Work space inside Café Commerce, located in the Central Library. Courtesy photo.
Work space inside Café Commerce, located in the Central Library. Credit: Courtesy / Café Commerce

Presenting speakers on topics as wide-ranging as art, technology, and design, the City’s small business incubator, Café Commerce, will host its first annual San Antonio Entrepreneurship Week (SAEW) Nov. 14-18.

Held in a different part of the city each day, the free event will showcase a variety of industries, offering insights, inspiration, and networking opportunities to local entrepreneurs and community members. The week will conclude with Mayor Ivy Taylor’s announcement of the organization’s new brand identity, funded by $100,000 “capital influx” from the San Antonio Economic Development Incentive Fund in the hopes of more clearly communicating its mission and the services it offers.

“It’s going to be a celebration and culmination of industry-wide entrepreneurs,” said Operations and Community Manager Sarah Olivarez, describing the SAEW as the “fiesta of entrepreneurship.”

The week will begin in Southtown’s Brick at Blue Star and Dor?ol Distilling Co. where local artists and musicians will provide advice on making it in the art scene. In the evening, Café Commerce’s nationally recognized culinary business accelerator, Break Fast and Launch, will conclude its eight-week program with a dinner open to the community.

On Tuesday, cybersecurity, design, and culinary experts will speak at Frank and The Friendly Spot, while Wednesday’s speakers will focus on the future of entrepreneurship at Hemisfair and the Arneson River Theatre.

The spotlight will then shift to the tech and real estate sectors at Houston Street’s Geekdom, Codeup, and San Antonio Entrepreneur Center, where discussions will range from pitching an idea to women in tech. The week will culminate in a mix of keynote speakers on Friday.

“(SAEW) is a celebration of the San Antonio’s growing ecosystem – from idea creators to successful entrepreneurs to local government, private and nonprofit actors,” said Café Commerce President Nadia Auch.

The program is just one of several organized by Café Commerce, such as its Shark Tank-style 1 Million Cups forum, its business competition, Venture Challenge, and its middle school entrepreneurship program, EchoStarter. The nonprofit also offers space for collaboration, “one-on-one business consultations, weekly workshops, and weekly programs and events tailored to our entrepreneurs,” Olivarez said.

Though Café Commerce has seen continuous growth in its past three years of operation, its original branding as part of Castro’s “Café” series has done more to confuse potential visitors than attract them. People often assume the organization only serves culinary businesses, mistake it for Café College, or expect to find coffee and croissants when they arrive.

“The community just doesn’t know that we exist,” Olivarez said. “Either that, or they’re just not aware of what our services are … The name ‘café’ actually hinders a lot of people from coming into our space.”

The nonprofit has responded by requesting $100,000 from the City to revamp its online image and establish a clearer, more enticing brand.

From January to September of this year, Café Commerce has offered a total of 309 consulting hours to businesses ranging from law and accounting firms to marketers and cleaning services. They’ve hosted nearly 300 events and calculated a total of 7,700 walk-ins so far this year.

The product of a small business task force under former Mayor Julián Castro, the nonprofit was created through an $800,000 contract between its parent company, LiftFund (originally ACCION-Texas), and the City. The City likewise invested $1.2 million in redesigning the organization’s 10,000 sq. ft. space on the San Antonio Central Library’s first floor. At the end of its five-year contract, Café Commerce is intended to become self-sustaining, though it’s still unclear exactly how that will occur.

Taking place during global entrepreneurship week, the SAEW will mark one of Café Commerce’s largest initiatives yet. With members from all over the business community expected to attend, the nonprofit hopes to expand the public’s awareness of its many free services.

“This is the pilot year – we have focused on making traction by partnering with low hanging fruit collaborators,” Auch said. “In the future we see this week aligning with the international movement of Global Entrepreneurship Week and being completely holistic.”

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.