San Antonio has long been a city of fighters. The Alamo’s image graces everything from touristy ten-gallon hats to beer bottles, but the Battle of the Alamo was lost with only two Texans left standing. Nowadays, the city of San Antonio is fighting a new battle—replacing its image as a largely uneducated city with one as a business and cultural tech hub. Fueling the effort is the city’s business and academic population—mainly, its start-ups.
According to the 2010 Census, only 25.1 percent of San Antonio residents have a college degree; the city ranked 48th out of 50 metropolitan areas (with populations over 1 million) in number of residents with a college education or higher. To many, this is an unacceptable state of education in the city—one that is holding it back from evolving into a true hub.
Adding to the problem is the highly transient nature of the city. In the past, San Antonio has mined other cities for talent. Companies wooed employees with the promise of sunshine, low costs of living, friendly people, and world-famous Mexican food and BBQ. Some technical workers are still shuttled in from neighboring Austin on Wi-Fi-enabled buses. Even the city’s largest universities downtown, like The University of Texas at San Antonio Downtown and Texas A&M University San Antonio, are comprised mostly of commuters.
Forget Austin, Let’s Kick it in San Antonio
Rather than educating the masses and sending them on their merry way, the city is hoping to retain its smartest talent. Companies like Rackspace, a hosting company with “fanatical support” from the city’s inhabitants, is playing the surrogate role for the centralized university. Rackspace has been a critical player in the development of the start-up community, strapping a pair of rockets to the growth of entrepreneurial ventures through Geekdom, a co-working space and incubator that provides not just a cool place to work, but mentoring for start-ups as well as students.
“Geekdom is addressing the issue of building up San Antonio’s business reputation along with some of the educational issues," says program director Nick Longo. "Geekdom is the schoolhouse of the future.”
Louie Pacilli, director of education, says Geekdom wants to focus on middle schools, "where kids transition from a single-teacher model to navigating different teachers, experiencing physical and emotional milestones. We want to teach kids that ‘geek is chic’ and blend creativity with tech.”
The education programs at Geekdom are designed to "nurture wonderment," Pacilli says, "with enriching academic workshops in circuit, code, design and entrepreneurship, to help them develop confidence and take ownership of the world around them.”
A Cloud Computing and Infrastructure Hub
The start-up community has responded positively to the time and monetary investment Rackspace has made. San Antonio hosted the first class of Techstars Cloud, an accelerator to mentor and fund cloud-computing and infrastructure companies. This is an industry that the city is becoming well known for. Eleven start-ups made it through the intense boot camp, and in April, presented to a theater full of investors and nationwide media. For the first time, San Antonio was in the media for multiple high-tech companies at once—a true milestone for the start-up community.
The weekend of July 20th marked another milestone for the community. Geekdom announced it would give $25,000 in seed-stage funding to start-ups that apply and qualify. The fund has already invested in start-ups based at Geekdom, including local Wordpress hosting darling, ZippyKid. ZippyKid has also garnered national attention with an investment from Silicon Valley’s 500 Startups. "Being recognized in San Antonio by a fund like theirs is something I'm very proud of," shared ZippyKid founder, Vid Luther. Even companies from outside San Antonio are welcome to apply for the Geekdom fund, if they are interested in relocating.
The goal is to make San Antonio a strong, vibrant community—whether you’re local or not. It’s about using the start-up scene to attract academics and entrepreneurs—people who want to stay in San Antonio to help redefine the city as more than just a taco haven but rather, a tech hub.
This article is commissioned by Qualcomm Incorporated. The views expressed are the author's own.