seaside innovation

Houston coworking company opens new Galveston hub amid profound growth and expansion

The Cannon Galveston @ the MarMo has opened as a convening space for Galveston entrepreneurship. Photo via TheCannon.com

The Cannon Houston has expanded its footprint throughout 2021, and one of the coworking company's newest hubs has opened its doors seaside.

The Cannon Galveston @ the MarMo is a new coworking space with membership options starting at $180 a month for entrepreneurs. The building is a former credit union space that Galveston real estate entrepreneur, Jimmy McClure, bought and renovated. McClure is also one of The Cannon's board members as of a couple months ago.

"We've always felt there was this opportunity to create this coastal innovation community," says Alex Gras, chief commercial officer at the Cannon. "And we found a great partner in Jimmy McClure."

In the aftermath of the pandemic, Gras says people are going to be more intentional about where they spend their time, and this location offers its member companies something different.

The new space has membership options starting at $180 a month. Image via TheCannon.com

"Not only does Galveston have the allure of a coastal town with a more relaxed atmosphere, but it has some amazing support organizations," he says.

Gras is referring to the numerous innovative institutions on the island that have been operating in silos over the years — including University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Texas A&M Galveston, Galveston College, Galveston ISD, Vision Galveston, and more. Gras says the feedback for The Cannon providing this neutral convening space for entrepreneurship has been so positive.

"Galveston really has the raw ingredients to become an amazing innovation ecosystem," Gras tells InnovationMap.

From a programming perspective, entrepreneurs can expect exactly what The Cannon has brought to its other locations. The team recently held a hacakathon in collaboration with The Ion, Vision Galveston, and UTMB — which was a major success, according to Gras — and plans to host a pitch competition on March 10.

The MarMo is a former credit union building renovated by Jimmy McClure. Image via TheCannon.com

"At the end of the day, entrepreneurs are looking for peers that they can do this with and not feel like they are so alone, as well as advisers, mentors, and coaches who help them think differently and investors who can provide some economic capital to help prop up their ideas," Gras explains. "Any programming we do in the future will have elements of social, networking, and education — but all in the confines of making sure we're providing all these different human, economic, and social capital to the entrepreneurs of Galveston."

It's not just toward the Gulf of Mexico where The Cannon has expanded profoundly this year. The company's sportstech hub opened in the Galleria area in collaboration with Braun Enterprises and Gow Media (InnovationMap's parent company).

"The thing that's exciting about this profound growth is it's reflective of the two driving initiatives of the Cannon — one being establishing a network of programmatically connected innovation hubs throughout the entire expanse of the city of Houston," says Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon. "The other is looking for opportunities where Houston can go deep into an industry and be the best at that."

Sportstech is one of those avenues of opportunity, according to Gow, but the team is always looking for other verticals that might be a similar fit.

Additionally, The Cannon opened a new space in the Esperson building in downtown Houston. This space is small, says Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon, but has room to grow.

"We want to create network of hubs — some in the community want highly-programed environments," Gow explains, adding that the Esperson Coworking likely won't feature the same level of programming as seen at some of the other locations.

Gow explains that he expects to grow the team at The Cannon to sport these expansions, crediting Gras for building and cultivating the team. Gras joined The Cannon in February.

Alex Gras joined The Cannon as managing director in February, and recently transitioned into chief commercial officer. Photo via LinkedIn

"It wouldn't surprise us if we more than double our team within the next year," Gow says.

This profound growth comes after 18 months of uncertainty — which allowed Gow and his team to rethink some of their plans.

"Pre-covid had our eyes on expansion outside of the city, and we've dialed it back — it's been a healthy exercise", Gow says, "to reset our focus on the whole sprawl of Houston in setting up eight to 10 locations across the city so that we're truly democratizing access to all the tools entrepreneurs need to grow."

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Building Houston

 
 

Samantha Ettus of Park Place Payments joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how she founded a company that lets individuals find financial independence while providing better customer service in the payments processing industry. Photo courtesy of Park Place Payments

Four years ago, Samantha Ettus found herself as a keynote speaker in a room with thousands of ambitious and talented women. It was a conference for multi-level marketing sales associates and, as Ettus found out later, most of them — despite their talent and passion — were losing money on whatever product they were selling.

"I realized there was a problem. There obviously was a need — all of these people want to be doing something outside of their families that gives them fulfillment and meaning and has goals associated with it — but they also want to be earning money," Ettus says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And the first part was being fulfilled — but the second part wasn't."

Ettus created an alternative to check both of those boxes. Park Place Payments is a fintech startup founded in 2018 in California. Houston was one of the initial six test market for the business model, and the company now has over 1,000 account executives across all 50 states. Sales team members are trained for free on how to sell Park Place's payment processor service to local businesses.

Ettus says the payment processor industry is competitive and most small business owners are very disappointed with the customer service they receive. The average business changes payment processors every three years, Ettus says, and Park Place wants to change that.

"Payments is an industry where something always goes wrong," Ettus says. "As a small business owner, if you can't reach someone — that's really important for the livelihood of your business. ... We really think of ourselves as an outsourced payment partner for small businesses."

This past year has been one for growth for Park Place, Ettus says, and earlier this year, she closed on the company's seed round, which was supported by Curate Capital, founded by Houstonian Carrie Colbert. Now the company is focused on its tech team, including hiring a CTO. Early next year, Ettus hopes to close a Series A round, again with support — financially and otherwise — from Colbert.

"I feel so lucky because a lot of people pointed us to traditional Silicon Valley VCs in the beginning, and I had a lot of conversations. I didn't feel some of those firms had the patience to grow with us," Ettus says.

The company has been tied to Houston from its early days, from testing the business in town to a Houston-based early hire, Nancy Decker Lent, who is a founding member of the team and head of product for Park Place.

Ettus shares more on her passion for supporting financial independence for women and how she plans to grow her company on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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