Scott Ball / Rivard Report
A new event tied to Fiesta and designed to showcase San Antonio’s tech ecosystem, SA Tech Trek drew larger than expected crowds eager to peek into the offices of downtown tech district startups and mingle with entrepreneurs.
The number of people who registered online for the Fiesta tech event climbed steadily throughout the day from 400 to more than 600 by the time the event commenced at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The 500 badges that were printed and produced ran out in the first hour, and people still kept coming.
“When I showed up at 5 p.m. at the Geekdom Event Centre to open it for the event, there was a crowd at the door so thick I could barely get through,” said Johnny “Five” Wondra, Geekdom’s organizer for San Antonio Nerd Night.
The 600-plus who registered online did not include most of the numerous tech businesses that were part of the event, making the number of participants higher. Every elevator ride in both the Rand and Vogue buildings was bursting full of a mix of familiar faces in the local tech community along with college students interested in visiting businesses like Google Fiber or Merge VR, as well as out-of-town visitors and local residents new to the tech scene.
One out-of-town visitor was the founder of a co-working space in Georgia who had heard about Geekdom during her visit to San Antonio. After hearing about SA Tech Trek, she was intent on checking it out.
“I’m really impressed – this is y’all’s co-working spaces with all these tech companies? This is nothing like what we have in Georgia,” she said just before she disappeared into the teeming crowd on Geekdom’s seventh floor.
At the Geekdom Event Centre, curious college students crowded around Yady Diaz, operations manager for the San Antonio Coding Academy, asking about their coding boot camps. Upstairs in the Rand Building, Google Fiber had opened its work spaces for trekkers to check out.
Travis Lindsey, technical recruiter at TEKSystems, was one of the lucky ones to score a free Google Cardboard, an entry-level virtual reality (VR) viewer, easily making Google Fiber the winner of the “coolest gift swag” of the SA Tech Trek.
“Seeing the inside of their workspace was really cool, as it was tech-savvy and not at all like your typical workplace,” Lindsey said. “It felt more like a home, with a kitchen, living room lounge area, and media rooms that were sound-proofed and had web cams so they could be used as a ‘think box.’”
“I’m overwhelmed by the volume of people who came out,” Geekdom’s CEO Lorenzo Gomez said. “This will solidify holding the event next year for sure, as it’s a safe place for people to come check out tech in a non-intimidating environment.”
With the steady line of people waiting to check out Merge VR’s virtual reality goggles or taking a virtual tour of a mobile home with Braustin Mobile Homes, many had the opportunity to try out technologies, talk to the company founders behind them, and get their questions answered in a Fiesta-like environment. The trek also was an opportunity for people to acquaint themselves with businesses not usually thought of as tech companies, such as USAA, which included team members from their new innovation space downtown, and AT&T, the title sponsor for SA Tech Trek.
“It’s been a revolving door all night with different faces moving between the different stops” on the trek, said Tech Bloc CEO David Heard. “We’ve seen new faces checking out the tech scene, which is the mission for this event – opening up our tech community to the larger general public. Fiesta is a public celebration and now with this new event, many are joining us in celebrating the many tech companies in San Antonio.”
For example, spotted in the crowd was Jose De La Maria, the City of San Antonio’s chief innovation officer, along with members of his innovation team who were observing tech demonstrations and talking to different innovators at each stop. The executive director of the Fiesta Commission, Amy Shaw, excitedly commented to Heard on her way out of the Vogue building how amazing the event’s activities and turnout was.
“This event has shown that there is a need, a desire for students, business people, and Fiesta participants to come check out San Antonio’s tech scene and see for themselves the inside of Geekdom and Google Fiber, and to meet the many companies in the Rand and Vogue buildings,” Build Sec Foundry co-founder Will Garrett said. “This took the strategic partnership between the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, Tech Bloc, and Geekdom to get a new Fiesta event like SA Tech Trek off to a great start.”
“We now have enough companies for a critical mass in our tech ecosystem,” Gomez said. “Tonight I’ve met people and learned about tech companies I didn’t even know were here. When you can’t keep track of all the people, companies, and tech events happening, that’s an indicator of a tech ecosystem firmly in place.”