The launch of Launch House, a new business incubator located in a former Shaker Heights auto dealership, attracted such a large crowd yesterday evening that cars were backed up on Lee Road for half a mile and police were directing traffic around the overflow parking lot. Inside the sprawling building, an age- and race-diverse crowd of more than 600 listened to a short program of speeches including an upbeat keynote from senator Sherrod Brown. They then had the opportunity to browse tables ringing the mammoth back room, representing the businesses and projects (about two dozen so far) Launch House is hoping to incubate to success by providing a variety of tools and services — including hooking them up with mentors and investors.
Some ideas were modest and some were ambitious; some were clear and focused, while others sounded vague and sweeping. Some of the businesses used clouds of flowery language to describe their service, leaving an observer unsure what they proposed to do. Other ideas were concrete, ranging from SparkBase’s software to manage gift-card programs to SoupQube’s containers for storing leftover soup. Some of the start-up businesses served a highly specific market: RonWear Port-able Clothing designs garments for patients with medical ports. And other ideas were just cool. A crowd gathered around the display set up by MakerGear, which offers kits and parts to make 3D printers, drawn by the assortment of little pieces and parts strewn on the table, along with the skeleton of a printer.
Many honed in on needs created by lifestyle trends. Tunnel Vision Hoops, looking to serve the expanding number of urban farmers as well as the increasing demand for locally grown fresh produce, designs, makes, and installs hoop houses, a form of crop protection that allows farmers and gardeners to expand their growing season. An intense young med student, Ian Wong, was pushing Freshbag, which, according to its promotion, “reduces the fresh food market into its smallest possible element by leveraging technology and logistics.” In other words, you order fresh produce online and they deliver it to drop-off points, like those it’s set up on the Case and John Carroll campuses. Initially, Wong says, it’s targeting graduate and med-school students like himself who don’t have time to go to farmers markets but want to eat healthy. Its low-tech offering to visitors: a brown paper bag containing an apple. — Anastasia Pantsios
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