By Ricardo Cavazos • Valley Business Report

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – These are heady days for the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation as it incorporates emerging technology and the excitement of SpaceX at Boca Chica into a growing economy.

The BCIC funds economic development and boosts quality of life projects. There’s plenty of that in Brownsville right now. Downtown improvements and a flurry of small businesses are seeing early successes and working to scale up operations. The BCIC is in the middle of both efforts. It will be even more so early next year when it opens its new 32,000-square-foot Entrepreneurial Resource Center.

eBridge-ing a Gap

eBridge for short, the center is the largest of its type south of San Antonio. It will consolidate a number of existing services under one roof in downtown Brownsville in what was once a women’s clothing store on Adams Street. Those services include providing business planning and management expertise to aspiring small businesses along with helping secure resources and capital for these entrepreneurs.

The new eBridge will have two floors. The first floor will house a business incubator, the UTRGV’s Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center and a Brownsville Chamber of Commerce extension office. It possibly may also be the home of office space where private investors can meet with small businesses seeking capital. The second floor will include space where business startups can office temporarily. Young industrial and technical companies can also use areas to use equipment in testing new ideas.

“We actively work to assist and scale up businesses,” said Nathan Burkhart, the director of marketing and small business development for the BCIC, in describing the sort of services offered in larger cities that will now be seen in Brownsville. “If you open up a business in Austin, you’re competing against a lot of other prospects for capital. The Rio Grande Valley is a smaller pond, but it’s one where there’s more room to grow and expand.

Consolidating Services

The eBridge will bring current service offerings of the city, university and economic development entities under one roof. Here, a business prospect can walk in and receive help more efficiently. Common needs are help with crafting business plans, cost analysis of operations, and arranging the sort of information and financial reporting needed to apply for bank and Small Business Administration loans.

Those are the sort of assistance programs business incubators often offer. The eBridge will do more than that in offering facilities where an industrial company can test a technical project that can detect leaks in oil pipelines, or a lunar space company can develop software in Brownsville.

“We want people to realize that they don’t have to leave the Valley to do these sorts of things, or they can come back and work on those types of projects here,” Burkhart said. “We’ve now got enough of those kinds of resources that those realities can happen in Brownsville.”

To the Port & Beyond

No one could have guessed that a building that once housed Casa de Nylon could someday host entrepreneurs brimming with ideas and technology that will be sufficiently cutting edge to test ideas that are outer space worthy. The BCIC held a formal groundbreaking for the eBridge in mid-June. Work on gutting and clearing out the 1960s-era building began weeks ago.

Burkhart recently walked through the former Nylon store in a hardhat to point out where different offices and services will be. Burkhart is a Brownsville native and a Pace High School graduate. He moved back home from Austin to be part of what he sees as his hometown’s new possibilities.

“There’s so much potential in the Valley,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t provide those kinds of services here, and when you look at Brownsville, we’re unique geographically. We can offer rail, air, highway, the sea with our port, and now, space.”