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Growth hacking Charleston’s Tech Ecosystem: This Millennial Couple

Growth hacking Charleston's Tech Ecosystem This Millennial Couple

When Jake Hare and his wife Belinda embarked on the journey of founding Launchpeer a few years ago, they faced a daunting challenge. Their Charleston, SC-based web and mobile application development agency focused on startups, and Charleston’s tech scene was still in its nascent stages. Securing new business was an uphill battle.

Their growth was stagnant, and their revenue was so meager that, at just 27 years old, they had depleted their savings, maxed out their credit cards, and even missed mortgage payments. This is a story familiar to many entrepreneurs, yet rarely shared.

Jake recalls, “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.”

After making strategic changes and adjusting their business model, things began to turn around. In just nine months, the team expanded from four to 22 employees, collaborating with over 200 startups in the past two years. Most importantly, the Hares did not have to resort to living in a camper.

Having experienced the rollercoaster of entrepreneurship, Jake and Belinda were determined to do something to assist early-stage entrepreneurs in avoiding similar pitfalls. Belinda says, “We learned a lot during that time, but it would have been nice to have some support.”

Three years ago, Charleston, South Carolina was still establishing itself as a tech hub. Today, the city ranks 11th in the U.S. for high tech GDP growth and 4th for its entrepreneurial ecosystem, as reported by Inc.

Charleston is now home to major technology companies like Blackbaud, Benefitfocus, and Snagajob, along with an increasing number of co-working spaces and early-stage startups. However, there’s room for improvement.

Belinda observes, “Startups in Charleston and across the Southeast don’t have the same resources as our counterparts in New York and San Francisco, especially when it comes to funding.” Jake adds, “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. 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.”

With this in mind, the Hare duo has taken matters into their own hands. This summer, Jake and Belinda introduced Launchpeer Labs, a venture that combines investment, acceleration, and startup incubation, targeting idea-stage companies that have not yet developed a product, formed a team, or secured funding to bring their concept to life.

Jake explains why their approach is crucial for Charleston’s local tech scene: “Launchpeer Labs is our way of supporting new startups, providing them with early resources so they can achieve revenue, attract follow-on investment, and draw more significant investors to the Charleston tech scene.”

The hybrid startup program offers a $50,000 investment to new companies, along with access to a co-founding team to build their MVP and MDP (Minimum Desirable Product). Members of the Launchpeer team working with Labs participants will each receive equity from the Labs startups, ensuring their commitment to the long-term success of Labs portfolio companies.

In exchange for seed funding and talent, Launchpeer Labs will claim 30% equity and require the startups, referred to as “Founders-in-Residence,” to relocate to Charleston, SC for a minimum of one year. Labs startups will collaborate with Launchpeer to progress from zero to fully validated, revenue-generating, and seed-funded businesses within 4-6 months.

“We’re offering a resource that is currently scarce in the Southeast. It’s one we would have greatly appreciated when we started our company, and we hope it will stimulate new business growth, increase job creation, and attract the investment attention our startup community requires.”

As part of this larger mission, Jake and Belinda joined forces with VentureSouth, one of the Southeast’s largest angel investment organizations, to assist Labs startups in securing follow-on funding ranging from $100,000 to $500,000. The VentureSouth network invested $4.5 million in 15 companies in 2016, and they will offer additional funds to Labs companies meeting their criteria after the program.

“The ultimate goal of this program is to continue fostering Charleston as a thriving tech hub. Until now, idea-stage entrepreneurs have not received this level of targeted support or direct access to investors. We’re addressing that issue, all to strengthen our region’s startup ecosystem.”

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