Pop music pumped through speakers at Pearl Stable as the local tech advocacy group Tech Bloc celebrated its first birthday with style and a full bar on Thursday night. The event was casual, youthful, and featured several entertaining and educational booths from sponsors and hired artists, but it also came with a series of announcements and action items aimed at developing San Antonio’s emerging Tech District.
“I think I upped my cool factor just by being here,” H-E-B Vice President of Communications and Health Promotion Kate Rogers told the crowd that packed the venue to capacity and spilled out into the courtyard. Organizers anticipated more than 1,000 people for Tech Bloc’s first anniversary.
Though it felt like a party at times, the event was more of a “rally,” and for a good reason — Tech Bloc used the gathering as an opportunity to announce its latest, “seismic,” initiative: An innovative collaboration with H-E-B and San Antonio Independent School District. CAST Tech, a non-traditional high school, will be located on or near East Houston Street with a curriculum focused on hi-tech learning. The school, which will soon be a part of a citywide network known as the Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST), will enroll its first class in the fall of 2017.
The next order of business was to announce the winner of the Tech Fuel startup competition which was managed by Tech Bloc and funded by Bexar County.
Snackdot, a self-checkout system for selling snacks at businesses, took home first place and a $30,000 check. Rising Barn took second with a $15,000 for their do-it-yourself homebuilding kit manufacturer company. Miltribe, an online marketplace for the military community, walked out with $5,000 in third place.
After brief remarks from Rogers, Tech Bloc CEO David Heard, Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), and SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, Mayor Ivy Taylor took the stage to comment on the impact CAST Tech will have on San Antonio in years to come.
“My vision for our city is that we would be a globally competitive city where everyone has the opportunity to prosper and creating a network of schools like this is what can put us on that path where each and every young San Antonian has the opportunity to get a great job in the technology sector,” Taylor said. “We are very committed to that down at City Hall.”
Lupe Cerna came to the event because of her involvement with Aspire, a group at USAA that promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education and careers for young women. She wants to see more women in IT and CAST Tech will help facilitate that goal.
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“I want to make an (impact) at least at USAA with our Hispanic/Latino community to get more ladies into join IT,” Cerna said. “I think (CAST Tech) is awesome. That is where the growth is. This is where there is a lot of opportunities.”
Meredith Jones, another San Antonio resident who will benefit from the opening of the tech high school, celebrated the good news with an embroidered portrait.
“I am a teacher so this was so exciting to me,” Jones said. “Over the summer, I worked with VentureLab which is entrepreneurship education for kids, so the announcement was just mind blowing.”
The new high school wasn’t the only topic of conversation among the hundreds of attendees. In one corner of the stable, two poets sat behind typewriters writing on-demand haikus for attendees waiting in line.
One year ago, Tech Bloc’s first call to action was to bring rideshare back to San Antonio. This time last year, Lyft and Uber were operating in Austin, but had left San Antonio because of what the companies called “onerous” regulations. Most rideshare companies have left Austin because of similar regulations while they continue to operate in San Antonio under a pilot agreement. The tables have turned, Heard said.
“Tech Bloc was started by a handful of us who were worried about the future of our city,” Tech Bloc Co-Founder Lew Moorman said. “At a minimum we have changed the dialogue about what it takes to build a great city, and the City and County have responded. They’ve been great.”
Haikus and beer aside, the impact Tech Bloc has had on San Antonio’s tech industry was impossible to ignore at Thursday’s birthday rally. In his brief remarks, Judge Nelson Wolff summed it up best.
“For a one-year-old new kid on the block, you did a lot of good this year,” Wolff said.
Tech Bloc was founded last May with a couple dozen members; now it boasts more than 2,000. It has worked with City and County officials on rideshare regulation, annexation, entrepreneurial retention, and now tech education. One of its next initiatives will be to further develop the brand of the San Antonio Tech District, #SATD, that was introduced through a dramatic video played for attendees Thursday night.
“There is so much happening here now … it inspires me,” Moorman said. “We have more to do … we’re starting from behind … Tech Bloc is here to ease the friction and tackle the big projects.”
Full disclosure: H-E-B, Charles Butt, Graham Weston, the 80/20 Foundation, and Tech Bloc Co-Founder Lew Moorman contribute to the Rivard Report. See a full list of members here.
Top Image: Tech Bloc CEO David Heard announces the three winners of the Tech Fuel startup competition at Tech Bloc’s first anniversary celebration at the Pearl Stable. Photo by Michael Cirlos.