Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / Rivard Report
USAA launched an initiative Wednesday that will underwrite 50% of Geekdom membership fees for military veterans, active duty military, and military spouses who sign up as new members of the downtown coworking space.
“The agreement we now have with Geekdom makes sense not only from the emerging tech perspective but as a means to best support veterans with their entrepreneurship and startups in the tech sector,” Tim Brown, vice president of IT innovation research and development at USAA, told the Rivard Report. “There may even (be) an opportunity for USAA to partner with some of them in the future.”
Nick Longo, co-founder of Geekdom and a U.S. Air Force veteran, formally announced the partnership at the Geekdom Event Centre Wednesday morning with Brown, Mayor Ivy Taylor, and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.
Those interested in a Geekdom membership can sign up online via MilTribe, which then verifies the potential member’s military status quickly before reconnecting the applicant back to Geekdom to complete the process.
USAA has committed $60,000 for military member fees at Geekdom.
“We plan to revisit our investment moving forward as we continue to do everything we can to support our military members,” Brown said.
Brown stressed the importance of providing entrepreneurial resources for military service members and spouses who may otherwise not have access to the growing tech community in San Antonio.
“We wanted to get more involved in the emerging tech community and help grow more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) type of talent in San Antonio,” Brown said. “This is a small portion of what we want to do on an ongoing basis.”
USAA is San Antonio’s second-largest employer in San Antonio with more than 16,000 employees. It provides financial and insurance services for military members and their families.
The partnership has been in development for some time and is a win-win for both companies, Longo said.
“What it came down to was seeking a military sponsor rather than a corporate partner, and USAA was the perfect match for this partnership,” he said. “Not only does this (strategic partnership) make sense on the entrepreneurial side but on the interpreneurial side as well.”
Interpreneurial relationships typically are cooperative agreements between two or more companies sharing the mutual goal of developing groundbreaking technologies that ultimately produce innovative, marketable products. Longo cited USAA’s intangible resources, such as industry experience and research skills that are essential for successful product innovation, as the reason the Geekdom-USAA partnership fits the definition of “interpreneurial” perfectly.
“Geekdom also gains from this partnership, as USAA has a vast knowledge of technology and innovation, leadership skills and experience, as well as other strengths,” he added.
Eric Smith, USAA’s chief technology officer, agreed.
“We see this as a fantastic opportunity,” Smith stressed. “We’re most excited to see what will come out of this.”
Some may not think of USAA as a technology company. However, from 2009-2012, USAA was ranked the No. 1 place to work in the IT industry. With more than 2,800 IT employees working in the San Antonio office alone, and many more working in regional offices, USAA is one of the largest IT employers in San Antonio.
“We love to think of ourselves as a tech company that does investment, banking, and insurance,” Brown said. “This (partnership) helps us influence tech in San Antonio.
“As a byproduct we benefit with the emergence of great tech talent, as well as with opportunities to partner with veteran entrepreneurs on tech ideas that might benefit our membership as a whole.”
Brown noted that USAA employees get two paid days off a year so they can volunteer in the community. They could mentor entrepreneurs at Bunker Labs, a nonprofit powered by military veteran entrepreneurs who provide resources to help fellow vets start and grow businesses, or help military members in Geekdom. The unique skills and experience USAA employees bring to the table can help grow San Antonio’s tech sector.
“We’re excited to be a part of the emerging tech community,” Brown said.
The potential for innovation from the expected influx of new military members into Geekdom is promising.
“The idea of inventing the way to deposit a check using a phone was created here in San Antonio at USAA,” Graham Weston said. “To me, it’s indisputable that San Antonio is a city on the rise.”
Longo explained that offering the discounted Geekdom membership to military veterans, active duty military, and spouses of military is unique. Typically, programs are either geared toward active duty members or to veterans, not both. Military spouses also tend to be left out of programs.
“We need to build a bridge to this segment of the population,” Longo said. “With this new partnership, USAA and Geekdom can be the bridge builders.”
Geekdom’s connection to the military community is a special area of focus and one it aims to strengthen in the future with the help of community partners like USAA.
“Geekdom and USAA are two private entities making this happen,” Longo said. “We’d love to see these types of programs spread to other cities by being the model for how this is done.”
During the announcement at Geekdom on Wednesday, City and County leaders voiced their support of the new initiative.
“We’re excited about the continued role of our community supporting the military,” Bexar county judge Nelson Wolff said. “We know the great talent that is there in the military.”
“We are very proud of being Military City USA and take great pride in helping military families connect with innovative opportunities, such as the one now available at Geekdom thanks to USAA’s support,” Mayor Ivy Taylor told the overflowing room.