In a space built in 1802, an Augusta incubator hopes to foster 20 21st Century businesses through a nearly $500,000 grant from the Kauffman Foundation.
At the old Academy of Richmond County building on Telfair Street that now houses the Clubhou.se, officials announced the incubator received a two-year $499,760 grant from the foundation to take in 10 entrepreneurs per year to help them create start-ups. Those entrepreneurs will receive housing, food, transportation and education and other support during that year. The program, called Startup Life at the Clubhou.se, was one of 17 funded by Kauffman’s Inclusion Open grant program. Grace Belangia, a founding member of the Clubhou.se, likened the program to joining the armed services for a year.
“You have all of those expenses taken care of,” she said. “We won’t be funding them but we are eliminating all of the barriers to starting a company.”
Applications are available online now and are due Dec. 8 and while it aims to help disadvantaged entrepreneurs there is almost no limit to who will be considered for those 10 slots, Belangia said.
“We are looking for any kind of entrepreneur, whether it is a food business or a technology business or an education business,” she said. “It can be anybody from around the country so we hope to actually get some candidates nationally.”
At the end of the two-year campaign, the program will have created 20 new companies. That’s the reason the Clubhou.se was started five years ago, said co-founder Eric Parker.
“We inspire ideas, create companies and build community,” he said. A foundation official told them their proposal was the most ambitious but that gets to the very heart of what an investment is, Parker said.
“A true investment is a gamble on people and communities,” he said.
It is coming at the right time for Augusta, Mayor Hardie Davis said.
“We have in the city of Augusta the right people, the right team to create Augusta’s entrepreneurial community and culture that will take this community by storm in helping those individuals who go beyond concept to creation to invention to market, help them do what they’ve always wanted to do and that is to provide opportunities for other people,” he said.
The Clubhou.se came to be housed in the old Richmond Academy building through the efforts of Parker and Belangia and Cobbs Nixon, a member of the academy’s board of trustees. It is fitting that the new program should go there, on land that the trustees have owned for 243 years. The original board of trustees, which included Declaration of Independence signer Georgia Walton, were given the task of helping to shape the city in those very early days, Nixon said.
“This was frontier” back then, he said. But Nixon noted that one of the things the foundation was trying to encourage was a certain boldness in pursuing ideas, which would fit with that founding spirit.
“I think George Walton, our patriot, would be very pleased,” he said.
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213