Coolhouse Labs: The Startup Accelerator With a View of Lake Michigan
When you grow up in a quaint resort town on the hilly shores of Lake Michigan, moving back is always on your mind. So says Jordan Breighner, founder of Coolhouse Labs, a new tech startup incubator located in Harbor Springs, MI. “I moved away when I was 14 to Utah, and then I lived in Washington, DC and New York City,” Breighner explains. “But I always tried to get back home. I love sailing; I love the water.”
Breighner was home last summer, working on a downtown visioning project, when he was struck with a revelation: Essentially, he saw a significant dearth of young talent in small towns like Harbor Springs, which made it a struggle to build a local creative economy.
Harbor Springs happens to be the summer residence of old-money families tied to some of the nation’s most successful companies—think Proctor & Gamble or Wrigley—as well as wealthy “new money” entrepreneurs from Detroit and Chicago, so Breighner approached key “community elders” about creating a business incubator in town. They told him to run with it. In January, Breighner quit his job at a New York ad agency to work full time on bringing Coolhouse to life.
“Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible for many reasons,” he adds. “The kinds of entrepreneurs [needed to support the project] just weren’t here.”
Coolhouse Labs is in a renovated boat warehouse on Main Street, a block away from Lake Michigan. It’s targeting tech startups from all over the world to come to Harbor Springs for the inaugural 10-week immersion program this summer. Breighner says mentors from around the country will rotate in and out to help the startups get to market. Coolhouse will invest $25,000 in each company in exchange for 6 percent equity. Coolhouse will also offer $100,000 in convertible debt and free office space to any startup that comes out of the program and decides to stay in Harbor Springs for a full year.
“The opportunity to come to a place like Harbor Springs—there are some unique advantages,” Breighner points out. “You don’t get the added stress of places like New York. It’s quiet and it’s beautiful. The community is home to highly successful entrepreneurs who are summer residents, plus we’ll have mentors diverse in field and geography. We’ll give you all the resources you need in 10 weeks to get a company off the ground.”
Breighner’s goal is to have six teams of two to four people at Coolhouse this summer, and as many as ten teams next summer. So far, he’s gotten applications from places like Buenos Aires, Paris, Vancouver, and even Huntsville, AL. What he’d like more of is applications from Michigan startups. (The deadline to apply is April 30.) He’d also like to establish a separate program for social entrepreneurs.
“The coasts compete with each other, but the Midwest really likes to work together,” he says. “There’s been a lot of support for Coolhouse so far.”