Dream of a Fil-Am business and art corridor in San Francisco gets big boost
SAN FRANCISCO – A city-backed program is offering training, seed capital and spaces to Filipino American entrepreneurs and artists who want to launch brick-and-mortar business or art installations in the city’s Filipino cultural district.
Vacant to Vibrant by SEED Network, a program arm of Kultivate Labs, will provide selected entrepreneurs and creatives with funding, pop up spaces, one on one consulting and a 10-week boot camp in order to launch businesses and art installations in SOMA Pilipinas, Filipino Cultural Heritage District.
Applications opened on March 17 and are due on April 17.
There are currently five vacant spaces along Mission and Minna Streets plus Kapwa Gardens and Trellis that are designated to be pop up spaces for this new commercial corridor through the Vacant to Vibrant program.
Along with these pop ups for their businesses and art installations, the selected entrepreneurs and creatives will receive a $5,000 seed capital, a $1,000 learning stipend, and exclusive one on one consulting ranging from accounting, legal, branding, web design, PR, etc.
“There’s a statistic out there that most small businesses fail within their first year. We want to make sure that when we place Filipino businesses in these pop up spaces that they don’t close,” says Desi Danganan, Kultivate Labs and SEED Network executive director. “The boot camp is there to help them be successful pop ups and to have the legs to remain in the district.”
Funded by the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, the Wells Fargo Foundation, and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Vacant to Vibrant is an initiative to address the vacant storefronts and spaces in the South of Market.
“With the anemic recovery of our economy, with tech workers not coming back to the office and a lot of workers being laid off, the landscape has an extreme amount of vacancies,” says Danganan.
The vacancy rate in San Francisco rapidly increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic from about 4% in 2019 to about 27% in 2022 according to the CBRE real estate firm.
“What the funders want to see is new innovative ideas that we can activate these empty storefronts and bring life back to these areas where there isn’t a continual economic decline.”
In fact, Danganan and his team at Kultivate Labs started SEED Network (known then as the SEED business program) in 2018 as part of the overall economic development of SOMA Pilipinas. The program has already benefited a number of Filipino owned businesses before the pandemic hit.
“In essence, we’ve already been doing this work and now we’re calling it Vacant to Vibrant. That’s why we got funded to do this because we’re already doing it.”
A major challenge with the goal of creating a commercial corridor on Mission Street for SOMA Pilipinas pre-pandemic was the availability and the cost of space.
“Before the pandemic, we were competing with well-heeled, highly financed start-ups for space,” says Danganan. “We couldn’t get spaces for our entrepreneurs because we would just get outbid. How are we going to compete with a startup that just got $10 million in financing?”
Plans for the economic development of and the creation of a commercial corridor in SOMA Pilipinas was stalled by the pandemic. Nevertheless, the pandemic resulted in vacant spaces opening up for new opportunities and possibilities.
“The thing to get out of this is that this is a golden opportunity for us to fulfill this vision of creating a commercial corridor,” says Danganan. “Now, landlords have all this space and they can’t fill it. Now is our chance to actually take advantage of the vacancies to build up the commercial corridor and build up SOMA Pilipinas.”
After the deadline for applications on April 17, a selection period and announcement will follow. The bootcamp then starts in late spring and pop ups will be launched in early summer of 2023.
Danganan says that “it’s going to be a very adaptive model” that includes an “individual development plan” for each entrepreneur and creative.
“We’re not having everyone go through the same workshops. It’s going to be individually tailored depending on the needs of who’s coming in. It’s not a one size fits all.”
Vacant to Vibrant was also designed with input from the community. Danganan and his team have been promoting the program prior to its launching and have conducted surveys on what the community wants to see.
“We’ve been collecting that data to know how to mold the program properly.”
Danganan has high hopes for the Vacant to Vibrant program as a generous initiative to kick-start economic development in the Filipino Cultural Heritage District.
“I hope that this is going to spark and blossom a new renaissance of Filipino businesses opening up in SOMA Pilipinas. It’s never been done before. You’re basically getting one on one consultancy to help build your business and you’re going to get a small grant to start up your business. It’s a deal of a lifetime.”