The adage "if you build it, they will come," has certainly held true for Harbor Springs native Jordan Breighner. Breighner, the brains and energy behind Cool House Labs, a start-up business accelerator set to open in downtown Harbor Springs this summer, has spent the last several months crisscrossing the country, gathering support for his organization.
His simple tagline: "Small town. Big ideas." is drawing interest from all literally all over the planet. When Cool House opened applications for its first mentorship-driven accelerator program (dubbed a "summer camp for entrepreneurs), candidates came calling from five continents.
"People are so excited. The reception to the program has been fantastic," Breighner said in an interview on a recent trip to Harbor Springs (he is currently in the process of relocating from New York City). "We have over 30 applications right now (which will fill 10 slots) and 30-plus mentors lined up."
Breighner said the mentors are the heart of Cool House programming, and set the accelerator apart. He also said it hasn't been hard to convince people to come to Harbor Springs.
"We are building a huge bench of mentors, because we have no idea, right now, which start-ups will be part of the program. We have everyone from a guy who has a food truck empire to the former CEO of AOL," he said.
One of newest additions to the list, Navneet Singh Narula, is an extra exciting person to have on board for several reasons. His resume-- including being the youngest executive at Accenture when he was 27, and a list of business awards and humanitarian efforts as deep as Lake Michigan-- is just the icing on the cake. Narula reached out to Breighner, wanting to be involved in a concept he believes in supporting.
Narula's enthusiasm for the project bodes well as an indicator of its potential for success. So too does the start-up accelerator industry's support of Breighner and Cool House Labs.
"We will strengthen the whole ecosystem," Breighner said, of not only the local economy, but also the midwestern technology start-up community. Breighner has spent a great deal of time working with other, already successful organizations in larger cities like Cincinnati.
"They definitely see Cool House Labs as an additive, rather than competition. And with a lot of energy now focused on Detroit, we're in a great place to really make this happen. We're having a lot of fun talking to people, and we're looking to be part of a midwestern revival."
As previously reported in the Harbor Light Newspaper, Coolhouse Labs is a technology-focused startup accelerator and innovation lab. The concept is simple: bring in young entrepreneurs, give them seed capital (in exchange for a little equity in their company), pair them with mentors, and help support them as they build a product.
Breighner will accept up to 10 start-up companies each cycle for a three month intensive program designed specifically to prepare the companies for the end goal-- investor backing.
Companies receive some initial funds upon acceptance to the program. Each year, Breighner said he'd love to see one of those 10 companies opt to locate in Harbor Springs for good, and will likely offer incentives to do so.
During the other nine months a year, Breighner said he will build programming to help incubate and support local small businesses and organizations, as well as offer a wide range of community opportunities, like coding classes, and plans to use the Cool House space (details on a final location have yet to be announced) as a community gathering spot all year.
"This guy is on fire," said Rob Mossburg, chair of the Harbor Springs Downtown Development Authority. "We're thrilled. This is an incredibly positive step in the right direction for our community."
As Breighner moves forward (with lightening speed-- the only way he works), there are a variety of ways community members can get involved in supporting Cool House Labs, and he encourages anyone interested in learning more to contact him.
One option is to house mentors from out of town.
Mossburg said this short-term (sometimes just overnight) housing request is a wonderful chance to "introduce people to the town."
"Jordan wants to give mentors a true feeling of Harbor Springs, which is brilliant," he said.
Breighner noted that feeling of cottage living is appealing to those who have yet to experience Harbor Springs, and he's looking for host families who are will to share that with mentors.
"These aren't college students or young kids," Mossburg added. "These are successful business people who have been sold on the idea of coming to our town."
Having as many mentors as possible is crucial for the program, Breighner added, which means he'd love to see more mentors with local ties to volunteer their time and expertise.
Breighner has already hired two staff members and said he'd love to have a fellow with local connections join his team. The application for the position is available on the Cool House website.
For other ways to be involved, contact Breighner.
"We have a story we can tell here. People love small town ingenuity. We are in this beautiful spot in northern Michigan and we are trying to do something no one else is trying to do in a town of our size."
For more information, email Breighner, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.coolhouselabs.com.