Imagine a place where young entrepreneurs can collaborate, work, design, hold meetings, live and dream. That’s the plan for Hatch House, a unique live-work space for entrepreneurs that was created by Lehigh University graduate student Steve Boerner ’15G, alumnus James Byszewski ’02 and business partner Louis Intile.
Boerner, founder and president of Hatch House, developed the project while a student in Lehigh’s Technical Entrepreneurship master’s degree program, in which students learn to turn their ideas into viable products and businesses. Boerner worked with Byszewski and Intile, managing partners of Fifth Street Capital Partners, to create a leasing agreement for a house located just north of the Lehigh campus, where — starting July 1 — five student or recent graduate entrepreneurs will live while working on their companies.
Hatch House’s slogan is: “Live. Grow. Launch!”
A typical day might see residents studying for classes or working on their companies on laptops, having conference calls and Skyping with potential clients, collaborating with partners on a couch, or building a prototype in the garage “maker space.” A Nerf ball might fly by, as music plays in the background.
“It’s a house filled with really fun collaboration that is very open and friendly, where there is ‘serious play’ and informal nonjudgmental sharing of ideas,” Boerner said, envisioning the house. “People are laughing and having fun, but they are working.”
Residents also will enjoy regular networking events, guest speakers, mentors, demonstration days, investor pitches and access to angel investors, industry partners and city and county economic development resources.
“The amount of collaboration that you have when you are immersed in entrepreneurship is truly the benefit of Hatch House,” Boerner predicted. “You are surrounded by inspiration and like-minded people who can help you and you can help them.”
Boerner, 29, who grew up in Bethlehem, also has an undergraduate degree in Business Leadership from the University of Delaware. He worked in sales and finance in the employee benefits industry for a Fortune 500 firm before deciding to return to school to focus on his entrepreneurial passions.
Lehigh’s Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) program was a natural fit. In the program, Boerner started looking at business models for co-sharing office space, but saw that it was a saturated market. What was uncommon was the idea of a living and working community specifically focused on entrepreneurs.
“I really saw that there was a need, a problem worth solving and a market willing to pay for it,” he said.
In addition to residents, Hatch House will have affiliate members who may attend events hosted by the house (such as speakers and workshops) for free and expand the entrepreneurial community. There also will be paid events.
“We are giving a platform to help young entrepreneurs to showcase what they have been working on,” Boerner said, as well as to provide networking experience, exposure to investors and introductions that will help them grow their businesses.
Boerner's Hatch House project won “People’s Choice” first place in this year’s "i" Prize competition hosted by Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation recognizing a great new student idea, invention or innovation.
The venture also won honorable mention in the 2014-2015 EUREKA! Ventures Competition Series hosted by the Baker Institute in the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer '55 Graduate Student Entrepreneurs Competition category, based on the project's mission, business model and market research.
Lisa Getzler, Baker Institute co-executive director and director of the EUREKA! competition for student entrepreneurs, along with a panel of judges, reviewed Boerner's application for the competition, which helps students develop their entrepreneurial ideas into private enterprises. While neither the competition, Lehigh University nor the Baker Institute invest in companies or own them, the EUREKA! competition awarded Boerner funding to develop Hatch House to help young entrepreneurs, particularly those enrolled in higher education programs in entrepreneurship, she said.
“We support the spirit of the endeavor and hope to see future success for Hatch House as a resource for young entrepreneurs,” she said. Hatch House joins two on-campus options: the Creative Commons Innovation and Entrepreneurship First-Year Live Lehigh Community (started in fall 2014) and Creative Commons Upperclass community for other undergraduates (debuting in fall 2015).
Hatch House is designed to both support Lehigh University’s “gigantic investment in entrepreneurism” and the curriculum of Lehigh students, Boerner said. Hatch House is forming as a nonprofit, which means it can accept donations and has created a scholarship fund.
“Given its location and what it offers, this is something that not a lot of other entrepreneurship undergraduate and graduate programs are doing,” Intile said of Hatch House, adding that it's a setup that might be seen in California’s Silicon Valley. “To see this pop up in Bethlehem shows the entrepreneurship program, and the ideas and thoughts at Lehigh, are on the cutting edge of what is being done nationally in the entrepreneurship space.”
Residents will range from undergraduate and graduate students to those who have been working on their companies for a few years. Boerner will live at Hatch House as a resident entrepreneur. Lehigh University alumna Lisa Glover ’13 ’14G, founder of Architrep, a company that produces flat-packed cardboard dinosaur kits and that has launched two successful Kickstarter campaigns, will be one of its first residents.
“I’m looking forward to living with people who are passionate about making their own path,” said Glover, who will continue to work on her company. She imagines herself immersed in a space where “making things” is a given and residents learn from each other.
“Living with four other entrepreneurs of different ages and at different stages, none of us will know everything,” said Glover, who has two degrees from Lehigh, a bachelor’s in Architecture and a master’s in Technical Entrepreneurship. “But we’ll each know something useful. We’ll be able to knock on each other’s doors or chat over dinner about various challenges we’re facing. I’m sure that’ll prove extremely valuable.”
