A Collaborative Center for Tech Entrepreneurs Launches in Austin

Josh Baer introduces a new coworking and collaboration space downtown

A groovy new space in a downtown Austin high-rise offers tech entrepreneurs a place to develop startups.
It’s part of the Austin TechLive initiative by the Austin Chamber to create a tech-focused coworking site. Capital Factory will oversee the 22,000 square foot space on the 16th floor of Austin Centre at 701 Brazos Street. The wide-open floor offers spectacular panoramic city views. It’s furnished with Herman Miller desks and chairs and even has a full cafeteria. The workspace should appeal to creative people who like bright, expansive and beautiful office space. Smiley Media formerly occupied the offices.
“This is confirmation that coworking has moved beyond the emerging stage and is here to stay,” said Liz Elam who runs Link Coworking in Austin. She also organizes the Global Coworking Unconference Conference.
Coworking spaces provide workers with shared desks, conference rooms and other work areas. The number of co-working spaces has nearly doubled each year since 2006 to 1,300 worldwide in 2011 and projected to increase to 2,150 this year, according to Deskmag, which follows the industry.
The Capital Factory coworking site already has 60 desks filled and a waiting list from entrepreneurs wanting to rent a desk there, said Josh Baer, managing director of the Capital Factory, an Austin-based accelerator for tech startups. He referred to the coworking site as the “community entrepreneurial center of gravity.” A desk at the coworking center costs $750 a month and a community membership, which allows a person to work in the common areas, costs $150 a month. The site provides round the clock access everyday to members.
The Austin Chamber of Commerce selected the Capital Factory as its strategic partner for Austin TechLive. A few companies including Baer’s startup, OtherInBox, which Return Path acquired earlier this year, and WP Engine are already moving into the space. It will be fully launched within a few months.
In addition to the Capital Factory, the University of Texas at Austin and the General Assembly of New York are helping out with the new center. The General Assembly will offer certified educational programs at Austin TechLive.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Baer talked about the need to create “healthy vibrant strong companies” in Austin. And said there’s been a lot of talk lately about Austin versus Silicon Valley and other places. By creating a dense tech environment downtown, the new coworking center can foster interaction, connections and collaboration among the city’s high tech workforce, Baer said. That will lead to new companies and more high-tech jobs, he said. His goal is to have 250 companies occupy the space.
The other companies moving into the Capital Factory coworking space include Swoosh Traffic, Agent Pronto, Tweet.TV and Swimtopia.
The Capital Factory coworking space will also be the site of tech events, meetups and training, Baer said. The goal is to bring together tech events that happen all over the city into the central coworking site, he said. For example, Capital Factory used to host Austin on Rails but it got too big and moved to a bar. He plans to host that again in the new center.
The idea of the central coworking space focused on the tech sector is similar to an initiative launched last November in San Antonio called Geekdom. It’s a collaborative workspace with more than 300 community members and it recently expanded to another floor at the downtown Weston Centre. But while Geekdom is run as a nonprofit organization, the Capital Factory coworking space is a business, Baer said. A group of successful Austin entrepreneurs put up the money to launch the site. They include Baer, Bill Boebel, Andrew Busey, Ross Buhrdorf and Dan Graham.
“Nobody is trying to make a lot of money off this,” Baer said. “The people who did this really want to help entrepreneurs in Austin.”
“The mission is to create this great entrepreneurial center downtown,” said Bryan Jones, chair of the Austin Chamber’s Technology Partnership.
In addition to launching the coworking space, the Chamber’s Tech Partnership is focused on creating 5,000 new technology jobs, up 5 percent from last year and to attract 50 new technology startups to the Austin region, including 10 at the new Capital Factory space. It also wants to recruit 15 new entrepreneurial companies to the Austin region.
One of the biggest challenges startup companies face is hiring great talent, Baer said. The Capital Factory coworking space will attract that talent and help the new startups grow, he said.
Chuck Gordon, cofounder of Sparefoot, a Capital Factory company from 2009, has seen firsthand how being in a shared workspace with other tech companies can help a startup grow to a large company.
“It’s possible. We did it,” said Gordon.
Sparefoot recently moved out of the Omni building to 5,600 square feet in a neighboring building. The company now has 45 employees.
“Tons of companies in San Francisco and New York go to incubators,” Gordon said. Those spaces serve as entrepreneurial ecosystems that strengthens the entire technology industry in those cities, he said.
“This is going to make it happen here,” he said. “The networking opportunities of getting a bunch of smart people in one space are incredible.”
Boebel, managing director of Capital Factory, will manage the new coworking space in partnership with Cospace, an Austin coworking site.
Capital Factory will leverage Cospace’s expertise for IT services, furniture, assigning workstations and all the nuts and bolts that go into running a coworking center, Boebel said.
“I’m mostly excited about working with the startups,” he said. One of the benefits of working at the site will be access to successful entrepreneurs like Boebel, who sold his e-mail hosting company to Rackspace. And Baer, who has founded and sold several startups.
“I wish there was a space like this when I started my company,” Boebel said. He founded what eventually came to be known as Webmail.Us in the basement of a townhouse in Blacksburg, Va.
“It’s nice to be around other entrepreneurs who are going through the same things,” Boebel said. “Friends and family don’t understand what it’s like to bootstrap a company.”
The coworking environment allows the startups to learn from each other’s mistakes and that can accelerate their progress, Boebel said.
Also, the space allows them to share resources, he said. Three companies might be able to hire one User Interface Designer, he said.
Boebel is also working on setting up a fund to provide access to seed stage investment for startup companies at Capital Factory.
Jason Cohen started Capital Factory with Baer in 2009. In surveys of the program participants, the entrepreneurs always reported access to mentoring and the close working proximity of the other startups as the top benefits of the program, Cohen said. The Capital Factory coworking space provides both, he said.
“It’s an insane space,” Cohen said. “It has just the right kind of attitude and energy for creative people.”
That helps WP Engine, a hosting service for 40,000 WordPress blogs, which has 15 Austin employees and 20 overall, Cohen said. He founded WP Engine a few years ago. It’s adding two new employees every month, Cohen said. The space will help in recruiting, he said. “Who wouldn’t want to work here?”

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