When Jake Hare and his wife Belinda founded Launchpeer a few years ago, they weren’t sure if they could make it. The Charleston, SC-based web and mobile application development agency focused on startups and Charleston’s tech scene was still emerging. Finding new business was an uphill battle.
Growth wasn’t happening and revenue was so low that, at just 27 years-old, they had 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. 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,” Jake recalls.
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,” says Belinda, “but it would have been nice to have some support.”
Accelerating local startup ecosystems
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 co-working spaces and early-stage startups. 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 notes. “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 solve this problem. This summer, Jake and Belinda launched Launchpeer Labs, part investment fund, part accelerator, and part 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.
Jake shares why their approach is essential to Charleston’s local tech scene: “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.”
The hybrid startup program will provide new companies with a $50,000 investment and access to a co-founding 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% 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 4-6 months.
“We’re providing a resource that doesn’t readily exist in the Southeast; 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 Southeast’s largest angel investment organizations, to help the Labs startups secure follow-on funding of $100-500K. The VentureSouth network invested $4.5MM in 15 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. 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.”
This article has been edited.
Allyson Sutton is a freelance writer and strategist for startups, small businesses, and solopreneurs. She helped launch and grow an award-winning network of co-working spaces in North Carolina, was the first hire at a nationally-recognized product-based startup, hosted an innovation podcast, and generally loves doing what she can to help great ideas turn into something big.