FORGET CALIFORNIA’S SILICON VALLEY OR EVEN NEW YORK’S SILICON ALLEY. HOUSTON’S GETTING A SILICON… BELTWAY? WELL, CLOSE ENOUGH.
Work America Capital (WAC), a local venture capital firm dedicated to investing in Houstonians and Houston-based businesses, is building out a $70 million mixed-use project called The Cannon, just north of I-10 and west of Beltway 8. The 17-acre complex, on the grounds of the former Surefire Industries oilfield services campus, will eventually include a co-working component (already up and running, with attendant ping pong tables and free beer), as well as an event center, athletic facility, restaurants, retail and multifamily residential. The entire thing is expected to be completed by late 2018.
So who’s the brains behind the business? That would be Work America Capital’s co-founder and managing partner MARK TOON, a longtime business leader and entrepreneur who most recently headed up KPMG Capital, and JEFF SMITH, the firm’s other co-founder. Smith was most recently the co-founder of Alvarez and Marsal Business Consulting.
“We’re trying to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship, innovation and collaboration that not only develops future leaders, but that will provide us and our investors with returns,” says Toon. “With this project, we’re going to show that Houston is a rich and viable environment for startups of all kinds,” he adds. They’ll also be providing wisdom, contacts and coaching to these up-and-comers.
The Cannon, which is funded by WAC, is led by its founder and CEO Lawson Gow, who believes technology co-working spaces are the future. “This is how we grow the structure to keep entrepreneurship local.” And the spaces are also flexible…from a one-day pass to an open desk to a dedicated office. Rates are affordable to attract new businesses and new ideas.
Current Cannon tenants (and WAC portfolio company investments) include: GameDay Films, a sports media and technology company that delivers filming and photography solutions to the youth sports industry to professionalize the youth sports market; The Front Row, a cloudbased video storage platform that allows sports fans, parents, teams, athletes and organizations alike to interact with their video content and create online sports communities specifically related to their teams; and 1 Stone Solutions, a construction services company whose goal is to professionalize an industry that is characterized by small local businesses that sometimes skirt immigration laws and fail to deliver dependable, quality work on behalf of large general contractors.
WAC has invested in these companies, among a group of about a dozen startups and early-stage investment companies, through its first $20 million fund, Work America Capital Fund 1 LP. The fund has attracted about 21 limited partner investors who believe in Houston’s entrepreneurial future.
“Look at where we’re located,” says Smith. “We’re 1.3 miles from CityCentre, which is now truly the geographic center of the city. This is where it’s all going to happen, and we’re going to have everything it takes to help make a business successful – and make some money for our investors, too.”