Local business leaders set plans in motion for ‘startup district’
Start Me Up: “Austin Live”
Tech-savvy oasis. Silicon Hills. Call it what you will. Entrepreneurial enthusiasm is an undeniably intrinsic part of Austin’s mojo. From the smallest of bootstrapped businesses to the largest of international ventures (looking at you, Dell and Facebook), Austin boasts a vibrant tech landscape and an intoxicating buzz of startup activity. But that’s no secret.
In an effort to encourage and cultivate this continual flow of local brainpower, the Chamber of Commerce recently unveiled their plans for a startup-specific business district. A 10,000 square-foot innovation hub set on providing the four basic elements to fledgling entrepreneurs – workspace, wifi, caffeine and couches.
Understanding Austin’s pivotal role on the national technology scene, the "Austin Live" initiative stems from the chamber’s Greater Austin Technology Partnership. As an organization, the GATP’s mission is to “provide leadership that identifies next generation technology trends and guides the creation of the best of class ecosystem for company formation and growth.”
With that in mind, the core idea of this new project is to create a collaborative – and well-equipped – environment for early-stage entrepreneurs.
In the recent Statesman article, Gene Austin, 2011 Chair of the GATP and CEO of Convio Inc. describes the premise as “a better runway to get out of the tough stages of going from an idea to a real business.”
Going on to share his additional financial hopes for Austin Live, he adds: "It's hard to make connections when you're working from your garage. We'd like this to become a magnet for funding. Hopefully, it will become a centerpiece for a much stronger tech ecosystem."
As the GATP is currently on the hunt for a chunk of local real estate, the plan itself is only in its infancy. Although financial details have reportedly yet to be worked out, a logical model might mirror that of recent co-working spaces. Vendors provide the utilities (furniture, for example) in exchange for brand exposure and what is essentially an interactive showroom. Chances are, an entrepreneur-in-training will remember those comfortable ergonomic chairs come time to outfit a new company office.
The actual investment and participation details have yet to be solidified either. Again, looking at recent examples of similar projects across the country (like NYC’s General Assembly and WeWork Labs), precedent indicates varying levels of funding and involvement from venture capitalists or other service providers (think: lawyers and accounting firms) in lieu of charging high participation fees.
The issue of exclusivity arises as well. Will there be an application process? If so, what will the admission criteria look like? …Such details remain to be established and seen as the development process unfolds. Regardless, the potential interest will presumably be high.
While the city’s focus on this is relatively new, the seed funding/collaborative environment/ mentorship-included approach to nurturing early growth-stage companies has existed in Austin for some time now, albeit in slightly different forms.
Tech Ranch has a tiered membership model and offers access to facilities, supplies and educational opportunities – like the co-working concept, but with a highly targeted client in mind. Capital Factory on the other hand, is a different type of technology incubator. Operating on an accelerated 10-week timeline, the application-based program provides all of the previously discussed perks plus the added bonus of seed funding (in exchange for equity).
Simply put, the common theme is that creative collaboration fosters innovation. And for a city that recently topped the Forbes Magazine list of “Next Big Boom Towns,” innovation is the key to economic growth and the secret sauce of job creation.