Coworking spaces are important first steps for startup founders and teams. They provide a place where individuals or small teams can congregate, do business with each other and cross-pollinate ideas with other like-minded folks. Without them, many sources agree, an entrepreneurial ecosystem could not thrive.
Located in the historic, reimagined Hahne & Co. building, at the intersection of Halsey and New streets, upstairs from the Whole Foods there, Launch Pad has a beautiful 15,000-square-foot space with large tables for communal coworking, private offices, phone booths for private calls, conference rooms and a kitchen and café space. There are couches and lounge chairs, and the place is decorated with art.
Entrepreneurs and interested Newark residents gathered for the space’s launch party on June 6, which was fueled by entertainment from the James White jazz band and food from local chefs.
Many dignitaries including Jake Pine, senior project manager at L+M Development Partners (New York), the company that restored the Hahne & Co. building; Chris Schultz, cofounder and CEO of Launch Pad, who brought the concept to Newark from New Orleans; Ari Rabban, cofounder and CEO of Phone.com (Newark); Aisha Glover, president and CEO of the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation; and Mayor Ras J. Baraka spoke before the ceremonial ribbon cutting.
“Launch Pad started out of a desire to bring people who were working entrepreneurially startups, small businesses, freelancers, people working remotely under one roof to foster a spirit of collaboration,” Shultz told NJTechWeekly.com.
He said that Launch Pad’s origins in New Orleans was a post-Katrina story that arose from an effort to rebuild the tech community after the storm. Within eight years, companies based at Launch Pad in New Orleans created over 5,000 jobs. And Schultz found that his model could be used in other urban areas, as well. He noted that one of Launch Pad’s key values is diversity on every level, including business diversity, so there won’t be only tech companies at any one of his coworking venues.
In his prepared remarks, Shultz said that Launch Pad’s Newark location was exceeding his expectations and business plan. “We have about 60 members in Launch Pad so far since opening in April, so things are going very well.”
He asked attendees at the launch to be an entrepreneur’s “first believer,” to be the person who gives an entrepreneur a little push to hang out that shingle and start a company. It doesn’t necessarily mean being the angel investor who writes the check; it could also mean giving the business owner encouragement or being the company’s first customer, he said.
Launch Pad’s “first believer” in Newark was Phone.com’s Rabban, who visited the space many times while it was still under construction, and could imagine bringing his team into this energized environment, he said.
Pine, whose company developed the Hahne & Co. building, said it was “so cool to see this many people in this space.” He added, “I can definitively say that this is a dream use for the second floor” of the building. “With Launch Pad, you get 30, 40, 50, 100 small businesses, local businesses, mid-sized business, individuals that are activating businesses, coming to the space. It’s so much fun to think about what can happen with all these businesses growing here at Launch Pad.”
The redevelopment of the building was financed partially by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), as was the development of the Launch Pad space there. “So we are in the big building and the little building. It’s really a microcosm of what we do, really big projects and support for really small companies,” Timothy J. Lizura, the president and CEO of EDA, told us.
Glover said that she was excited by the energy in the coworking space. “We did get a few nervous phone calls when Launch Pad was coming into the city, and that was because there are coworking spaces and incubators here. But the fact of the matter is that we have a huge entrepreneurial community. The demand is there.”
She noted that the entire community has come full-circle in support of the new coworking space, knowing that there is a tremendous amount of talent in Newark that is growing from within, and that Newark is attracting businesses from other cities.
In his remarks, Mayor Baraka noted that it was part of the city’s transition plan, developed in 2014, to attract coworking spaces and incubators to the city “to help us grow our economy, focus on local businesses, attract new creative entrepreneurs, academics, artists,” and put them in the same location to “explode” creativity to “create a kind of ‘SoHo’ that’s not as expensive as SoHo.”
Baraka reminded the group that it’s not just about the coworking space, but also about the companies and jobs that will come out of the space. “We are looking forward to seeing businesses grow,” he said. “It’s about businesses that come out of here, and because they have the scaffolding and support that they had in this space … to be able to stand on their own two feet and hopefully expand and do incredible things on their own.”