From left, Irma Olguin, Mayor Lee Brand and Jake Soberal
Written by David Castellon
The two founders of Fresno’s Bitwise Industries were awarded the Downtown Fresno Partnership’s highest award Thursday night.
“This is a really neat honor I feel is supposed to be for grownups,” 32-year-old Jake Soberal said as he received the award, along with co-founder and co-CEO of Bitwise Irma Olguin at the recently-reopened Downtown Club.
Named after a long-time downtown property owner and advocate who died in 2012, the Al Allen Award is given annually, usually to individuals who have gone “beyond the call of duty helping downtown and doing something spectacular,” said the partnership’s interim CEO Craig Scharton.
Since 2013, Bitwise has renovated three downtown office buildings and used them to bring in and house mostly technology-related companies, and Scharton noted the company is renovating two more buildings.
It’s part of $30 million worth of private development that went into downtown last year, along with about $142 million in public development, Scharton told the crowd.
Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, who presented the award after he and Scharton gave presentations on the state of downtown and its future, said the Bitwise founders have together been a driving force in shaping the face and dynamic of downtown Fresno.
“They had an idea that created a mother ship to attract local tech innovators, and Bitwise Industries has grown dramatically, igniting a revolution that will likely put Fresno on the map with the other tech hubs, including San Jose, Seattle and Austin.”
As he prepared to present the awards, Brand accidentally hit a button on a laptop on the podium that had been generating the names of the award and of Olguin and Soberal, causing the image to wink out on the projection screen.
“There’s no irony greater than the tech just dropping out when the tech company comes on the stage,” said Olguin, drawing a laugh from the more than 200 people gathered inside the Downtown Club.
“That’s not an omen. We have plenty of good things in store. We’re really appreciative of this recognition. Were just getting started. Thank you so much.”
Soberal added, “We’ve fallen in love with this city, in part because of this city being responsible for making us.
“So we feel fortunate trying to do the stuff we do in our downtown, and, as Irma said, as long as you allow us to try to do ridiculous things in downtown, we’d like to continue doing that.”