Innovation Lab

The inaugural class of the Innovation Lab, a 10-month program aimed at developing projects to improve downtown Bakersfield, making it a more desirable place to live, work and visit. 

Bakersfield is a city full of untapped potential that is loaded with possibilities. The only thing missing are passionate individuals willing to make them reality.

That was the idea behind The Hub of Bakersfield, a nonprofit founded over one year ago by Councilman Andrae Gonzales, whose mission is to redefine and revitalize the city’s urban core by bringing likeminded individuals together to effect change.

Since its inception, The Hub has helped beautify the downtown area and enhance the visitor experience with projects like the Cesar Chavez mural on the corner of 18th and L streets and the street pianos found outside local businesses that will return in the spring. The nonprofit also worked with the city to allow breweries to open downtown, culminating in the opening of 2nd Phase Brewing on the corner of O and 19th streets in January.

The opportunity to get input and knowledge toward introducing something new to downtown Bakersfield was what got 2nd Phase Brewing owner Francisco Martinez interested in being part of The Hub and its Innovation Lab, a 10-month program aimed at developing projects to improve downtown Bakersfield, making it a more desirable place to live, work and visit.

“It was one of the biggest draws,” the Bakersfield native said. “I was coming to downtown to start a business and add to the downtown industry. Through the Innovation Lab, I was hoping to get more input but also get a lot of knowledge of what we could and what we should be looking at to bring more to downtown — more than what’s currently going on right now.”

Nearly 40 applicants were interviewed for the inaugural class, with 16 men and women selected and split into two groups of eight. Each group is responsible for the creation, planning and implementation of an installation project. The programs are pitched to The Hub of Bakersfield board for approval and executed by the program’s end in June.

“It’s pretty inspiring,” said Jorge Barrientos, one of three facilitators for the Innovation Lab. “You see all these people who feel and think the same way and want to get stuff done and bring really cool things to this urban core.”

The groups meet twice a month and hear from guest speakers, take part in community projects and go on field trips to learn from other communities, utilizing the information and experiences to bring something new and unique to downtown Bakersfield.

“Our hope is that current students want to continue giving back (after the program ends) and they’ll actually help us with the next class or with other components within The Hub of Bakersfield,” Barrientos said.

The Innovation Lab is just one of several programs within The Hub of Bakersfield, along with Second Saturday, Be In Bakersfield and the “Hello! Bakersfield” podcast. The Hub also has committees dedicated to connecting people, creating events and even working with city and county governments.

The Innovation Lab will begin accepting applicants for its second class around August, with the goal of starting in September. The program costs $750, which covers class merchandise, meals, trips and more.

“There are some companies that paid for the students to participate and there are others that are paying for it themselves — that should tell you something right there,” Barrientos said. “They’re putting their money into this and investing in themselves. When I was interviewing them, it just caught me off-guard how passionate they were about their city and how much they wanted to see it improve, not only for themselves and their families, but for other people, too.” 

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