The ThinkHouse has recently been featured in many media outlets for our recent announcement of the 2014-2015 class of Fellows. Check them out!
Triangle Business Journal “ThinkHouse’s first class graduates, next class moves into Boylan Heights”
ExitEvent “Fashion, Robots, Music, Social Enterprise: Meet the New ThinkHouse Fellows”
XConomy “Raleigh’s ThinkHouse Live-In Accelerator: Think Maker Faire, Not MTV”
A year ago, founders Jason Widen and Christopher Gergen of HQ Raleigh realized there was a lack of support for young entrepreneurs, especially in the Triangle Area. As a result, they set off to create ThinkHouse, a six-month learning and living accelerator for recent graduates. Eight inaugural Fellows participated in the program in hopes to successfully expand their businesses and develop themselves into exceptional leaders and entrepreneurs. By using tools of collaboration, mentorship, networking and entrepreneurial education, the Fellows were able to build a solid foundation to support the future growth of their ventures. Since their graduation on June 12th, seven of the eight ThinkHouse Fellows have continued their entrepreneurial ventures. Co-Director of the program, Liz Tracy, says, “It’s exciting to see the Fellows succeed after graduation. Their success reflects the success of the ThinkHouse program, showing that our efforts really do support the advancement of young entrepreneurs.” We followed up with several graduates to get updates on their progress since leaving the ThinkHouse.
Fellow Sean Maroni, of BetaVersity, is working to upgrade his Betabox to a new design that will be used at UNC, St. Timothy’s Primary School, and Duke University in the upcoming months. He has also been commissioned to build a custom Betabox for St. Louis University. These Betaboxes are redesigned shipping containers that contain a multitude of technologies and hands-on learning tools to stimulate learning by application. He is hopeful to include his prototype for a new software integration program in his Betaboxes soon. Sean emphasized, “I think the real value of ThinkHouse is measured in intangibles. You pick up small things like how to talk to reporters, how to operate in meetings, and how to leverage the resources in your community. As an entrepreneur, you are always on display to investors, customers, employees, and other entrepreneurs. ThinkHouse helps you learn to succeed in that lifestyle. I highly recommend this program to any first time entrepreneur or CEO.” The ThinkHouse is extremely proud of Sean and excited to see which campus a BetaBox will show up on next.
Additionally, Fellow Keegan Guizard, founder of Collegiate Skate Tour, has celebrated a successful summer with the first collegiate skate camp held at Delicious Skateshop and The Factory Skateboard Park. Keegan says, “The camps have been really rewarding for me both as a business owner and a skateboarding fanatic.” After the summer, Keegan will evaluate the camps and edit the program in order to replicate the experience nationally. Collegiate Skate Tour contests continue to expand across the U.S. through a number of national participants, sponsors and partnerships. Keegan stressed that the ThinkHouse “provided a place (both physically and emotionally) where we could feel like a part of something supportive. Living amongst hustlers brings out the hustler in you, so it was easy to stay focused and moving forward in our ventures. Financially, socially, and intellectually, ThinkHouse made it easier for us all to do what we were doing, and I think that was the intended purpose of it as a project in and of itself.”
Fellow David Shaner, CEO of Offline Media, had a similar attraction towards the co-living saying, “The thing I appreciated about the ThinkHouse most was the authenticity. If you spend a lot of time in the startup culture, it’s easy to develop a worldview where you label another person based on the project they’re working on instead of seeing them for who they are as a person. The ThinkHouse program and the co-living arrangement do a great job of breaking down those walls and allowing you to get to know a group of super-talented, complex people. I think that’s an incredible achievement.” Since graduating, he has has acquired an additional 1,500 users of his web platform bringing the total to over 5,200 in Raleigh and Durham. He has also expanded his company, adding 5 new part-time employees and is currently looking for an iOS developer.
Fellow Saul Flores and his business partner Edwin Estrada have been busy rebranding Pixbit and are planning to debut their new identity on July 23rd as a design services and product firm. He learned in the ThinkHouse that “there’s a big difference between growing and scaling a company. ThinkHouse made sure we took a strategic approach as we set a course for our company’s future.” This lesson has helped them in the rebranding process. Also, Bridge, a personalized news aggregator is expected to enter beta testing this October as an extension of Pixbit. Additionally, the two co-founders have launched their passion project Dale Lari on Kickstarter, which has raised nearly $22,000.
Finally, an important initiative of the ThinkHouse is to continue an individual’s development after college and provide them a space to explore the possibility of being an entrepreneur. Jay Dawkins can contest to this saying, “ThinkHouse was easily the most immersive learning and creative experience since college, and that’s the beauty of the concept – why stop pushing yourself at graduation?” Dawkins has been busy forming a partnership with the City of Raleigh to help gain community support for a citywide initiative. Cityzen has also been working with a national publishing company to provide embedded polls for their online news sites. Lastly, he has also hired a seasoned software developer, Mike Bloise, as Chief Technology Officer, which expanded Cityzen to a four-person team. He plans on announcing his company’s achievements and future plans soon at cityzenapp.us.
