Tech Companies Populate Downtown San Antonio

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Codeup student Anna Morton works at her desk. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Codeup student Anna Morton works at her desk.

The elevator dings and the metal doors slide open. While the second floor is filled with construction workers and other floors host the commotion of startups, established businesses and freelancers, the fourth floor of the Rand Building is a quiet place. It’s nearly empty save for a few desks in side offices and a large conference table with chairs in the center of the large space.

The downtown tech community in and around the Rand Building has been buzzing with speculation about which company will be leasing the entire fourth floor. Building management firmly declined to comment. The space will likely remain shrouded in mystery until the company comes forward.

Meanwhile, new companies are setting up shop downtown seemingly every month. It’s not your imagination — more and more tech companies are being drawn to or founded in San Antonio, and it’s no accident.

It all started with an email. In 2007, Rackspace acquired Webmail.us, an email company based in Blacksburg, Va., and asked its founders to relocate to San Antonio. One of the three founders, in particular, decided he had no interest or intention of moving to San Antonio. He instead wrote an email to Rackspace Co-founder and Chairman Graham Weston firmly stating his reasons for never moving to San Antonio: absence of a vibrant downtown, lack of a web developer community, and a dearth of tech startups.

Image courtesy of Graham Weston (email has been redacted for privacy reasons).

Image courtesy of Graham Weston (email has been redacted for privacy reasons).

Weston gave a copy of the email to then-Mayor Julían Castro, telling him San Antonio needed to start building a vibrant urban core, complete with a thriving tech ecosystem. Weston also created three separate entities: Weston Urban, the 80/20 Foundation, and Geekdom. All three share the same mission: “To help create an ecosystem where the next Rackspace can grow in San Antonio,” said Geekdom’s CEO Lorenzo Gomez.

Founded in 2012 by Rackspace chairman Weston and former Rackspace vice president and now Weston Urban CEO Randy Smith, Weston Urban is focused on downtown redevelopment to help showcase San Antonio as a city on the rise for young professionals and their families. Since April 2013 when Weston Urban purchased from Frost Bank the Rand Building at 100 E. Houston Street, the Rand has become home for Geekdom, the 80/20 Foundation, Techstars and Tech Bloc — ground zero for technology startups.

The 80/20 Foundation invests in nonprofits that support entrepreneurship and technology education for high-skill jobs. Geekdom is the startup incubator and co-working space with more than 900 members paying monthly fees to share office space and network. Since moving from the Weston Centre to the Rand Building in April 2014, Geekdom now occupies the top three floors of the eight-story building.

“We have 450 tech companies, many of them startups at Geekdom,” Gomez said. “While many cybersecurity companies are throughout the San Antonio area, we’re focused on creating that gravitational pull to help bring tech startups downtown.”

Director of Geekdom and former ten-year Rackspace employee Lorenzo Gomez talks with guests at Open Cloud Academy. Photo by Scott Ball.

Director of Geekdom and former ten-year Rackspace employee Lorenzo Gomez talks with guests at Open Cloud Academy. Photo by Scott Ball.

Now that the fourth Techstars Cloud class has graduated, there are a few more tech companies opening an office in San Antonio. With headquarters in San Francisco, newcomer ScaleFT opened its satellite office in January on Rand’s seventh floor in order to be closer to two of its big customers, Rackspace and JungleDisk. ScaleFT, an example of a cloud computing company, uses its cloud-native security platform to provide dynamic authentication to cloud infrastructure using short-lived certificates.

Protecting the credentials of information technology staff or contracted developers is important as some recent corporate hacks were possible because the individuals had stolen passwords that were still valid from authorized personnel.

Having companies set up a satellite location in San Antonio is a huge accelerator to the local ecosystem’s growth because it brings good paying tech jobs to the market right away from companies already scaling up operations. ScaleFT received $800,000 in seed capital from Rackspace in May 2015 to get started.

“San Antonio is motivated to attract tech talent,” said Jason Luce, ScaleFT CEO and co-founder. “The tech ecosystem is here, with Rackspace, Geekdom, Codeup and Tech Bloc. I can also hire qualified people here in San Antonio, while in Austin, I can’t find people easily — they already have jobs at Facebook or Google. San Antonio today is ripe, it’s where Austin was 10 years ago.”

