June 17, 2013
For the past two years, TechStars Cloud has run its accelerator program out of a downtown San Antonio coworking space that’s claimed to be Texas’s largest. The 45,000-square-foot space was cofounded by veterans from Rackspace, and it has 1,500 hot-desk spots and 300 desks for teams. It was founded at the end of 2011 – but if you’re not from San Antonio, you might not even have heard of it.
Geekdom is a coworking space with a twist, says cofounder and Rackspace director of strategic initiatives Nicholas Longo. The entrepreneurs, makers, and creatives who work there all agree to give back one hour of their time weekly to help another member, or do a monthly workshop on topics ranging from lean canvas to WordPress and Ruby to social media. The lawyers at Geekdom end up offering pro bono work, like counsel on patents, immigration, and developer contracts.
This collaborative, community spirit comes from a belief in the San Antonio community – and, more broadly, the whole startup community between the coasts. Longo’s cause is the “rise of the middle,” the movement of growth and innovation that’s happening between California and New York.
“The next big thing – the real big thing, the thing that actually changes the world, not a $0.99 app – is going to come from the middle,” he says.
Before starting Geekdom, he and cofounder and Rackspace chairman Graham Weston traveled around the country touring coworking spaces, incubators, and accelerators. In his opinion, they ask too much: too much rent or equity for such early-stage companies. The ethos at Geekdom is one that mimics the attitude of America’s smaller cities and towns: open, friendly, and giving.
“A mentor is someone that gives of themselves for a bigger cause,” says Longo. “Come here, we will help you, and we have no reason to try to take 5 percent of your company.” Geekdom does make investments of $25,000 through the Geekdom Fund, with a convertible note that could be worth 2 percent equity.
All that helping and collaborating and iterating takes place on the Geekdom email list, in the hallways, and during dedicated mentor hours. On Tuesdays, Rackspace cofounders Pat Condon and Dirk Elmendorf, Longo, and Weston spend hours and hours giving feedback to fledgling companies on their products.
“My job is to try to kill it. I’m a dream-killer. You come for me if you want a reality check, and there’s not a lot of puff and circumstance here,” Longo says.
As a result, he says, Geekdom members have a “get shit done” mentality. “We’re building businesses here. We’re not just going to ideate until we’re blue in the face. This place is a constant launch,” he says. Startups focus on building a business instead of just creating a cool product, which means having a business plan, finding customers, and making money – fast.
To build out that San Antonio community, Geekdom also offers a slew of other programs. Kids can learn about robots, technology, and STEM on the GeekBus or in SparkEd classes. Students can participate in 3 Day Startup, a Startup Weekend-like event. And those who want to transition into the tech industry can enroll in Rackspace’s Open Cloud Academy, with university-like courses that train you to work in dev ops in 8-12 weeks.
Geekdom’s next move is to open a coworking space in San Francisco in September. At Folsom and 2nd, where the Rackspace headquarters is, the 15,000-square-foot space will have the same community-oriented setup.
For a company who beliees in the “rise of the middle,” San Francisco seems like a counterproductive choice. But it’s not a race, says Longo. San Francisco has been doing this for decades, and the rest of the country can benefit from its knowledge and networks.
“This is not a competition, that’s for sure. I don’t know if you can compete with San Francisco,” says Longo. “San Francisco is a cousin, and we need their help, and they probably need our help, too.”
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