by philip newswanger
Hatch Norfolk is more than just an incubator for emerging ideas and entrepreneurs.
It is an investment in the future - the future of the local economy and the future of downtown Norfolk, where five companies endured a torturous and ego-dimming 11 weeks in front of tech-savvy mentors.
The companies - GMES, OurCareDirect, Podium Pro, Reality Bridges and VinylMint - got their ideas shaped, molded and criticized, and all of them survived.
In return for mentoring and shaping these entrepreneurs, Hatch Investments, an affiliate of Hatch Norfolk, gets an 8 percent stake in each company.
Should one of these companies succeed, Hatch Investments makes money, as does the firm. If not, no one really loses. The risk is minimal.
A committee of local experts selected the five companies. It included Zack Miller, chief operating officer of We Are Titans and the brainchild behind Hatch Norfolk; Joel Nied, an attorney with LeClair Ryan; Marty Kaszubowski with Kaufman & Canoles Consulting; and Kristin Fitch, owner of Ziggity Zoom Consulting.
Owners of companies apply to be in Hatch, are interviewed and then the selection committee chooses those it determines are most viable.
"I thought they were all interesting companies," Nied said. "They were comprised of people who never started a business and some who did. They are ambitious, committed people."
"Each of the Hatch 5 recognizes that good, constructive advice is vital to their success and have never considered it a blow to their ego when someone makes a suggestion on how to improve their business," Kaszubowski said.
"We had a difficult time selecting these five because there were eight to 10 that the selection team considered to be viable candidates," he said.
"We really hated to have to eliminate some candidates, and we look forward to having them be part of the program the next time we do this.
"Meanwhile, the Hatch 5 all have a solid idea, a good team with both technical and business expertise, and have made tremendous progress over the summer."
The five firms will demonstrate their products to the public at Demo Day, to be held Wednesday, Sept. 5 in the offices of Kaufman & Canoles at 150 West Main St., Norfolk, beginning at 5 p.m.
"So far, they all appear to be on track to arriving at Demo Day with demonstrable products and good feedback from real customers."
What made them stand out?
Said Kaszubowski, "This sort of selection process is always as much art as science, but - speaking only for myself as one of the selection team - each of the Hatch 5 had a good team, a clearly defined value proposition, and a reasonable chance to make progress in the time they'd be in the Hatch accelerator."
Kaszubowski said accelerators are different from incubators, in part because the compressed time frame and hands-on mentoring are more appropriate to technologies and business models that can be prototyped and market-tested rapidly.
"Each of the Hatch 5 fit that model perfectly," he said.
Local firms XTuple, Kaufman & Canoles and Dominion Enterprises, along with the city of Norfolk, have invested in Hatch Norfolk.
"Each company has invested i$10,000 as well as JR Research on top of those four, with the city giving us the space," Miller said.
"We invested in Hatch as a way to support technology innovation in this area," said Joe Fuller, vice president and chief information officer for Dominion Enterprises.
"Every company developing tech products and services in Norfolk understands the need to spread the word about job opportunities here for creative types, whether it's people building mobile apps, designers, product developers, or classic entrepreneurs with a great idea."
"We were impressed with Zack Miller and the people he gathered around him for Start Norfolk, and we're encouraged by the support for Hatch from other corporate benefactors and the city of Norfolk," he said.
"In addition to Hatch being a great learning experience for the startups there, it has created good buzz in the technology community, throughout the region and beyond."nib