Super Friends: 'Town Biz' Incubator Cultivates Oakland Talent

Christine De La Rosa never intended to start a business incubator. She just wanted to launch Eden Pride Events, a production company tailored to Oakland’s LGBTQ community with Chaney Turner and Charleen Caabay [AKA Chopped’s Chef Charleen].

But then the group came together again to create fiveTen Events and Filipino restaurant Kainbigan, followed by retail store Town Biz, marijuana delivery service Benefit Health Collective, Queen of Hearts Art Gallery in San Francisco, and Craft & Spoon, an Oakland eatery that opened this month.

In all, the friends have launched seven businesses.

Charleen Caabay, Chanay Turner, Christine De La Rosa and Michael Schlieker. | Photo: Town Biz/Instagram

De La Rosa said there was no master plan. “We kind of just all pull together whenever we need to pull together," she said. "It never even occurred to me until someone said it; that what we’re running is a business incubator.”

She said the collective was created in response to the question, “how do we create entrepreneurship and self-sustainability for people of color?" Entrepreneurship is a core strategy, "but we’re not always taught how to do that," she said.

Though the group has no official name, De La Rosa, also known as Miz Chris, considers the collective as an organization of mutual support and encouragement. While not every member shares the same goal or skill set, the group lends its collective energy towards helping individuals succeed.  

A post shared by Town Biz (@townbizoakland) on

“It’s about putting complementary people together and creating multiple businesses for multiple groups,” says De La Rosa. “I think we could all be successful by ourselves, but not as successful. We are better together.”

In the model that De La Rosa aspires to, the group could offer training, funding, and experience to give new business owners a leg up. Once they have apprenticed in the program, they would then have a business history and would be able to go further with their own ideas.

One of the early beneficiaries of this model is is Aima Paule, better known as Aima the Dreamer, who uses kitchen space at Craft and Spoon to brew and market her own product, Hey Bü Kombucha.

“We’ve all been working together in some capacity for over a decade,” said Paule. “All of us supporting each other in our passions, our ideas, and we’ve just been opening business after business after business,” she said. “It’s incredible to be a part of a collective that funds and feeds and supports your dreams.”

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De La Rosa hopes to see the group grow in both business and membership in the coming years, and to help even more Oaklanders open more businesses, she admits they can’t do it without outside help.

“We’re busy. We have businesses,” she said. “We’re kind of tapped out. We’re interested now in helping other people realize their dreams. We need someone who can really focus on that. My goal is to hire a program director. ”

De La Rosa would like to assist more Oaklanders in realizing their own business goals. “As people of color in Oakland, we’re interested in hiring the formerly incarcerated, low income, people of color,” she said. “A lot of those folks have great ideas.”

While there's no formal application to apprentice with the group, people interested in getting involved should email craftandspoonoak@gmail.com with their ideas.

“We’ve been doing this thing as a friendship circle and obviously this is going to get bigger than us,” said De La Rosa. “We would like to become an organization.” 

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Super friends town biz incubator cultivates oakland talent