When Belinda and Jake Hare founded Launchpeer a few years ago, they weren’t sure if they could make it. Charleston’s tech scene was still emerging and finding new business was an uphill battle. Growth wasn’t happening and revenue was so low that they drained their savings accounts, maxed out credit cards, and even missed mortgage payments. It’s a story that might sound familiar to most entrepreneurs, but one that’s rarely shared.
“The first year building Launchpeer was extremely difficult.” Jake said. “At one point, we were planning for the worst and even started fixing up a small camper that we could move ourselves and our two small children into if needed. We were all in, with no safety net whatsoever.”
After making several strategic changes and tweaking their business model, things started to turn around. The team grew from four to 22 employees in just nine months, working alongside more than 200 startups in the past two years. Better yet, the Hares didn’t have to move their family into a camper.
After their entrepreneurial rollercoaster ride, Jake and Belinda knew they wanted to do something to help early-stage entrepreneurs avoid those same pitfalls.
“We learned a lot during that time,” Belinda said, “but it would have been nice to have some support.”
Three years ago, Charleston, South Carolina was still getting its footing as a tech hub. Now, the coastal city ranks 11th in the U.S. for high tech GDP growth and 4th for its entrepreneurial ecosystem, according to Inc. It’s home to major technology companies like Blackbaud, Benefitfocus, and Snagajob, as well as an increasing number of coworking spaces and early-stage startups.
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But there’s certainly room for improvement.
“Startups in Charleston and around the Southeast don’t have the same resources as our counterparts in New York and San Francisco, especially when it comes to funding,” Belinda said.
“The local community is thriving, and thanks to our smaller scale, it’s easier for entrepreneurs to tap into all the available resources in a very short amount of time,” adds Jake. “But if we want the Charleston tech scene to continue to grow, we have to do more to prop up real, viable, revenue-generating startups so investors in larger metros will start to take notice.”
So the duo is rolling up their sleeves to make it happen.
This summer, Jake and Belinda started Launchpeer Labs, a combination of part investment fund, accelerator, and startup studio geared towards idea-stage companies who haven’t yet built a product, created a team, or secured funding to bring their idea to life.
“Launchpeer Labs is our way of propping up new startups, giving them the resources they need early so they can get to revenue, get follow-on investment, and then begin to draw larger investors to the Charleston tech scene,” Jake said.
The hybrid startup program will provide new companies with a $50,000 investment and access to a cofounding team to build their MVP and MDP. Launchpeer team members who work with Labs participants will each get vested in the equity from the Labs startups, ensuring their dedication to the long-term success of Labs portfolio companies. In exchange for seed funding and talent, Launchpeer Labs will take 30 percent equity and will require the startups, or “Founders-in-Residence,” to relocate to Charleston, SC for at least one year.
The Labs startups will work alongside Launchpeer to go from zero to fully validated, revenue generating, and seed-funded within 4 to 6 months.
“We’re providing a resource that doesn’t readily exist in the Southeast,” Jake said. “It’s one we would’ve loved to have when we started our company, and we hope it will fuel new business growth, increase job creation, and bring the investment attention our startup community needs.”
As part of this bigger mission, Jake and Belinda partnered with VentureSouth, one of the nation's largest angel investment organizations, to help the Labs startups secure follow-on funding of $100-500K. The VentureSouth network invested $4.5 million in 15 Southeastern companies in 2016, and they’ll offer additional funds to Labs companies who meet their criteria after the program.
“The ultimate goal of this program is to continue growing Charleston as a thriving tech hub,” Belinda said. “Until now, idea-stage entrepreneurs haven’t had this level of targeted support or direct connection to investors. We’re solving that problem, all in an effort to strengthen our region’s startup ecosystem.”