When Chris Schultz took stock of the success of the startups emerging from the inaugural Launch Pad in New Orleans, he became impassioned about building entrepreneurial ecosystems in cities across the U.S. The New Orleans co-working space that opened post Hurricane Katrina has generated over 5000 jobs, attracted millions in capital for tenant startups and led to the leasing of thousands of additional square feet of business space in New Orleans.
Launch Pad has now expanded, having opened new co-working spaces in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee and Newark, New Jersey this past fall. The dynamic company also raised $1.3 million in angel funding, moving Launch Pad closer to its target goal of 20 fully operational spaces by the end of 2020.
When things began to move quickly, Schultz took one more key step. He brought in Anne Driscoll as a partner and president, with the goal of leveraging her experience at Google and as an executive in startups. Schultz saw her skills as an excellent complement to his and knew Driscoll would be a great asset for the ambitious challenge he was envisioning.
"Six months ago, we decided to partner together to take the company to the next level,” Driscoll explained. “We just decided that Launch Pad was a great platform in New Orleans and will be a great platform for entrepreneurs across the US."
With that framework in mind, they felt an inaugural step forward was to establish contacts with the local community. They saw this as key to transferring Launch Pad’s success in New Orleans to other cities.
“We don’t want to enter the market just as an operator of co-working spaces. Space is less important than building relationships with the community, so we come in in a very collaborative way,” Driscoll said. “We work with organizations, as well as other co-working spaces, accelerators, usually some form of government, with the idea that we start to bring a platform for the city or for the ecosystem.”
Schultz concurred. “Our objective is to build a great company while having a positive impact on the community, so when we open a Launch Pad location, we really are in service to the community with a focus on building the entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
They also feel that the success of their model is greatly tied to the dynamic that emerges within each local co-working space, while also being seen as an important resource for the local community.
“We promote diversity among the individuals who work in our spaces because it creates our own internal company-like ecosystem. You’ve got someone who can help you with your computer or PR strategy, so it kind of creates a community of all the important support services needed to make a startup company successful,” said Driscoll.
Their goal is to make each space a hub, and they accomplish this by offering free meet-up space to organizations around the city, as well as programs to connect with their entrepreneurs. After hours events are seen as critical to gain the important interest and support of the surrounding community.
“One of the big reasons we do outreach is to find people in the market who care about minority groups and want to make it more accessible for these folks to get funding. This also includes providing programs and education so their efforts will have an impact on both women and minorities in these communities,” Driscoll explained.
Since startups are continually pursuing capital to grow, the team has in place a network to assist their tenant startups in this challenging area.
"We are able to make connections for the entrepreneurs out onto the coast, as well as access to investors in New York, through our New Jersey. We also have relationships with different venture capital firms in the Valley," noted Schultz.
Schultz and Driscoll are not just an executive team. While they have been working full speed on launching spaces, they also announced the birth of their first child this past fall.
"In addition to our personal relationship, Anne is exactly what the company needed to fuel our scaling program and she has brought a lot to the table,” Schultz said. He is an active angel investor with experience in community outreach and Driscoll focuses on the growth side of the Launch Pad business.
They still see a lot of opportunity across America, despite a landscape that has become very competitive. They observe many small cities that are experiencing a wave of entrepreneurship that they believe would value support to create sustainable hubs. When they explore future co-working locations they early on identify partners who can help them locally.
“There are some markets where we’re starting to see that they would really benefit from a hub entrepreneurial space, but they haven’t yet put the investment in or it’s further down their timeline,” Driscoll said. “We want to make bets on these markets that they are going to grow and become great locations in themselves and that’s where we would look for a developer or real estate partner”.
By acting as the spark that brings parties together around each location, Launch Pad positions each space to be independently profitable and sustainable. Schultz and Driscoll see themselves as “first believers” and then they catalyze the local community to join with them to achieve success.