City of San Antonio Economic Development

The Culture of Business

The up and coming, “Silicon Hills” of Texas

Austin and San Antonio

In the not so distant past, Central Texas was known in the tech-world, primarily for microchip and PC manufacturing. On the high-tech industry map, it was nothing to gawk at. In 1984, Michael Dell founded Dell in Austin, San Antonio’s headline grabbing northern neighbor. This development made many call Austin, the technology hub of Texas.

Down in San Antonio, an equally important tech center has been quietly developing. The City’s culture has long been influenced by the culture of the U.S. Armed Forces, which are less boastful and prone to keeping information to a “need to know” basis. This makes San Antonio’s business community more humble and less likely to advertise its success.

Today, Austin and San Antonio are putting on their glasses, and embracing their inner geekiness as the technology revolution accelerates.  Together, the two have been nicknamed “Silicon Hills” as the counterpart to California’s Silicon Valley.  Austin, known for its software and semiconductor tech industries, is attracting e-commerce and software-as-a-service companies as well as top operators such as Google.

Sixty miles south, San Antonio has also been making strides to establish itself as a center for technology and tech-related innovation.  San Antonio’s growth in the cyber-security and biotechnology industries has been exceptionally significant (look for future posts about these topics).  Rackspace, mentioned in my last blog post, is a billion-dollar hosting and cloud-computing company founded in San Antonio in 1998. It currently has over 5,000 total employees with 3,000 in San Antonio, 1,000 in London and the rest spread around the world .  San Antonio was originally attractive to Graham Weston and other founders because of its low risk of natural disasters, making it perfectly suited to a gigantic data center which was essential to the company’s business model. (San Antonio is home to many data centers for this reason)

San Antonio as a technology hubImage

Some have even questioned whether San Antonio might actually surpass Austin in its tech-savvyness.  Rackspace’s ability to attract talent and investment to the city, especially related to technology, is reminiscent of what Dell did for Austin. However, Rackspace differs from Dell in that it fosters innovation in a more deliberate manner.  The relaxed, collaborative culture focusing on talent, diversity, creativity and engagement drives the engine of their innovation and success.  As part of this formula for innovation, the company also offers free-open-source software to allow developers the opportunity to build their own computing infrastructure. But Rackspace is only part of the story to the ignited tech-hub growth in the Alamo City.

Rackspace’s chairman and co-founder, Graham Weston along with software entrepreneur Nick Longo, at the end of 2011 created Geekdom, a place where tech “geeks” could meet, develop, teach and learn from one another.  According to their website, “Geekdom is a new kind of collaborative coworking space where entrepreneurs, technologists, developers, makers and creatives help each other build businesses and other cool things together.” Their mission is to provide an inspiring environment for bright minds to explore ideas in entrepreneurship, technology, leadership, and creativity, develop talents and connect to a community of like-minded people.

Collaboration is a key part in Geekdom’s success. Geekdom provides an opportunity for other technologists to meet others in the industry that might never have met otherwise.  Geekdom allows the collision of ideas, and random encounters with people who are asking questions that nobody else is asking.  ParLevel Systems, a new startup, was founded after five guys in the break room at Geekdom thought about how a vending machine could alert a company after it ran out of an item.

Geekdom is not only attracting individuals, but startups such as Akimbo are also flocking to the inspiring community.  Created in Austin, the founders of Akimbo claim to have created the first free and instant “money transfer network” that is an alternative to services like PayPal or Venmo, and can be done via mobile devices.  The rapidly growing company moved its headquarters to San Antonio last February to become part of the buzz that is Geekdom. “It’s exciting to see where San Antonio is going,” Turner says, co-founder of Akimbo, “We certainly think we have something to add and are thrilled to join the movement.”

Part of what works so well at Geekdom is the required mentor/apprenticeship. “Every member here has to give one hour of week of their time back to another member, or do a workshop once a month on their expertise,” says Longo. The education doesn’t stop there, however.  The founders of Geekdom believe as many in the tech industry do, that schools are falling dramatically behind other countries in encouraging and teaching technology. SparkEd is a program aimed at middle school kids to inspire future generations to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The students will come from 30 of the worst performing city schools. The curriculum will require the kids to join a team, build a robot and create a website and sell it. “We want to make geeks into rock stars,” Longo said.  Although, the SparkEd is a philanthropic project, the future innovators created through the program will help spur the technology movement in not only San Antonio but will help create waves in the rest of U.S. as well.

There’s a video I love, a TED talk by Derek Sivers, “How to start a movement.” He shows a popular video, Guy starts a dance party, that went viral a few years back.  The video is of a shirtless young man on a grassy knoll at the Sasquatch music festival dancing by his lonesome. He is soon joined however, by a fellow festival-goer, who beckons his friends to join. Within three minutes, a crowd of at least a hundred people are jumping and jiving together.  Derek Silvers uses this video to analyze how a movement is started. “A leader needs the guts to stand out and be ridiculed,” Silver says as the shirtless man flings his body around in hilarious dance moves, completely uninhibited and uncaring that to others he may look ridiculous. “The first follower is what turns a lone nut into a leader,” Silver continues as we watch the shirtless man joined by a fellow dancer. “Three more people, now we’ve got momentum, this is the tipping point, now we’ve got a movement,” Silver explains as more and more people join what has turned from one crazy guy dancing to what is now an incredible dance party.

The founders of Geekdom at its inception seemed to many, “a lone nut.” Many naysayers ridiculed their choice of San Antonio, “an unlikely place for a technology revolution.” However, with 600 members after only a year and a half, they are growing so quickly that they recently bought an 8 floor building to keep up with demand for space.  The naysayers have gone quiet.  Instead of laughing at the “lone nut” they are scrambling desperately to figure out how to join the momentous technology party which is comfortably situated in San Antonio. San Antonio glistens and shimmers for all that look beneath its surface. Graham Weston and Nick Longo saw San Antonio for what it is, an economically strong city bound for greatness.  All it needed was one “lone nut” to get the party started.


Technology post #1 : Click here


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One comment on “The up and coming, “Silicon Hills” of Texas

  1. Pingback: LOOP, a group of young professionals transforming SA! | City of San Antonio Economic Development

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This entry was posted on July 17, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , .

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