My nerves were still jangling hours after exiting a front row seat at the Charline McCombs Empire Theater. That’s after watching, listening, and absorbing a rapid fire sequence of intense, adrenaline-fueled pitches by 11 different Internet startups facing a raucous, standing room only crowd at TechStars Cloud in San Antonio‘s Demo Day. Was it just me, or did it feel like caffeine gas was being pumped through the theater’s air conditioning ducts?
Half of what I heard — I admit it — was presented in a language I do not speak: NFC and RFID and API, laws, Paas and SaaS. I have mobile apps for Spanish, French and English, but not Geekspeak. Is there one?
But I know where I’d park an extra million dollars if I had it, which I do not. Others do, however, and the audience was stocked with familiar names and faces who have joined a new venture capital fund designed to support the TechStars accelerator and its landlord, Geekdom, a Weston Centre petri dish for growing technology culture and economy in the city. There were several billion dollars in net worth in the audience, including more than a few people who were early investors in Rackspace and would love to have that experience again.
I tweeted and took notes on the 11 companies, but click here to read Stacey Higginbotham of Gigapro’s report on the day. I share her enthusiasm about Vidmaker. It’s the app that made my download finger twitch. Drew Olanoff, the The Next Web’s West Coast Editor, put up a nice pre-event summary of the 11 companies. “When you think of tech in Texas, you immediately think of Austin, thanks to SXSW,” Olanoff wrote. “TechStars is changing all of that with Cloud Demo Day.” Want more? Try Laura Lorek’s siliconhillsnews.
The presentations ranged widely, from Vidmaker, which “makes it easy to manage and edit video on any device, anywhere, and with anyone,” to cloudability, “which monitors and manages spending for companies across the entire spectrum…of cloud services.” distill.it “is the first content protection network that stops malicious web scraping and content theft.”
I was reminded of something TechStars Cloud of San Antonio Managing Director Jason Seats said to me days earlier: “These companies are the guts and plumbing of the Internet.” Wednesday he told the Empire crowd, “It’s important to remember: It is still very early in the life of the Internet. We have a lot to build.”
Halfway through the presentations, a brief break was taken and when the theater filled back up, Spurs legend Sean Elliott took to the stage and declared himself a Geek ever since the early days of home computers. He then introduced the FIRST Robotics program and a stage full of students operating remote-controlled, basketball-shooting robots. It was Geek mayhem, a science fair gone wild. Elliott seemed right at home, Geek one minute, ready to exit to call the Spurs-Lakers game the same day.
The day was one deeply rooted in Rackspace and its coterie of visionary founders who were on hand: Dirk Elmendorf, Pat Condon and Graham Weston. If anyone doubts their collective focus on building San Antonio’s technology economy, here is what Weston, Rackspace chairman, said on stage while introducing one of the start-ups: “I want Rackspace to change San Antonio the way Dell changed Austin.”
If I needed any proof that San Antonio is transforming itself — and I do not — it came toward the end of the program, following the company pitches. District Three City Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna confidently strode on stage and spoke passionately about how much San Antonio had changed since the days when she left the city and the state in order to find venture capital to launch her software company. Now working as a cybersecurity consultant while also holding public office for the first time, Ozuna made it clear she supports a San Antonio that invests in its nascent tech community and does whatever it takes to grow it.
That is not a message the city is accustomed to hearing with such articulation from its District Three representative, yet none who know Ozuna were surprised. It’s becoming a city mantra. As I glanced around the room filled with Geekdom members and investors, I also saw District One Councilman Diego Bernal, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, and Mayor Julián Castro’s chief of staff, Robbie Greenblum. Castro was set to speak, but was traveling. I don’t think any of them were there to make an appearance. They were there because they get it. The visionary tech community needs competent civic leadership and vice versa and right now both are in place. The trick will be to maximize the opportunity.
San Antonio has never been known as a source of venture capital for tech startups, but that, too, is changing. Many of the likely investors who attended Demo Day are becoming part of a new San Antonio-based capital pool called Cloud Power Fund 2012, which is set to close in the next month and launch as a $3 million fund that probably will seed money in all 11 companies, the three companies seeking a round of venture capital support and the eight companies that are in early stage development.
“The fund came together much more quickly and with greater enthusiasm from San Antonio investors than we anticipated, and I attribute that to what Pat Condon and Graham Weston have done in bringing TechStars to the city,” said John Mosher, a general partner in the fund and an investor and advisor to cloud computing software companies. Mosher was not an official TechStars mentor, but he is credited with working with all the companies to refine their business plans.
Another of the fund’s general partners, Peter Selig, a well-known angel investor with an interest in everything from technology to pharmaceuticals to restaurants, made the same link between the emergence of a San Antonio VC community and the efforts made to bring TechStars here. “Graham Weston deserves a lot of credit for making this day possible in San Antonio.”
Weston said about 30 early investors in Rackspace were on hand for Demo Day. He’s pleased the pool of local investors is expanding. “People would like to invest in this new world and now they have an opportunity to do something that also lifts the city up in the process,” Weston said.
Readers interested in learning more about TechStars’ companies that have launched in any of the 12 previous Demo Days staged around the country can click here. To learn about David Cohen, the founder and CEO of TechStars, who attended the San Antonio Demo Day, click here.
What can’t quite be captured in a Demo Day is the transformation that took place among the company founders during their three-month participation in TechStars Cloud. Seats, who served as master of ceremonies at the Empire on Wednesday, was the chief mentor and business coach for the 100 companies over the course of their stay. I had the opportunity on a number of occasions to observe the startups present their pitches at various stages of the program. The improvement in the quality of their products, business plans and presentations over that time was, well, night and day. Seats, himself a successful Internet entrepreneur, was the subject of a Rivard Report profile posted on the eve of Demo Day that you can read here.
TechStars has a four-year commitment to San Antonio, and if this first year’s class was any reflection of what is to come, it likely will be here much longer. The Cloud Power Fund also is committed to raising funds for each subsequent class of TechStars companies, according to Mosher.
Seats and all 11 companies were going to party Wednesday night at the Weston Centre, but then the celebrations give way once again to work. Everyone boards a bus Thursday for a ride to Dallas where they are set to repeat their pitches before another group of investors. Seats will pause, and then begin work on the applications for the next TechStars Cloud. After Wednesday’s Demo Day, he probably faces an even greater number of pitches himself.
Read The Rivard Report profile of Jason Seats here: