These are exciting days for Start Up Waco. After a year-long journey of gaining insights into the best models for stimulating and supporting entrepreneurial efforts in a community, and taking a hard look at what’s in place and what’s missing in Waco, this community-wide effort is rolling forward. The plans we are working from are designed to maximize and connect the great supports that we already have – things like the Chambers of Commerce, the SBDC, the LAUNCH Business Accelerator, Maker’s Edge and others – and to create resources that we are missing. One of the most critical gaps has been a physical hub, a public campus for entrepreneurs. Co-working space is part of that, but having a concierge of support and connectedness is what makes the Hustle space distinctive in Waco. In fact, the co-working space of 5,000 square feet will be filled quickly if we follow the pattern of other cities, and so private spaces like Waco Works are absolutely a must as well.
When the County Commissioners Court approved the Economic Development Council’s recommendation, joining the city in agreeing to allocate $750,000 to renovate the property at 605 Austin Ave. so Hustle can open, the momentum for the whole ecosystem took a giant step forward. We have received bids from three different contractors and awarded the job to the lowest bidder, Barsch Construction. Construction will begin in a matter of days or weeks, and we aim to open in August.
This is a moment to celebrate, but it’s also very sobering for me because it brings into focus just how much is riding on this effort. Unlike some communities where accelerators and co-working spaces have a single focus on tech, for example, Start Up Waco is tackling a very “both and” kind of challenge. We have to enable tech at a scale Waco has not seen, and the more typical main street small businesses that Waco understands. We must have very easy “on-ramps” for college grads who want to make their transition from learning to world-changing here in Waco and we have to build great on-ramps to the entrepreneurial super highway for people who have felt their progress was blocked in the past. We must empower start-from-nothing startups and we will be most impactful if we also empower step-change level innovations within existing firms. To quote Tate Christensen, whose passion and leadership really got the ball rolling over the first 18 months of this journey, “I don’t want much, I just want it all.” We are dreaming really big for Waco and won’t be satisfied with a few scattered wins.
I count it a great privilege to serve this effort as Executive Director through this phase of the adventure and am thrilled by the support and energy that is already evident in every conversation we are having.