Geekdom’s State of the Ecosystem: ‘As Tech Scene Goes, So Will Our Larger Economy’

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Techbloc Co-Founder David Heard addresses the tech community during the Geekdom State of the Ecosystem.

Tech Bloc's David Heard addresses members of San Antonio's tech community during Geekdom's "State of the Ecosystem" event.

Geekdom member companies have created more than 1,000 jobs since the downtown coworking space was established in 2011, with nearly 400 projected to be added this year.

Highlighting the wins of the past year but also emphasizing the need for continued growth, tech sector leaders David Heard, CEO of Tech Bloc; David Garcia Jr., Geekdom CEO; and Will Garrett, the new Port San Antonio vice president of cybersecurity, delivered the “state of the ecosystem” Tuesday at Geekdom’s Event Centre.

Heard, whose organization advocates for the development of a strong tech economy, said Geekdom is critical to the mission of making the local tech sector a pivotal economic engine for the city. Illustrating the growth of the downtown tech scene, Heard displayed a heat map of tech workers in San Antonio, a bubble near downtown progressively growing redder from 2013 to 2017, indicating the growth of the downtown workforce. He noted the data was compiled before USAA’s decision to relocate thousands of its tech employees to several downtown buildings.

“Tech is driving every industry,” Heard said. “You can make the argument that as our tech scene goes, so will go our larger economy. In the future, our place in the economy will be tied to our place in the tech scene. You can make the argument that tech is not an industry anymore because tech is imbued in every industry.”

Despite the progress that has been made since Geekdom launched its mission seven years ago to create a tech ecosystem along the East Houston Street in downtown, San Antonio’s tech sector is struggling to keep pace with other aspirational cities, according to one national report that placed the city 40th among U.S. cities for tech talent in 2015 and 46th in 2018.

Geekdom’s economic impact report released Tuesday showed member companies have raised $97.8 million in capital over the course of its seven years – with $29 million coming in the past two years, since the organization last released an economic impact report. Geekdom companies took a hit in the revenue department, however, with $32.9 million generated by member startups in 2018, a decrease from $35.7 million in revenue in 2016. Fewer than two out of every five companies hit their revenue goals in 2018, according to Geekdom’s impact report.

But with the University of Texas at San Antonio slated to build a National Security Collaboration Center and School of Data Science downtown, the downtown tech scene could flourish, Garrett said.

The collaboration center – a partnership among government agencies, academia, and private entities – will serve as a hub for developing cutting-edge cybersecurity technology and bring together various parties to help tackle the ever-increasing threat of cyber warfare.

“It’s about how you create and foster an environment that solves problems that frankly people have seen day to day,” Garrett said. “But on our side in the downtown scene, it creates the intellectual property … that [spins] out to become part of this ecosystem and grow the opportunities in downtown San Antonio.”

Port San Antonio Vice President of Cybersecurity Will Garrett

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Port San Antonio Vice President of Cybersecurity Will Garrett

For Garrett, that means more potential companies at the Build Sec Foundry, a cybersecurity startup incubator he co-founded. More local entrepreneurial activity in the cybersecurity field can help drive growth in a part of the tech industry that is significant in the national landscape – San Antonio is home to the second-highest concentration of cyber workers in the country – but often hidden behind a veil of confidentiality.

The 24th Air Force, which houses the Air Force’s cyberspace combat forces; 25th Air Force; and National Security Agency all represent the local presence of national assets that make San Antonio uniquely primed for cyber industry growth, Garrett said.

The median IT salary of $70,000 is twice that of all other industries in San Antonio, Heard said. And the sector does not necessarily depend upon traditional educational attainment, an area in which San Antonio lags. Even though Geekdom companies paid a median salary of $60,000 to their employees in 2018, just over a quarter of the new positions created required a college degree.

The tech industry can chip away at the poverty rate in San Antonio, which ranks among the highest in the country, by bringing opportunities to everyone in the city, Heard said.

“One thing is certain, we are going to be a bigger city,” Heard said. San Antonio’s population stands at 1.5 million, according to the U.S. Census, and a million more residents could come by 2040. “But are we going to be a better one? That outcome is uncertain.”

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