Wanderful Media cultivates Chico’s tech side

Wanderful Media cultivates Chico’s tech side

Wanderful Media events bring Silicon Valley to the Sacramento Valley
Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, speaks to a group that gathered at Wanderful Media March 27 in Chico.      Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, speaks to a group that gathered at Wanderful Media March 27 in Chico.     Chris Tolles, CEO of Topix, speaks with Alex Hendricks (right), a product manager at Wanderful Media March 27 in Chico.


CHICO >> A Bay Area company with an operation in Chico has quietly been scheduling activities that boost the local tech sector.

So far Ben T. Smith IV and Wanderful Media have sponsored three Silicon Valley tech speakers, who have come to Chico for free gatherings open to the public. The last one was Chris Tolles, CEO of the popular Topix community commenting, drawing about 200 people to Wanderful’s downtown quarters.

Smith also wants to help entrepreneurs who travel down the path he did, and president of Chico State Vniversity’s Collegiate Entrepreneurial Association Katharina Chiu is an example. She’s using a desk and surrounding minds to help her business, Meeting Punkt.


Obviously, Wanderful benefits from mentoring local tech students who are attracted by the speakers and vibrant sessions, but it also helps define Chico to the outside world and serves as a recruitment tool.

Smith also feels that encouraging the Chico tech industry benefits the community, as well as his company and other companies looking for tech talent. Silicon Valley tech experts who enjoy the Chico experience might mention the community in a future conversation or decision.

“We’ve kept people in Chico because they want to be here,” said Smith of the Wanderful staff of about 45 who were moved from a building at the Chico Muncipal Airport to a stunning remodeled downtown building that operates 24/7. Growth is expected in Chico, and room for up to 60 was built into the office design.

Smith zeroed in on downtown because of its growing vibrancy as well as budding tech sector and being close to Chico State. The company is one of Chico’s unsung treasures.

The tech-talk audience, many of whom are Chico State students and faculty or employed in the local tech industry, pay nothing for the evenings as they lap up refreshment and ideas.


Smith told the Enterprise-Record that bringing Silicon Valley speakers to town is good. Students and others are attracted to the speaker or the event itself, Smith said, and a relationship can develop that might channel to a job, an internship or just networking. Wanderful is a regular at Chico State job fairs and recruitment events.

“Whether they work for me or not, it’s good for Chico. We’re learning from each other, and encourage these kinds of jobs. Sometimes they work for us, sometimes not,” Smith said during a recent telephone interview from his Bay Area office.

Smith said he treats the speakers to “the Chico experience,” often flying them into town, seeing the community and treating them to dinner.


“I’m often calling in a favor,” he said of the people he invites, but generally his speakers are glad to have the experience and look forward to being brain-picked about new turns of technology.

Smith sees that the every-other-monthly program as an investment in the community that might or might not pay off for him, but is still worth the effort. And he hopes to boost the program to monthly.

“It’s a nice town, in a nice environment,” Smith said, adding that it’s “far away” from the Bay Area, but “not too far away.”

But he also is blunt. “If we couldn’t have developed the building, we wouldn’t have stayed in Chico,” giving building owner David Halimi of Diamond W Western Wear credit for his assistance.

Remodeling what was originally the old Chico Theater and later retail and office space at 325 Broadway took a huge budget. Halimi and Chico architect David Griffith spent months working to turn the old building into an ultra-modern, 24/7 office to accommodate a youthful, high-tech company.

“It was like restoring a classic car from the ground up,” Halimi recalls, but adding new twists like desks that adjust from sitting to standing, bike parking in the basement, showers, and a generator system that whispers. Striking are steel and glass touches like the glass server tower, not to mention powerful air conditioners required for the computer systems.

Founded in Chico as Travidia for digital media advertising for media, the company was purchased in 2011 by a consortium of media companies and renamed Wanderful Media. Wanderful owns and operates Find n Save, a collection of local sales available on the website and on newspaper online sites. It also has iPad and iPhone apps.

Contact reporter Laura Urseny at 896-7756.

MONCA Renovation Transformation Campaign

MONCA opens Vets Hall for launch of Renovation Transformation Campaign

Viewing marks launch of Renovation Transformation Campaign

By Ashley Gebb

agebb@chicoer.com @ashleygebb on Twitter

POSTED:   04/09/2014 05:04:46 PM PDT
photo 11616 x1360
 A crowd gathered inside 900 The Esplanade on Wednesday, wandering with smiles as they admired sea-foam pocket doors, wall medallions of ships and warriors, and faux fireplaces fitted with electrical sockets.

The architectural nuances of the Chico Veterans Memorial Hall were remarkable not just for their historic nature but that for some in attendance, they had been behind locked doors since 2005 when conditions in the restrooms, electrical, heating and cooling systems had deteriorated so greatly that the building was no longer habitable.

On Wednesday, its new tenant, the Museum of Northern California Art, celebrated the launch of its renovation transformation campaign and named JoAnn Morgan the chair. As bright spring light streamed through tall wood-framed windows, people toured the building in awe of its wall sconces, crown moulding hiding above a suspended commercial ceiling, and blue-columned triple-archways in the entry hall.

“Isn’t it awesome,” said Trudy Duisenberg, secretary of the museum known as monca. “I’ve got goose bumps again. Happens every time.”

Seeing beyond scrapes and dents, Reed Applegate, admired the ornate wood floors and black-and-tan terrazzo flooring. As the benefactor of monca’s 400-piece artwork collection recalled voting in the hall and watching events on its grand raised stage, he said he cannot imagine a better new use for the aging county-owned building than to turn it into an art museum.

“I think this could be really something when we get it all fixed up,” he said. “Such possibilities. I’ve been waiting for this for 40 years.”

With the county taking responsibility for the exterior and the windows, monca will assume responsibility for the interior and bringing the building up to the necessary code conditions for occupancy. Plans are to remedy its problems while leaving the historical integrity of the 87-year-old all intact.

“We first had to understand the building before we start telling anyone what to do,” Chico architect David Griffith, who is leading the restoration.

He explained how the building is somewhat of an architectural marvel, built entirely of concrete, including the exterior mouldings and cornices. Building plans from 1926 show indications of electricity, with plans for every room to have at least one lightbulb.

The entry hall and performance area were designed for function, with stone baseboard trim and the marble-like flooring, while the meeting rooms show finer attention to detail, such as textured glass in the doors and decorative inlays in the wood flooring.

“Our job is to take this grand old building and keep its architecture intact while making it usable for current and future generations,” Griffith said.

Officials from monca estimate it will cost $500,000 to complete the first phase of the rehabilitation, which is just the front 4,000 square-feet of the 18,000-square-foot hall. On Wednesday, Carlos Castle of the American Legion Post 17 handed Morgan a check for $1,000 and challenged every other veterans group and local businesses to do the same.

“We wanted to be first in the door to ensure the funds would start immediately,” he said, noting how grateful veterans are to be included in the museum space.

Wednesday’s open house took place barely a year after the county approved a 20-year lease for monca. Museum board chair Pat Macias said she thought the opening of the hall was a great way to kick off the fund-raising campaign.

“This is a very supporting art community,” she said. “We want this to be a place everyone can come to, everyone wants to come to and everyone feels welcome.”

The goal is for the fund-raising and rehabilitation to take place in a short time frame, with hopes of opening in fall 2016.

How to donate


• Send checks payable to Museum of Northern California Art to 900 The Esplanade, Chico, CA, 95926

• Credit card donations accepted at www.monca.org/donate

Contact reporter Ashley Gebb at 896-7768.