Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can 'startup culture' catch fire in Charlotte?

Ben Vandgrift, a software developer, has done the Big Company thing.

He worked for IBM and Sun Microsystems. He even worked for the Charlotte Observer. But a few years ago, he decided to go solo. His current project, a dating website called Flowmingle, hasn't exactly put on the run, though. He's considering revisions.

Though life as a tech entrepreneur has its headaches, he doesn't sound like he's going back to Corporate anytime soon.

"It's so incredibly liberating," he said. "Once you get bitten by that bug, where instead of working on other people's vision you're working on your own, it's very hard to shake."

And these days, with big companies shedding employees, many smart people are finding themselves with skills in search of a market. Often, they turn to freelancing. Vandgrift is hoping he can help people like that through his latest venture, Start Charlotte (@StartCLT on Twitter).

He and his partners are taking an office space suite at the Area Fifteen business incubator in Optimist Park and turning it into a membership-driven co-working hub. They hope to attract freelance Web designers, software developers and other creative tech types. It's still a work in progress, but he hopes eventually he'll have enough members to leverage the kind of discounted group rates corporations enjoy for services such as health insurance or accounting.

That, he argues, would leave the members free to create and collaborate, and hopefully, form the kind of startup culture that breeds innovative companies like Google or Facebook. Beats working from home, he says. "Some people can handle working off of the couch for eight hours a day. I can't."

Interested? Drop by Area Fifteen at 15th Street and North Davidson on Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., when Vandgrift and his collaborators will be holding an open house. Or you can visit the Start Charlotte's website or e-mail Vandgrift at


Hope Rivers said...

Awesome read :) Excited about Ben's concept and it turns out he is going to be my neighbor in the Area 15 complex! Thank you Eric for keeping us in the know :)

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