How to Build a World-Changing Business in a City of 5,000 People

Posted in the Petoskey Forum

Emma Zimmerman

Harbor Springs, MI

#1 Jun 27, 2013
Thereís this quaint city in northern Michigan where the people are friendly, the air is crisp, and the water is blue. Oh, and a 10-week tech startup accelerator has just set sail.

Founded by the ambitious Jordan Breighner, Coolhouse Labs is located on the main street (literally, itís on Main Street) of Harbor Springs. What has been traditionally a resort community of summer homeowners, vacationers, and the brave few who call this place home during the winter months, is being turned into a place that 5 tech startups are calling home for the summer. We have access to an exceptional group of advisors and mentors, a newly furnished co-working space, and the fastest internet this city has ever seen.

So, what makes this city better for acceleration than the more familiar northern Michigan cities of Charlevoix, Traverse City, or the Upper Peninsula? Itís small. Really small. Arriving just two days ago, I can only compare it to the hidden town of Spectre in Big Fish; complete with a white-steepled church at the northernmost intersection. Ok, maybe itís a little bit bigger than that. As the name implies, the city has a beautiful harbor, which was once an epicenter for travel and trade due to itís status as the deepest natural harbor in the Great Lakes. Surrounded by beaches, bluffs, and forests itís just the sort of environment someone would seek to get a new perspective on things and find focus.

And thatís exactly what my team, Every Last Morsel, and the four others of the inaugural cohort of Coolhouse Labs are here to do. Jordan has brought together five teams that are solving real problems. All companies with the potential to make an impact in small cities like Harbor Springs. Our team will be spending the summer getting to know local farmers, exploring the food culture of a new city, and building a product that meets the needs of our customers ó some of whom we hope to find right here on Main Street.

Letís see how our first day compared to your average accelerator.

We walked ten minutes to the office, and received some friendly ďgood morningsĒ from our neighbors along the way. No crowded subways. The Coolhouse staff wasnít dressed in business professional attire. Instead, their sandals and boat shoes put our first-day nerves at ease. Breakfast, like most things in town, was slow and unscheduled giving us time to get to know our new best friends. Our introductory presentation was more of a discussion amongst friends than a college lecture. Our first team-building exercise involved branding our own bottled water and selling it to the people of Harbor Springs ó an excellent way to let the community know we have arrived, learn our way around, and zap our brains into entrepreneurial overdrive. Lunch wasnít catered. We walked down to the local sandwich shop and ordered from the hand-lettered chalkboard menu. We introduced ourselves to our fellow startups, and we finished the night with a group dinner of the lake. Did I say dinner? I meant feast. With the sun setting along the water, and the local beer being poured, it was a rewarding end to a very productive day.

From the start itís been clear that weíre here to build our business, but Jordan and his awesome team also want us to enjoy everything that Harbor Springs has to offer. Itís a perfect fusion of work and play that fits this acceleratorís ďstartup summer campĒ persona to a tee.

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