Geekdom members work in one of the many community desk areas. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Geekdom members work in one of the many community desk areas. Photo by Scott Ball.

Advocates like Rackspace, Geekdom, Codeup and Tech bloc have helped draw others to the tech ecosystem. San Antonio Entrepreneur Center (SAEC), which opened in February, is a nonprofit focused on stimulating job growth and driving the San Antonio economy. SAEC provides resources needed to make startups successful and economic growth in San Antonio achievable and sustainable.

“The Center has planted its flag deliberately on Houston Street,” said SAEC Co-Founder Peter French. “We recognize lots of folks are concentrating their energies on creating a downtown attractive to tech companies and we want to be part of that.”

San Antonio’s proximity to Austin and lower cost of living also helps grow the tech ecosystem.

“We’re talking to venture capitalists active in Austin who are now interested in San Antonio, especially since Austin’s City Council has become too unpredictable lately, which is bad for business,” French added. “We (San Antonio) need to take advantage of this, especially since we’re more affordable.”

Growing San Antonio’s tech ecosystem also means more people seeking training and certifications. The local demand from cybersecurity companies, cloud computing businesses and tech startups shows no signs of slowing down.

Codeup students in a classroom setting. Photo by Scott Ball.

Codeup students in a classroom setting. Photo by Scott Ball.

“I think the proof is in the pudding. The number of Codeup grads working in Geekdom and on Houston Street is pretty high now. Some companies have three to four working there. So, that’s exciting,” Michael Girdley, founder and CEO of Codeup, the coding boot-camp that recently moved out of the Weston Centre to The Vogue building on 600 Navarro St.

The combined strategies — training more local talent, growing and leveraging the tech ecosystem network, fostering more partnerships — appear to be working.

“We want a critical mass of tech startups downtown,” Tech Bloc’s Director Marina Gavito said. “We find that startups think about checking out San Antonio’s downtown first by co-working at Geekdom to see if it works out for them to open an office here. Tech Bloc also partners with Techstars to leverage (Bexar) County Innovation Funds to provide startups incentives.”

Matt Wilbanks and Marina Gavito of Tech Bloc applaud the announcement. Photo by Scott Ball.

Matt Wilbanks (left) and Tech Bloc Executive Director Marina Gavito applaud AT&T’s expansion of GigaPower into San Antonio. Photo by Scott Ball.

Bexar County approved in February an incentive program, the Innovation Fund, to attract more tech companies to San Antonio. Tax incentives don’t help companies that are starting out, so this new program will help tech startups launch businesses in San Antonio. At publication time, there are at least four graduating Techstars companies applying for the incentives and five other startups are participating in the County-funded Tech Fuel competition.

With more construction slated for downtown, such as Weston Urban’s planned Frost Tower, there should be more space available for more tech companies to join the growing downtown tech corridor.

“I think Houston Street will be full of tech companies in just a few years. The Vogue is already home to four: Codeup, Turner Logic, Grok Interactive and Boldbrush. Our landlord, GrayStreet (Partners), is super interested in getting more tech companies in their properties too,” Girdley said.

Conditions are ripe for growing the tech ecosystem and San Antonio’s downtown stands a good chance of seeing more tech companies set up operations.

Note: The map above and the list below is not meant to be an exhaustive listing of all tech companies in the greater downtown area. It does show the growth of the tech ecosystem throughout San Antonio’s urban core

219 E. Houston Street

Rising Barn's Peter French and Pegy Brimhall look over plans in their office. Photo by Scott Ball.

Rising Barn President Peter French and founder Pegy Brimhall look over plans in their office space at the San Antonio Entrepreneur Center. Photo by Scott Ball.

110 E Houston St (Rand Building)

  • Geekdom (with 450 company members, such as ScaleFT) provides collaborative coworking spaces where entrepreneurs, technologists, and developers can work and network.
  • 80/20 Foundation grants nonprofit organizations small, short term grants to help them create more urban options for professionals, support the growing technology community, and promote tech education.
  • Techstars offers a startup accelerator and development program to help tech startups raise startup and learn how to launch their business.
  • Tech Bloc works to change the San Antonio economic landscape by creating a tech ecosystem.
  • Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy teaches cloud computer and system administration skills.
  • WP Engine is a hosted service provider specifically tailored for WordPress websites and apps.
  • Jungle Disk offers online storage for desktops and workgroups, supporting data centers and multiple platforms. 

