A mecca of mechanical know-how and start-ups is emerging in South Waco, just blocks from the tourist magnet of Magnolia Market.
Every day, a former cabinet factory at 1211 Webster Ave. buzzes with teenagers welding, screen printing, building a food trailer, programming laser cutters, or studying for tech certifications in food safety, small business, or Photoshop.
This is where Triple Win Waco is located, an initiative created with limited resources by the Rapoport Academy four years ago. Now it comes into its own with an expanded campus, additional funding, growing enrollment, and partners including the school districts of Waco, La Vega, Connally, and Lorena.
This spring’s initiative expanded to the largest building at the former Khoury Inc. complex, bringing its usable space to more than 30,000 square feet.
Officials will continue to build the space and add programs over the next two months with a $350,000 grant from the Texas Education Agency approved in June, said Clay Springer, director of Triple Win Waco and director of the career and technology at Rapoport.
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Springer said within a few years, he aims to serve 500 to 700 students a year in a space that serves about 80 in the current summer term.
Triple Win is creating a makerspace with high-tech equipment such as CNC routers, 3D printers and more conventional tools, with plans to open it to the public by the first of next year.
The vision is a start-up business incubator for both young people and adults.
“In two or three years, we want to see student-run businesses alongside community entrepreneurs in our environment,” Springer said.
In the meantime, other partners continue to line up to use the Triple Win space. This summer, McLennan Community College is offering maker camps for middle and middle school students using Triple Win staff.
Creative Waco has claimed part of the building for its Artprenticeship program, which will begin work on a mural for the building in the coming week.
Space has also been reserved for Upskill Waco, a job training program for adults ages 18-24, supported by the City of Waco, Prosper Waco, The Cooper Foundation, Texas State Technical College and MCC.
Triple Win Waco also plans in the near future to create a cafe and food truck in front of the building on Webster Avenue.
But the heart of the sprawling business is hands-on training for local high school youth in vocational and technical education. They can earn certifications and get paid to work on projects for local businesses. Those who obtain their small business and entrepreneurship certifications can access $1,000 in start-up capital to start their own small business, such as selling mobile food.
CL Fry, 18, who graduated from Lorena High School this spring, is part of the crew working on a food truck for Dave’s Burger Barn, which involves outfitting it with sheet metal and appliances. On a recent afternoon, while taking a break from wiring the truck, he said the certifications he was getting from the programs would make him more employable in the short term and help prepare him for getting a job. a computer engineering degree from Texas A&M University.
“I plan to work on hardware, so it’s going to be a really good experience for that,” Fry said. “It’s a good working environment. There are a lot of good people to work with here.
Meanwhile, Rapoport seniors Mikayla Lee and Rafael Peña were completing their small business and entrepreneurship certifications, which involve exams proctored by center staff.
Peña, 19, said he was already putting this knowledge into practice by starting a vending machine business. He already owns four machines and plans to install one at Triple Win.
“Having this certification makes me feel like I know what I’m doing,” he said. “They helped me understand the markup on snacks, which ones I was losing money on, and which ones worked well.”
Peña said he might take automotive and welding programs in college, with the goal of starting an automotive business. He once refurbished an old BMW, fixing the brakes and suspension and converting it to a manual transmission.
Lee, 17, discovered an interest in welding through the program and is pursuing it through a dual-enrollment course at Texas State Technical College.
“I started with this program because I wanted more real-world experience,” she said. “I ended up falling in love with welding and small business.”
Lee hopes to study biomedical engineering at Texas A&M and perhaps continue to help develop new artificial organs.
“Honestly, I’m not sure,” she said. “I’m just really interested in new inventions and helping people.”
Triple Win Waco was born out of a one-time collaboration in 2018 between Springer and entrepreneur Cory Dickman, whose businesses include Waco Ax Co., Rogue Media, Waco Escape Rooms, Waco Pedal Tours and others. Dickman is now an instructor and makerspace coordinator for Triple Win.
When the electric vehicle that Waco Pedal Tours used for downtown tours broke down before spring break, Dickman hired Springer’s team of four mechatronics students in Rapoport to fix it.
“He fixed it and it was awesome,” Dickman said. “And then he comes back and says, ‘Have you ever thought about doing another one? They’re like new at $70,000, and it’s really hard to find them because you have to go through these different channels.
“He said, ‘I think we can build you one, half price.’ And I said, no, I’m out. This thing is breaking and it’s being built by adults and now you’re going to ask high school kids to do this? But you know, he was persuasive. So we thought that if this thing didn’t work, we could probably sell it.
Dickman was impressed with the new vehicle, and he tasked the team, along with Connally’s students, with outfitting a mobile trailer for his new ax throwing business.
The company has moved on to building its own food truck, which young Triple Win entrepreneurs can rent.
East Waco Innovative School Development, the nonprofit parent company of Rapoport Academy, created the Triple Win program, named for its benefits to students, schools and businesses.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the business, but it continued in a limited way in 2020, moving into part of the Khoury building.
“This summer, we kind of feel like we’re back to where we were in 2020, when we were adding more schools,” Dickman said. “This is the year.”
Dickman and Springer said there seems to be no end to student demand for the program, and now that they have enough space, all that remains is to get the staff, equipment and funding to continue to grow.
Dickman, who has two degrees from Baylor University, said the demand shows the need for alternatives to the conventional approach to education and careers.
“For students who don’t feel the pressure to get a four-year liberal arts degree and graduate with $180,000 in loans, I’d say, don’t you come here?” said Dickman. “Let us put you on the road to entrepreneurship or mechatronics and you go down that road and by the age of 24 or 25 you could be doing what you love, earning a lot of money and being happy in what you do.