Russ: Hi I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, the show that champions Houston innovators and entrepreneurs. I’m very pleased to have as my guest today Lawson Gow, Founder and CEO of The Cannon. Lawson welcome to the show.
Lawson: Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. So tell us about The Cannon.
Lawson: We are a startup hub, a workspace for entrepreneurs and we’re in a 20,000 square foot building today. We’ve got about 75 startups and we call it the waiting room. It’s not our ultimate destination, but we’re building a 120,000 square foot warehouse and a really best in class workspace. It’s about 30 yards from where we are today so we will just pluck up our community and plop them in when it’s done.
Russ: 20,000 square feet to 120,000 – is it going to feel like you’re empty there when you move into the 120?
Lawson: We spent a lot of time pre-leasing out the space. We’ve got the floorplan and it’s going to be a really great space, it’s projected to be done first quarter of next year; we’re actually about 40% pre-leased to date I think.
Russ: My goodness. Back to the waiting room – 20,000 square feet – is that pretty crowded?
Lawson: Yeah, we’re pretty full today, we’ve got about 18 offices and then the rest is open space. And initially it was kind of hard to get critical mass of people in there because there wasn’t a community to attract them to the space, but there is today. We sort of painstakingly cultivated that community to be a positive, uplifting contagious environment so yeah, we’re pretty full.
Russ: How do you that? How do you take a community and make them passionate and positive?
Lawson: It’s no easy task. You can’t sign up for space online. You have to book a tour and we have to meet you, know what your company is and make sure you’re not a weirdo. We’ve had some instances where we’ve asked people to leave because they’re not positive contributors to our environment and that’s just who we are and that’s an important part of The Cannon.
Russ: That seems awfully important to a co-working or an accelerator or an incubator or any of those kind of things but I’ve noticed a lot of them don’t try to control it. So kind of give us a description of the spectrum of companies there at The Cannon.
Lawson: We’re sort of all over the place and I was nervous that we would end up too energy-tech because of our proximity to the energy corridor. That’s not the case. We do have some energy and oil and gas technology companies. We’re not all software, we do have a hangover supplement called Thrive that was on Shark Tank.
Russ: Yes, I’m familiar with them.
Lawson: And they’re doing great, really sharp team.
Russ: They’re not attracting any other hangover supplements are they?
Lawson: No we don’t have a lot of that category represented here.
Russ: Are they attracting a lot of drinkers therefore?
Lawson: Yeah, I think entrepreneurialism attracts a lot of drinkers and these guys are just there to pick up the pieces. And then we’ve got blockchain companies and we’ve got a lot of sports technology companies – some eSports companies which is new to me. So actually having all of these motivated entrepreneurs in the trenches together every day gives you a lot of energy and I think it’s a really helpful place sort of emotionally as well for people to start up their companies.
Russ: Okay give me an example, say it’s me and two or three others that we’ve got a company going and we say we want to go in there, what would we have to pay?
Lawson: If you’re just going to work out in the open it’s $250.00 a month and it’s all month to month because it doesn’t make sense for startups to…
Russ: Per person right?
Lawson: Yep, per person. So you walk in and you can sort of sit where you want. We’ve got a kitchen area and a lounge area. We’ve got a ping pong table so everybody’s gotten very good at ping pong. And so we try to be as flexible as possible and that comes sort of with the beer and Red Bull and coffee and Wi-Fi and praying and all those other things.
Russ: So tell us more about this expansion, 120,000 square feet; what’s the status of it and what is it going to look like?
Lawson: Projected to be done first quarter of next year; they actually say February but I’ve been coached to have extreme caution and skepticism towards these large construction projects so we’ll see. So it will have a luxury movie theater, a two story library, lounge, café and then conference rooms, open space. I think we’ll have about 1500 people in there so it will be really slick.
Russ: So what do you mean luxury movie theater?
Lawson: If you’re familiar with like iPic, they’re big bucket seats that have fold tables and so we’re treating them as like an open desk option; you can wander in, plop down in one of those chairs and plug in headphones to hear whatever is on the tv – or don’t – but we’ll have something playing. And then we’ll have movie nights and it should be a good presentation space as well.
Russ: Okay I spent a little time out there one time and was shown a rendition of like the neighborhood and it sort of looked like it turns into a university or something. There is development planned beyond the 120,000 square foot facility right?
Lawson: Yeah, we’ve got an exciting vision. We’re a bit of an industrial wasteland today, but CityCentre is 0.9 miles away and we’re actually building out a whole 32 acre campus all geared towards entrepreneurialism and innovation and their startups. And so at its hub, at the epicenter, is this 120,000 square foot space around which all these other elements will gravitate to cater to that entrepreneurial population. We’re building out an ice house style bar that we’re calling the Powder Keg; mixed retail, there’s a juice bar, coffee shop, dry cleaning. Whatever you need during the day personally and professionally. And then exercise facilities, maybe micro-housing, minimalistic small housing. So it will be pretty cool.
And now we’ve created The Cannon Off Campus satellite locations throughout the city of Houston for those whom our campus is geographically inconvenient you can still tap into our community by working out of those hubs.
Russ: And where are they?
Lawson: We’ve got one in the Rice Village are – it’s small, we really haven’t marketed it that much. We’ve got a couple of companies out of there including Croozen who you interviewed the other week. Gordon is a great buddy of mine.
Russ: Great guy.
Lawson: We are finalizing the construction in I think sort of mid-November we’ll have an opening of a Tanglewood/Post oak location that’s about 16,000 square feet. And then finally – this is about a year off – but we’ve got a 40,000 square foot warehouse in the Heights that we’re developing that I think will be really cool.
Russ: And all of those will kind of be sort of stand-alone facilities? I mean people will come there every day and hang out and work there?
Lawson: Well we’ll say if you’re a member of one you’re a member of all of them and we’ve got to solve the sprawl of Houston. It’s gigantic and so it’ll be nice as you’re bouncing around, doing your meetings wherever you are in Houston hopefully you’ll have a spot you can land.
Russ: Okay, can’t help but notice the shirt here, Cannon Ventures; that’s related or integrated or what?
Lawson: It’s new, we launched it technically in May. Separate group, separate team; it’s an investor network and sort of incubator/venture studio/accelerator, whatever you want to call it, that helps raise money for startups and helps nurture their growth in their early stages. So that’s sort of the workhorse of startups in The Cannon.
Russ: It’s always real interesting to me to find out what triggered the idea to start it. So what was the motivation?
Lawson: My job before this was I was working for a global venture capital group and so I was getting to see these vibrant startup communities all over the world and I was frustrated that in my own backyard we’ve sort of fallen behind. And I love Houston, I was born and raised here and I believe that we have all the raw materials that we need to develop an innovation economy here. Other cities have done it that don’t have any particular advantage over Houston in terms of money or access to great universities and we can do this. There are key determinants that you can tease out of these success stories in St. Louis and Phillie and Chicago and our city started to look at those as case studies. And so we’re trying to be a consolidator of all the players across the entrepreneurial stack, fitting them under one roof that the investors and mentors and startups and service providers and universities and I’m just really optimistic that we can accomplish here in Houston what we’ve seen in other cities.
Russ: Impressive. So what would you like The Cannon to look like 5 years from now?
Lawson: We’re going to have the biggest startup campus in the world. And so I think it will be really attention grabbing and I think it will help redefine and rebrand Houston’s reputation as sort of an oil patch town frankly. And I think that we can turn it nto a global, entrepreneurial hub.
Russ: That’s exciting, thanks a lot Lawson.
Lawson: Thanks for having me.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Lawson Gow, Founder and CEO of The Cannon. And this is HXTV.
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