On April 4, 2014, an insightful panel on emerging tech communities happened in downtown Las Vegas. The panel, titled “The Fostering Innovation: Tech Communities in the Making” asked the question many startup founders ask themselves — should every tech company move to Silicon Valley or New York City?
“Clusters technology startups are popping up all around the country and proving that there are some benefits to being a pioneer,” said the organizers of this panel. “This panel will explore the challenges and stories behind building a thriving tech communities in some nontraditional cities. The panelists have roots in Detroit, San Antonio, Providence, and New York City.”
The panel was moderated by Jacob Cohen, Detroit Venture Partners and included panelists Mike Tarullo, Lorenzo Gomez, Melissa Withers and Las Vegas’ own Frederick Cook.
After the panel, the team at VegasTech.com was excited to dive deeper into growing startup communities and ecosystems around the world. From Reno to Paris, there are amazing things happening within startup communities all around us.
Gomez helped to establish the 80/20 Foundation on behalf of serial-entrepreneur Graham Weston (Co-founder and chairman of Rackspace) after his most recent position as Vice-President of Customer Support with CityVoice. He is also the director of Geekdom.
As Executive Director, Lorenzo directs the educational, cultural, political, and civic strategic partnerships, philanthropic endeavors, and non-profit cross-collaboration efforts of the 80/20 Foundation.
“The startup community is really taking off in San Antonio,” he explains. “We have been working on it since the end of 2011 and we are starting see the fruits of our labor. Geekdom, which is the epicenter of the startup scene in San Antonio, went from 0 to 750 members and 26 companies that office at there. It has grown so fast that our owner purchased an eight-story building downtown so we can keep pace with our rapid growth.”
The mission of 80/20 Foundation is to transform San Antonio based on three fundamental tenets:
• Revitalization of San Antonio’s urban core.
• Fostering the education and training of young people for the emerging technology-driven jobs of tomorrow.
• Establishing San Antonio into an entrepreneurial destination.
Lorenzo Gomez says the growth of the startup community in San Antonio has been pleasantly surprising.
“Every month we are adding more and more members. Also each year as we pick up steam we have more and more tech related events happening. Last year we had 387 events and we expect over 600 events in 2014,” he said. “What’s more, the vast majority of those events are put on by Geekdom members and not by our staff.”
Geekdom is a new kind of collaborative coworking space where Entrepreneurs, Technologists, Developers, Makers and Creatives help each other build businesses and other cool things together. Geekdom has space in both San Francisco and San Antonio. In San Antonio, the space is located in the Weston Centre in beautiful downtown San Antonio, steps away from the riverwalk.
Lorenzo Gomez says most of the challenges San Antonio’s tech community faces are mindset changes.
“We have to work really hard to move people away from thinking you have to be Steve Jobs smart or Bill Gates wealthy to create a company to thinking that anyone can do it if they are passionate about the problem they are solving,” he explains. “Collaboration is really what sets us apart. Every member is required to give back one hour of their time a month to the community. There is no way to track that but it sets the tone right from the start and the people that come into the community to take stand out like a sore thumb. Because this is a core value it spreads like wildfire and our members love it.”
Gomez says there are only a handful of cities that are intentionally building their startup ecosystem like Vegas, Detroit, Providence, and San Antonio so it’s important that the communities encourage each other and spread knowledge.
“The same way you would do in a startup its learning from other companies what works and what doesn’t will save you tons of time, energy and money,” he said.
He talked about 4 standout companies in San Antonio:
- Trueability. “This is a team where the four founders all quit Rackspace to start a company. They were one of the first companies to get an office and Geekdom. Their software does technical screening on the cloud for engineers so that you can shorten the recruitment cycle” Lorenzo Gomez explained.
- Parlevel. “This is a company that was founded by two Mexican entrepreneurs that met at a 3 Day Startup Event we held at Geekdom,” he said. “Parlevel has created a way to track the inventory of vending machine and upload the data into the cloud so that vending owners can more efficiently manage their restocking process.”
- Codeup. “Codeup is a 12 week bootcamp that takes non techies and turns them into web developers. It was started by couple of Geekdom members that noted how everyone complained that San Antonio didn’t have enough developers. They formed a company and are about to graduate their first class this month. The demand for the program has been huge and they have students coming from as far away as California,” he said.
- Promoter.io. Promoter takes the world class feedback methodology of NPS and turns it into an easy to use SAAS tool. NPs is consider the world standard in customer feedback and it used by all of really customer centric companies like Apple, Rackspace, Nordstrom, Zappos, etc,” he said. “This company is offering an affordable way to do it all online and automates most of the process.”
Geekdom has also launched the MX Challenge (The San Antonio / Mexico Entrepreneurial Exchange Challenge).
“We are offering a $500k prize to the team or organization that can get tech startups from Mexico to move or expand into San Antonio,” Lorenzo Gomez said.