Seven hundred members. Forty-five thousand square feet. Two hundred and thirty-five events in its first year. Two hundred startups, each with access to $25,000 in seed funding, and a beautiful, modern workspace reminiscent of top Silicon Valley digs for companies like Google or Facebook. I’m talking about Geekdom, which is billionaire Rackspace founder Graham Weston’s attempt to create a popup startup center in San Antonio.
And, truth be told, all over the world.
“To me it’s irrefutable that between accelerators and coworking spaces, this is where the fabric of innovation is happening today and will grow over decades to come,” Weston told me recently. “Every city in America needs to have a physical place where the startup community congregates — in fact, every city in the world.”
Graham has a shot at creating that space. He’s already done it in San Antonio and is doing it in San Francisco — home to fast-growing rival RocketSpace — and is planning to do it all over the continent in cities like Oklahoma City, Calgary, Sacramento, San Diego, and Edmonton. And he’s done it successfully, if you ask entrepreneurs who work in Geekdom.
Jeremy Karney, a founding member of Monk’s Toolbox, which makes “craft apps for craft beer makers,” told me that Geekdom helped him meet “amazing people and see amazing work” and not just find a place to work but also find a community that, together, birthed the startup he currently works for.
“I went looking for an office and found a community,” he said via e-mail. “Through the mentorship of the amazing people around Geekdom … I have learned more about business, technology, and entrepreneurship since April 2012 than I had in my 14 years before in the industry.”
It’s not just the geeks who are getting excited. It’s also the venture capitalists.
Weston and his team are trying to make the startup soil more fertile, and one of the key requirements is investment. Clearly, he and Rackspace have invested in San Antonio and Geekdom’s other locations, but other angel investors and VCs have been attracted to the light, too, seeing a tight cluster of talent and innovation.
“There’s venture firms that have formed because of Geekdom,” Weston told me. “Now they have deal flow.”
One of the angel investors in the Geekdom community is Michael Girdly of CodeUp, a geek bootcamp for aspiring developers with a “job placement guarantee.” As many tech CEOs and founders do, he also invests in startups that he feels have promise.
“It’s been magical as Geekdom has taken all the distributed tech around town and brought it a level of energy that is amazing,” he told me. “The $2 word I hear is propinquity.”
(A quick define-colon-propinquity in Google, and I learn that this 10-gallon Texas word means “the state of being close to someone or something; proximity.”)
That’s music to the ears of Nick Longo, who is both a director at Rackspace and the director of Geekdom, who calls Geekdom “a gym membership for geeks,” and says that the community in the building is the place you go to meet your next team — to find your cofounder or your chief technical officer. That’s partly what the 235 events are all about — Karney of Monk’s Toolbox found his startup team via a Three-Day-Startup camp — and partly what Geekdom’s mentor sessions help foster.
The goal for Geekdom, however, extends far beyond the walls of its San Antonio riverwalk location or its newer San Francisco office. The goal is democratizing technological innovation beyond Silicon Valley, Silicon Alley, and a few other tech hotspots on the globe.
“Our modern society cannot just expect innovation to happen only in the big cities,” he says. “So much of our economy is being disrupted by software — by innovations in web, cloud, technology — can we really have the only source of innovation in San Francisco?”
The answer is no, he says, responding to his own question, and explains that the Geekdom concept is a way to organize a city, a technology community, and achieve critical mass for innovation in Kansas as well as Menlo Park, in Alabama as well as South of Market.
“If the disruption can happen in startups, the barrier to disruption is very low,” West says. “It can happen in a small city as well as a big one … which doesn’t mean San Antonio will surpass San Francisco. But it means that every city needs a way to enhance innovation.”
Which will make it easier for other geeks and entrepreneurs to replicate his success with Rackspace.
Today, Rackspace has over 5,000 employees and a leader in the disruptive cloud computing space. But it was “very hard” to start, Weston says, and he hopes that Geekdom will make the process dramatically easier.
“Over the last 100 years the building blocks of innovation were bricks, mortar, and steel,” he told me. “The innovation now is online, software code … what the geeks bring.”
And Geekdom is where, Weston believes, the geeks will come.
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