Entrepreneurs spend a lot of time and effort building the right connections to be successful— mentors, talent, and especially investors. Imagine you could walk into a business event and quickly pair up with the right people in the room to have meaningful conversations that yield the greatest return. No more wandering around the room guessing who might benefit your venture.
That’s the design behind Coeo
, a new relationship building app developed by Asheville-based Anthroware
. Now imagine, instead of a room there’s a whole office building, and you get to strategically partner up with who your neighbors will be. That’s the energy behind a new startup space that opened last week in downtown Asheville, designed in part by Coeo’s creator to serve some of the city’s promising high-growth tech ventures.
Jon Jones, founder of Anthroware, talked to other startup founders for the past year as he looked for a solution to what he saw as a critical missing piece of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. He wanted a physical space where talent, mentors and tech ventures can brainstorm and share ideas, offer peer mentorship, and collectively grow the city’s tech presence, a place like American Underground in Durham and HQ locations in Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro.
The co-located offices branded as Hatch are home to a handful of local startups and will provide meeting and co-working space for dozens of founders and mentors in Elevate,
the entrepreneurship program launched by Venture Asheville earlier this year
. Hatch looks to bring together the local entrepreneurial community for many high-caliber startup events, such as 1 Million Cups.
So far three companies have claimed space in Hatch: Anthroware, Mob Rocket and Plum Print. Funded by a $1 million round that included last year's investment by the Asheville Angels, Plum Print has the fastest growing team. But collectively, these companies expect to hire up to 40 new positions in the next year, including $75K-120K developer jobs.
The opportunity to create Hatch came from a serendipitous meeting of entrepreneurs judging Startup Weekend Asheville last summer. The founders got connected to Troy Ball and her husband, Charlie, a local developer who was renovating one of the largest-footprint buildings in downtown. He wanted to fill the space with anchor tenants the local community needed most. The Balls, who moved from Austin years ago, knew the impact of that city’s vibrant tech scene and got excited about the startup community developing in Asheville.
“I was surprised to see many more tech companies lurking in the woods than I expected,” Charlie Ball says. “Asheville is home to a lot of accomplished entrepreneurs. There’s really talented people who keep moving here, and I don’t see that changing.”
He sees the potential to create a tech presence on a smaller scale here.
In its first phase, Hatch will encompass 12,000 square feet of co-located offices, including a shared conference room. The space has a creative, modern feel, with large windows, huge metal crossbeams framing the bright-colored walls and black metal ductwork. Planned for a wall near the front entrance is a smattering of 50 or so logos representing the companies eventually to be housed here.
Jones says Hatch is all about bringing some of the best of Asheville’s talent together where peer-to-peer mentorship can occur between younger and more mature companies in a supportive startup environment.
From a recruiting standpoint, he sees it as a way to showcase Asheville's robust tech scene all in one place. Surrounded by other tech startups, it makes it easier for young talent to move here knowing there are other opportunities next door.
And if a company fails?
“We’ll have a party and help everyone find new jobs,” Ball remarks.
George Glackin, a consultant who moved here last year from Cincinnati, plans to offer new business design services at Hatch and is already working with a couple of the occupying startups. He brings 35 years of experience at Procter & Gamble, where he led a team focused on disruptive market innovations and wrote the playbook on breakthrough product innovations.
It’s not an incubator or an accelerator, Glackin explains. Hatch is more like an “ecosystem incubator that’s trying to take Asheville’s startup ecosystem to the next level.”
Glackin has spent the last 18 months testing how we could use his knowledge of Fortune 500 corporate best practices and apply it to startups. He guides founders in early-stage development by helping them understand the hurdles and stay focused on answering the questions that are most critical to their company’s success.
Ball says Hatch will offer the flexibility and amenities that startups need to succeed, so they can just focus on building great companies. They pick a lease term that fits their needs, and there’s no penalty for leaving early.
“We wanted to create a flexible space that can accommodate a three-person or 30-person tech company from Asheville, or one moving from New York,” Ball says.
The amenities aren’t your usual suspects. Adjacent to Hatch is the Grail Moviehouse, an independent 250-seat movie theater, and the Asheville School of Film. Plus there’s a grocery store with café seating and a Thai restaurant. There’s even talk of a small outdoor music stage, a disc golf course and more.
With 5-6 other companies interested, Hatch is expected to fill up by early 2017. The phase II buildout calls for a second floor of office space for young companies, and sometime later, residential units for a live, work and play destination.
“We’d like Hatch to be one of the things people talk about when they think of Asheville’s business economy,” says Ball.