Business

Betaspring's Bumper Crop

Aspiring entrepreneurs find a home in the Creative Capital

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Betaspring is a Providence-based business accelerator program that's been getting national attention (including from President Obama) for bringing start-up companies into the city. Access to over 80 business professional mentors and $20,000 in seed capital are great incentives for a start-up to visit Providence for the three-month program, but Betaspring’s emphasis on community makes these companies want to stick around. In fact, 15 of the most recent session's 16 teams made just that decision.

Despite never changing this emphasis, four years ago Betaspring was a different program — in a smaller space at Davol Square. “Our old location was smaller and start-ups had to plan on leaving Providence in three months,” says Melissa Withers, Chief of Staff at Betaspring. Now with a larger location in the Jewelry District and a more refined process, the companies can be housed at HQ for 12 weeks after the program. This encourages teams to take out six-month leases for apartments and integrate into the city.

The Betaspring team makes a point of showing the teams around, bringing them to museums, local fun spots and historical landmarks. “We want the teams to see our city the way we see it," Withers insists.

“Providence is very cool," agrees Joel Strellner, founder of Socialping, a Twitter analytics firm. "Everything’s in walking distance. Back home [Southern California], you have to take a car to get anywhere.”

Withers and the budding CEOs also insist there is a community built within Betaspring itself. The mentors are not distant; they form relationships that last with the start-up teams. And working together in a shared environment creates a closeknit network of budding entrepreneurs.

The city and state government aren’t slouching either. This group of start-ups was the first to enjoy a $50,000 equity investment from the City of Providence. Additionally, the governor and the state Economic Development Corporation were instrumental in helping Betaspring secure $2 million in federal funding, allowing them to invest more money to their cultivated start-ups.

Cass Sapir, CEO of Thumbs Up, a television based social network, expresses how vibrant the city is, talking about open office space, and the potential for more shared-office environments like the one Betaspring fosters. “There’s a lot of fresh talent too,” he remarks. In the next couple of years, the companies are looking to create jobs, and give the fleeting college graduates a reason to stick around too.

When asked why he chose to stay in Providence, Aaron Horowitz, CEO of Sproutel, an interactive toy developer for chronically ill children, responds, “I have the philosophy of being where I am wanted.” Strellner, Horowitz and Sapir then recall a visit from Mayor Angel Taveras who enthusiastically pointed out the window to a vacant lot where I-195 once stood and spoke of a bright future with skyscrapers in its place.

Withers and the rest of the staff at Betaspring have high hopes for Providence’s near future. She wants to move toward “critical mass” and populate the streets with enthusiastic teams. Withers recounts, “One afternoon Allan [Tear, Betaspring Managing Partner] and I were walking down the street to get lunch. I saw four people from current teams wearing their company t-shirts and I thought, It’s happening.