East Lansing’s student business incubator, The Hatch, exists with one goal: to encourage innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship within the community.
Located on the third floor of 325 E. Grand River Ave. under the management of Spartan Innovations, The Hatch supports student entrepreneurs by providing essential resources and a creative working space.
With support from the both the professional staff and the interns at Spartan Innovations, the incubator assists in launching these new businesses by offering assistance in different facets of the startup process. In addition to providing funds for materials and connecting students to business competitions throughout the U.S., the staff can provide guidance in conducting market or product research, building prototypes, implementing marketing and design strategies, creating websites and establishing business models.
“To be honest, it (The Hatch) has a majorly positive impact because you get everyone in the same place with a support network,” said Andy Tomaswick, entrepreneur-in-residence at Spartan Innovations. “That’s a major part of it because the big thing with startups is the cross-pollination of ideas.”
Working on various engineering projects, Tomaswick said he notices the incubator is becoming more active, and students are beginning to use their 24-hour access to the working space more frequently.
Opening in 2012 as one of the three units within the MSU Innovation Center, Spartan Innovations began its efforts by coaching 15 student teams. By the end of the 2014 academic year, MSU Innovation Center Marketing Director Amber Shinn said the company has grown to support 156 teams.
According to Shinn, establishing the idea for The Hatch was a collaborative effort among the City of East Lansing, Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), the Eli Broad College of Business and MSU student organizations.
“On a bigger level, The Hatch is part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in mid-Michigan that is working to create just as much opportunity in small companies and small businesses as there are in big businesses,” she said. “That level of economic diversity stabilizes our community.”
While providing the key resources is important in the startup process, Shinn said the incubator also serves as a place for validating ideas. The Hatch works closely with the MSU Alumni Association so that students receive feedback and guidance from experienced mentors.
“Little by little we are building a strong network of really dedicated people that have a lot of interest in helping to train these companies and move these ideas into reality,” she said.
MSU sophomore Kaelin Herron is one Hatch member who has benefited from the incubator’s network of support.
“It was really amazing to me because I had never known that something like this existed,” he said. “I have met a lot of people through The Hatch who have helped me with the idea and getting my business off the ground.”
Herron became a member in October after introducing his idea for a shoe with interchangeable bodies and styles. His project allows individuals to design their shoes based on their personal preferences.
Calling his project the Chameleon, Herron is currently working with one of the interns on creating a prototype, while continuing to participate in business competitions.
“I’ve learned about different industries and areas that I didn’t know existed,” he said. “Not having any business experience before, I didn’t really understand how complex all of the aspects of starting a business were.”
For MSU computer science junior Ryan Casler, The Hatch has offered a space to create solutions to ordinary problems that he and his friends have witnessed as college students.
The app called OneSound was inspired after Casler and his friends became dissatisfied with the playlists being used at various parties they attended.
According to Casler, the host of a party can create a specific group on the app, which allows guests to join and add songs to the collaborative playlist. The app updates live and plays songs based on the current votes of the party guests.
“It’s the app that lets anyone be the DJ from any smartphone, and we are really excited about it,” he said.
Since becoming members in June, Casler said the Hatch has helped develop the app with help from different resources and connections.
“We really had an idea, and The Hatch helped us transform it into an actual product,” he said. “I think one of the biggest things is just meeting people like us that are excited about entrepreneurship and meeting other people with cool ideas!”
In addition to providing resources, Casler said the incubator allows each student business to gain exposure within the community. OneSound has been given the opportunity talk about entrepreneurship and promote their product at different events such as the TedXMSU and career expos.
The student startups also have a chance to network with local businesses and CEOs at monthly events called The Hatching. After local companies submit their ideas online and voting takes place, the top groups present their projects in hopes of winning a package of community support for their business ventures, including $1,000.
While The Hatch strives to create an environment for growth and success, Shinn said it is currently working toward providing students with this entrepreneurial support and education earlier in their college careers.
Although many startups become viable, profit-making businesses, many juniors and seniors neglect their projects after graduation due to the pressure of entering the job market.
“We are finding if we start students earlier, they are able to give all of their resources to these startups instead of it being just a weekend project,” she said.
“We make their process easier, and I think that’s worth a lot! We can remove some of their obstacles, we can help them learn lessons faster and we can help them succeed or fail faster. If you fail faster that’s great too because you can move on to the next of several projects.”