How the San Antonio Startup Ecosystem Has Changed in 2020

By Iris Gonzalez
Creator of The District Nick Longo teaches a class of students at Geekdom

What a difference a year makes. While San Antonio’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has grown in 2020, our predictions at the end of 2019 didn’t include a global pandemic.

The San Antonio Startup Ecosystem Map represents a somewhat sequential startup life cycle. This macro-level graphic lists local resources available in San Antonio throughout an entrepreneur’s journey, from a student interested in starting a company to a CEO looking for investment to scale operations.

Compared with our first map version (which showed the startup resources in San Antonio from February to November 2018), San Antonio has since added many programs, organizations, and stakeholders supporting local startup activity.

What has changed in San Antonio’s startup ecosystem since the beginning of 2020? We noted four significant trends.

1. Students interested in startup life

We’ve added four new student entrepreneurship programs to the map. How students access these new programs and resources during a pandemic will be different than was originally envisioned, but students nonetheless are working virtually with mentors to learn Startup 101.

Local high schools are jumping on the startup bandwagon. This year, Northside School of Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship started its NSITE Mentoring Program. North East Independent School District’s Reagan High School Business INCubator was also launched this fall. 

Universities added entrepreneurial resources for students as well. Hallmark University’s Eastside Cyberforce Prime first cohort of free cybersecurity training debuted in March. Applicants who complete the eight-week IT Boot Camp earn two information technology industry certifications and are accepted directly into Hallmark’s bachelors in cybersecurity degree program. Unfortunately, Hallmarks suspended its second cohort for the time being. 

The new UTSA Science and Engineering building includes an expansive maker space to allow students to produce prototypes and work on advanced equipment.  UTSA has safety protocols in place to provide students access to use the facility this fall.

Bottom line: More resources for students means more innovative entrepreneurs are graduating and hopefully staying in San Antonio, adding more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) talent to our founder pipeline.

2. Out: Co-working spaces. In: Spaces for startups

The most growth in our entrepreneurial life cycle has been in the number of co-working spaces in San Antonio. There were seven listed on the first ecosystem map. We now have over 35 different types of spaces for startups available across the city.

The rise over the past couple of years of specialized spaces for other industries means founders can now rent space in commercial kitchens, film and video studios, bioscience wet lab and manufacturing rooms, and maker spaces across San Antonio. For example, opening later in 2020 is the Co-Op Kitchen, a commercial kitchen with freezer and prep space and hookups for food trucks available for rent.

As for co-working spaces, the shift in March to working from home has triggered several reactions:

  • More cabin fever means people are looking for much less crowded working spaces. Some offices have rotating days for employees to come in, while co-working spaces like Geekdom and the Impact Guild have set up protocols to allow a limited number to return safely. 
  • At least a handful of companies based downtown (such as FunnelAI now working out of VentureX in Stone Oak) have moved out of the dense urban core into spaces in the suburbs.
  • Small co-working spaces may have a harder time surviving the pandemic since 25% capacity of an already small revenue base isn’t feasible. Annex closed its physical space this summer but continues its virtual community membership.

Bottom line: The number of specialized spaces for startups to rent has more than quintupled over the past 30 months. More entrepreneurs are interested in joining a community (even a virtual one) or accessing unique spaces for specialized needs. Co-working may not look like it did before March 2020, but these spaces still offer cost-effective places for smaller working pods of people to connect and do business.

3. Bioscience startup resources on the rise

The bioscience and healthcare sector employs over 18% of San Antonio’s population (that’s more than 1 of 6 people working in health care or bioscience). As more entrepreneurially-minded scientists look to commercialize an idea for the market, the need for specialized programs is greater than ever. 

Watershed Idea Foundry offers specialized bioscience wet lab resources for biomedical entrepreneurs, along with incubator and accelerator programs. We’ll be touring their spaces so we can report on what they’ve developed for their one-stop-shop for biomedical founders.

Crown Scientific also offers an incubator and accelerator program, as well as wet lab resources for biomedical startups. 

Bottom line: Look for more bioscience-specific resources for science-driven startups to debut later in 2020. 

4. More funding for startups

Venture capitalists (VCs) are looking for promising startups in Texas (thanks, Austin) and by extension, in San Antonio. Investors often diversify their portfolios as a cushion against market volatility. This makes San Antonio an excellent place to invest, with strengths in Software as a Service or SaaS startups, cybersecurity, and advanced technologies.  

Watershed Idea Foundry and Crown Scientific are helping to fuel the innovation in (and shine a spotlight on) San Antonio’s bioscience sector. Plus, the newly announced Beam Angel Network will launch in September to support women-led startups across Texas.

Read: Beam Angel Network For Female-Owned Startups Launches Across Texas

Bottom line: More organizations focused on supporting and funding startups in San Antonio, such as Watershed, Crown Scientific, and Beam Angel Network, is encouraging news in 2020. With no end to the pandemic in sight, adding more funding resources to San Antonio’s ecosystem is absolutely critical. 

What's been added to San Antonio's startup ecosystem in 2020? Turns out it's quite a lot! Click To Tweet

Closing thoughts

We are getting better at standing out as a city with unique, diverse innovation capabilities in bioscience, deep technology, cybersecurity, and technology-driven innovations leveraged in various industries.

San Antonio still could use robotics/engineering startup programs available for aspiring entrepreneurs. Many robotics inventors are working out of garages who would benefit from participating in a well-supported startup program designed for this type of inventor.

Port San Antonio recently committed $60 million to build a state-of-the-art innovation center slated to open sometime in 2022. The new maker space, e-gaming arena, and home for the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology will help connect San Antonio’s community with educators and technology employers for more workforce development opportunities.

Ecosystem map of resources for startups in San Antonio as of August 22, 2020. Credit: Startups San Antonio.

Ecosystem map of resources for startups in San Antonio as of August 22, 2020. Credit: Startups San Antonio. Featured image is of a class at Geekdom in 2019, before physical distancing and wearing masks became necessary in 2020. Photo courtesy Geekdom.

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