Jon Passavant is not just another pretty face.
True, he spent nearly two decades jet-setting to exotic locations, posing for shoots sponsored by fashion and fragrance luminaries such as Christian Dior, Armani, Estée Lauder and Ralph Lauren. His handsome mug has appeared in GQ, Vogue and Esquire magazines, and in their European counterparts.
But as of Monday, he is CEO of Hustle, which is Start Up Waco’s one-stop shop for entrepreneurs and would-be business owners needing guidance, and possibly financing, as they enter the world of commerce.
Passavant, 40, said his journey to Austin Avenue in Waco is not far-fetched. He married Jenny McMeans, originally from China Spring, as each pursued careers in New York, with Jenny becoming a renowned denim designer. Their ceremony was held at Waco’s historic Earle-Harrison House, said Passavant, who added he traveled with Jenny to Waco several times prior to their 2015 nuptials, meeting friends, family and, most important, her parents.
“It’s certainly different from London, Paris or New York, but it has a small-town feel to it that is very attractive in a lot of ways,” said Passavant. “I was drawn to the sense of collaboration happening behind the scenes — local government, private business, organizations taking significant strides forward. I was very impressed by that. We’re moving into an age in which where you are, where you live, is playing less and less a role in how much your ideas can grow. The community, I believe, wants to dive much deeper into entrepreneurship. Reaching that goal includes providing the knowledge to be effective, mitigating challenges and bringing expertise and mentorship.”
Passavant knows first-hand the challenges of launching a business.
Six years ago, with close friend and fellow male model Benj Lee, he founded a men’s fine accessory line, Passavant and Lee, with locations in New York and London. Forbes magazine profiled the venture, reporting that the company’s “No. 25 Briefcase” is made entirely by hand in New York City’s garment district. Priced at $2,850, the cases are lined with high-density foam for cushioning, and feature suede interiors and silk pockets.
Passavant said he still has a stake in the company, but his daily commitments are not time-consuming. He walked away from modeling three years ago.
He will oversee Hustle, which was launched last year in the 5,000-square-foot Woolworth Suites in the 600 block of Austin Avenue. It has secured backing from Baylor University, the Waco Foundation, the business community and the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. The Waco-McLennan County Economic Development Corp. pledged $750,000 in incentives.
Besides nearly 80 desks, conference rooms and shared amenities, Hustle provides business counseling and access to venture capitalists.
The Start Up Waco board conducted a six-month national search to find its chief executive before choosing Passavant from an in impressive field of candidates, said Ashley Allison, executive director of the Waco Foundation and a member of the search committee. Among others serving on the committee were Waco Councilwoman Andrea Barefield, Cen-Tex Hispanic Chamber of Commerce president Alfred Solano and businessman Weldon Ratliff.
His first 30 days, Passavant is scheduled to participate in the two-day Race Equity Training sponsored by the Waco Foundation and Cooper Foundation, and connect with the three local chambers of commerce.
Reached Monday for comment Ratliff said Passavant checked all the boxes. He himself was an entrepreneur and also had experience in the nonprofit arena, having organized an event in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina to raise money for those left homeless. Passavant reportedly recruited 25 internationally recognized models to take part in Model Home.
“Truthfully, we read his profile and said, ‘We just hope we could get someone like that, but could we afford them?’ ” said Ratliff, whose business involvement includes H&B Construction and Ratliff Ready-Mix. “But his wife is from this area. And the price tag was something we could handle. His salary is in the middle part of our price range, so the deal got done.
“He’s a personable guy. Yes, he’s been a model, but I never thought much about that. He grew up in rural Pennsylvania, was a farm boy, and he worked in construction after college. Obviously, he looks like a model, but he’s a worker at heart. He got into nonprofits and starting his own company. He didn’t just sit around between jobs, between assignments. He seems to be a normal guy just like the rest of us, if that’s the right word.”
Officials Monday were not releasing details of Passavant’s pay.
Ratliff and his wife, Margaret, have donated $500,000 toward Start Up Waco’s Hustle, meaning he has a large stake in its success, Ratliff said.
He said Hustle should serve a vital role in the evolution of business creation.
“Maybe you have a business and need to expand or grow, or maybe you want to start a business,” he said. “You need contacts, you need to make contacts. You need to navigate the government hurdles, taxation, licensing, whatever. I know of a situation where a small business owner needed a license that would have cost $40. He hired a lawyer and paid $5,000 in legal fees. He could have gone online and filled out the forms himself. Maybe you’re a baker or a seamstress. Whatever your talent. You may not be good at accounting, or dealing with government records. We can help with that, help with networking. It’s not always who you know, but who you know in a specific industry. We believe we can offer help that makes a difference.”
Passavant said he believes he can prove a resource for securing investment capital. He also hopes to encourage a creative environment, one in which would-be entrepreneurs “have a place to throw anything against the wall, with no judgment, no precursor, no justification. I do have a lot of close friends and business relationships in New York, and hope to introduce them to Waco, to bring them back here and introduce them to entrepreneurs.”
Meanwhile, he’s enjoying life in Central Texas. He lives about a half-mile from Magnolia Market at the Silos, and he will attend Baylor University’s season opening football game on Saturday against Stephen F. Austin.