Over the past couple years I’ve been attending events at 1776, a startup incubator in downtown Washington, D.C. Around the time they launched, I saw the event information in my inbox and on my timeline, and I thought it looked really cool.
A good friend of mine had recently joined a D.C.-based startup around that time, and she invited me to the meetup groups and company launch parties that were being held at 1776. It was my first introduction to that niche in the business world, and I was really excited to check it out, especially since I was working on launching REI 360. I ended up using several concepts from 1776 when I was looking for new office space.
So what is an incubator, exactly? An incubator in the startup world charges a monthly membership fee to entrepreneurs in exchange for the following:
1. Shared office space — and it’s typically awesome space, at that. In the case of 1776, it’s the entire top floor of an office building next to the White House, spanning about 15,000 square feet, and the decor is so cool that visitors immediately pull out their phones to take a quick video.
2. Access to funding. Several venture capitalists and angel investors are associated with the incubator — and you, as a member, will be able to pitch your business idea to them.
3. A community. You’re surrounded every day by other entrepreneurs trying to make something out of nothing, just like you are. That in itself is really powerful. Also, the community includes the necessary third-party service providers, such as lawyers and accountants, that the founders will need if their company does take shape.
Many great tech companies got their start at incubators like this one, and having one close to home with a few friends working there seemed really cool to me.
Then, in 2014, my partner and I started looking for new office space. We run a few real estate companies from our office, and our growing operation needed more space badly. We’ve been expanding our own community recently (partners, staff, clients and more), and we began holding in-office lunches, training and meetup groups when something occurred to me: Why aren’t there incubators in the real estate investing industry?
The technology space clearly has them, and in real estate, you could even look at a brokerage as a type of agent incubator. But real estate investing as a concept would be a great niche for the incubator world.
There is relatively little barrier to entry. Basically, you just need to save a few bucks and do a lot of homework. There is no manual on how to do it right; there’s no college course covering the basics; and there are no big companies where you can get your start.
To launch quickly and avoid a ton of mistakes along the way, any real estate company will need the same things an incubator would provide, most of which we already had in place:
1. Funding. Our main business, Hard Money Bankers, provides debt and equity for real estate investment deals.
2. Community. Our staff and clients have grown into an awesome real estate resource and are a great group to spend time with.
3. Shared space. We were missing this one, and our partners and staff were crammed into 1,400 square feet with barely enough room for a lunch meeting. But the thought of being on the hook financially for a huge, expensive office made me a little ill, so we decided to start smaller.
We ended up with 3,300 square feet of space for us plus a few clients, including plenty of room for lunches, parties, meetups and to practice putting. It’s a work in progress, but it’s headquarters for both Hard Money Bankers and REI 360, and it’s our own little world of business, collaboration, personal growth and fun.
Chris Haddon is an entrepreneur based in Washington, D.C., a partner at Hard Money Bankers and a co-founder of REI360.net.