Tag: Cafe Commerce

Cafe Commerce of San Antonio and Dreamit Ventures of Austin Win SBA Grants

logoCafe Commerce, the nonprofit focused on helping entrepreneurs in San Antonio and Dreamit Ventures of Austin have just won U.S. Small Business Administration grants.

The SBA received more than 800 applications for its first Growth Accelerator Fund competition. Cafe Commerce was one of 50 winners and the only one in San Antonio. Dreamit Ventures was the only winner in Austin. The SURGE Accelerator in Houston was the only other Texas winner.

“The SBA is empowering accelerators and startups that are on the cutting edge of successful, innovative new endeavors,” SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet said in a news release. “We’ve seen the enormous success of the accelerator model in communities like Silicon Valley. We believe we can export this type of sophisticated support structure across the country to help start-ups become commercially viable and create jobs more quickly.”

A panel of seven judges chose the winners.

All 50 organizations will receive $50,000 each in cash. They will be required to submit reports to the SBA on “jobs created, funds raised, startups launched and corporate sponsors obtained among other pieces of information.”

The SBA concentrated its support in parts of the country “where there are gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

Dreamit Ventures, founded in 2007, operates an annual accelerator program in Austin as well as other cities around the country like Philadelphia. Dreamit Ventures provides $25,000 seed stage investment in the companies in its portfolio.

Cafe Commerce, based at the main library in downtown San Antonio, launched this year and is run by Accion Texas and funded, in part, by the City of San Antonio.

Peter French, president of Cafe Commerce, and Ryan Salts, community strategist, created this video announcing their SBA grant win. Cafe Commerce plans to use the funds for a new accelerator program focused on the food industry called “Break Fast and Launch.”

SAPitch Provides an Informal Setting for San Antonio Startups to Pitch to Investors

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The Walkingspree team at SAPitch

The Walkingspree team at SAPitch

One of the big problems in growing San Antonio’s technology startup industry has been lack of access to capital for entrepreneurs.

The Geekdom Fund has provided $25,000 to a handful of tech startups in the earliest stages of their companies, but the real need comes with follow on funding in larger amounts ranging from $250,000 to a few million.

The solution might well be found in groups like the newly created SAPitch. The organization, headed up by Michael Girdley and Cole Wollak, brings together entrepreneurs and angel investors in an informal setting for lunch. Everyone buys their own meal and four startups pitch their companies before investors.

On Wednesday afternoon, Storific, Walkingspree, HighNoon and Lightphile presented their companies to investors at Café Commerce in the downtown library.

Walkingspree, a seven year old company with revenues of $2.3 million last year, already has 80 corporate clients and more than 44,000 registered members for its software as a service platform for digital health. The company has created a physical activity program aimed at corporations looking to increase the health of their employees.

Walkingspree CEO Hiran Perera said the company has created its own Bluetooth-enabled device called the “Inspire.” The watch-like device tracks steps, calories, time, distance and goals.

The company’s platform also incorporates other activity trackers like the Fitbit. With customers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Mercer Total Health Management and Texas Health Resources, the company is on track to top revenues of $3.4 million this year.

The company has been bootstrapped so far with one angel investment, Perera said. It’s looking for a strategic investor to develop and Android-based product and further expand its sales and marketing.

Kyle Cornelius and Zachary Stovall, co-founders of Storific, pitched their app-based business that allows consumers to order food via their mobile phones from restaurants and skip the lines. The company recently relocated its headquarters from Paris, France to Geekdom in San Antonio with six employees. They are looking to raise a seed stage round of investment to further develop and market Storific.

HighNoon, which has been in business about eight weeks, wants to bring the custom barn buying experience online. It is already selling a couple of barns a month but plans to create a platform for customers to buy a new and efficient barn tailored to meet their needs, said Pegy Brimhall, one of the founders along with Sonja Howle and Alex Guerra. It was seeking seed stage funding.

David Barrick and Logan Butler, co-founders of LightPhile, pitched their lighting control device to manage an entire concert lighting experience with an iPad. The company received a $25,000 initial investment from the Geekdom Fund. It’s looking for additional funds to finish developing its software interface for the iPad and hardware device.

Kauffman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups Launches at Cafe Commerce in San Antonio

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Peter French, president of Cafe Commerce, is one of the organizers behind 1 Million Cups San Antonio

Peter French, president of Cafe Commerce, is one of the organizers behind 1 Million Cups San Antonio

Where can an entrepreneur go to get feedback about their business and to solve problems?

