The Future of ThinkHouse Starts Today - 1

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Eight 20-something men in a house may not sound like the most productive of work environments.

But the founders of ThinkHouse say at least five new Triangle-area startups are growing and thriving thanks to the last six months those men spent living and working together in a renovated house in Boylan Heights.

Though the vision for ThinkHouse is much bigger than a house in Raleigh—at least 40 houses in cities around the world and new plans for TeachHouses and HealthHouses—founders Christopher Gergen (pictured right) and Jason Widen (middle) of Forward Impact, Brooks Bell (left) of Brooks Bell Interactive and Jesse Lipson of Sharefile (not pictured), used the inaugural group as an experiment. Will a group of aspiring entrepreneurs learn quicker and build better companies if they experience every aspect of the startup life in close quarters together? And will they plant roots in Raleigh (or any other ThinkHouse city) as a result?

The Future of ThinkHouse Starts Today - 2
When the eight men graduate tonight and pitch their businesses to a crowd of people at HQ Raleigh, the founders (who are also partners in HQ Raleigh) believe they'll have mostly proven the living-learning-startup community building theory. Most of the men have either raised funds or secured paying customers for their products. And six of eight are now committed to building their businesses in Raleigh.

"Part of this whole idea is for ThinkHouse to be a way into talent retention," says Gergen, a serial entrepreneur, investor and education enthusiast. "That is proving itself out."

What's next

After tonight, the partners will turn to the future of their business. Already, plans are underway to partner with Teach For America in rural eastern North Carolina on the first TeachHouse, a living-learning community for TfA fellows interested in innovation in the classroom.

A second ThinkHouse will likely open in 2015, in cities as close as Chapel Hill or Greenville, or as far as Prague. And a health innovation-themed house is also in the works, likely to be called the HealthHouse.

"The idea is that we take these learning and living communities and package them in a way that entrepreneurial-minded people in specific verticals can benefit from living and learning environment," Widen says. "We started with ThinkHouse (...) The longer term vision is for a HealthHouse. But it's a walk before we can run thing."

The group is also considering the creation of a venture fund for ThinkHouse companies. They believe they're helping to build the next generation of viable businesses, and those are worth funding. Several more houses will likely have opened before that effort becomes a reality.

The future in Raleigh

Before year two of ThinkHouse Raleigh, the house will host 12 students from seven countries around the world in July for an immersive entrepreneurial and educational experience. Widen's wife Heather McDougall is leading the program through her student leadership exchange business, Leadership exChange.

The second group of fellows will be chosen in the meantime. So far, 23 applications are in hand before an early deadline of June 15. The fellows will move into the house in August.

A major goal for the first nine-month program (the inaugural class lived
The Future of ThinkHouse Starts Today - 3
in the house for six months) is to recruit a more diverse group of young people—Widen says many women have applied.

They'll also front load the key educational curriculum, teaching Steve Blank's Lean Startup theories and other personal and professional development at the program's beginning so the entrepreneurs can focus most of their attention on building their businesses.

What won't change is the peer-to-peer interaction encouraged, and community support provided.

"Support network, connections, mentorship and some education and learning opportunities, we accomplished those things," Widen says. "A good percentage have income or raised money. It's early times for them but we were meant to be a stepping stone to give them firm footing as they move forward."

So who are the grads?

ExitEvent will be covering tonight's event. Look out tomorrow for a full run-down of the following up-and-coming entrepreneurs and businesses:

They are:
Lancy Cassidy of Healthy Bytes and DXLab. Read a past ExitEvent piece on Cassidy here.
Sean Newman-Maroni of BetaVersity. We wrote about his progress here.
David Shaner of Offline Media
Jay Dawkins of CityZen
Zach Milburn of CityWix
Mark Delgado of Koyr
Keegan Guizard of Collegiate Skate Tour
Cameron Lilly, who started as Pop Up Training but is exploring a startup in the drone space.