Business is booming in the Valley with an entrepreneurial spirit changing the face of the market. From budding artists to tech-savvy innovators, opportunities are rapidly expanding for entrepreneurs and businesses in any stage of their business life.
Emerging work sites called coworking spaces are revolutionizing opportunity in the Valley, with two locations opening up in the past year. The term “Coworking” was coined in 2005 when Brad Neuberg, California resident and native of our own McAllen, Texas, formed the first shared workspace environment of its kind engineered to provide a sense of community that fosters independent activity and the sharing of not only equipment, but also intangible benefits like ideas and networking opportunities. On top of that, coworking sites show increased productivity, offering up a place for work-at-home professionals to escape the isolation and distractions they often face. Since their beginnings in San Francisco, California, coworking sites have emerged all over the world, providing unique environments that are often attractive to freelance workers, corporate refugees, and even small businesses.
The RGV’s first coworking space, The Grindstone, located in Edinburg, opened up its doors this past November and calls for Valleyites to “Join our growing community of professionals working alone — together.” With memberships starting at just $49 per month, The Grindstone offers members workspaces, phone booths, private offices, conference rooms, mailboxes, and many other amenities for today’s modern worker. With part-time and full-time memberships available, The Grindstone already boasts a thriving community of members to network with from media groups, realtors, nutritionists, photographers, coffee lovers, and more.
Reaching out to the lower Valley, The WorkPub in downtown Brownsville opened its doors in January to serve the needs of the bustling Brownsville community. Owner Luis Urquieta said, “Primarily, our goal is to be a platform for entrepreneurs and small businesses to connect, share knowledge and ultimately, thrive and be successful at their business.” He added, “The intangibles are being able to network and work next to like-minded entrepreneurs at the same place; you’re still working independently, but the networking opportunities that you get from working at a coworking center, you can’t get from home or working at a coffee shop.”
With flexible memberships and a great price tag, both coworking sites are available for tours and offer a variety of options to meet the needs of entrepreneurs and small businesses at any level.
Now, when it comes to startups in the early stages of their business, an incubator may be the way to go. Though they both provide an office location, coworking spaces and incubators differ in their mission. Incubators nurture young businesses, usually by providing an affordable workspace along with hands-on services such as management training, marketing support, and access to resources like financing options, and ultimately aim to grow businesses to move out and make it on their own. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) has recently combined services previously offered by UT Brownsville and UT Pan American and now, through collaborative partnerships with public and private entities, UTRGV provides the Valley with an array of services based out of the Department of Economic Development. For over 12 years, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Commercialization in Brownsville has provided incubation services with equipment and training to help startup businesses succeed. Additionally, the university provides a variety of business development services throughout the Valley, including a Veterans Business Outreach Center in Edinburg and the Small Business Development Center in partnership with the US Small Business Administration in Harlingen.
Cities across the Valley are doing their part, too. In 2005, with help from the city, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce jumped on board to create the McAllen Creative Incubator (MCA2). Now located at the former public library, MCA2 houses 20 low-cost artist studios and office spaces for expanding artists and art organizations. The venue fosters the creativity of tenants and provides the necessary managerial, legal and technical support to encourage continued professional growth of artists, in turn, enhancing the vitality of the local community. But they didn’t stop there. In 2015, the Chamber launched TechPlace in the same location to serve the needs of tech-minded entrepreneurs like app and software developers, programmers, coders, and more.
Brownsville is also making great strides in the arts and technology scenes. According to Brownsville Economic Development Council Executive Vice President Gilbert Salinas, in addition to the university’s entrepreneurship center, the city is working with SpaceX on what they call “Project STARGATE,” or known to real “techies” as the Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Gigahertz Astrophysical Transient Emission. As just one component of the multi-faceted project, they plan to construct an aerospace-centered facility to focus on incubation of innovative entrepreneurs and the development and commercialization of cutting-edge technology.
Furthermore, up and coming artists can look forward to the opening of the Activating Vacancy Art Incubator. Their first public event kicked off on April 8. Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), the building community or bcWorkshop nonprofit organization is restoring the San Fernando Building in Brownsville’s Downtown Market Square to house the new incubator. In regards to the new projects, Salinas said, “We’re working on several fronts. Brownsville has reached a point where we’ve gone from a traditional border manufacturing community to a point where we’re growing and moving in a direction of innovation, arts, culture, and global investment for Brownsville, and 10 years from now, Brownsville’s fabric could potentially include all those different sectors.”
Coworking spaces and incubators, though different in nature, often cross paths in their missions of development, and the City of Mission is making a point to capture both opportunities. With the construction of the Center for Education and Economic Development (CEED), Mission is planning to serve a variety of needs with classrooms, coworking spaces, private offices, and incubation services. According to Mission EDC President and CEO Alex Meade, along with their other initiatives, the center is expected to create a culture of entrepreneurship and should be up and running by July.
Finally, for those determined and exceptional candidates with a little luck on their side, some other great resources are spreading across the Valley in the form of citywide contests like Mission EDC’s Ruby Red Ventures, which awards $100,000 to small business contest winners each year, the McAllen Business Plan Competition, and even South Padre Island’s new Sand Dollars for Success. For further networking and professional development opportunities, officials also recommend joining professional groups, which range from the Texas Society of Professional Engineers, to the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, the Rio Grande Valley Real Estate Investors Club, and everything in between.
Depending on your niche, defining your local options will help determine the best fit for you and your business. Whether you’ve just jotted your ideas down on your napkin or are already an up and running company, the Valley has something to offer. For more information on business development opportunities in your area, contact your local Economic Development Corporation, Chamber of Commerce, or check out one of the entities listed below.