This fall, fifteen young entrepreneurs will move into the first ever ThinkHouse, a living, learning, and innovating environment in Boylan Heights in Raleigh. When I got an email with this news, I told ExitEvent founder Joe Procopio I was all over it. Here’s why:
Each day when I leave 173 _ East Franklin Street, the official headquarters for Local-Ventures, my startup goes with me. Fifteen minutes later at my house, Local-Ventures is in front of me again on my laptop. The move from the office to my house is usually motivated by hunger or a need for new scenery rather than what I’ve heard some refer to as an “end to the work day.”
I’m not entirely sure what constitutes an “end to the work day,” but I imagine it involves going home to a place that does not look like my house.
I live with another startup founder named Alex. As I write this article (it’s currently 10:45 pm), he’s in the living room sending emails to his co-founders. I’m in what should be called an office, but what we call a “bedroom” because there’s a bed in the room.
There’s also a huge whiteboard mounted obtrusively on the wall.
We have another room that we actually call “the office.” In reality though, it’s a lab-machine shop hybrid. I can’t tell you what half of the tools in “the office” are called, but they’ve been used by my housemate to produce a number of impressive prototypes. It’s the type of room that my dog, Lucy, chooses to avoid most of the time.
In about an hour when I finish this article, I’ll go in the living room and talk to Alex about his company and my company and how things are going. This is how we spend the majority of our time together at home. It’s great.
I could go on, but I don’t know you that well and this is getting weirdly personal with you in my house. You get the picture.
Startups are not built in offices. They’re built by entrepreneurs, wherever they happen to be. Don’t get me wrong—startup space is highly valuable. But when you’re building a startup, it doesn’t stay at the office; it’s with you everywhere. And you can use support from other entrepreneurs everywhere. Namely in your home, and especially when you’re young.
Christopher Gergen and Jason Widen, co-founders of ThinkHouse, are creating a comprehensive entrepreneurial environment that goes well beyond collaborative work space. ThinkHouse brings together the benefits of an incubator, mentoring program, and entrepreneurial community. Then it adds a more structured version of my living situation in that it will be a home to multiple entrepreneurs for nine months. The fifteen young ‘Entrepreneurs in Residence’ will be working full-time on their respective high impact for-profit or nonprofit ventures and will act as peer advisors to each other.
The Raleigh ThinkHouse is the first of its kind, made possible by support from Brooks Bell and Jesse Lipson, who will also act as mentors, and a partnership with HQ Raleigh. Sean Maroni, founder of BetaVersity, was recently brought on as the ThinkHouse Community Manger.
Eventually, Widen and Gergen plan to create an international network of ThinkHouses, licensed to leaders in local communities throughout the world. Their goal is to create fifty ThinkHouses in fifty cities in five years. Widen, who with his wife Heather McDougall runs an international entrepreneurial study abroad program called Leadership exChange, is well positioned to make the international vision a reality.
He says the concept of ThinkHouse can be traced back to his own experience after college. When he was twenty-three, he started his first business, and as he says, he “had the passion, drive, and smarts, but lacked the experience and support.”
Universities provide a plethora of resources and connections to student entrepreneurs, but when they graduate, potential startup founders often lose access to much of their alma mater’s support. This is the point at which young entrepreneurs often choose between taking a job and continuing to develop their own company, Widen says. ThinkHouse provides the support, network, and resources that increase the likelihood of success for those who choose the latter.
ThinkHouse is now taking applications. According to Widen, they’re seeking a diverse selection of entrepreneurs who are “interested in being part of a community, and who are committed and serious about making it happen.”
While ThinkHouse is truly a comprehensive support environment, there’s no guarantee that the residents’ startups will be successful. Either way, though, they’ll experience nine months of living and breathing startup, and of being surrounded by experienced mentors and entrepreneurs. That’s a valuable experience no matter what they do next.