SERA and OBBF: Partnering with Our Oakland Neighbors

Like most American cities, Oakland suffered that one-two punch of 2020 beginning with the COVID 19 shutdowns of March followed by weeks of demonstrations after the death of George Floyd in May. Downtown Oakland is known for its vibrant Black-owned local business community, and many of these shops, restaurants, and service providers were among the hardest hit in those months. Many were cut-off and struggled to remain open.

Recognizing the need for immediate solutions, business leaders Elisse Douglass and Trevor Parham launched the Oakland Black Business Fund (OBBF) — first as an emergency GoFundMe campaign and then, based on the overwhelming response to that, as a full-service investment platform, providing capital, technical assistance, and growth strategy to Black-owned businesses.

Their initial mission was simple: provide funding to repair damaged storefronts and get businesses open again. SERA was excited to help.

The Oakland Black Business Fund matched SERA with Oakstop — another local company serving creative entrepreneurs and small local businesses by blending coworking, art, and event space. Oakstop’s largest location, in downtown Oakland, also serves as an unofficial headquarters for OBBF.

Oakstop owner Trevor Parham had already started expanding Oakstop’s space within the historic Mary Bowles Building in early 2020, but he wanted help uncovering the building’s real potential and understanding the logistics of pursuing various options. Working together with Trevor, we were able to map out a long-term plan that moves Oakstop closer to Trevor’s vision for the building, while bringing immediate improvements to the existing coworking space as a first step.

SERA has always been a mission-driven organization focused on our local communities. As working from home and collaborating remotely continued during the summer of 2020, our staff was excited about the opportunity to partner with OBBF and support their mission of getting Oakland back to work. Applying SERA’s experiences with some of the Bay Area’s most prominent corporate clients we were able to bring the same high-performance workplace qualities to Oakstop’s growing coworking community.

We look back on 2020 and this project with gratitude. Working with OBBF and Oakstop, getting to know some of their members, and partnering with them to help provide for the future has been rewarding both personally and professionally. We’re grateful for the opportunity to help get our community back to work — and we hope we get to work with these great organizations much more in this new year.