Last night I attended the grand opening of Shaker LaunchHouse, an incubator of Cleveland-area startup companies. Why would I care about such a thing - am I trying to start one? join one? invest in one? Nothing like that. It has energy, and I might be able to contribute to one of the startups in some way, just because.
A startup company begins with nothing but an idea. The path from that idea to profitability is a gauntlet of problems the entrepreneurs have never seen before. LaunchHouse connects them with members of the public that might be able to help them solve those problems. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation, telling them about an option they didn't know existed. That's the same way everybody solves new problems, from growing vegetables to home improvement: they ask for advice.
One of the ways LaunchHouse facilitates this is by being open to the public, holding events like last night's. They've also set up a formal mentoring program where you can provide "office hours" for the startups to talk to you. You let LaunchHouse know what your areas of expertise are, and the entrepreneurs stop by when you're there.
I have a Ph.D. in materials science, so if any of these companies plans to manufacture a product, I can probably tell them about the materials it's made of. I also do scaleup of new products from lab prototypes to volume production, I spent seven years as a Federal scientist working on lubrication and wear, and I'm gaining experience in intellectual property in my current job. Those are the ways I hope to be able to help. I'm effectively offering my consulting services for free, just for the privilege of being around the energy.
And that's what it's about: energy. It's the reason I co-organize a blogging group: people blog about what they have passion for, so it's always enthusiastic. Another motivation for me is to contribute, to help both a small company and the region. I've never done much work for charity, but this feels right, because it's technical and it's personal and it's done out of love, not a sense of obligation.
Let a thousand flowers bloom!