While I’ve often heard that starting a business is not such a complicated task, I honestly would not know where to begin… and I’m fairly certain that I am not alone in this situation. Dar Caldwell quickly saw a dramatic rise in the number of young entrepreneurs in Cleveland, leading him to create a place that bolsters corporate success and job creation: LaunchHouse. A fervent supporter of local businesses, Dar seeks to connect up-and-coming young folks while teaching them the ropes in regards to capital and innovation. His Shaker Heights offices have now expanded into a 23,000 sq. ft. space with over fifty companies. At a time when more start-ups are popping up in this nation than ever, meet a man who is responsible for recruiting the most promising entrepreneurs from the Midwest and transforming them into the prominent leaders of tomorrow – and did we mention that he was elected Eligible Bachelor of Cleveland?
Let’s start with the basic question: what is LaunchHouse and how does it differ from a venture capitalist firm?
LaunchHouse is a fun, fast-paced business incubator. We invest money and a lot of resources into entrepreneurs’ ideas and dreams to turn them into exciting startup companies. We are the first people to invest money in a company, so just think of LaunchHouse as baby venture capitalists.
One of the incredible aspects of LaunchHouse seems to be the actual physical space you’ve managed to obtain and subsequently foster. Tell our readers about how the place you work at looks.
It has been a hard journey, but we have expanded from one crowded office above a pizza shop to an abandoned florist warehouse and finally to our new beautiful home: an abandoned car dealership converted into a 23,000 sq. ft. business incubator that will now be home to over 50 amazing young companies!
Under the LaunchHouse roof, you can find dozens of energetic Cleveland startups: a coffeeshop with free coffee, techies, lawyers, a staffing firm, delicious food, 3-D printers, green screens, lots of supportive mentors, tons of free educational workshops, artists, basketball hoops, solar arrays, vegetable gardens, a rock climbing wall, a prototyping workshop, investors… pretty much everything an entrepreneur could hope for when starting a company.
It seems like you have the best job in the world. Since you manage member relations and recruiting, you get to meet with incredible individuals each day. What is it like to constantly be surrounded by up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
I absolutely love what I do. Working with so many creative, young entrepreneurs at LaunchHouse results in constant collaboration, sharing, and support (along with plenty of pranks, so you need to be quick on your feet sometimes.) During a normal day, I float in between the roles of connector, investor, beta tester, team member at an all-nighter, disciplinarian, mentor, or evangelist for multiple startups. I am a shoulder to cry on during the hard days and a drinking buddy on the best days. Seeing a young entrepreneur work his or her butt off and succeed is a great feeling.
Please give us a couple of examples of entrepreneurs that you’ve successfully helped launch.
Sunflower Solutions (read their BR!NK article here) is bringing solar electricity to developing nations around the world, LifeServe Innovations (BR!NK feature here) is developing an amazing life-saving medical device that bio-mimics a snake’s fang, Tunnel Vision Hoops is turning vacant city lots into jobs and fresh vegetables, and we have a whole new batch of technology companies that are redefining how people communicate and share information.
While most think-tanks are bi-coastal, you have chosen to stay in Ohio. How do you rationalize your attachment to Cleveland, and to what extent do you consider it a booming place for entrepreneurs?
I love my city. I see in Cleveland exactly what I see in every company in which we invest: 1.) A core group of awesome people who are committed to a vision, 2.) An incredibly low overhead (cost of living), 3.) A large uphill challenge with the odds stacked against you, and 4.) A tremendous potential that needs to be achieved with a tiny amount of money.
We wouldn’t have been able to create LaunchHouse on the coasts. It is important to point out that most of LaunchHouse’s founders and investors are just some passionate, young 20-somethings. Through a partnership with the beautiful city of Shaker Heights, we now have a massive building that is becoming an epicenter of innovation in Cleveland, and we are building a network of investors outside of Cleveland to whom we can take the most successful companies.
I wouldn’t call it “booming” here yet, but we have one of the best hospital systems in the world, billions of dollars of new construction projects downtown, lots of fresh water, and one of the lowest costs of living. For the entrepreneurs: LaunchHouse alone will be investing in 100 startups in the next five years and even if we don’t invest in your startup, LaunchHouse has the most affordable office space in the country ($29/month gets entrepreneurs their own workspace, internet, free coffee, free printing, hundreds of educational workshops, and a network of service providers that are very startup-budget-friendly). That is pretty compelling to any entrepreneur who is sitting on some student loans and wants to find himself in a fun, collaborative environment.
How do you envision LaunchHouse expanding? It seems like your localized model is pretty unmatched – do you have any plans to expand?
After we have fully settled into the new incubator building in Shaker Heights, we will be opening some unique little satellite locations in other locations to better serve the entrepreneurs in our network.
You were elected one of the city’s “Most Eligible Singles” by Cleveland Magazine, probably the biggest honor one can ever hope to receive. Have you gotten fan mail from any gals since the article was published?
[laughs] Yeah, I think Cleveland’s eligible bachelor award ranks somewhere between a Nobel Peace Prize and a Pulitzer Prize on the scale of awesomeness. I received very few emails from some respectable girls and then literally 500 Viagra solicitations. Needless to say, my mother is still on my case to “find a nice girl.”
How can our readers contribute to your success?
1.) Spread the word! LaunchHouse is a nice example of what is possible when a youth movement gets support from mentors, businesses, and a community.
2.) Send a pizza to 3558 Lee Rd., Shaker Heights, Ohio. There is a big building filled with bootstrapping, hungry entrepreneurs who are trying to change the world.
3.) Hug an entrepreneur!