Clean Tech investment conference in Oakland last year to spur venture capital investment in local clean tech companies - won in the investment category.
And in the category of digital technology, Ask.com - a search engine company, which for years represented Oakland’s technology sector as the largest technology company downtown - won.
As a measure of just how far Oakland has grown in the technology industry landscape, venture capital firms invested $2.5 billion in Oakland area/East Bay companies between 2009 and 2011, according to banker Deborah Boyer, senior vice president of asset management for the Swig Company in Oakland. She said that represents a 40 percent growth from the prior two years. By comparison, Silicon Valley saw 29 percent growth in VC investment during that time, albeit from a much larger base.
Still, with companies like Sungevity, which is the fastest growing residential solar company in the nation, and Pandora Media Inc., the Internet-based music company which served up 1.15 billion hours of listening hours in the month of September alone, as big profile companies that chose Oakland for their headquarters, many observers say a tech renaissance is happening in Oakland.
"Oakland has a legitimate and growing cluster of tech companies," said Steve Lautze, the City of Oakland's green business development director. "Sungevity is the achor of green business here," and is attracting other green or clean tech companies.
Pandora is doing the same for digital based companies. Pandora shares opened at $9.21 a share on the New York Stock Exchange Friday, down slightly from Thursday's close of $9.37 a share. Friday was a downward trending day in general on the stock market, with 81 percent of NYSE stocks trading lower than the previous day, according to Yahoo Finance.