1 Million Cups San Antonio, which launches Wednesday at 9 a.m. at Café Commerce at the main library in downtown San Antonio. It’s a weekly entrepreneurial educational program, which features two startups sharing a short presentation on their businesses followed by a question and answer session with the audience and lots of coffee.

“The idea is about building the community,” said Peter French, president of Café Commerce. The program is industry agnostic so an entrepreneur from any kind of business can participate, he said. The organizers include French, founder of FreeFlow Research, Celina Pena, chief program officer for Accion Texas and Zac Harris, co-founder of Monk’s Toolbox.

To start off, Michael Girdley, founder of Codeup, will pitch his Geekdom-based startup, which teaches nonprogrammers how to code. French is also pitching Café Commerce, which just opened last week as a resource center for entrepreneurs.

The two-year-old 1 Million Cups program started in Kansas City by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to get to know its entrepreneurial community, said Taylor Brown, program coordinator.

The idea for the program came from an article written by Chicago entrepreneur Seth Kravitz in which he advocated sharing one million cups of coffee to foster a startup community, Brown said.

The idea is that if entrepreneurs met and had a million cups of coffee they could foster an entrepreneurial ecosystem and great things would result from the connections made, French said.

“It’s not your typical pitch asking for money,” Brown said. “It’s really talking about what you do and your story. Where you are at today and where you hope to be in the future. What problems you are facing. It’s a vulnerable environment.”

Kauffman Foundation held the first event in 2012 with 12 people. The program caught on and regularly draws 50 or more people each week. But it’s also expanded to other cities. The Kauffman Foundation didn’t intend to put a model behind the program and scale it, Brown said. It just happened organically.

On Wednesday, two more cities will join the program: San Antonio and Boulder, bringing the total number of cities with 1 Million Cups programs to 44, Brown said. In Texas, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston all have programs.

“We’re just really excited to launch in San Antonio and really glad to add a fourth location in Texas,” Brown said. “We think it’s going to serve a pretty good need there.”

So far, 1 Million Cups has reached around 2,700 startups and every week roughly 74 startups present in all 1 Million Cup Locations nationwide, Brown said.

“What makes this program work so well is that it’s weekly,” Brown said. “It’s kind of like your entrepreneurial church.”

The program provides rejuvenation right in the middle of the week when startups might need it the most, Brown said.

“The intent is that whoever comes – whatever reason they come – the intent is that they’ll be educated and meet someone new that day.” Brown said. “And also, potentially, be inspired.”

Every week about 2,300 people attend a 1 Million Cups event.

A startup that made a vegan energy bar presented at Kansas City and then presented, through the 1 Million Cups Passport program, in Denver. They found partnerships with Whole Foods and other stores in Denver and ended up moving their business there, Brown said.

“A lot of times startups will meet an investor in the audience or meet a co-founder,” Brown said. “There’s been instances where people have started a business because of 1 Million Cups.”

Cafe Commerce Officially Launches in San Antonio

Entrepreneurs and small businesses now have a new resource to get help in San Antonio.

Café Commerce, operated by Accion Texas with funding from the city, officially opened Monday at the central library downtown.

Peter French, founder of FreeFlow Research, serves as president of Café Commerce.

Photos courtesy of Accion Texas and Cafe Commerce

Photos courtesy of Accion Texas and Cafe Commerce

Small businesses contribute three quarters of the new jobs to the city, Mayor Julian Castro said at a press conference broadcast online by NowcastSA.

“It’s an exciting journey we’re going to go on,” French said.

On July 9th, Café Commerce will launch One Million Cups San Antonio, a nationally licensed program developed by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas. The program allows two local entrepreneurs pitch their startups each week to a diverse audience of mentors, advisors, and entrepreneurs. Each pitch is six minutes long followed by 20 minutes of feedback and Q&A. Codeup, a Geekdom-based startup founded by Michael Girdley teaches nonprogrammers how to code, is one of the first companies scheduled to pitch.

Photo of Peter French courtesy of Accion Texas

Photo of Peter French courtesy of Accion Texas

When G.P. Singh started Karta Technologies in 1989 but he couldn’t find information to help him with his business. He relied on one bookstore. Today, entrepreneurs and small businesses have access to a lot of information. They have information overload, Singh said.

