Port San Antonio Unveils Plans for STEM Innovation Campus

Port San Antonio ‘s conceptual plan for a proposed innovation campus is garnering attention, and not just for its planned technology arena. The Port is leveraging its existing structures to refine its vision of connecting the capabilities across their entire campus to innovators throughout San Antonio, the state of Texas, and globally, Port San Antonio president and chief executive officer Jim Perschbach said.

“It’s not just about these buildings, it’s about capturing the spirit of innovation so we can provide solutions for a connected world,” Perschbach said. “They are tremendous opportunities here in San Antonio—one of the world’s largest communities of cybersecurity experts—to work closely with big industries and have a better understanding of the cyber threats that could cripple them.”

Port leadership plans for its innovation campus in the heart of its 1,900-acre location to be ready as soon as 2020 or 2021, Pershbach said. Phase 1 would include modifying existing Port facilities into an interim center for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, collaborative co-working spaces, and prototyping equipment. The spaces would offer everyone from budding student entrepreneurs to industry experts opportunities to showcase new technologies being developed at the Port.

Phase 2 would focus on the build-out of operational spaces for collaborative commercial and defense cybersecurity client use, Perschbach said.

The industrial warehouse on the northeast corner of Billy Mitchell Boulevard and 36th Street could be developed into the future home for SAMSAT, an e-arena, and an industry showroom. The Renderings credit: Port San Antonio and Gonzalez | Mogas Architects.
The industrial warehouse on the northeast corner of Billy Mitchell Boulevard and 36th Street is envisioned as the future home for SAMSAT, an e-arena, and an industry showroom. Renderings credit: Port San Antonio and Gonzalez | Mogas Architects.

Planning for the proposed innovation campus is in its early stages and will evolve as stakeholder participation and funding is secured, Port officials said. The Port’s management of a proposed Other Transaction Authority (OTA) vehicle would help with commercialization efforts. OTA gives federal agencies access to academia and nontraditional industry vendors such as startups for research and development, to include prototyping activities.

“It’s difficult for the government to acquire innovative solutions if they are not the ones building it,” Pershbach said. “The OTA provides government the funding mechanism for a commercialization pathway so we can start prototyping solutions here in San Antonio.”

Phase 1: Innovation Showroom and Education Center

The new center would open in the Port’s existing “flex space” or industrial warehouse on the northeast corner of Billy Mitchell Boulevard and 36th Street. The 130,000- square-foot industrial facility can be expanded to approximately 200,000 square feet to accommodate an industry showroom and STEM education center, collaborative co-working spaces, and a maker space for prototyping.

SAMSAT founder and CEO David Monroe discusses Port San Antonio's plans for the new innovation center. Photo credit: Startups San Antonio.
SAMSAT founder and CEO David Monroe discusses the new innovation center. Photo credit: Startups San Antonio.

About 45,000 square feet of that space would house the San Antonio Museum of Science and Technology (SAMSAT) and other education and cultural entities, such as the San Antonio Airpower Heritage Foundation, the Airman’s Heritage Foundation, and STEM education nonprofit SASTEMIC.

In 2017 SAMSAT founder and CEO David Monroe set up a preview center housing a portion of the museum’s collection at the Port’s former chapel on 102 Mabry Drive.

SAMSAT’s exhibits highlight San Antonio’s history of innovation in telecommunications and computing. Working with area partners, the new space would give the museum the ability to expand its STEM-based education efforts to include field trips, summer camps, and programs.

The industry showplace would highlight innovations being developed in San Antonio so public- and private-sector partners can demonstrate their technologies and recruit talent. Industry experts could use the maker space to develop new technologies and digital solutions for aerospace, manufacturing, financial services, energy, and defense sectors. The maker space is envisioned as an industrial laboratory where collaborators can test integrated technology prototypes before taking them to market.

Monroe’s vision for SAMSAT has always been for the museum to be the cornerstone of a complete STEM community.

“The museum captures innovation’s past, the industry showcase highlights the present, and the maker space is focused on inspiring future innovators,” Monroe said. Click To Tweet

Technology Arena

What has captured the attention of residents, industry leaders, and educators alike is the proposed state-of-the-art technology arena that can hold over one thousand attendees, complete with conference center, robotics competition floor, and a drone-racing arena.

The tech arena is being designed for large technology demonstrations and training programs in cybersecurity, virtual and augmented reality, and other advanced capabilities that educators can use to host national events such as the Cyber Patriot competitions.

The figure on the left shows SAMSAT, the industry showroom, and the e-arena. The figures on the right show different e-arena configurations envisioned. Renderings credit: Port San Antonio and Gonzalez | Mogas Architects.
The figure on the left shows the e-arena, food court, SAMSAT, industry showroom, and maker space. The right shows different possible e-arena configurations. Renderings credit: Port San Antonio and Gonzalez | Mogas Architects.

“We had envisioned this as an arena for STEM activities when we first started discussing this,” Monroe said. “E-gaming has taken off so that demand could be a possible revenue stream to support the educational focus for the arena.”

Food and retail service vendors, complete with dining areas within the food court and technology arena, as well as an outdoor patio area, round out the planned innovation and education center.

Phase 2: Commercial and Defense Cybersecurity Operations Center

Cybersecurity and other defense operators and contractors need access to Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs) for classified research, testing, and operational activities. The Port is proposing a space for classified and secure facilities in a building close to the industry showroom and museum.

Demand for specialized secure spaces continues to grow as new companies and customers—primarily cybersecurity operators—move into existing facilities and sign leases for new ones created as part of the Port’s Project Tech complex.

Read more: Port San Antonio Opens First Phase Of Project Tech

Port officials anticipate potential users could include operational units like the Air National Guard Cyber Protection Squadron facility as well as local government clients looking to set up San Antonio municipal critical infrastructure Security Operations Centers (SOCs). For those who only need occasional access to secure facilities, small companies could rent SCIF space for classified conferences and briefings.

“Creating secure conference spaces and rentable SCIF facilities will be a game changer for San Antonio, it is so necessary, said IPSecure chief technology officer Richard Valdez. “For vendors working in cyber, the industry is changing quickly, and you need to move fast—that means access to secure spaces.”

The Port’s timelines for completing the integrated system of innovation spaces by 2020 or 2021 appear ambitious. Pershbach said Port San Antonio wants “to push as hard as we can on this” to develop the facilities with stakeholder participation and support.

“This is going to be the state of innovation for the future, and many communities are trying to capture this,” Pershbach said. “If you’re not aggressive someone else will get there first.”

Featured image is of the proposed e-arena as part of the Port’s planned STEM campus. Renderings credit: Port San Antonio and Gonzalez | Mogas Architects.

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez is a writer based in San Antonio, Texas, covering innovation in emerging tech, cybersecurity, and bioscience startup companies in San Antonio.

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