Oakland Isn’t San Francisco, But It Is Getting More Startup Funding

Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been been looking at startup funding trends for cities within the San Francisco Bay Area. We started with San Francisco and continued on to the East Bay. Our next stop is Oakland.

Back in the days of the dot-com bubble, the city of Oakland posted ads atop San Francisco taxis claiming that “Oakland is closer to San Francisco than San Francisco is to San Francisco.”

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It’s one of those statements that’s both demonstrably false and rather accurate. It is actually faster to get to downtown San Fransico via transit from Oakland than from outer neighborhoods of San Francisco. The cities are only 8 miles apart, as the crow flies.

Proximity to the center of the unicorn boom, coupled with a transit-friendly downtown and slightly lower cost of living and business operating costs, makes Oakland an increasingly popular choice for scaling startups. This doesn’t thrill a lot of locals, including many who thought they were fleeing tech saturation in San Francisco. But so it goes.

Here’s How Much Money Oakland Startups Are Raising

So far this year, 47 Oakland-based companies have closed funding rounds with a combined value of $583 million. That’s the highest total in years, and part of what’s a mostly upward trend of funding in recent years:

Still,Oakland is not rich in unicorns. Per Crunchbase data, there’s just one private, venture-backed Oakland company that’s crossed the $1 billion valuation threshold. Marqeta, a fintech unicorn, has raised nearly $400 million for its configurable payment card technology.

Marqeta was by far the biggest funding funding recipient this year, closing on a $260 million Series E. Other large rounds went Fivetran, a developer of data replication technology, and LaunchDarkly, a software feature management platform, which both raised $44 million. And Hound Labs, maker of marijuana brethaylizers, pulled in $35 million. (For more info, we put together a list of the twelve largest funding rounds this year.)

Exits And Flops

Oakland-based companies have generated a few big exits in the past few years, as well as some flops.

This year’s biggest deal involved Turnitin, a  provider of plagiarism-detection tools that sold to media company Advance in a deal valued at $1.74 billion. But Turnitin was no startup, having launched back in 1996.

Nor was last year’s biggest M&A target, the music service Pandora. The company, previously publicly traded, sold to SiriusXM for $3.5 billion.

Other big local outcomes include Blue Bottle Coffee, known for its exceptionally strong brews, which sold to Nestle two years ago for a reported $425 million. Modis Therapeutics, a developer of therapies for rare genetic diseases, sold to fellow pharma Zogenix this year for $250 million.

The city has seen its share of flops too. Home solar provider Sungevity was once a high-flyer that wound up in bankruptcy. Livescribe, a heavily funded smart pen developer, wound up selling its assets a few years ago for a fraction of its invested capital. And BrightSource Energy, a renewables provider that was probably the city’s most heavily funded startup, has whittled down its presence in Oakland as it focuses on overseas projects.

Seems Like A Place That Would Have More Startups

Notably, the funding numbers for Oakland over the past three years – $1.28 billion – are lower than many other nearby cities with lower buzz and smaller populations that we profiled.

Oakland, however, seems to generate more talk in part because it has attributes we associate with a startup hub: a dense downtown, a vibe that’s a mix of gritty and hip, and the kind of urban lifestyle popular with younger tech workers. Plus, it’s really close to San Francisco.

“I think we’ll see Oakland emerging as tech moves a bit to the East,” says Jeff Bellisario, interim executive director for the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, which studies economic issues affecting the region’s livability and business competitiveness. “It’s becoming that cool hip place to go.”

Photo by Mark Boss via Unsplash.

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