“You need someone to guide you through the jungle of information out there,” Singh said. “That is what Café Commerce is going to do.”

Small businesses are the backbone of the city and the country, Singh said.

The Hard Truth About Entrepreneurship

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Photo courtesy of Gary Schoeniger

Photo courtesy of Gary Schoeniger

Entrepreneurship can empower ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Yet a huge disconnect exists between what is being taught about entrepreneurship and what they are really doing, said Gary Schoeniger, co-founder and CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative.

And the myths lead people to the wrong conclusions, he said.

In fact, the typical Inc. 500 startup has no new technology or Intellectual Property and the entrepreneurs are not writing business plans, Schoeniger said.

“They have little or no formal planning,” he said. “Their market research is ad hoc instead of in depth, the median startup capital is about $10,000 coming from credit cards, second mortgages, friends, fools and family.”

And 40 percent have no experience in their chosen field, he said.

Schoeniger could not find a curriculum to explain how entrepreneurs actually operate so he created the Ice House Program. It is based on the book “Who Owns the Ice House” with interviews of more than 300 successful entrepreneurs. He wrote the book with Clifton L. Taulbert, one of the inventors of the Stairmaster. The Ice House Entrepreneurship Program is designed to teach the entrepreneurial mindset.

Peter French, president of Cafe Commerce, brought Schoeniger to San Antonio to teach the program to San Antonio entrepreneurs.

IMG_3437Schoeniger spoke for two hours Monday night to a group from Café Commerce in San Antonio about the Ice House Program, funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City.

During his talk, Schoeniger dispelled some Silicon Valley stories about entrepreneurs getting rich quick and coming up with earth-shattering innovations. He thinks those stories give people the wrong impression about what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. His goal is make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone.

The need for entrepreneurship is huge, Schoeniger said. Studies show that 70 percent of all American workers are not engaged in their work, he said.

“Five us are flapping our paddles in the water and only three of us are pulling the whole boat,” he said.

Jason’s Story

To illustrate how transformative entrepreneurial thinking can be, Schoeniger recounted the story of Jason Campbell. He was a 12-year-old boy in his fourth foster home when Schoeniger met him.

“Jason never knew a father,” he said. “His mom was in prison for the fourth time in his life.”

Schoeniger took Jason in. He went to work on weekends with him at a construction management firm.

At 15, Jason went to live with his mom, but that didn’t last because his mom went back to prison during his junior year.

At the time, Jason had a 1.7 GPA. He dropped out of high school to work at Applebee’s full time. He wanted autonomy.

“I convinced him that movie had already been made and it didn’t end well,” Schoeniger said. “I wasn’t looking to be a hero. I knew the kid. I knew he was bright. I felt like I had no choice but to get custody of him and grab hold.”

Jason enrolled in high school and got a minimum wage job at a construction site. But six weeks into the job, Jason told Schoeniger he hated the job and he wanted to become an entrepreneur.

Schoeniger helped him launch “Jason’s Jobsite Cleanup” with a shop vac, push broom, mop, bucket and some fliers.

Schoeniger told Jason to charge $20 an hour even though Jason normally made $6 an hour.

“That terrified him,” Schoeniger said. It was outside his realm of understanding.

“It’s like I pushed him in the pool,” he said.

Jason spent his first day as an entrepreneur driving around in his 1986 Toyota Corolla looking for a customer. He was afraid to get out of his car. He had a fear of behaving in a way outside of societal norms, Schoeniger said.

When he did approach a group of construction workers, they laughed at him and offered him a job at $8 an hour. Jason said no thanks I own my own business.

“They laughed at him, but he thought that’s survivable,” Schoeniger said.

He kept pitching his service and his pitch got better. He also had to pitch to the decision makers and not the workers. But when he pitched to an owner, the guy turned him down and Jason wanted to lower his price.

“So often when we are behaving in these new ways, we are looking for excuses to go back to the old ways,” Schoeniger said.

The fifth or sixth time he encountered a builder the magic happened, Schoeniger said. The owner gave Jason an address of a house and told him to go there and tell him how much it would cost to clean it.

Jason estimated it would take four hours and offered to do the job for $75. He got the job. It actually took eight hours. But after a few jobs, the man saw Jason was reliable and consistent and he started recommending Jason for other jobs.

Jason hired two of his friends to work for him at $10 an hour. He charged the client $20.

“Which end of that transaction do you want to be on?” Schoeniger asked.

