Waco-born business sticks, with help from students

By Cory Dickman

I met Thomas Ellis at church back in the Fall of 2006. I was a freshman at Baylor and had no idea that 13 years later, we were going to start Waco Axe Co., the city’s first axe-throwing venue. Thomas and I, along with fellow partners Cody Beeler and Jared Dauenhauer, embarked on this journey of entrepreneurship and axe throwing.

Students from the Triple Win training program construct an axe-throwing trailer for Waco Axe Co.

We leased a space on Washington Avenue and began the buildout of our venue, but when construction was taking longer than expected, we came up with an idea to build a mobile axe-throwing trailer. This would allow us to run events and tailgates, expand marketing, and most importantly, keep us busy during construction.

We approached Clay Springer and Triple Win Waco, a work-based learning apprenticeship program, about partnering with students to construct the trailer. The students would get paid for the hours they put in while earning valuable certifications along the way. Triple Win recruited students from Rapoport Academy and Connally Career Tech to join the project and after a build time of just three months, Waco’s first axe throwing-venue now had Waco’s first and only axe-throwing trailer.

The mobile axe trailer turned out to be a major success. We broke even on the project after four months of operation and just in time for our venue to open up on Feb. 14, 2020. Over the next 27 days, we experienced a lot of traffic from both local Wacoans and our tourist population. Then on the 28th day, the axes had to be put away as the Covid-19 pandemic began ramping up. For us, much like everyone else, the rest of 2020 was a blur. From a business perspective, we all lost employees, revenue, and a sense of time. 

It wasn’t until Christmas break of 2020 that sales began to increase as people became more comfortable going out in public again. We were feeling (axe)cited and ready to hit (the mark) in 2021. One of our regulars, Gib Reynolds from Startup Waco, approached us regarding the Kiva program. Kiva is a nonprofit designed to help crowd source funding for entrepreneurs and allow the community to invest in businesses.

We applied for the program and were accepted up to $15,000. We decided to use those funds to build not one but two more axe trailers following the notable performance of the initial trailer. Because the experience working with Triple Win students was so positive and their team developed expertise on our product, we partnered with the organization again to complete our additional trailers. Triple Win had a new design in mind that would allow us to accommodate more people by having eight axe targets per trailer. The design was creative, innovative, and bigger (much bigger) than the first trailer. 

Triple Win was awarded a Summer Career and Technical Education Grant, $30,000 of which was designated to Waco Axe as a project of value. Triple Win recruited an amazing team of students from Rapoport Academy including Azel Rodriguez, Mikayla Lee, Haven Roanke, Harris Cook, Devin Weaver, Caden Sullivan, and Rafi Pena. These students earned their OSHA 30 certifications and gained invaluable experience in welding, metalworking, computer-aided design (CAD), and soft skills like communicating with their employer. Not only do the students get to put together a cool project with their friends, they also see how their hard work directly impacts a local small business. 

The basic goal of axe throwing is to get the axe to stick on the bullseye, but when you’re just learning, it can be the hardest skill to complete. There’s failure at first, but with hard work and determination, the axe will stick and the sense of accomplishment is unmatched. Taking an idea and creating a product from the ground up can feel like trying to get that axe to stick. But when we as a business partner with ambitious students who are eager to learn, we try, fail, and eventually get it right — together. Combine local students and a company that loves to serve the community and you get a Waco-born business that sticks. 

Cory Dickman is owner/founder of Rogue Capital, a company that invests in and supports entrepreneurs in their business ventures. He has founded or co-founded several businesses, including Rogue Media Network, Nexus E-sports, Waco Pedal Tours, Waco Escape Rooms, and Waco Axe. An Oregon Native, Cory originally moved to Waco to go to Baylor University. He moved back in 2015 to start the Waco Escape Rooms. Cory also serves on the Board of Act Locally Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Entrepreneur applauds & helps Waco business development

Editor: In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring interviews with local women leaders. These pieces were written by Baylor University students from the Department of Journalism, Public Relations, and New Media.

By Lakesyn Melia

Veronicka Thompson-Smith came from a small town in Oklahoma to Waco in fall of 2002 as a freshman undergraduate student at Baylor University. The city has made quite the impression on her, as the longest she’s been away since her arrival was a six-month internship. 

Veronicka Thompson-Smith

After graduating, she spent 10 years working in the admissions office for the university. In January this year, she accepted a role as an executive assistant at Magnolia. She is also a board member of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market and the Amberley Collaborative, a local nonprofit that works to strengthen support systems for individuals who face challenges, such as disabilities, in the community.

Thompson-Smith also leads the Waco chapter of TuesdaysTogether, an organization created for creative entrepreneurs to connect and to foster community over competition.