Due to the proven success of the initial fellows, the ThinkHouse founders have chosen a second class, which will be announced on Friday, July 25th. Included in the new class are two female entrepreneurs, a company focused on robotics, and several fashion designers. It is exciting to witness the evolution and ongoing success of ThinkHouse as it actively grows the number of young entrepreneurs in the Triangle Area.
HQ Raleigh was proud to host the first-ever ThinkHouse Demo Day. The eight ThinkHouse fellows have been working for months developing and refining their business ventures with help from the program’s mentors and resources. Their experience culminated at Demo Day, where they each pitch for five minutes to a group of potential investors and supporters. The event was a tremendous success for HQ Raleigh and ThinkHouse.
Co-Founders of ThinkHouse, Jason Widen and Christopher Gergen, are extremely excited to see what the fellow’s futures hold. ThinkHouse Raleigh, located in historic Boylan Heights, is just the first for Widen and Gergen. They plan to expand the program nationally, impacting thousands of recent graduates eager to explore their entrepreneurial ventures.
Widen and Gergen are currently selecting the second class of ThinkHouse Raleigh. Applications are due by June 15th and can be found at thinkhouse.us/apply/.
Entrepreneurs are possibly the most conceited people. Don’t misunderstand me, this is a good thing because when no one else believes in you you have to keep believing in yourself to be successful. Entrepreneurs will always and forever be their own biggest advocates, their number one cheerleader, and sole benefactor. The best investment that one can make is an investment in oneself, no small feet but something that everyone can afford. The risk is high but the potential return is high, a fact that all entrepreneurs know well. So go ahead, believe in yourself, don’t wait for permission, and get a little egotistical (lets keep it in moderation though, shall we?).
It is always interesting to take a look at the research on entrepreneurship, especially since the profession varies so vastly from person to person. The commonalities amongst entrepreneurs are a good tell if you would be a successful entrepreneur yourself. Although, there are exceptions to every rule and in that light, anyone can be an entrepreneur. Check out the full info-graph here.
I have recently had the pleasure of sitting down with some of the ThinkHouse Fellows to pick their brains on what make them, well, them. One of the questions I asked was “what did you want to be when you grew up?” I have always noticed a pattern amongst friends and family members between their childhood toys and activities and their later professions. Of course there are exceptions to every rule but in my experience chefs usually played around in the mud or with Play-Doh while engineers were almost always Lego fanatics. Our Fellows had some interesting answers.
Sean Maroni told me that his dream job was always changing as a kid. He was interested in everything and tried it all. He, like my example above, was a ‘Lego nerd’ and later studied Engineering at NC State. He was also interested in rocketry. After listing a few more interests he explained to me something extremely profound. He told me that all of the adults around him were highly impressed in his applicable math and science skills but what truly interested him the most was his ability to reach people and get them involved. When he launched rockets, he sent email blasts. When he was interested in a television show, he made a podcast so people could listen to his insight. No one taught him how to do these things but he taught himself in order to spread his knowledge. Today, Sean calls himself a systems designer. Which is exactly what he did as a kid! He uses his math and science skills to facilitate learning and involvment. His company BetaVersity provides shipping container spaces furnished with state of the art technologies and design to foster hands on learning. His life goal is to expand his system designing abilities to affect people on a global scale.
Cameron Lilly, very seriously told me he wanted to be a part of Star Trek when he was younger. No, not Spock, but Cameron Lilly, in the future, on a ship, exploring planets. He made sure I knew the distinction between this this and being an astronaut. Cameron is now working to create technology to help execute dangerous jobs like delivering medical equipment to unstable locations in a robotic fashion. He essentially, is creating the future that he so desperately wanted to be a part of.
Keegan Guizard has been a long time skate boarder, surfer and anything extreme sport-er. It is no shocker that he said he wanted to be a professional skate boarder when he was younger. When his elementary school teacher asked the same question of him some ten years ago he responded “I want to be a professional skate boarder and marry a beautiful, rich wife”. Needless to say, his dream has not changed that much. He is taking a much more realistic approach to incorporating skateboarding into his lifetime career however by creating Collegiate Skate Tour. He calls himself a ‘lifer’ as he is adamant about having skateboarding in his life until the day he dies.
I think we forget how empowering children and their minds can be. Even trying to remember our own thoughts, feelings and dreams as a child can teach us so much. Please let us know what you wanted to be when you grew up and what you are doing now.
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.