Introducing the next generation business incubator, where aspiring 20-something entrepreneurs live together in a house and spend their days and nights brainstorming, building and launching new businesses.
Sounds a little like reality TV, but you won’t find the ThinkHouse on MTV this spring. It’s kicking off in Boylan Heights, and there are plans to open another 49 other cities around the world.
In recent weeks, at least five aspiring young entrepreneurs have moved into a renovated boarding house on Cutler Street to be the guinea pigs for a new organization with expected international growth during the next five years.
On Jan. 1, the men and women began six months of educational curriculum and workshops. They’ve been paired with mentors and given access to a wide network of regional and national entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and potential customers. They live, work, learn and socialize together in the home, setting and meeting monthly goals related to their business ideas.
ThinkHouse was inspired by co-founder Jason Widen’s own experiences building a company out of college. It ultimately failed, and he said that’s because he lacked mentors and a strong network.
Widen partnered up with his three co-founders in HQ Raleigh, the startup incubator he runs near downtown Raleigh, to launch the new business. Christopher Gergen is working with him to expand the platform internationally. Jesse Lipson, founder of Citrix Sharefile, and Brooks Bell, of Brooks Bell Interactive, purchased the once-dilapidated home and rent it to ThinkHouse.
For nine months each year, college graduates eager to start companies will occupy the house. And each summer, the house will host a group of 20 to 60 college fellows from around the world—they will live on campus at N.C. State—hoping to explore what it means to be an entrepreneur. Widen expects to find local financiers such as Lipson and Bell in each city where it establishes ThinkHouses. Already interested are entrepreneurs in Portland, Atlanta, Prague and Panama, he said.
But back to the pioneering young people in Raleigh. Meet the first five tenants of the first ThinkHouse:
Founder of Koyr, which manufactures radiation detectors and provides software to help manage workflow at power plants.
Background: N.C. State nuclear energy graduate, age 24
Why ThinkHouse? To live alongside others building companies, earn media exposure and leverage ThinkHouse’s network.
Founder of Pop Up Training, a 20-foot by 40-foot shipping container turned group fitness facility that will pop up in downtown Raleigh, Research Triangle Park and other surprise locations to provide convenience to office workers who’d like to stay fit. He said he eventually hopes to open in office parks around the nation.
Background: Appalachian State University graduate in health promotion and entrepreneurship, age 26
Why ThinkHouse? He had friends in Chapel Hill that were starting companies under one roof, and though they were targeting separate industries, they learned from each other and shared skills. He wanted to take part in that.
Founder of Collegiate Skate Tour, the first national contest and event series for student skateboarders to win scholarships and raise money for charities.
Background: 2012 N.C. State graduate, attributed with making skateboarding legal on campus. Founder of NC Skate charity skateboarding group.
Why ThinkHouse? To learn from others doing innovative things and take advantage of leadership and personal growth coaching.
Employee at FanVite.com, which lets fans contribute funds to bring public speakers to town and founder of HireNC.com, a not-yet-launched website that matches contractors, tutors, movers and other service providers with those seeking help throughout the state. He’s also working on global sustainable development projects with the nonprofit Together We Can.
Background: 2013 N.C. State graduate and founder of the two university classifieds websites WolfExchange.com and WolfTextbooks.com.
Why ThinkHouse? He came up with a similar concept for his senior project in college, then helped find and clean out the house with Widen. He’s looking forward to finding mentors for his businesses, and helping out with the summer fellows program.
Co-founder of BetaVersity, which creates educational makerspaces on university campuses equipped with software, manufacturing and prototyping supplies and collaborative space for students of different disciplines to come together to share and work on ideas. The first is at the University of California-Davis.
Background: N.C. State graduate. Helped establish and program the Garage makerspace at N.C. State, the model for BetaVersity.
Why ThinkHouse? He believes in the idea that “You are the sum of the five people you surround yourself with” and hopes to benefit from close proximity to other entrepreneurs.