It all started with a cup of coffee.
Technology consultant and Social Media AZ founder Fred von Graf had been thinking of starting an incubator for technology companies for a while. He wanted to provide a place where people could find the resources and mentorship they needed to turn their ideas into realities.
One day, he was having coffee with one of the SMAZ presenters, Dean Wright of BrandMixer, and the idea came up in conversation. Luckily, Wright had 14,000 square feet of space at the Crexendo building in Tempe and had been hoping to do something similar with it.
“It was a serendipitous thing that got it going,” von Graf said.
He founded LaunchSpot, a technology incubator and co-working space, in 2010, had a grand opening in early 2011 and is now in the process of moving the organization into two locations a short distance away.
The co-working part of the organization will occupy a 16,000-square-foot former burger restaurant at 7th Street and Mill Avenue in downtown Tempe. Von Graf plans to keep the bar and booths in place and “let the community make the space its own.”
He is reaching out to sponsors in effort to keep LaunchSpot 2.0 free, and also hopes the financial support will allow him to open the doors 24/7 and to hire Arizona State University students to help run the space. He is also negotiating for 12,000 additional square feet of space nearby to house the technology incubator.
Von Graf chose Tempe for LaunchSpot 1.0 not only because of Wright’s offer, but also because of the city’s central location, various commuting options, supportive and engaged local government, talent pool of individuals and great group of merchants. He said the move from 52nd Street and Broadway Road to the Mill Avenue district will position the organization closer to ASU and in an area with higher traffic. Since they announced the relocation, they’ve received more interest from ASU students.
LaunchSpot’s hundreds of members include everyone from individuals in the tech and software industry to mature companies. The first time you enter the doors, you become a member.
“People come in because they want to work around other intelligent people and collaborate,” von Graf said. “it’s a pretty diverse mix.”
LaunchSpot also hosts many community events. Past events include Drupal hangouts, events for TechAmerica, events for local angel groups, and a rapid pitch night as part of the Arizona SciTech Festival. LaunchSpot is also home to the Tempe chapter of Startup Grind, a community of founders, entrepreneurs and “wantrapreneurs.” Von Graf said this helps them connect with the talent pool in other states and spread the word about the innovation occurring in Arizona.
LaunchSpot offers resources and a strong mentor network for tech startups and has just moved into the equity space. Through foreign investments, they plan to start a fund in the $4 to $5 million range that will be used in two different ways. The first will be to provide each startup with a certain amount of funding and the second will be to offer the startups a “first in” investment to incentivize other investors.
“At the end of the day, our goal is to improve the overall startup environment in Arizona and I think everyone benefits from that,” von Graf said.