Startup District in Austin

There was a story in the Austin American Statesman today talking about the Austin Chamber of Commerce‘s new initiative to create something called Austin Live, which would be a 10,000 square foot workspace dedicated to early stage startups.

I’ve spoken with probably a dozen people about similar efforts. We’ve talked about the same thing at Capital Factory. I’ve had generous offers of assistance from HPI Real Estate. John Erik Metcalf and the folks at Conjunctured worked on the Startup District concept years ago as well. Now, it seems like Gene Austin is heading up the chamber initiative to find a location. Who would run it, and how it would be funded remain to be figured out.

Nobody asked me for my opinion, but here it is:

  1. Everyone should team up to get this done.
  2. The space had better be spitting distance from the Austin Convention Center (ground zero for SXSW).
  3. If some government entity is involved in running or controlling it, it will never work.

What do you think?

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About Bryan Menell

Bryan is the Managing Editor for AustinStartup and the CEO of Mahana. He is a co-founder of Capital Factory, an investor and advisor, and runs the popular Austin Tech Happy Hour with his wife.

Comments

  1. Can you elaborate on why #3 is a given? One of Austin’s many strengths is that it has lots of the trappings of a larger city but its neighborhood councils and local governance have a “small town” feel to them. What are your negative experiences with the Austin Chamber or the city council that lead you to conclusion #3?

    #2 is a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have. Austin’s tech scene has a different pedigree than the Valley, and it shouldn’t sacrifice that for the sake of pursuing the same kind of vibe as the Valley scene. I think the tech crowd demographic here skews older, and it would be nice if the incubator wasn’t purely focused on the “mobile/social hype factory” style of businesses. In fact, it would be nice for Austin to be a model for a startup, entrepreneurship, and incubation scene that was more laid back and less hype-driven. (I also think it would fit more closely with the character of Austin.)

  2. austinstartup says:

    Regarding #3 I’m not saying a public/private partnership isn’t possible, but every successful entrepreneurial space that I know of is privately owned and managed. I’ve never seen a successful one run by a state or municipality. Show me a model, and I’ll reconsider my statement.

    FYI: I don’t consider the ATI, TechRanch, or any existing Austin incubator, program, or co-working space to be an entrepreneurial space of this type. I don’t think what is being discussed exists in Austin today.

  3. Hi Brian, I agree with you on points #1 and #2. And in general your third point is fairly acceptable as well. What I think would be cool is for the community leaders in the for-profit and for-community sectors to begin working together (yes I’m talking about collaboration) to reach the goals for the startup district without having to create a 10,00 square foot warehouse. I’m talking about taking a Entrepreneurial Scene mentality across Austin. Someone sith a scene mentality — like Bijoy Goswami or RISE Austin — would be perfect for heading this up if they were up to it.

    I disagree with your comment at 3:38 p in that I think we have almost everything (if not everything) we need to create a first iteration of the startup district that would serve as an innovative demo for the concept. We would accomplish it by coallescing the disparate assets that already exist accross the city. Of course operations should be headquartered near the convention center, but I’m not really sure that needs to be a 10,000 square foot space.

    For the record, my viewpoint is shaded by my perspective as the community manager of one of Austin’s downtown federated coworking spaces (ie, GoLab Austin). As a federated coworking space (like Cospace and Conjunctured), we see our mission as fostering more active connections among coworkers, connections that could lead to working relationships such as business-to-business relationships, contracting or referrals. Our focus is on entrepeneurship.

  4. I think the city and the chamber missed boat once on the start-up and tech culture (in late 1990s). That does not mean they cannot come late to the party.

    The Austin Chamber is a great organization that has done, and continues to do, great things. The tech start up community has largely ignored the chamber – seeing it as “yesterday’s news” in a new world.

    My point is that both sides of this have baggage. This idea can only work if the communities of personalities can come to the table with fresh eyes.

  5. I’m really surprised that they didn’t ask for your opinion. When you don’t ask those that are in the trenches, who’s perspective are you going off of?

    If you are making a startup community center, you should get the startup community involved.

  6. I wouldn’t rule out government as a provider of either seed money or square footage, or permitting. But you don’t want to have it victimized by the ups and downs of government funding (as we’ve seen with swimming pools, parks, Trail of Lights, and even education, in Austin and in Texas).

    But whatever is established needs to have a life of its own (like SXSW) and an ability to evolve as the startups that rise up evolve. Not to mention, fostering a culture of “giving back” when successful startups exit the “scene”, to help promote its survival going forward.

    I hope everyone will support the idea rather than fracture it, as it starts to come to fruition. (let’s hope it does). Perfect is the enemy of Good, in this case…

  7. Jacqueline Hughes says:

    First, I am somewhat sad about the fact that both Cesar Torres and John Erik Metcalf who were initiators of bringing this to life have both moved. I think it says something about our ecosystem in general. I’d like to see Austin have access to some of the same resources as the valley and I think having something of this nature would really help.

    While I think it is great that someone is re-taking the initiative to get it up and running, I’m not sure it should be the Chamber…or any government entity really. Of course, it would be nice for the city to fund something like this. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if they sat on this for a long time and then aren’t able to secure funding. The red tape will take a long time to cut through. That being said, I think it is great that someone is doing something. I’m just not sure if everyone should stop their own initiatives.

    I also agree with Steve. I don’t know if we really need a space per se, but instead more collaboration amongst the community. Isn’t that the original thought pattern around this? You can’t just throw up a space and call it a community. Each of the coworking spaces worked incredibly hard to build what they have. I hope the Chamber knows that they are going to need to bring someone on who is willing to wrangle the entities and people together.

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