By Gigi Wood
CEDAR RAPIDS – Tony Hsieh, the iconic CEO of Zappos.com, has led the development of a business incubator campus in downtown Las Vegas.
Mr. Hsieh, author of “Delivering Happiness” and the entrepreneur who took Zappos from a $1.6 million business in 2000 to a $1 billion company in 2009, is creating the incubator campus to accelerate innovation, improve creativity and solve community problems.
“It’s all about creating an environment that appeals to the creative class and creating more serendipitous interactions among employees and the community,” Mr. Hsieh said in an interview with Las Vegas Sun.
That idea, of creating company campuses that incorporate business incubators, is coming to Cedar Rapids.
Geonetric, the Cedar Rapids-based healthcare website developer, is just starting construction on its new building. The company, which has been on the Corridor Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Companies list for four times since the list started in 2008, was also named to the inaugural Coolest Places to Work in the Corridor list last month.
Eric Engelmann and Ben Dillon, Geonetric’s co-owners, announced plans last week to dedicate the second floor of the new building as business incubator space. When the building is complete in spring 2014, Vault Coworking will move from its space in the Guaranty Bank building to Geonetric’s business incubator and will manage the project.
“This all came about because (Vault founders) Andy Stoll and Amanda Styron and I have a similar vision of bringing together creative, technical and entrepreneurial people together to congregate in one place,” Mr. Engelmann said. “We may not have the millions to do what Tony Hsieh has done in Las Vegas, but we feel like we can help build a community.”
The $5.5 million building will be located in the New Bohemia (NewBo) arts and entertainment district in downtown Cedar Rapids. Mr. Engelmann said he hopes to help launch 100 or more startups during the next few years.
“This hits upon every interest I have, entrepreneurship, building a community and bringing together smart people to change the world,” he said. “And Cedar Rapids needs an environment to steer entrepreneurs and let them know quickly whether their ideas are good or not.”
Entrepreneurs in the business incubator rubbing shoulders daily with Geonetric employees could help create new businesses and new ideas and potentially help solve large-scale community problems, such as education challenges.
“Solving problems requires creative people,” he said. “By having all these people together, maybe we make a dent in solving problems.”
Geonetric itself has tried some unconventional approaches. One is essentially eliminating the managerial hierarchy within the business. Another was the Blue Sky initiative, which helped launch startup companies. Instead of focusing and launching one business at a time, Mr. Engelmann decided it would be more effective to host business incubator space.
“There are already people out there (trying to start businesses),” he said. “We thought we should help them accelerate.”
Geonetric has not yet received any state or local incentives for the project, Mr. Engelmann said.