The 11th floor of the Weston Centre is a geek ghost town now that Geekdom has moved one block away to a new co-working space inside the historic Rand Building at 100 E. Houston St. With 800 members and a growing number of startups to its credit, Geekdom outgrew its original home, and now has a custom-designed environment built to attract creative class workers with room to grow. Two large flags sporting the Geekdom crown logo were snapping in the wind atop the Rand on Monday, signaling the arrival of hundreds of new tenants who moved in over the weekend.
The Rand, a handsome red brick, eight-story structure with 120,000 square feet of floor space, opened in 1913 as the Wolff & Marx department store, which closed in 1965 as retailers left downtown for outlying shopping malls. Frost Bank acquired the building in 1981 and has used it since then to house office workers. Frost sold the building in 2013 to Weston Urban, the real estate company co-founded by Randy Smith and Graham Weston, chairman and CEO of Rackspace, and the founder of Geekdom and the 80/20 Foundation.
"If you were to ask me five years ago, 'Can you fill up an entire building with tech startups?' The answer would definitely have been 'NO,'" said 80/20 Foundation and Geekdom Executive Director Lorenzo Gomez III. While Frost Bank is still a tenant of the building, the former owner's employers will be relocated by January 1, 2015. Gomez expects to expand Geekdom's space to eventually accommodate numerous startups, at least one larger tech company, a rooftop bar, a cafe, and other amenities appealing to creative class talents operating in a collaborative, co-working space.
"We actually have a supply and demand issue,” Gomez said of the need for the move. "That’s such a great problem to have and it’s an indication of the San Antonio tech industry's uptick. San Antonio is doing it: we’re not just pretending – we're home-growing employment.”
This expansion, combined with the existing tech education projects Codeup (within Geekdom) and Rackspace's Cloud Academy, are signals of a growing tech campus downtown.
Geekdom currently occupies the seventh floor and will expand to the sixth floor this summer, where it will host more established companies that are located on the 10th floor of the Weston Centre, including the Rivard Report. Geekdom is a sponsor of the Rivard Report.
"We've doubled the size of community space," Gomez said. "We learned so many lessons from the Weston Centre. Now we get to start from scratch and implement new processes."
Conference rooms large and small, an open kitchen, a presentation room, smaller nooks for focused work, a shower, and even a "mothers lounge," are a few of the amenities in the custom-designed floor plan.
"Our space is so limited, but we have taken one entire whole room out of our inventory and put it aside for mothers that need to do breast pumping,” Gomez said. "We’re so hell-bent on making this a space that’s for everyone that we’re okay with it ... Women in tech is a big issue and there are not as many women members as we would like.”
There's also a separate space for large event hosting, a function that the Weston Centre's 10th and 11th floors provided, but there are obvious scheduling and distraction problems associated with having event space in the middle of community workspace. Geekdom hosted more than 360 events last year; with the new space, 600 events are predicted. The tall seventh floor windows infuse the space with natural light, and the aroma of freshly roasted coffee greeted the ranks of geeks spending their first workday at the Rand.
On the seventh floor, "geek" is pretty much synonymous with entrepreneur, founder, or aspiring technologist. There are 26 small, mostly technology-based companies office within Geekdom and more than 800 members who utilize the open, collaborative spaces. Mobile apps, website design and marketing firms, consultants, lawyers and even an initiative dedicated to reducing nuclear proliferation in China call Geekdom home.
Mental health app designer Cynthia Phelps was seated Monday with fellow Geekdom member Drew Witt in the community kitchen, which is minimally separated from the main communal space with one of several whiteboard/seating arrangements.
"I love the light in here," Phelps said of the major window upgrade. Phelps has been a member since December 2011 and now has the "Final Fantasy" office – each room is playfully designated as a video game name. "It also just feels like we own it more."
Witt founded The Gathering Church downtown and also designed and built the kitchen and conference room tables. A large bookshelf is also on his to-do list.
"I needed something to do on my day off that didn't involve a computer," Witt said, laughing. "I accidentally started a furniture company."
Geekdom Community Manager Julie Campbell rides her bike from her home in the Deco District to Geekdom almost every day. Now, there's a space specially designated for employee and member bikes at the Geekdom main entrance, complete with a mural designed and painted by the nearby Bad Habits Tattoo parlor.
"This space is more conducive to collaboration," Campbell said. "Geekdom is in a position to become a center for people looking to find an (entrance) point" to the city, its culture, and business.
Behind all the scenes – literally and figuratively – are Geekdom Operations Director Kara "Mama" Gomez and Zac Harris of Monks Toolbox. "Mama Kara," as she's affectionately referred to, has been herding the geek cats and coordinating the move for several months, ensuring that each member is accommodated for in their new digs. She's also a professional photographer (note her photos in the gallery at the top of this page).
Harris is the man behind the logistical curtain, coordinating with Alamo Architects, construction teams, etc. as the Rand opens a new chapter in his history.
"From the beginning it was about democratizing the space," Harris said. "There are no corner offices here."
Literally. The corners – only two of which are accessible on the seventh floor – are designated community space.
There are some quiet nooks and crannies for community members to work, but the space is "intentionally designed so that's hard to hide," Harris said. "Collaboration by collision."
Even the kitchen's central location is geared towards this goal. Instead of hiding away the refrigerator and eating space, it's given a central, water-cooler role in Geekdom's design because "here, the water cooler is where ideas happen."
*Featured/top image: Geekdom flags now fly at the Rand Building in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.