Eric Smith has known the entrepreneur life since he was a child.
“My dad’s been an entrepreneur for 25, 30 years, and my family experienced the high highs of a business being on top of the world and the low lows,” he told Technical.ly. “So, ever since I was 15 or 16, I knew exactly what I wanted to do as I got older, and that was support people like my dad, give them little bit of extra help, more capital, a better team helping to make it happen.”
After working as VP of Carvertise for several years, during which time he helped the onetime University of Delaware startup become the national brand it is today, he cofounded Launch Point Labs (LPL) in 2021. It’s one of the first startup studios in Delaware, and counts five managing partners: Smith, Kyra Gilmore, Travis King, Damon Martin and Brandon Mahoney.
A startup studio is not an accelerator or an incubator, but rather a a group of entrepreneurs and executives that build small businesses and nonprofits, offering a pool of over 100 carefully selected designers, marketers, sales pros, project managers and advisors to help fill talent gaps and give funding and investment help. LPL is projected to launch 16 new businesses in Delaware this year, per Smith.
At this point, LPL connects startups to investors across the country who may be a good match, but the team is also building a $5 million fund to invest in startups directly — a potential boon to Delaware’s startup ecosystem, which is light on VC investments compared to other markets (not counting all those inc-only companies).
Like Carvertise, LPL is national, serving startups all over the North America. But its team is especially invested in the Greater Philadelphia region, especially Delaware, where Smith and several other members live.
The goal with the local startups LPL works with — which currently make up about 30% of its client base — is to offer them enough support that they’ll stay and grow in Delaware, and of course, remain clients.
“We really want to be able to make a substantial impact in Delaware overall,” Smith said. “What we’ve noticed from speaking to a lot of startups in the area is that there’s a lack of support for startups and entrepreneurs in Delaware. Whether it’s capital or resources or talent, there is a huge gap here, and startups can’t get the help they need. So what ends up happening is you’re probably going to move. You’re going to move to Philadelphia, Washington, DC or Baltimore. All these other cities that are around us are sucking away businesses and good talent. We want to be able to change that.”
Early-stage startups can receive LPL services for free. The business model is designed to carry such startups to the point where they are making money, at which point the startups become paying clients who continue to have access to LPL’s resources.
We're playing a really long game here, especially in Delaware.
So, for example, if a fitness app startup that was launched by LPL is doing well but not quite ready to hire an in-house designer, they can use of LPL’s designers (or marketers, or whatever else they need) for a monthly fee, whether it be a direct payment or equity.
“We’re playing a really long game here, especially in Delaware,” Smith said. “We’ll help startups out totally free of charge, because we know that once we’re able to get them off the ground start accelerating their growth, then we can start talking about, OK, this is what a retainer or an equity share will look like.”
One of the challenges — and this is something we’ve heard from other Delaware founders as well — is that a lot of the talent made here doesn’t stay here, making finding local talent difficult for some Delaware startups. LPL’s pool of contractors allows these startups to grow roots without relying on talent in other states, which can pull startups out of Delaware.
So how do you get in on these free resources?
“The key thing that we look for out of a startup company is the founder,” Smith said. “[We look for] someone who has grit and resiliency, who wants to be able to make it happen. We’ve noticed that when we find someone like that, there’s no stopping. Our businesses are across the board. We help out with some museums, even nonprofits, which is awesome. We’re starting to work with some companies that are in the consumer packaged goods space. But it really comes down to the founder.”
You can see some of the startups LPL works with both locally and across North America on its LinkedIn feed; among its Delaware-based clients are Newark-based Spray Less, which also has founders who were formerly with Carvertise. You can also use LinkedIn to connect with the team, who are always on the lookout for young founders in need of support.
Helping early-stage startups, Smith said, is “engraved into our DNA.”
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