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Round Rock Stakeholders Aim to Create Entrepreneurial Culture

by: Scott Thomas / Community Impact Newspaper

Daniel Phipps, owner and creative director of Axis Design, knows about starting companies in Round Rock.

He started Axis Design in 2005, an industrial design consulting business, on West Bagdad Avenue. The company designs manufactured goods and focuses on their usability, ergonomics and aesthetics. In the years since he has started two companies both on crowd-funding website Kickstarter: Urbanist Cycling, which designs bicycling clothing that aims to be functional and stylish, and LooLedge, which makes a toilet paper dispenser that also provides a place for people to put their mobile phones while in a bathroom.

Phipps said he sees the number of innovative companies like his growing in Round Rock and the Austin area.

“Texas over the last decade has been recognized more and more as a great place to live and a place where there’s a lot of innovation,” he said. “[The Austin metro] isn’t one of the biggest in terms of population, but Austin has the largest tech community [in Texas] by leaps and bounds.”

Now the Round Rock Chamber is starting an initiative to get more entrepreneurs like Phipps to see Round Rock as the place to start their business.

Round Rock Chamber President and CEO Mike Odom said the chamber has began an initiative to analyze and encourage innovation in Round Rock. He said the initiative includes surveying the current entrepreneurial landscape to see what business’s needs are as well as looking at successful strategies other communities have used to grow their innovative communities.

“Data has proven out over and over that small business is the largest creator of new jobs in this country,” Odom said. “We have to balance our very successful business-attraction efforts with new job creation through new business creation. To do that we have to give the budding entrepreneur the tools to [create businesses].”

Entrepreneur community

Odom said the initiative is one of the chamber’s top priorities for 2015.

“What we are trying to understand is what does Round Rock need to do to build a more robust and cohesive entrepreneur community? How do we help more minds get their idea from mind to market?”

Odom said the study will also evaluate successful strategies from other communities as well as research the viability of Round Rock having an innovation district, which is an area that encourages new companies by having entrepreneurs and organization that support them, higher education and mixed-use developments within close proximity.

“There is some research saying to be an innovation district you have to be an urban area,” he said. “We’re looking to see if there’s a suburban equivalent.”

Dick Johnson is assistant director of technology at the Texas State Small Business Development Center, which helps startups grow and compete in the global economy.

Johnson said typically entrepreneur communities are  sparked by infrastructure and being surrounded by similar companies.

“In the entrepreneur community there’s a term called clustering—[similar] companies want to be around each other,” he said.

He said entrepreneurs are most concerned with having access to the employees and resources that will help a company succeed.

“The main thing is can I hire the right kind of people to support my business,” Johnson said. To further assist those who want to start a business in the city, the chamber released a guide in September with resources for small businesses  to use. The guide covers subjects from creating a business plan to going through government permits  and regulations.

To further assist those who want to start a business in the city, the chamber will release a guide in October with resources for small businesses to use. The guide covers subjects from creating a business plan to going through government permits and regulations.

Entrepreneur space

Phipps said he sees a growing need to house companies like his, so he is preparing to start another company—a coworking space in downtown Round Rock—where entrepreneurs can work, network and collaborate.

“A coworking business really relies on people that are entrepreneurs that are looking for a place to work and are looking for like-minded people,” he said. “I’ve had friends of mine who asked, ‘Can we come work out of your office.’ […] There’s a pent-up need for that kind of thing in the area.”

The coworking space would connect similarly minded entrepreneurs, he said.

“Lots of times you can find benefit by helping each other out and you can make valuable business connections,” he said.

Brad Farrell, founder and managing member of StitZii, a Round Rock-based company that designs an ultra-absorbent material that can reduce grease stains from food which helps make more products recyclable, said Round Rock currently needs more spaces for entrepreneurs to network.

“I firmly believe if you’re producing something, be around other entrepreneurs,” he said. “It’s nice to just be around other people and hear their trials and tribulations.”

Innovative funding

John Moman is the founder of PTB Exchange based in Round Rock. The company’s website aims to serve as a resource to connect architects, construction companies and Realtors who want to collaborate on commercial real estate projects.

Moman said he thought about seeking funding through venture capitalists but did not know where to get started.

“To go that route you almost have to hire someone who knows how to reach out to those types of networks and get past those gatekeepers to showcase your idea,” he said.

Instead, Moman met Hall Martin, director of the Texas Entrepreneur Network, who told him about the Williamson County Funding Portal. The portal is a crowdfunding website that draws from mostly Williamson County residents and was developed by the Texas Entrepreneur Network, a funding website that covers companies throughout Texas.

Unlike other crowdfunding websites, like Kickstarter, those who fund a business through the portal receive a stake in the business, Martin said.

“The key to funding portals is it’s about the network behind it, not the actual site,” Martin said. “The funding portal brings the Williamson County community behind it. They have more control because they want to invest in their area.”

The Texas Entrepreneur Network helped Moman’s business get into contact with the programmer it contracts with as well as PTB Exchange’s business partner, he said.

“We’re kind of light years ahead of where we would be had we not been introduced [to the network],” Moman said.