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After fire, Paradise-area businesses found a friend in tech hub Chicostart

November 19, 2019

Tech hub Chicostart helped businesses rebuild after California’s Camp Fire. Timothy Sharkey and the team helped build community along the way.

Chicostart Wendy Porter Timothy Sharkey Eva Shepherd Nicoll
Photo courtesy of Chicostart: Chicostart’s Wendy Porter (from left), Timothy Sharkey and Eva Shepherd-Nicoll helped Paradise-area businesses recover from the Camp Fire.

Hours after the Camp Fire ignited, Timothy Sharkey recognized an impending impact that he was in a position to help address. So Sharkey, operations manager for Chicostart, an entrepreneurial and tech hub in Chico, California, and just down the ridge from Paradise, talked with Wendy Porter, Chicostart’s director. 

Within hours, Chicostart, on the first floor of Chico’s City Hall, opened its doors to small businesses from the surrounding area that were displaced by the fire, offering office space, internet, desks, conference rooms, phones, coffee and other resources. Knowing that space might run out, Sharkey and his team reached out to Chicostart’s GrowTech partners to absorb any overflow. Momentum built from there. 

Over the next several months Chicostart would uphold its core mission, helping startups to succeed, while also becoming a hub for businesses displaced by the fire, offering not only operational resources, but also a space to connect and build community. 

For Sharkey and his team, accomplishing this meant identifying and anticipating how to flexibly use Chicostart’s resources and augment them as needed. Their efforts went well beyond supporting business continuity to include: 

  • Developing and implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) system to help track the needs and status of businesses. Salesforce provided them with free licenses to facilitate this process through The Training Place at Butte College.
  • Convening a business roundtable of companies doing wildfire-related work, including aerial firefighting, aviation engineering, geographic information system mapping, data science, environmental research, fiber cabling, construction and more. Organized by Eva Shepherd-Nicoll, Chicostart’s only other employee, the roundtable participants focused on solutions and best practices for wildfire prevention, suppression, management, recovery and research. The collaboration also built connections that could expedite recovery during the next major wildfire.
  • Collating and distributing disaster response and recovery resources for small businesses, to help them navigate this long, complex process.

In the first three months post-fire, Sharkey said the focus was on how to continue providing core services to existing clients while ramping up support for fire survivors. In the next three months, the focus shifted to developing strategic plans for maintaining current activities and services while scaling to meet emerging needs related to the Camp Fire. 

Chicostart’s ability to leverage its capabilities and adapt them to changing circumstances, to work outside of silos and to look ahead has helped the hub assist over 200 fire-impacted companies. 

“We can’t be everything to everyone,” Sharkey said, “but we can be a resource to help people find what they need.”

This Resilience Trailblazer story is an excerpt from our upcoming report, “California fires: Building resilience from the ashes,” which uses Zurich’s award-winning Post-Event Review Capability to learn from disasters. Our Resilience Trailblazer stories highlight individuals who, as a part of an organization or team, are helping to lead the shift from post-disaster relief to pre-event resilience within their areas of influence. Resilience Trailblazer stories are based on our interviews with the person featured. The content is used with permission of the persons featured.

Find more Resilience Trailblazer stories here.


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