April 28, 2013

In these times, competition is keen for jobs and investments that will spur economic development. It takes a variety of strategies to bring those things in, and one way is to grow them.

The Launch Place aims to be one-stop shopping for entrepreneurial development, with consulting, mentorship, funding and real estate. In October, the group received a $10 million grant from the Danville Regional Foundation to expand its services over five years. A $4 million seed fund has been established with that grant to help startups generate investments.

“We are really trying to get young entrepreneurship,” said President Eva Doss.
The Launch Place is a rebranding of the Southside Business Technology Center, which offered business consulting. With the added focus on entrepreneurship and the investment of DRF, it became The Launch Place. It is moving into the Old Belt One building this week.

Doss says that 72 percent of new jobs are created by small businesses, but small business startups have a large risk attached that can lock them out of traditional funding sources.

The organization is focused on helping engineering, information technology, biotech and green energy businesses, but business consulting services are still available to people who want to expand those and other existing industries.

“We don’t necessarily just want to focus on new recruits,” Doss said.

Potential clients present a business concept, explaining their idea, competitors, strategy, pricing, budgets and financial forecasts.

Seed fund applications have come from the financial services, IT, applied manufacturing and engineering industries. Awardees will be announced in the next eight weeks.

It’s not free money.

“This isn’t a grant,” Doss said. “They will pay us back.”

There is a repayments schedule and other requirements. Those receiving the seed fund’s $50,000 to $200,000 awards are required to move to the River District.

“Once you are awarded the money, you don’t get to work in a vacuum,” Doss said.

It is hoped that their investment will generate additional interest in funding for the selected seed fund recipients.

“We hope our funds will be leveraged,” with other funds and co-investors, she said.
Doss acknowledges lending to startups is a risky business.

“At the end of the day, you can’t control the external environment,” she said.
She added, “Yes, there will be failures.”

On the flip side, though, The Launch Place is betting that those who emerge successfully will go on to create more businesses.

“Entrepreneurs don’t stop at the first deal,” she said.

While The Launch Place wants to be a financial development ecosystem for entrepreneurs, it says it has a niche.

“We are not economic development,” she said. “It takes a village.”

Corrie Teague, project manager for Danville’s Office of Economic Development, says The Launch Place has been a useful partner.

“We’re seeing a growing number of entrepreneurs looking to locate to the area,” she said.

She added, “For our region, they do complement our efforts very well.”

Each organization has a hand in promoting the River District, and everyone is working hard to make it a true neighborhood.

“Having somewhere you can live and walk to work becomes very attractive to professionals and entrepreneurs alike,” Teague said.

The Launch Place can also provide a second infusion of cash at the growth stage for businesses. With that and the River District commitment, Doss is hoping the new companies will want to bloom where they’re planted long after their commitment is complete.

“They have a tendency to stay where the money is,” Doss said.


By: Mary Beth Jackson