A new combination of venture capital and incubator space is opening in Boise.
The company is Aspatore Ventures, funded by Jonathan Aspatore, a serial entrepreneur from Novato, California. P. Simon Mahler, Aspatore’s startup director, said that while Aspatore now has just four employees, he expects it to grow significantly through the end of the year. He couldn’t say exactly how much money it has to invest.
“It’s well financed,” he said.
Located in the former Balihoo space on Eighth Street in downtown Boise, “it’s a little big for us with four people, but we’ll figure it out,” Mahler said. “By the end of September, this place will be hopping.” He also plans to hold events, he said.
At first, the firm is going to focus on developing Aspatore’s own business ideas, Mahler said. “What we do is fund all of our startups, which are in-house ideas at this point,” he said. “We have our own team dedicated to finding and solving problems that exist in the world, using technology. The idea is to spin out these companies and grow jobs all over Idaho.
“We are not taking outside ideas…..yet,” Mahler said.
An example of the sort of company Aspatore Ventures will be forming is Execshape, a startup for helping C-suite executives live healthier lives while they run big companies. “It’s an accountability tool, as well as providing plans for CEOs to live healthier,” Mahler said, adding that the company had a soft launch about a month ago. “We’ve been hammered with Fortune 100 CEOs to participate in the program already.”
While Boise has had other incubator spaces, such as the Watercooler and Trailhead, and other venture capital funds, such as Highway 12 (which shut down in 2011), Aspatore Ventures is different because it incorporates elements of both. Similar examples in other cities include Ycombinator in Mountain View, California; Techstars in Boulder, Colorado; and Idealab, in Pasadena, California.
“It’s interesting that something like that has finally come to Boise,” said Rick Ritter, formerly CEO of the Watercooler and now lab director of New Ventures Lab, in Meridian. “The whole focus of those organizations was to find ideas, bring them in-house, build teams, and relieve them of the back-office stuff – HR, payroll, legal — all the stuff that’s a necessary and important part of business but doesn’t need to be from the team that’s trying to figure out who its customers are.”
“It’s a nice addition to the ecosystem we have in the Treasure Valley,” said Kent Neupert, professor of entrepreneurship and strategy for the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University. Aspatore is different from other funds because it’s self-funded with a set, fast process to research ideas and move quickly into customer development, he said. “There’s either traction or there’s not, and then move on to the next thing.”
Boise State will work with the organization through student involvement such as internships, Neupert said. “It’s a great way for students to get up close and personal, hands-on experience with startups,” he said.
Aspatore’s founder chose Boise because of the city’s proximity to California, as well as its low wages and attractive downtown, Mahler said. “Competitive pay rate, the amenities, downtown, the brick – he loves how Boise is structured,” he said. “It was an easy sell for him.” In fact, Aspatore may send some of his Novato company to Boise because of how much more affordable it is, he said.
Aspatore Ventures will be particularly valuable to the Idaho startup community once it’s run through its own list of ideas, Ritter said. “Even more interesting is how they get to the next step,” he said. “It’s a win-win for us because we’re getting the potential for some businesses that never would have come to Idaho. Having that has some really interesting potential.”
This story was modified August 8 after the company retracted its claim that it has $100 million to invest.