“One of the reasons why I love Waco is just the opportunities,” she said. “When I came here in 2002, Waco definitely wasn’t what it is now. You just didn’t have the growth you have now.” 

As an entrepreneur, Thompson-Smith said she has seen Waco become a hub for people wanting to start their own businesses. She said she believes the timing was just right for the city and Wacoans. The emergence of the Magnolia business has helped, but what the local residents had to offer was the biggest contributor. 

“I’ve seen it go from no food trucks at all to now: Union Hall, Food Truck Park, and all these different generations of Waco and even Baylor,” she said. 

The city of Waco has seen a multitude of locally-owned businesses emerge in the past few years, and Thompson-Smith has been a major part of two of them. She started her own business, Flower and Ink Designs, in 2017 and took the position as community director of WacoWork in 2019. 

After graduating from Baylor with a degree in apparel design, she did not pursue her creative skills until she created Flower and Ink Designs. She has seen support through the Waco community throughout her 18 years living here. 

One of the aspects of Waco that Thompson-Smith appreciates is the size. She said that being able to see people you know wherever you go is comforting, and the community is special. She spent the past few months helping as treasurer for Councilwoman Kelly Palmer’s campaign, an opportunity only a city like Waco would make so accessible. 

Through her involvement in the community, Thompson-Smith has seen Waco in a completely different light. The business opportunities have helped her build relationships with people around her and participate in the continuing growth of the city. Her contributions are just one example of how someone got involved and enjoyed every part of it. 

Lakesyn Melia is a sophomore political science and public relations student at Baylor University, originally from Franklin, Tenn.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Towny: 1 EASY Way to Benefit Yourself, Your City, Your Neighbor TODAY!

By Hannah Franzen

Spending locally matters more than you might think. Local investment, as you Act Locally readers probably already know, helps to create jobs, support vital community services, and strengthen economies. So, high-five! When you spend your hard-earned dollars at Cheddar Box or La Fiesta or Katie’s Custard or other locally owned businesses — 50% of your purchase goes right back into the bettering of your city. That feels good, right?

Didn’t want another day (or another one of your dollars) to go by without you being aware: there’s a free, app that makes it easier than ever to shop local and save money at the same time.

Let me introduce you to Towny. Towny’s a mobile app (it lives in your phone) that helps you discover and support Waco. It lists our city’s local, independently owned businesses and showcases promotions certain businesses have to offer. You just have to download the app, which is free.

(Sidenote: I was shocked when saw what kinds of “deals” we talkin bout. 50% off where I already go for juice?! 10% off entire purchase at a shop I discovered on the app? Yes, please.)

But it’s not just food and boutiques. It’s auto shops, entertainment, and your local holistic health centers. You’re going to see how helpful it is – to Waco and your wallet.

As a native of Waco, I feel privileged to get an inside look at the entrepreneurial development that’s happening all around us. Mortar and hard hats abound! My co-workers and I that live in Waco (Beth Whittington and Jordan and Jessica Chappell), are thrilled at the opportunity we have to INCREASE connection and communication from local business to consumer and vice versa. 

Sooo, Big Picture: What Is Towny? 

Each local business here has a story and they want locals to find them. Over 90% of us begin any shopping/eating/purchasing relationship on our mobile phones…that can give big chain businesses a big advantage.  They can afford to reach us on our phones, through big advertising. But a local business often doesn’t have a web and graphics team or a huge marketing budget, so 90% of locally-owned businesses have nothing optimized for how consumers begin: on your phone.

It’s not that consumers don’t want to know – they just don’t. Most people love the concept of “support local,” but may not know what to do beyond a bumper sticker.

This is important: Towny attempts to tackle that by forming a coalition of locally-owned businesses in a city, who can more effectively afford a mobile and marketing presence by banding together and pooling some resources.

Towny’s a connector. We connect:

  • Local businesses to consumers
  • Consumers to businesses
  • Communities to their own stories

 We’re About the People

Our founder and CEO, Don Shafer, identified this problem by working with local communities and their local banks for the past thirty years. It gave him face-to-face encounters with thousands of business owners. Since starting Towny two years ago, we’ve personally spoken with over 3,700 business owners to understand their challenges, needs, and stories.

“Let’s connect consumers in a city with their local business community,” we said, and haven’t looked back.

Don’t Miss a Beat

We are super excited to be partnering with Act Locally Waco.  In the coming months we will be working together to help share the stories of some of Waco’s locally owned businesses.

Meanwhile, grab your phone and download the Towny Rewards app before you forget. Yep, search “Towny Rewards” in your app store. It’s worth it! Spread the word to your Waco peeps (forward this! share this! DM this!) so they, too, can understand the importance of shopping local and thank you later for it! Annnd if you’d like to stay connected to us click here. You won’t miss a thing. ‘Til next time!

