By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer
Start Up Waco is a non-profit organization intended to centralize existing services to help business ventures start and survive. Hustle, the organization’s co-working space — a workspace based off membership designed for entrepreneurs to work independently — is expected to open in November.
Kevin Renois, BBA ’16, started One Million Cups, a weekly event at the Hippodrome which, according to him, is “a mix between Ted Talks and Shark Tank.” One Million Cups will be a part of the collection of connections, events, workshops and community happy hours associated with Start Up Waco.
“We want to keep students here,” Renois said. “We want to develop the town we have here already, but we also want to find people from outside of Waco and say, ‘Hey, this is a great place for you to move and run your business or start your business from here.'”
Dr. Gregory Leman, executive director of Start Up Waco and director of LAUNCH, Baylor’s Innovative Business Accelerator, wants to bring to the attention of future entrepreneurs at Baylor and outside of Waco that the Waco dollar stretches. However much capital you start with, it will always go further here in Waco than it will in Boston, for example, Leman said.
“We can make Waco an attractive place [for businesses] to come,” Leman said. “Because what we have to offer with the power of the universities and the collaboration that we have is then added to by the lower cost. We think it’s a winning combination.”
Leman wanted to be clear that Start Up Waco doesn’t think they invented or discovered the need for entrepreneurial support.
“We’re just trying to help [other organizations] to get better at what they do, to promote them by making them visible, and connect them to people that they can collaborate with,” Leman said.
Hustle will be the front door to these connections, community events, resources and organizations. Startup Waco’s co-working space will offer more accessible capital for early-stage ventures, Maker’s Edge prototyping, connections to LAUNCH, City Center Waco, the Small Business Center and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, among others.
“One thing that will always be different about Hustle is that it’s not just on the list of cowering options, it’s also the county and city’s resource hub. So there might be a lot of people who rent space somewhere else but still walk in the door,” Leman said.
Leman explained that for the past three or so years, groups of people from across main institutions of Waco, including the business community, high-level employees of Baylor, the city mayor, the county judge and the leaders of prominent foundations in town have been making multiple trips a year together, specifically to visit other cities that had experienced a really powerful step forward economically. They saw the vibrant spaces that contributed to the energy of the entrepreneurial ecosystem of those cities. The city, county and Greater Waco Chamber have all pledged funding to the nonprofit Start Up Waco.
“One of the things that the leadership of this effort recognizes is that ‘Fixer Upper’ is a bubble of some time frame, who knows how long,” Leman said. “That’s a really rare event for a city the size of Waco to have a top TV show that can turn a whole city into a tourist destination. We realize it would be very short-sighted to say, ‘Well, we’ll just ride this curve and then we’ll think of something later’. No, we need to take advantage of the optimism and the vitality that’s here now.”
Many organizations have already been working for a long time to provide help and resources to entrepreneurs and to give them the connections they need. Thinc Space was an incubator in Waco that the Greater Waco Chamber started as an innovation incubator. However, Startup Waco will be the first organization to compile these organizations and connect them to the people who need their services in a centralized location.
Hustle will not only be for residents or people who have already started on their career. Hustle welcomes students and is in the process of determining their membership models, possibly with discounts for students.
“I want students to know not just that the space is available to them, but that they are welcome to be there,” Renois said. “Whether they’re an entrepreneurship major or not, it’s a place where you can come and focus on innovation and collaboration and on projects, whether it’s a freelance photography project, whether it’s a side-hustle you want to start… It’s infinitely valuable to connect with people outside your bubble, and Hustle will be a great place to do that. It will be less like a facility and more like a community.”