Before reaching its second birthday, the Boise Greenhouse sent its first fully matured graduate out into the world this spring.
Affinity Amp, a mobile application company, grew from two to eight employees in seven months at the Greenhouse, a city- and Boise State University-sponsored business incubator at 520 W. Idaho St. Affinity Amp moved its Boise headquarters to 300 W. Main St. in mid-May.
The startup got a boost from the turnkey office with Internet and phones already set up in the city-owned building, and from networking and mentoring provided there by the Small Business Development Center at Boise State, said Tom Loutzenheiser, who joined the company in January as CEO and director.
The Greenhouse is also an idea-rich environment, with ambitious startup creators bouncing ideas off each other.
One of the markets we build mobile apps for is the health and fitness industry, and (two other Greenhouse entrepreneurs) are from the fitness industry, so their expertise ... helped some of our sales and marketing, Loutzenheiser said.
Less than a month after Affinity Amps departure, the Greenhouse is welcoming a new member. Anboto Group, a company based in Spains Basque Country, is hiring a couple of employees for what could grow into a full-scale Boise operation.
ABOUT THE GREENHOUSE
As its name suggests, the Greenhouse was originally planned as an alternative energy-focused, green-jobs incubator. The mission has since evolved, said Betti Newburn, director of the small-business center.
We started out doing that, but green in Idaho is hard, in terms of finding enough startups to fill all the spaces, she said. Its been a rough time for energy (start-ups) in Idaho.
Current clients include a few green- or energy-related businesses, tech companies and the business operations for Fit Wrapz, a food business started by local entrepreneur Shige Toyoguchi.
The Greenhouse is not an office space for a casual weekend business, Newburn said. To get a spot there, startups must agree to listen to us, she said. That means taking part in SBDC mentoring and coaching sessions from once a week to once a month.
They let us know where they are, what their plan is ... if they need funding or marketing advice, Newburn said. The objective is to take startups that are past the idea stage and get them ready to leave the nest and flourish on their own. We dont think any company should be there more than, say, a year, a year and a half, Newburn said.
The incubator currently has seven startup clients. It has three empty offices, and a couple of companies applications are being reviewed, Newburn said.
Incubation doesnt ensure success. Three companies joined the incubator when it opened, and all of them have shut down.
Startups pay $50 a month for cubicles, and $100 or $150 a month for offices. City officials say the incubator does not make money for the city but isnt expected to and doesnt cost much, though they did not have figures.
The Greenhouse is one of at least five incubators in the Treasure Valley, including three Downtown. Boise States TECenter in Nampa has been around for eight years, fostering growth for tech businesses. The nonprofit Nebula Shift is a software incubator at 6th and Main streets. The University of Idahos Food Technology Center in Caldwell is aimed at food businesses. And The WaterCooler, targeting creative and innovative companies, was started at 14th and Idaho streets by BoDo developer Mark Rivers in 2008.
Although the Greenhouse is in Boise, its aim isnt solely local, and startups dont have to be brand-new. The incubator is aimed at helping Idaho businesses, Newburn said. Affinity Amp began in California and moved to Idaho. It won a spot in the Greenhouse even though its largest office, now at 12 employees, is in Rexburg. The owners opted to place the companys headquarters in Boise.
WHAT ITS LIKE INSIDE
Chris Chattin joined the football staff at Boise State after serving as an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Then his work with summer youth football camps gave him an idea.
Using his personal savings, Chattin created Netcamps, a company that does online registration plus marketing, payments and behind-the-scenes support for sports camps and events.
Chattin got a crash course on the technical stuff from Boise Public Library books on coding and Web development. Hes getting his business education from the Greenhouse, which he joined March 1.
I was talking to a developer Downtown, and walking past (the Greenhouse building), I saw the sign, Chattin said. I thought, oh, cool, I didnt know Boise has an incubator.
He spends anywhere from two to 18 hours a day in his Greenhouse cubicle. Hell often toss out questions to other entrepreneurs, such as, Have you guys ever used an online fax machine before? or ask the SBDC for recommendations.
Thats been incredibly valuable for not having to reinvent the wheel, Chattin said. Youre all going through the same thing as startups, and it saves a lot of time.
ANBOTO: VIRTUAL HELP
The company, based in the Bilbao area of Spain, makes tech products with language and translation abilities. One of its main products is a sales and customer service virtual assistant.
Because of its tech focus, Anboto is straddling the Silicon and Treasure valleys for its U.S. launch.
With a local connection through his Idaho-born assistant, Anboto founder and CEO Xabier Uribe-Etxebarria connected with Boise Mayor Dave Bieters office last fall, said John Brunelle, Bieters economic development assistant. Bieter met with Uribe-Etxebarra in September when Bieter took a one-day business-recruiting trip to the Bay Area.
As soon as they expressed interest (in Boise), we were all over it, and showed Uribe-Etxebarria the Greenhouse as a potential base for his U.S. launch, Brunelle said.
Brunelle hopes Anboto will turn out like Taos, a Bay Area-based IT consulting and services company. It has nearly 100 employees in its service center headquarters at 1307 S. Eagle Flight Way in Boise, he said.
Uribe-Etxebarria isnt committing to that right now. Doing business in Silicon Valley costs more than in Boise, and Idahoans have much more loyalty for the firms than in Silicon Valley, he said. But we have to speak with the investors and see whats most convenient for the company.
Hes hopeful that the Boise office will outgrow the Greenhouse, though.
We will see if it will be for six months or forever, he said. I would like forever.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey