When Stephen Boerner was a student at the University of Delaware, he and a classmate started a business. The resale company earned commissions helping businesses liquidate their assets or students sell their property when they graduated.
With the resources they had as students — the use of video equipment, cutting-edge technology, software packages and free mentoring — the business was humming along.
But when Boerner graduated in 2009, all that support evaporated.
After seeing the same thing happen to other student entrepreneurs, he had an idea. Hatch House, located in Southside Bethlehem, was born.
“There are three phases that startup companies go through,” explains Boerner. “A company begins with a concept, then it goes through the early seed stage, then there's the early growth stage. When you're in the early growth stage, you have revenue and can apply to Ben Franklin Technology Partners, or you can go after angel investors and venture capitalists.”
But a startup often needs a bridge to get to that early growth stage. That's the gap Hatch House, a live/work business incubator for early-concept and seed-stage companies, is filling.
Before beginning this project, Boerner worked for several years at a Fortune 500 company in Philadelphia. Then, still nurturing entrepreneurial ambitions, he enrolled in Lehigh University's one-year masters engineering program in technical entrepreneurship. He again saw many students in the same position he was in at graduation — they had “great business ideas, but not enough revenue to sustain them afterwards,” he recalls. “Lots of companies died on the vine.”
As he established Hatch House Ventures as a company, Boerner received a $15,000 grant from the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone for equipment, tools and technology. Located at 208 Fourth St. in a three-story residential building owned by Fifth Street Capital Partners (who funded the renovation), Hatch House officially opened on Wednesday, July 1 with five tenants or “resident members.” They will live and work there for one year.
The first floor is devoted to living and office space, with 3D printers, a video/photography studio, prototyping equipment and more. On the second and third floors, there are five private bedrooms for the entrepreneurs; Boerner is included in the inaugural group.
The entrepreneurs were chosen on the basis of interviews and essays. They include Lisa Glover, who founded KitRex (maker of 3D life-size dinosaur puzzles) while a masters student at Lehigh University; two other Lehigh University masters students; and the founder of Stylin', an e-commerce storefront for small clothing brands, fashion entrepreneurs and boutiques.
“They can all help each other,” says Boerner. “It's the power of collaboration, of being around like-minded people and sharing skills.”
Thanks to community partnerships built over the past year, resident members will also have help from the outside. Lehigh is offering free classes in its Venture Series MBA, Northampton Community College's Fab Lab is guaranteeing limited free use of its facilities, and CEOs and business leaders are volunteering their time as mentors.
“Hatch House is a concept that will be a tremendous asset to Bethlehem's entrepreneurial ecosystem,” enthuses Asher Schiavone, economic development coordinator for the City of Bethlehem and director of the Southside Bethlehem KIZ.
The space is also open to non-resident entrepreneurs — they can take advantage of its special events and guest speakers.
Hatch House Ventures is already expanding — the company recently obtained property in Wilmington, Del.; it has three floors of offices and residential space large enough to house 20 people.
“We want to have a national network of Hatch Houses,” says Boerner. “We have already been approached by economic development organizations in other cities, including Allentown, Easton and Jersey City.”
Visitors who would like to explore Hatch House in Bethlehem are invited to attend its launch party on July 21; there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony with city officials, light beverages and hors d'oeuvres.
For more information, visit hatchhouseventures.com.