SHAKER HEIGHTS: Nick Pavlak is a serial entrepreneur at the age of 26. He runs a successful company, Babl Media, and has another under development.
Like any entrepreneur, he had the right combination of determination, focus and inventiveness. But he had one other big leg up — a resource that’s available to other want-to-be entrepreneurs in the region — the Shaker LaunchHouse.
The LaunchHouse helped Pavlak get started three years ago and now he works out of their offices. Babl also provides in-house marketing and design services for the LaunchHouse and its portfolio companies.
Pavlak’s company has done projects for as little as $4,000 to as much as $50,000.
“We specialize in delivering top work that might cost $100,000 at a bigger firm, but we’re very lean and efficient, so we can do it for $15,000 or $20,000,” he said.
The Shaker LaunchHouse, located in a former car dealership in Shaker Heights, is the brainchild of Todd Goldstein, a Northeast Ohio native and former business strategist for Franklin and Seidelman. In 2008, he and Dar Caldwell started LaunchHouse to serve as a business incubator and accelerator for the region.
Goldstein says he and Caldwell noticed a few years ago that most of their more ambitious friends were moving to other cities because Northeast Ohio did not provide the kind of business opportunities they sought.
Goldstein chalks it up in part to Northeast Ohio’s history. “In the second half of the 19th century, the area had the most millionaires of any place in the country, with risk-takers like Rockefeller.” That prosperity and risk-taking culture continued through the 1930s, he said. But as later generations inherited wealth, a more timid, risk-averse culture began to dominate the region, as preserving existing wealth became the dominant drive.
Goldstein feels that while there are plenty of inventive risk-taking people in the region, they tend to move because there has not been enough support from the financial community here or enough mentorship to help them get started.
For anyone who has considered starting a business, but doesn’t have the skills, knowledge or capital to get started, LaunchHouse serves as a resource to the greater entrepreneurial community by providing consulting services, free workshops, training and, in selected cases, seed capital. Entrepreneurs can use the facility for meetings or to find potential collaborators, or they can pay $125 a month to make use of the facility’s office space, Wi-Fi, printers, meeting rooms and in-house consultants.
The organization has several components, including a business accelerator program. Through a competitive 12 week program, 10 companies are selected to receive $20,000 in seed capital and ongoing consulting, mentoring and support from the LaunchHouse. Last year there were 125 applicants.
The LaunchHouse accelerator program will take applications for its 2014 program in May. But Goldstein said, “Anyone interested in the program can contact us now and we’ll help them to shape their proposal now so they can be truly competitive by the time submissions are due.”
While past years’ selections have focused on technology, this year the accelerator program will target robotics, hardware and manufacturing as well.
To date, the LaunchHouse has successfully helped start more than 50 companies now in operation and has generated more than $14 million in follow-on funding.
In addition, the Shaker LaunchHouse Institute, the nonprofit arm of LaunchHouse, focuses on educational initiatives and entrepreneurial programming for students, as well as offering free business advice and counseling to individuals and small business owners.
A more recently added program is called LEAP, designed to help high-school students develop business ideas. Last year, the program had 40 applicants from all over Northeast Ohio for the six-week accelerator program.
LaunchHouse has partnered with the city of Shaker Heights to take two empty homes in the area and create low-cost housing for entrepreneurs. The units are currently being rented for approximately $400 a month and offer ultra-high-speed fiber connections.