600 Navarro Street (The Vogue)

  • Codeup was founded in 2013 to address the lack of quality web developers in San Antonio. Too big to move with the rest of Geekdom to the Rand Building, Codeup now leases 5,775 square feet in the Vogue.
  • Grok Interative builds web applications for clients beginning with the software architecture phase, through planning to finish product.
  • Chris Turner founded Turner Logic in 2012 to provide custom software and hardware development for clients.
  • BoldbrushdevelopedFASO, an art-focused social network that helps visual artists market their artwork online as well as connect with other artists and art enthusiasts.

    Grok Interactive Software Developer Jacob Ernst works at his desk. Photo by Scott Ball.

    Grok Interactive Software Developer Jacob Ernst works at his office in The Vogue building at 600 Navarro St. Photo by Scott Ball.

112 E Pecan Street (Weston Centre)

  • PLS Logistics proprietary PLS PRO tool provides companies a cloud-based supply management tool that integrates with existing business systems so a company does not need training on new systems, instead using PLS Logistics’ centralized network for supply chain optimization.
  • Parlevel offers a vendor management system application that works seamlessly with the latest generation of vending machines and can be used to retrofit older generation machines for supply chain optimization across an entire vendor operation.
  • Endgame provides clients a comprehensive software platform that automates the hunt for cyber adversaries, using hunt teams, incident responders, and security operations teams to significantly reduce the time to detect and stop cyber adversaries.

118 Broadway Street

Filestack employees work at the World Trade Center Building on 118 Broadway Street. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Filestack employees work at the World Trade Center Building on 118 Broadway Street. Photo by Scott Ball.

  • SASTEMIC is a nonprofit advocacy group for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Their mission is to advance STEM education and economic development by strengthening connections among communities servicing K-12 students, colleges, industry and government for the San Antonio area.
  • Heavy Heavy develops a brand identity for clients in the digital landscape in an integrated way that incorporates design and content work for clients. Clients to date include Codeup, Techstars and Keep SA Real.
  • Filestack was founded in 2012 by four MIT students and created an easy way for clients to upload files directly from multiple cloud sources and complete file infrastructure.
  • SeatSmart is a direct broker-to-fan ticket marketplace, offering ticket buyers a more cost-efficient alternative to secondary ticket marketplaces like TicketMaster.

310 S St Mary’s St (Tower Life Building)

  • With headquarters in Colorado Springs, Root9b opened its San Antonio office in January. Named the top-ranked cybersecurity company among the “500 companies to watch in 2016,”root9B provides real-time operationstomonitor and stop a cyber intrusion in progress.

    The Root9B logo is etched in a conference room window. Photo by Scott Ball.

    The root9B logo is etched in a conference room window. Photo by Scott Ball.

 

https://rivardreport.wildapricot.org

 

Full Disclosure: Tech Bloc founding member Lew Moorman, an investor in Filestack, sits on the Rivard Report board of directors. Learn more here.

Top image: Codeup student Anna Morton works at her desk.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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18 thoughts on “Tech Companies Populate Downtown San Antonio

  1. It’s great to see downtown become populated by techies. But there is something seriously missing in this story. That is what about all the real face of San Antonio. The Latino and African American face, what are we doing to go into the our local parts of town, Eastside, Westside, Southside etc. to educate and train what is predominately minority in our city.

    Something that would look great for downtown San Antonio, alongside these new Tech Startups would be a large charter school dedicated to the next generation of computer savvy local minority San Antonians who would otherwise be disenfranchised if not for this new technology gain in central Texas. Let’s show the world that our city thinks about the ALL individuals when it comes to high technology. Optics are important in this early stage, if we can develop a shining example alongside the developing tech sector, it will send out a message to our local community that ALL are invited. The Alameda Theater area also functions as a school, lets begin there. #”A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Mahatma Ghandi.

