Gateway’s Launch Box to close

Co-working space folds after Racine, WEDC funding dry up

Alex Upendo, center, of Build-a-Bow won the Launch Box pitch competition in 2017.

Gateway Technical College will close its Launch Box co-working space in Racine on Nov. 30.

Alex Upendo, center, of Build-a-Bow won the Launch Box pitch competition in 2017.

The school informed its members and partners of the decision Thursday, which resulted from a loss of funding and a re-evaluation of its usage, said Matthew Janisin, vice president of business and workforce solutions at Gateway.

In keeping with its contracts with Launch Box’s 147 members, Gateway provided 120 days of notice prior to closing, he said.

Launch Box opened in 2013 as a joint venture between Gateway and the City of Racine to encourage and support entrepreneurship in the community. It was originally housed on city property and the two split the cost of a director’s salary. Later, the program moved on to Gateway’s Racine campus as the city cut funding from the budget, Janisin said.

“Just in the last fiscal year, the city removed their 50 percent funding for the position, so Gateway had to look at how to fund the entire program, as well as the position,” he said.

A recent analysis of Launch Box indicated it was being used by virtually zero students, and the 2017 average number of daily unique users was only five people, Janisin said. There was also no membership fee, so it wasn’t sustainable.

“It was mainly being used by community members who were having small business-type startups as a co-working space,” he said. “And there’s a number of co-working spaces that have been popping up in our area. Those type of spaces are becoming a little bit more popular, so we knew there would be options for people.”

The Launch Box space, at 1001 S. Main St., will be converted to an entrepreneurship student resource center, and Gateway will continue to offer its entrepreneurship courses and its BIZ Squad, in which students offer no-cost, customized assistance to area businesses.

Gateway received an $80,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. for Launch Box’s 12-week Growth Accelerator Program in June 2017, which covered the fall 2017 and spring 2018 semesters. The grant money was used as seed capital for startups and for accelerator operating costs. Launch Box also previously received two previous WEDC grants totaling $100,000.

Thalia Mendez, business resource specialist and Launch Box director, departed on June 30 when the grant period ended, she said.

In May, entrepreneur Nicholas McGovern, who founded NJM Consultants, won the $6,000 grand prize in the Growth Accelerator’s pitch competition. In 2017, 11-year-old entrepreneur Alex Upendo won the contest with his startup, Build-a-Bow.

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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