In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Lawson Gow stepped in to help the best way he could: He offered heavily discounted rates for his new coworking campus, The Cannon, to anyone whose office space had been impacted by the storm.
Though construction on the entirety of The Cannon wasn't finished at the time, it was still a welcome offer to the small-business owners, startups, and creatives of Houston who needed somewhere to continue their livelihoods. But now The Cannon is ready for its grand opening on November 2, announcing with a bang the 17-acre West Houston hub for entrepreneurs, business professionals, developers, and creatives that it will eventually become.
Gow — son of David Gow, owner of CultureMap's parent company Gow Media — is passionate about the concept of building an entrepreneurial campus in his hometown in order to augment the city’s resources for young startups and other creatives.
"You can think of the creation of innovation centers as a science of sorts, as a formula — from success stories of other cities, we can tease out key learnings of how these startup communities are created and sustained," he says. "Houston is behind, and it’s time for us to move beyond the oil patch."
One crucial driving force of the creation of vibrant startup communities is the development of hubs and collaborative centers of innovation that serve both as a homebase for startup activity and also as a consolidator of existing entrepreneurial efforts and organizations. "That’s the vision," Gow says. "To build out a dense ecosystem of all entities across the entrepreneurial stack: startups, developers, investors, mentors, incubation/acceleration programs, etc."
And the timing makes sense, as businesses veer more and more toward virtual working models where employees rarely have to leave their home office. But Gow sees the need for real person-to-person communities in order for ideas to flourish. He last worked for a global group whose many employees hardly ever saw each other, much to everyone's detriment, he thought.
"There’s a lot of value to having clusters of high-energy startups, freelancers, and creatives all in one space, pushing each other, befriending each other," he says. "Sometimes innovation happens after-hours. Sometimes it happens when you’re playing ping pong and brainstorming. Those incidental moments of ideation are lost in the wrong environment."
For Gow, flexibility becomes key to those moments of inspiration and ideation, and the multitude of ways people can access The Cannon reflect those ideals. From a one-day pass to an open desk to a dedicated office, Cannon members can decide what level of campus interaction works best for their work schedule, and then lease space on a monthly basis.
Membership also includes weekly events, speakers, and mentor programs, or the ability to just stop by and connect with other Cannon members in the lounge.
"If you think about a campus, there are many different buildings and organizations but they all exist to support the student body in different ways," says Gow. "To that end, on our campus, we are building out things like a gym, a juice bar, a coffee shop, sleep pods ... all things to support our entrepreneurs. We want to celebrate entrepreneurialism and cultivate an eclectic community of creatives. A campus for our founders."
Expect to see a lot of those doers at the Founders Festival on November 2, an event that will showcase The Cannon's indoor and outdoor facilities, feature pop-up venders, and highlight rising local artists.
Even as Gow works to create this startup for startups, he's dreaming big — not just for the growing Cannon community, but for the whole city. He sees a future for Houston where business and city leaders work together to create interconnected, collaborative centers for innovation.
"Ultimately, I want to see Houston connect all its resources," he says. "Houston is a sprawling community, so it needs a number of different, interconnected ecosystems. We are building one, but the next step is to formalize a web of partnered ecosystems that all exist to support Houston’s entrepreneurs in a coordinated way. We are excited to be a part of it."