A leg up: La Casa del Nylon picked for entrepreneurship center
The Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation has a plan to transform the old La Casa del Nylon building at 1304 E. Adams St. into the biggest entrepreneurship center south of San Antonio.
It’s been years since any commercial venture occupied the structure, built in 1967 and purchased by the city of Brownsville in 2012. The tentative name for what BCIC conceives is the “e-Bridge Center for Business & Commercialization.” BCIC plans to issue a “request for proposals” this month to begin work on engineering and architectural plans, and anticipates a groundbreaking by mid-summer.
Jose Mejia, BCIC interim executive director, called it an “expansive project” in collaboration with the city, the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce, the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley-Brownsville and the Economic Development Administration through the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Although there are several facets, the project in a nutshell is meant to create a pipeline of “scaleable businesses,” or businesses that can multiply revenue with minimal additional investment, he said.
A business incubator for launching start-ups will be a component of the center, though it will also house entities providing resources small businesses and entrepreneurs need to be sustainable, Mejia said. These will include nonprofit micro-lenders such as LiftFund and PeopleFund, and nonprofits offering low-cost assistance with patent rights, trademarks and other legal services, he said.
The UTRGV Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center, the university’s incubator in Brownsville, currently located on East Price Road, will move all its programs to the new center, Mejia said. The project is about consolidating the city’s entrepreneurship resources under one roof, he said. BCIC spearheaded development of the concept and lined up key partners over a two-year period, he said.
Mejia said eBridge is based on a growing trend of combining incubators with in-house resources for entrepreneurs that the nonprofit Kauffman Foundation, which supports education and entrepreneurship, calls “ecosystem building.”
“We started venturing out looking into different centers all across the nation and in the state, working closely with Kauffman to see what were the national trends and challenges that a lot of these entrepreneurs were facing,” he said.
The closest thing to BCIC’s project is the Texas Tech Innovation Hub at Research Park in Lubbock, Mejia said.
“Ours is unique in a sense that we’re not only consolidating all the existing programs that are out there in the community, but we’re also making sure that the city has a huge stake in that facility, so that they provide the workshops necessary to make it much easier for businesses to start in the community,” he said.
The eBridge concept is designed to cultivate entrepreneurs at home and attract them from elsewhere, Mejia said.
Two years ago the Brownsville City Commission approved a proposal to transform Casa del Nylon into an all-purpose fire department facility, though the idea was subsequently dropped. When BCIC went looking for a home for eBridge, the city provided a list of properties it owns, including Casa del Nylon. BCIC deemed it the best choice, since everything the project needs to succeed is within two blocks, including the university, international bridges and economic development organizations, Mejia said.
“The tech hub would be right there,” he said. “It just made sense to focus our efforts on that building.”
Another plus is that the building is gutted already, which lowers the cost of renovation, Mejia said. BCIC has submitted an application to the Economic Development Administration with the hope of landing a grant to defray half the renovation cost, he said.
“We’re estimating, and this is without a proper architectural plan, we’re estimating around $2.4 million to $2.5 million, and we’re hoping that we can get a 50/50 split on the investment with EDA involvement,” Mejia said.