Girdley, who earned a computer science degree with honors from Lafayette College, worked as a programmer in Silicon Valley. He is also the author of several books on Java programming with a focus on web applications.
Fifteen yearas ago, Girdley moved back to San Antonio, his hometown, because his wife wanted to live in the sunbelt.
“We liked how easy life is in San Antonio,” Girdley said. “The slowness of San Antonio sometimes has a big benefit which is it’s really easy to live a really nice life here.”
San Antonio’s leaders have worked hard to develop its downtown area and foster the presence of established tech companies like USAA along with startups like Codeup, Parlevel, Merge Virtual Reality, Filestack, Help Social, Infocyte and more.
San Antonio is a tech hub in progress. And Graham Weston, former chairman and co-founder of Rackspace, has played a huge part in that, Girdley said. Weston co-founded Geekdom, a collaborative coworking space for tech startups, with Nick Longo.
Weston realized that if you want to transform a city into a startup city, it must be led by the entrepreneurs, Girdley said.
Before becoming immersed in the tech scene, Girdley served as the CEO of his family business Alamo Fireworks. Today, he is the Chairman of Codeup, a coding bootcamp company he cofounded. And Girdley is a venture capitalist and the managing director of the $20 million Geekdom Fund and a partner at RealCo, a seed fund program.
Girdley’s entrepreneurial skills reach back to when he was a teenager working at Alamo Fireworks, which leases stands to contractors and sells fireworks. As a 16-year-old, Girdley was the CEO of his own fireworks stand and had to deal with customers, employees, inventory, sales, and more.
“Fireworks is an amazing training ground for business,” Girdley said.
He also learned how to sell to people – a skill which he says is essential for technology entrepreneurs.
Fireworks is still a business that hasn’t been disrupted by the online world because of government regulations regarding explosives. But the industry is being disrupted by laser light shows and drones and other ways to deliver entertainment to consumers, Girdley said.
At Geekdom, Girdley co-founded Codeup in 2013 with Jason Straughan and Chris Taylor to train people through a bootcamp on how to be programmers. More than 500 students have gone through the program and the placement rate for people getting a better job is in the 90 percentile, the job placement as software programmers is in the 70 percent range, Girdley said.
“We’re not an education company, we’re a life change company,” Girdley said.
One of Girdley’s favorite Codeup success stories involves a coffee barista that worked nearby Codeup’s offices downtown. He ended up joining the program. He graduated and now he’s got a six-figure job at a San Antonio corporation, Girdley said.
San Antonio’s ecosystem has grown dramatically since Geekdom’s launch in 2011. Today, the city is home to the San Antonio Angel Network, the $20 million Geekdom fund, Geekdom, Realco, and dozens of startups. It also was home to Techstars Cloud.
“We have all of these winds of change that I think are blowing in San Antonio’s favor,” Girdley said.
San Antonio is also part of a mega-region rather than separate cities, Girdley said. Austin and San Antonio are working more closely together. Girdley is also spending time in Houston and Dallas looking for investments for the Geekdom Fund.
“I’m looking less at San Antonio versus the world,” Girdley said. “Or Austin versus the world. Or Houston versus the world. And more about how do we leverage all the magic happening in this state and all the resources we do have at our disposal.”
Autonomous buses and cars will solve Texas’ transportation woes, Girdley said. He’s more concerned about the state’s education spending. The state ranks near the bottom of all the nation’s states when it comes to education performance and spending on the K-12 level.
“The underinvestment we’re making in public education in this state is a travesty,” Girdley said.
San Antonio has the CAST High School, a magnet school for tech skills, coming online in the Fall and there are other magnet schools aimed at targeted skills such as healthcare, aerospace and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Yet more needs to be done to improve public school education statewide, Girdley said. Texas is importing a lot of talented workers from other states to fill critical jobs here, he said. It needs a better pipeline to create its own educated workforce, he said.
Recently, the Geekdom Fund announced it had raised $20 million to primarily invest in early-stage business to business Internet companies nationwide, with a focus on Texas, Girdley said.
“Texas is chronically underfunded,” he said. “There is not enough funding for the activity going on here.”
Geekdom Fund does one investment deal a year, but it examines eight to ten closely and it will have looked at up to 800 companies, Girdley said. The best way to approach the fund for investment is through a warm introduction from a trusted source, Girdley said.
Girdley is also involved with San Antonio’s Realco, a seed fund program based at Geekdom, that is currently accepting applications.
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