Soon-to-be resident Justin Jacobs, who is starting Lehigh’s Technical Entrepreneurship master’s program this summer, expects Hatch House will be a fun and educational experience. Jacobs, who has an undergraduate degree in Applied Engineering and Technology Management from Millersville University of Pennsylvania, launched a campaign to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation through auctioning a guitar he hand-made and collecting signatures from famous musicians.
“I look forward to living with friends and colleagues who share similar drives and passions for innovation,” said Jacobs. “Hatch House will be an asset to any community that surrounds it. For the Lehigh Valley, it will help entrepreneurs grow a business in the area with mentor and investor support with more certainty.”
Hatch House isn’t just for students in the TE program, Byszewski said, but it does provide a good housing option for students in that 12-month program, which starts during summer. Residents are selected based on their entrepreneurial spirit and interest, Boerner said.
“I just want to know what their goals are and what their passion is for entrepreneurship,” he said. “The success of Hatch House lies purely on the residents.” While Lehigh is well-represented among the first tenants, applications to live at Hatch House are open to the community. Hatch House currently has one spot still open for the July 2015-June 2016 year.
In addition to providing housing and services to young entrepreneurs, Hatch House aims to create jobs, spur economic development, keep entrepreneurs in the Lehigh Valley and help revitalize Bethlehem’s South Side. It is receiving support and offers of help from the Bethlehem Community and Economic Development department and the partner’s industry networks, including bankers, Intile said. The house is located in the Keystone Innovation Zone, which makes residents eligible to apply for grants and other resources as small businesses.
Boerner has plans to expand the Hatch House concept to Allentown, as well as other states, such as Delaware, where starting in the fall he will teach once a week as an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at University of Delaware. He is set to graduate with his master's in Technical Entrepreneurship from Lehigh in May.
The biggest challenge in launching Hatch House was finding the right location, Boerner said. When Byszewski and Intile, managing partners of Fifth Street Capital Partners, reached out to him through a mutual Lehigh contact and they toured the 208 Fourth St. location, they concluded the house was "perfect,” Boerner said.
Fifth Street had been planning an entrepreneur housing project for that property, and the real estate investment firm decided to partner with Boerner when they realized they had similar visions, Byszewski said.
The three-story house – built prior to 1886 and one of the first homes in that area – is in a historic district, a block each from Lehigh University and its Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation; Northampton Community College’s Fab Lab prototyping facility (where Hatch House residents receive limited free access); and Pi: Partnership for Innovation office space for technology companies.
While historical details will be preserved, the home is being remodeled to incorporate contemporary features such as open-concept office space, a hybrid dining/conference room and a modern kitchen. The garage will house a prototyping lab with hand tools and saws that augment the 3D printers, laser cutters and wood shops at nearby Lehigh University and Northampton Community College. The house will feature two and a half bathrooms and five bedrooms. Residents will have their own bedrooms that also function as private work spaces when they need time alone. The downstairs is fully furnished, but residents furnish their own rooms.
“Part of the uniqueness is it is a house that has been standing for 120 years, now with residents living there doing cutting-edge new businesses,” Boerner said.
Fifth Street Capital Partners owns and manages the house, provides financial backing, and is financing the significant capital improvements to the property while providing the startup with a discounted rental rate intended to support its success, Byszewski said. Hatch House master-leases the property, identifies and acquires the entrepreneur residents and runs the entrepreneurial programming.
The renovation is the 35th such project done by Fifth Street Capital Partners on the South Side in the last six years, Intile said. Recently, the company renovated and restored the neighboring 202 and 204 E. Fourth St. properties, which had served as the Holy Infancy Parish convent and offer potential for Hatch House expansion, he said.
For Intile and Byszewski, Hatch House is part of a larger effort to support entrepreneurs and economic development in Bethlehem. Both have invested in and advised several Lehigh University student startups. Both also were adjunct professors at Lehigh’s Goodman Center for Real Estate Studies and serve on the executive committee for the Integrated Real Estate at Lehigh (ire@l) program. In addition to real estate, via investment vehicle Fifth Street Ventures, they also make investments in startup companies that range from small seed funding to significant angel investments.
“We’re excited to have a project like this on the South Side, to help retain student businesses within the community,” Intile added. “It really gives them a different perspective on the city, that ‘Wow, there are all these tremendous resources–the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, City of Bethlehem, Baker Institute, Lehigh University, NCC, Ben Franklin TechVentures, Pi–right at my fingertips to help my business grow.’”
Boerner sees Hatch House as a bridge for young entrepreneurs.
“How do you start a business when you are in school or just out of school and faced with real life?” Boerner asked. “This is really a bridge to help students move (next) to a Pi, Ben Franklin TechVentures or traditional space. This has all the context they need so when they want to take it to the next step, they will have a lot more knowledge.”
Photos by Christa Neu