This blog post was written by ThinkHouse Fellow, Keegan Guizard. Learn more about his story and why he got involved in the program below:
Why ThinkHouse? Why not move to San Francisco and work for a trendy company or raise money from progressive VCs for a lofty vision? Why Raleigh? Why not Boston? Austin? Berlin? Maybe, in the future, I would move to another region, but there are plenty of reasons why I have decided to be right HERE, right NOW. And it isn’t just for the great beaches, beautiful mountains, and desirable climate.
The Triangle area of North Carolina is one of the most intelligent areas in the world, based on the statistic of degree-holders per capita. The three most recognized universities that help materialize the Triangle all bring a huge wealth of knowledge and resources to the communities anywhere within or near them. People are generally nice. Especially in the entrepreneurial community, people are helpful and courteous. In New York or Los Angeles, people can often be self-interested or unhealthily busy, distracted, disorienting. North Carolina has many benefits to its business environment and, at the same time, a personality all its own that caters to a huge diversity of entrepreneurs and hustlers.
I was originally drawn to this area by the engineering academic program at North Carolina State University. I thought that’s what I wanted when I was eighteen years old, and for good reason. NC State’s engineering school provides a quality education and promising employment opportunity. I personally decided that engineering was not my calling, but many of my friends continued to pursue that path and have had great success thus far. I decided to study business and continue to study the Spanish language, which gave me the opportunity to travel. Still finding my passion as it could relate to a “career”, I continued running the skateboarding organization that I had started with my peers during my first year at NCSU.
The skateboarding club became a club sport, where the university was funding our travel, training equipment, and merchandise for representation of the club. We also hosted public contest events that raised money for skateboarding related charities, such as A Skate, Boards for Bros, Grind for Life, etc. The more we did, the more the university wanted to fund us. As travel became more frequent and experiences added up, we met some other clubs that were doing similar things at their respective universities.
By January of 2012, I started to see graduation on the horizon and realized that I would have to make the decision soon if I really wanted to pursue this “entrepreneur thing” over an employment opportunity with a larger company. Not only did I enjoy hosting these contest events I had been doing for local skaters; I was getting really good at it. I talked with one person, then another, then the next, and I came up with the idea for Collegiate Skate Tour. My entrepreneurship professor at the time, Lewis Sheats, really inspired me to push onward and seriously pursue Collegiate Skate Tour. Now, I’m glad that he did.
Collegiate Skate Tour is a national contest series for student skateboarders that provides an incentive for skateboarding youth to pursue higher education. The Tour has grown to hosting contest events in FL and NY in the year 2013, and 2014 holds plans for greater expansion, a new incentives program for school skate organizations, and a scholarship fund for student skateboarders.
Any entrepreneur who pursues something new and innovative – like any of the ventures being pursued at the ThinkHouse – needs an “it has to be done” mindset. While that mindset helps to make any venture a success, the resources at HQ Raleigh, and now Thinkhouse Raleigh, have been a huge proponent in my ability to continue pursuing this venture regardless of early cash flows (or lack thereof) in a physical niche start-up. I’m grateful for my acceptance into this new program and incredibly excited to see what will come of it, for myself and my new roommates and community members.
Surrounding myself with a nuclear engineer, maker space expert, travel guru, and master designer, not to mention all of the more experienced mentors and resources made available to us, will be invaluable to me as I iterate my model. I believe the same is true for all those people as well. To bring this full-circle, this is a huge reason for me personally why I will be staying in the Triangle. ThinkHouse Raleigh is one example of the many opportunities to be had right here in our region of NC, and I’m confident that Innovate Raleigh’s mission to “make our region one of the top five centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in the country” will remain valid and within reach, giving all of our area’s (and implanted) innovators a very bright future.
Our most recent blog post was written by ThinkHouse Fellow, Zach Milburn. Learn more about his story and why he got involved in the program below:
I remember meeting with Jason for the first time back in February. We discussed one of my senior projects, a “free university” model that would function as a business incubator. The concept struck Jason as similar to something he had been cooking up on his own – something he called The ThinkHouse.
He mentioned that this living-space incubator was going to be for young, aspiring entrepreneurs such as myself. It was going to be a support network, full of mentors and peers, that would help “us” feel a little less crazy about not going the corporate route immediately after graduation. I was thrilled by the idea of it.
Now it has become a reality.
This week the house will finally open up to the public, and the fellows (currently Mark, Keegan, Sean and I) will move in as well. We already have an IndieGogo campaign underway, and a “soft open” event going down this Wednesday. The program doesn’t actually start until January 1st, as deadlines and schedules are running a bit differently this year than they will down the road. We are now presenting both the concept and the physical space publicly to the community.
As far as my story goes, I recently graduated in May from NCSU. I co-founded a website while I was there with my brother (Geoff Milburn) and a friend (Chris Roth) called WolfExchange, a classified ads platform for college students. We expanded the platform to a few more colleges, and students continue to use the various websites today. This led us to believe that we could revolutionize the Internet classifieds industry with sub-community based classified ad platforms.
We found that there was more work to be done than we realized if we wanted to take on giants like Craigslist. In order to bootstrap the process ourselves, my brother and I created HireNC.com (still in Beta). This is a platform designed for homeowners to safely order, pay for, and review various contractors without paying a subscription. We make money by taking a transaction fee on each job completed. Similarly, we just finished WolfTextBooks.com (basically a hybrid of the two platforms) that takes a transaction fee per book sold.
What I expect from the ThinkHouse is that it will make me filthy rich and famous. Kidding – but some direction, mentorship, and an expansion of my current network would be great. The peer support, exposure, and the resources that the physical house will provide are going to be invaluable for all of us. We’re confident that it’s going to be awesome and successful, and people are going to love it.
The first year of the program, though, comes with an amount of uncertainty for the participants – we don’t necessarily know what to expect. We are all aware that things are bound to change constantly, as we learn more about ourselves and our companies; what works, and what doesn’t. We are also aware that this program isn’t just about making money or getting investments; it’s about leveraging the resources from a wonderful and ever-growing entrepreneurial community to create successful, sustainable companies.
The goal is to have 50 ThinkHouses in 50 cities in 5 years, and the first one starts right here, at 410 Cutler Street Raleigh, NC.