Hannah Franzen is a business growth strategist at Towny. As a Waco native, she loves the opportunity of diving deeper into the local business makeup of Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

2018 Greatest Hits #3: What is “Co-working space?” and Why does Waco need it?

(During these last few weeks of December we will be reprising the Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts for 2018 from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?)  approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics.  It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites.  There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: Top 10 Most Opened Blog Posts of 2018.  Merry Christmas! — ABT)

By Caroline Thornton

After graduating from Baylor in 2016, I decided to make Waco my home.  I sensed an entrepreneurial movement growing in Waco. I began to see many of my friends –  young professionals – were choosing to stay in town. They were staying not just for grad school, but because they saw what this town offered and they saw opportunities to give to the city through their personal and professional lives. This excited every fiber within me! I had always seen what Waco has to offer when you dive head first into involvement in the city.

I decided to join the movement by starting my own business. I started a company called “Second Me.” We offered services to help people do their “to do” lists. I hired college students to work for me and began managing lots of schedules! As it grew I saw the potential it had to become something big. The bigger it got the more I was confident I did not want to be the one to drive it to become a national business. After two years of my company, I felt at peace to find the next thing in my career.

When I decided to put my business to rest, little did I know I would get to be an integral part of making co-working space in Waco a reality.

A little over a year ago I heard a podcast from the founders of a national co-working space company called, WeWork. I immediately felt this concept could be a part of taking the entrepreneur movement in Waco to the next level.

Since graduating I had noticed groups of creative, entrepreneurial people who were enthusiastic about all things Waco. I started immersing myself in several of them. I also noticed that these groups of people didn’t really have a place to call “home” for work. Many are freelancers, have start-up businesses, or work remotely. Being a business owner myself, I noticed how we were all working all over town at different places, but no place existed that allowed us to truly root ourselves and our work.

After making my decision to leave Second Me,  I took on a babysitting job and discovered that  the dad of the kids I was watching and his business partners were developers in the city. I began talking about our need for a co-working space. I shared articles, podcasts, books, and statistics of what co-working is and why we need it.  They agreed.  We needed that kind of space in Waco. Coincidentally they, Duelge Holdings, had just purchased their second building downtown on Columbus and 6th street (the first being Mary Avenue Market).  They asked me if I would help develop the idea and educate the community on the concept of “co-working,” and then help run the space once it was open.

I eagerly said, “YES!” And, with that, started the most fun part, so far, of my professional journey.

What exactly is “co-working?”

By 2020, 40% of the workforce will be freelancers, independent contractors, and solopreneurs. Collaboration and sharing are growing all around us, partly due to the possibilities created by new technologies and partly due to changes in the current work and corporate structures. Companies are getting smaller, but at the same time more productive and competitive. People are making their work places more collaborative within their companies, and are also breaking the borders by joining other companies.  All this is an effort not only to reduce expenses, but to create a more dynamic, creative, and happy workplaces. This is the heart of co-working – to share expenses, but also to be a part of a community that networks and collaborates so everyone benefits from it.

Is this a trend? Will it pass? I don’t think so.  Co-working responds to a deep need. The structures of work in our society are changing and with them the needs of workers, namely freelancers and entrepreneurs. Co-working responds to these fundamental changes and will keep growing in cities around the globe – and here in Waco.

Our team has been dreaming together about how to make our space, WACOWORK,  the best possible space for helping the entrepreneurial spirit take root in Waco. To us at WACOWORK, it’s creating a collaborative work environment for startups, freelancers, small companies, and remote employees to share resources and ideas as one working community. Our vision for WACOWORK is to see connections, relationships, and opportunities form through our space. We aim for the community within WACOWORK to be dynamic and innovative, exemplifying the power that happens when professionals with all different kinds of businesses work alongside one another. The aesthetics of the WACOWORK space reflects the connectivity, creativity, and productivity we hope to stimulate — its a bit quirky to help make every day at the office a memorable one.

WACOWORK is going to be a place for taking big risks and doing things that are a little off-kilter. We aim to house members that are bold, innovative, and welcoming.  Waco is a city ripe with opportunity, and I cannot wait to unearth all of the exciting things to come through Waco’s first coworking space, WACOWORK.

If this sounds like something you think would work well for your entrepreneurial venture, feel free to contact me at 254.304.9368.  Hit me up, let’s get coffee, I want to meet you!

After graduation from Baylor in 2012, Caroline Thornton decided to stay in Waco.  Seeing the opportunity for some creative endeavors, she first opened “Second Me” a company that aimed to do peoples’ to do lists – from running errands to tasks around the house.  Here next venture it to help manage the “WacoWork” coworking space at 600 Columbus Avenue Suite 106. She encourages everyone she meets to take a chance – be a creator in Waco, not just a consumer!