  2. I’d like to see San Antonio’s tech sector champion and help implement and improve San Antonio’s Center City Retail Growth Strategy (2012). Particularly within the ‘West Commerce District’ which the Strategy prioritizes – and which is the same boundary as phase 1 of Centro’s more recent Zona Cultural planning and a border to the downtown ‘tech ecosystem’ mapped above.

    See: http://www.sanantonio.gov/CCDO/Resources/CenterCityRetailGrowthStrategy.aspx

    and: http://downtownsanantonio.org/files/user/page289/Zona_Cultural_Boundary.pdf

    A potential asset not listed by the recent Zona Cultural planning is the large and growing number of vacant storefronts and at least one empty commercial lot (potential food truck & mobile retail spot?) in the West Commerce District – spaces which have been empty for many years now (per Google streetview) and with newer platforms like Loopnet.com indicating where there might be additional vacancies pending (Marti’s on Commerce St, etc).

    Infill storefront retail is needed desperately and quickly downtown to help preserve and enhance the cultural assets mapped by Zona Cultural planning including heritage shopping destinations like Penner’s on Commerce Street and Market Square. It is also needed to support visitors (who currently face brutal blocks of vacant storefront throughout the West Commerce District between key attractions) as well as to help make downtown San Antonio a more livable, walkable center for tech and other work.

    Attempting to work downtown last week within the ‘tech ecosystem’, I spent a good bit of time in the West Commerce District trying to buy a laptop charger – finding none at Walgreens, 7 Eleven, Dollar General, CVS, Goodwill or even at a mom and pop electronic goods store on Houston Street.

    It is possible but not 100% certain that a store in River Center Mall might sell laptop chargers (Planet Wireless?) – or maybe the FedEx store within the bowels of the Hyatt by the Convention Center has them?

    Maybe a stall in Market Square or at the small bookstore hidden within the UTSA downtown campus? Possibly there’s laptop chargers for sale at HEB on Flores (if they stock ‘HEB Plus!’ items), but each of these potential retail locations requires a decent knowledge of downtown, patience for poor pedestrian design (try HEB from Cesar Chavez & Main) and time to walk from the West Commerce District – the heart of downtown.

    Greater downtown storefront retail (including at the Pearl and in Southtown) is not serving most business, student or international travel needs – or reflecting much if any ‘tech’ or creative scene beyond the occasional boutique or not-so-late-night coffee shop.

    I’m sure I’m not the only downtown visitor ever to arrive in San Antonio needing a laptop charger. It stinks entirely that the most certain and easiest option for purchasing a laptop charger as a downtown pedestrian is to board a bus to Target at Wonderland of Americas/Crossroads Mall or go home and wait for Amazon.

    San Antonio needs in 2016 to land key infill retail downtown – tech-ish/creative-ish/student-ish/business-ish/family-ish general merchandise as well as ‘destination’ retail – within the West Commerce District, including by asking existing chain retailers to match in San Antonio their hours and services in other US cities (looking at Walgreens – Honolulu, CVS-DC, 7 Eleven-Chicago, Greyhound Bus-Oklahoma City’s amazing Shop24 kiosk vending machine http://www.shop24global.com/, OXXO downtown Laredo’s cafe seating and HEB Plus!-Boerne to start).

    Vacant storefronts and the poverty of existing retail downtown (no book stores, department stores, tech storefronts – Sony, BestBuy, Microsoft, Apple or otherwise, or decent corner stores) undermines San Antonio’s tourism draw as well as aspirations as a tech city where people can live without a car. The Vistana apartments within the West Commerce District, with long vacant storefront retail space on site as well as in surrounding blocks, is a lesson in how San Antonio cannot wait for or rely on new housing to drive downtown retail improvement.

    • That’s what I’m saying! I can’t understand why we don’t have the ability to train our very own, especially given the high poverty rates. Let’s not make this an Austin, which has very little diversity in their urban core!

  3. Lorenzo Gomez– Geekdom CEO and executive director of 80/20 Foundation said it best when I interviewed him for this article.

    “The reason why I’m inspired by this mission [to grow tech in downtown San Antonio] is because tech has changed my life. Rackspace hired me in 2001 when I was only 20. I’m a San Antonio native from the inner city with no college degree. If I can do, anyone from here can, too.”

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