By Bradley Osburn
Downtown, next to the Seagle Building, a vacant building that could have been described as “in shambles” has been transformed into a modern, open-space office building with a downstairs exhibition area by Starter Space, Gainesville’s newest, potentially most exciting technology startup incubator. Duncan Kabinu, one of three co-owners with partners Payal Khurana and Quang Tran, gave the Business Report a tour and talked about what Starter Space brings to the city.
Kabinu described Starter Space as a hybrid incubator/accelerator that’s sole purpose is to provide professional environments for early stage companies to not have to worry about space and be able to collaborate. And collaboration is the key to Starter Space. The open, spacious office allows its tenants to work together to overcome problems and have what Kabinu called “great collisions.”
One company, he said, might need help with its website, so the owner could just wave at the guy on the other side of the office and ask for a hand. And the next week the helper might need to produce a small prototype so they can turn around and ask to use the other company’s 3-D printer.
Kabinu said that the original idea was to create an accelerator lab where tenants would have access to mentors, resources, angel investors and venture capital for equity in any company created (which they still do), and that’s still the goal, but what he’s found is that just having a place to work is helping the startup community.
“In my opinion, you can’t have enough spaces like this one here,” he said. Before the doors were even opened, Kabinu said Starter Space already had members, and in the first month he was approached by many more that wanted to be included, which indicates to him that there aren’t enough spaces for people to work together.
And now in December, in its fourth month of life, Kabinu said that Starter Space has been a whirlwind of activity and innovation. Starter Space holds monthly talks by successful entrepreneurs, and has hosted StartWhys, a mobile pop-up co-work, collaborated with the University of Florida Masters of Entrepreneurship program and its bottom floor area hosted October’s Startup Weekend competition.
“That’s an impressive 54 hours, but there’s no follow-up with these companies created,“ he said. “The purpose of Startup Weekend is to build community, but great things come out of it.”
As a result, Starter Space has offered eight of those companies space to work for 30 days, and if they create a legal business entity then they get an extra 60 days to prototype and develop their business and investor pitches. That willingness to not just provide space, but teach the basics is perhaps the most exciting thing about Starter Space. Kabinu said that a recent presentation by entrepreneur Jeff Stamp provided tenants the opportunity to write him a pitch for why he should buy their product and get a critique, which Kabinu said is very important.
“You can’t just pat everybody on the shoulder,” he said. “You need to critique them and show them where they can pivot and get better. This is the No. 1 startup city, and people think ‘Oh I can just come over there and start a company.’ People think it’s easy to be a startup, but they need to come out and ask those questions.”
And next year, by April, Starter Space hopes to offer another program for UF students designed specifically for that called Founder’s School. Co-owner Quang Tran said that the idea was based on his own experience, where innovators may have the talent and the know-how to work on a problem, but lack the basic elements of business, marketing and management. Starter Space will be releasing more details about Founder’s School soon.
“There is all of this smart, energetic talent going through UF,” Kabinu said, “and my vision is to have these students be able to immediately contribute to a startup.”
Starter Space does charge a membership fee for its space. Single-person companies pay $175 per month, and companies with two to five employees pay $500 per month.
RoomSync – A Facebook roommate-matching program that works with over 100 schools to match people with similar profiles.
College Media Group – Runs College Fuse, Gainesville Scene, Gainesville Tech and Campus Rewards websites.
Pixelbot – Design and graphics by award-winning designer Dave Stanton.
Gulejo – A coffee delivery service, which is testing its coffee-where-you-are service on the UF campus.
Rhino Mob – Produces games for mobile devices and is branching out to big-name video game consoles.
CommonSense – Provides monitoring and tracking for refrigerated goods, from the start to finish of their journey.
Good, Inc. – Known for their automatic pet feeder, their premise is to create American-made products with a five-year-plus warranty.
Proximity, Inc. – Provides mobile development with advertising and marketing.
John Montague – A well-known Gainesville startup lawyer who provides limited free legal service to Starter Space tenants.