Jason graduated from high school, joined the Marine Corps. Special Forces and served two tours of duty in Iraq. Then he graduated with a B.A. in international relations from San Francisco State University.

Looking back on his experience as an entrepreneur, Jason said the fact that he was reliable was the key to his success. He also saw other people’s problems as opportunities. He would leave the house at 5 a.m. to go clean construction sites before school.

“This was the same job that he hated working for someone else,” Schoeniger said.

The impact of entrepreneurship on Jason was so profound; Schoeniger began teaching a course on entrepreneurship at a local high school. One of his students received a $100,000 contract to clean parking lots.

“I got a call from his father and he asked if there was any way he could take the class,” Schoeniger said.

That’s what led to the creation of the Ice House program, Schoeniger said.

Uncle Cleve is shown on the cover of the Who Owns the Ice House book.

Uncle Cleve is shown on the cover of the Who Owns the Ice House book.

Ice House Owner Uncle Cleve

Schoeniger met his co-author Taulbert in Tulsa. Taulbert, who was born to a teenage mom in the Mississippi Delta and picked cotton as a child, learned to be an entrepreneur from his Uncle Cleve.

Uncle Cleve owned the Ice House. He had four other businesses. He had money in the bank but he still drove an old car and people in the community ridiculed Uncle Cleve because he deviated from societal norms.

“It’s very difficult to make entrepreneurship education formulaic,” Schoeniger said.

That’s why Schoeniger dislikes articles in Inc. Magazine, Forbes that assign attributes to entrepreneurship with titles like “Do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur?”

“They are assigning the wrong cause to the effect,” Schoeniger said.

People need to stop looking at characteristics and instead create the circumstances that allow entrepreneurs to thrive, Schoeniger said.
Entrepreneurs have to survive in resource-constrained environments and they develop traits to do that really quickly.

“It’s up to each of us as individuals to figure out how to do something useful,” Schoeniger said. “I don’t care if it’s washing windows, curing cancer or making sandwiches.”

Money is a horrible motivator, Schoeniger said.

“Jason hated the job when he was told to do it,” he said. “He was completely immersed in it when he had ownership of it.”

From his research, Schoeniger concluded it’s important for entrepreneurs to hang out with people who are entrepreneurial. They also have to have an entrepreneurial mindset or perspective.

And lastly, the situational facts that will push you down the path are important, Schoeniger said.

“It’s actually an advantage when you have nothing to lose,” he said. “The naiveté works for you.”

That’s because highly uncertain niche opportunities take years of being in the market and just scratching away – that’s how entrepreneurs uncover what’s otherwise undiscoverable, Schoeniger said.

“If you knew how hard it would be you would never get on the path,” he said. “You’re probably better off working for somebody else financially speaking.”

“The Silicon Valley stories pollute our thinking,” he said. “We start to think it should be easy. If I just had the right idea, someone should be throwing money at me.”

In reality, it takes eight years to get to $1 million in revenue.

“It’s not about getting rich quick,” he said.

Austin Entrepreneurs Advocate for Immigration Reform

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Immigration laws haven’t kept pace with the digital economy, said Burnie Burns, founder of Austin-based Rooster Teeth.

Burns spoke on a panel of entrepreneurs promoting immigration reform Tuesday night at Techstars’ offices in downtown Austin. Erika Sumner, co-founder of Social Good TV, moderated the event.

The other panelists included Anurag Kumar, CEO of iTexico, a web and mobile app development company and Kristel Viidek and Marko Kruustuk, co-founders of Testlio, a mobile app testing service.

FWD.us and Partnership for a New American Economy are hosting events in nine cities in two weeks with the goal of accelerating immigration reform.

The Austin event attracted more than 50 people for a two-hour discussion featuring two panels.

The entrepreneurs took to the stage first. In 2004, Burns founded Rooster Teeth, which has the fourth most watched YouTube channel in the world with 5 billion views. He discussed his problems getting visas for immigrants to work for his company.

Burns ran into a lot of trouble when he tried to bring, Gavin Free, 18, from the United Kingdom to work for him.

Free is an expert on slow motion video and he’s a viral Internet hit, Burns said. Free created a video of him jumping on a six-foot water balloon in his backyard in slow motion, which has more than 50 million views on YouTube.

icode-28percentBut the U.S. government issues only 85,000 H-1B high-skilled worker visas each year. And the annual quota is met every year within the first week of April; five business days after the filing period opens.

