Geekdom, a downtown San Antonio co-working community, is seeing the changing demographics of people launching companies since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020.
In its fourth year, the six-week pre-accelerator program started working with six early-stage companies in early June. Five out of six are helmed by new Geekdom members who have joined over the past year. Two companies got their start during Geekdom’s first-ever virtual Startup Weekend held in December of 2020. Four of the six companies are run by female founders.
The free Geekdom Pre-Accelerator program held once a year helps prepare local startups for accelerator applications or early-stage investment. Area tech leaders and investors mentor the teams, who also attend weekly workshops and practice in pitch sessions
Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, adapting the pre-accelerator program into a virtual mentoring curriculum helped broaden Geekdom’s local mentoring network, said program manager Leslie Chasnoff. It not only accommodated the need for physical distancing during the pandemic but gave the founders, who are all working full-time jobs, the ability to work on their fledging companies in their spare time.
“We’ll continue to structure the program as a hybrid one to allow founders to connect virtually or engage in-person for collaboration and mentoring,” Chasnoff said. “Our objective is to make this program as accessible as possible.”
After losing precious family videos and tapes, husband and wife duo Joel and Cayce Harris created Curate to document memories safely and easily in a video album shared with family and friends. They joined Geekdom during the pandemic and quickly decided to apply for the pre-accelerator program for help with their software as a service (SaaS) startup.
“Curate is a space where you can share what matters to you — your social legacy — with the people who matter most in your life,” Cayce said.
After starting work on their application idea two years, Cayce and Joel launched their beta version last November and plan to launch their go-to-market version in September.
Sharon Gutierrez and Monty Morgan are bootstrapping Pretty Simple, a digital marketing software that captures leads and translates those into how much they cost or what potential revenue they represent for the company. The two met in Hawaii, where Gutierrez ran a digital marketing agency again Morgan did website design.
“Our simple, affordable software is intended to be used by solopreneurs and small businesses,” Gutierrez said. “We’re both solopreneurs, so we saw the need for this.”
Former educator Ashley Bird created Marro (“Mar” from Maria Montessori plus “ro” from Mr. Rogers), a virtual teaching curriculum that brings Montessori-inspired, hands-on learning into the digital age with “edutainment.” Bird joined Geekdom after giving a virtual pitch for Startup Weekend last December, Geekdom CEO Charles Woodin said.
She created her first educational video series called Blooming with Birdie and decided to apply to the pre-accelerator after coming in second at Startup Weekend for her SaaS concept.
“I recognized I needed support in how to scale my business idea into a video platform for children’s media,” Bird said. “The content is curated by educators trained on how to create suitable interactive children’s edutainment.”
Roberto Jolliffe, Marshall Felder, and Roderick Burke launched Evntures, a mobile app listing alternative local events to help travelers experience new cities through the eyes of a local.
Jolliffe wanted to make the discovery of “hidden gems” in new places easier for users of the app. After visiting San Jose, he stumbled by chance upon a taco restaurant that turned into a lively bar scene after talking to the DJ setting up for the evening.
Already in use in 40 cities, the team is planning to add new features to their “Craigslist for events” app.
Gabe Ruiz and Taylor Henry are behind StackIQ, an education tech company that offers a 12-month program teaching high school students and young adults the skills and knowledge needed to work in six of the highest in-demand industries.
“When you graduate high school, you typically have two options — go to college or try entering the workforce as an entry-level worker,” Henry said. “Now, there’s a third option — try out a career before you invest yourself in it and incur college debt.”
Completing the pre-accelerator program helped StackIQ “refine our business model,” Ruiz said. “Our next step is to apply for an accelerator program.”
Belinda Medellin used to teach at CAST Tech high school before working at a company that furloughed her early in the pandemic. Talking to many teachers “opened my eyes to how they need more support to teach tech subjects like UX [user experience],” she said.
Thanks to her Startup Weekend experience, Medellin designed Bmyvillage as a one-on-one virtual mentoring and professional development platform for coaching teachers.
The influx of new startup ideas in the midst of a pandemic reminds Woodin that downtimes like the 2008 recession often spur increased entrepreneurial activity in the aftermath.
“It’s most exciting to see how these companies came out of the pandemic,” Woodin said. “I think we’ll be seeing even more entrepreneurial activity in the coming years.”
The featured image is of the Geekdom 2021 pre-accelerator cohort. From left, front row: Cayce Harris, Belinda Medellin, Sharon Gutierrez. Back row from left: Gabe Ruiz, Ashley Bird, Taylor Henry, Joel Harris, Roberto Jolliffe, Monty Morgan. Photo courtesy of Geekdom.