Café Commerce was newly branded as Launch SA.
Café Commerce was newly branded as Launch SA. Credit: Courtesy / Launch SA

The City-funded small business incubator Café Commerce rebranded itself as Launch SA Friday in an effort to refocus its image on upward mobility and finally steer itself away from the confusion caused by its original name.

“This place is a fueling center for idea creators, entrepreneurs, small business owners, and small business supporters to interact and get hands-on knowledge,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley, standing in for Mayor Ivy Taylor, told a small crowd of community members gathered for the unveiling. “It is exciting to be rebranded, complete with a new name, logo, and website, that more accurately represents the mobility and momentum this organization has created.”

Despite continuous growth in three years of operation, the original “Café Commerce” brand, part of former Mayor Julián Castro’s “Café” series, has confused potential users and attracted countless library-goers in search of food and beverages.

“We were getting anything from Facebook trying to categorize us as a restaurant frequently to Yelp putting us under restaurants to people just walking in, at least once a week, requesting coffee, sandwiches,” Launch SA’s president, Nadia Auch, told the Rivard Report.

The new name, Auch said, gets to the heart of the organization’s mission to connect entrepreneurs to resources and mentorship and encourage upward mobility.

“Each person who walks through the door might need something different depending on where they are in the stage of growth of their business,” Auch said. “So we have different programs that we can lead them to, or sometimes they need a subject-matter expert, so we can point them to someone in the community.”

Funded by a $100,000 “capital influx” from the San Antonio Economic Development Incentive Fund and supported by the pro-bono consultation of local ad agency, MarketVision, the new brand was selected from 300 proposed concepts after intensive focus-testing. One of the original ideas suggested in the eight-month rebranding process, Launch SA had the greatest multi-generational appeal to stakeholders, users, and non-users alike.

Initiated by a small business task force in 2012, the organization is supported through a five-year contract with the City, with matching funds provided by LiftFund, the largest micro lender in the country. The City also invested $1.2 million in redesigning the organization’s 10,000 sq. ft. space on the San Antonio Central Library’s first floor.

“More net new jobs come from startups than any other source, so making sure we have a robust and vibrant start-up community is critical to San Antonio’s future success,” San Antonio’s Economic Development Director Rene Dominguez told the Rivard Report.

When its contract with the City expires, Dominguez and Sculley both expect Launch SA to become a self-sustaining venture, though the contract allows for a second five-year City partnership. Since the program offers its services for free, Auch said the viability of this sustainability plan will likely depend on securing large donations from a broad range of donors.

The event comes on the culminating day of the organization’s San Antonio Entrepreneurship Week, which presented speakers on subjects as disparate as art, technology, and design. Ironically, for the first time, the space offered the café-style food and beverages of a handful of culinary startups presenting their products as part of Launch SA’s Break Fast and Launch program.

Patricia Butler-Aguilar, a participant in the nationally-recognized culinary business accelerator, spoke highly of the experience.

“It helped me have a clear vision for my business,” said Butler-Aguilar, whose coffee shop, Don Eduardo Coffee Company, sources all of its coffee beans from a five-acre farm she runs in Colombia.

“At the beginning, I wanted to help female Colombian coffee growers,” Butler-Aguilar explained. “I wanted to help improve their lifestyle. But I didn’t know how to do it… (Launch SA) gave me the knowledge to present a beautiful product, and they gave me the support to move forward with it instead of quitting. And I can always come back.”

Morgan Whitney, whose travel photography business, RATIO, won $5,000 in Launch SA’s business competition, Venture Challenge, said the experience helped her “think more well-rounded, to think in longer-terms.

“The validation that comes from having people that are very successful understand and get what you’re doing is a really big boost in confidence,” she said. “And just the relationships that were formed working with other entrepreneurs was really amazing.”

While the now-obvious challenges caused by the organization’s original name have raised questions about its vision, Dominguez sees the rebranding as a natural evolution.

“(Launch SA itself is) a startup,” Dominguez said. “And like all startups, some things work better than others, and if this new brand means they serve more people and connect more small businesses to resources, then good for (Launch SA) … I wish more small businesses would follow (its) lead, not be afraid to evolve and test their assumptions and pivot and change to do better.”

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Daniel Kleifgen

Daniel Kleifgen graduated from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he came to San Antonio in 2013 as a Teach For America corps member.