“We had to go through all these processes to get him to qualify for a visa,” Burns said. Free’s age and educational level proved to be big barriers to overcome to qualify for a visa for workers of extraordinary ability, Burns said. He also had to have several letters written to immigration officials on his behalf.

In 2010, Rooster Teeth had to educate the U.S. Department of Labor about what YouTube was and why it was an important platform, Burns said. And then they had to prove why Free was an important extraordinary talent in this new industry. Rooster Teeth can employ contractors overseas in the U.K. and pay them to upload videos to from there, Burns said. But the U.S. doesn’t benefit from Rooster Teeth sending money to them aboard.

“My channel can be global but my company really can’t,” Burns said.

Immigration reform needs to address emerging technologies and ways to get talent to the U.S. to fuel those industries, Burns said.

In the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos metro area, companies filed requests for 3,087 H-1B visas in 2010-2011, according to FWD.us. They paid a minimum of $1,575 for each H-1B application.

The founders of Testlio, Viidik and Kruustuk from Estonia might have to leave the country to grow their startup. The two launched their company in London and moved to Austin to participate in the Techstars program. They would like to stay here but they are having trouble getting visas. They may have to move their company back to London.

Another panelist, Kumar, founder of iTexico, immigrated to the United States at the age of 21 with no money, no family and no friends. Thanks to the immigration policy of the 1980s, he was able to get his green card and stay and start his first company when he was 25.

“I wonder what if the green card processing took six years, seven years or ten years like it does now where would I be right now? I probably would have had to do something else,” Kumar said.

Last week, the government of Mexico honored his company, iTexico, an Austin-based mobile and Web development company, with the 2014 National Entrepreneurship Award in the small business category.

“Talent is everything,” Kumar said.

And U.S. companies are in a global competition to attract the best talent to fuel growth in their businesses and the economy.

BmWSEXBCEAAbD0e-1Yet a mismatch between job openings in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields and the current workforce in Austin exists, said Michelle Skelding, vice president of technology for the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

Skelding spoke on a second panel of experts which included John Holmes, vice president of legal at Freescale Semiconductor, Peter French, president of Café Commerce in San Antonio and Ramey Ko, attorney with Jung Ko PLLC.

Currently Austin has 8,000 job openings, as of March 2014, for computer science and math jobs, Skelding said. And there are 29,000 net job openings beyond that, she said. Austin has an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent right now. So there’s a gap in available talent and jobs.

Austin universities graduate 3,000 people in the STEM fields every year, so there’s a huge need and gap in the talent pool, Skelding said.

“We need to look internationally to fill those jobs and we’re not going to displace anyone in the process,” Skelding said.

For every H1-B visa filled there’s a positive correlation with job creation with 7.5 jobs created, Skelding said.

Freescale Semiconductor has 4,500 employees in Austin and hired 115 people in Austin last year.

“Eighty percent of the folks we are hiring require immigration assistance,” Holmes said.

Freescale currently has 250 employees on H1-B visas, he said.

“The wait for those folks, I think for us is four to eight years,” Holmes said.

The worst day for the UPS man in Austin isn’t Christmas but the H1-B visa deadline day, Holmes said. In the “bizarre lottery system” for H1-B Visas this year, Freescale got 60 H1-B Visas out of the 120 applications, he said.

“Freescale would like to see the H1-B visa cap raised dramatically or eliminated,” Holmes said.

Freescale also supports the right to work initiative which allows a graduate of an accredited U.S. university with a master’s degree or higher in a STEM field to automatically get a visa.

Small businesses and startups aren’t participating in the H1-B Visa process, said Peter French, president of Café Commerce in San Antonio. The process needs to be fixed, he said.

Some of the programs to obtain visas for immigrants are underutilized, French said. To find a solution, businesses need to think more creatively about how to keep immigrants in the U.S. working, French said. Research universities have an exemption, under the American Competitiveness Act for the 21st Century, for the H1-B cap, he said.

“We can do it with some of the tools we already have,” French said.

“We’re going to find a way,” he said. “The entrepreneurs are going to figure it out.”

Immigration reform legislation has been stalled in Congress, but the issue should be addressed again this fall, said Ko. The tech community from July to November should send letters, make calls and email Congress members in favor of immigration reform, he said.

The Partnership for a New American Economy is asking people to visit pnae.us/eletter to pledge support.


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