When James Byszewski of Fifth Street Capital Partners in Bethlehem was graduating from college in 2002, entrepreneurship wasn't considered much of an option for new grads.
“My goal was to get involved with a good company and work my way up,” Byszewski said.
Thirteen years later, he and business partner Louis Intile saw a different environment for the Lehigh University students who were living in some of the South Side properties they owned.
“Especially with the technology industry, being young isn't considered a handicap, Byszewski said. “It's no longer as hard to be taken seriously as a 20-year-old as it was back then.”
But he saw one problem. Many great ideas born on college campuses by student entrepreneurs were failing after the students graduated – not because the ideas weren't good, but because the new graduates didn't have the financial, environmental and mentoring support they had while still on campus.
It was a problem that Steve Boerner, a recent graduate of Lehigh's Masters of Engineering in Technological Entrepreneurship program, also had seen.
The 29-year-old had a business in the works when he graduated from the University of Delaware in 2009, but once he lost what he described as the “tremendous resources” of his school, he could no longer keep the business afloat and needed to get into the traditional working world.
“When I joined the Master's of Engineering in Technical Entrepreneurship program, I saw students with the same problems happening again,” Boerner said. “Students were facing the same struggle I did.”
Boerner, business partner Sean Caverly and the Fifth Street Capital Partners saw that there was a gap between the excellent business incubators available in the community and on-campus resources.
“Those incubators are for growth-stage companies,” Boerner said.
The need was for what he called “seed-stage” companies that were perhaps just germs of an idea that needed help to “hatch.”
After being introduced through a mutual friend working through Lehigh University's Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation who knew of their mutual interest in the subject, the men came together to establish “Hatch House” – a live/work business incubator in one of the South Side homes owned by Capital Partners.
The first group of five resident entrepreneurs moved into the house July 1. There the residents, made up of undergraduate and graduate college students as well as recent grads, will have a first-floor collaborative office space with living quarters on the second and third floors.
One of the residents is Justin Jacobs, who just began the Master's of Engineering in Technological Entrepreneurship program at Lehigh this summer.
He said the environment is just what he needed.
He entered the program driven by his desire to be his own boss, but with several seed ideas for potential businesses rather than one go-to plan.
What he's learned so far is that there are so many options for him, and so much help to lead him in the right direction, that he's not concentrating on any one business idea – yet.
“Now that I'm in the program, I'm leaving myself open for interpretation,” he said. “I want it to come naturally.”
Boerner said aspiring entrepreneurs in the program have an environment where they can get support – such as mentoring, introductions to key people in their industry and financing – that can help move forward their business ideas.
While Boerner and Caverly will run the house as president and vice president, respectively, Byszewski and Intile will be among the mentors and possible financiers. A grand opening party is planned for July 21.
“We've been business professionals and entrepreneurs and homebuilders,” Intile said.
Now they will also be venture capitalists. The partners are setting up Fifth Street Ventures, which will help provide seed money to those business ideas in which they see a future.
Jacobs said he's looking forward to meeting key contacts and investors.
“I know it gives me an edge,” he said.
As he begins his entrepreneurial adventure in the program, he's excited about the people with which he's sharing work and living space.
“We're all like-minded people. We all have some sort of common goal. It's so much better than just being home alone,” Jacobs said.
Hatch House is not run by Lehigh University and is off campus, yet Boerner won money from Lehigh's Baker Institute's iPrize competition – and the house acquired funding from Bethlehem's Keystone Innovation Zone – to get the project off the ground.
Baker Institute executive director Lisa Getzler has offered her support.
“This will serve students who are students at Lehigh, who are participating in entrepreneurial activities off campus,” Getzler said. “We support the spirit of the endeavor and hope to see success for Hatch House as a resource for young entrepreneurs.”
Boerner said Hatch House is being run as a Limited Liability Corporation, although he is working to set up a 501c3 foundation that will have a mission of doing more community outreach and education.