Dateline NBC visits Opelika as start-up space expands
By Alison James
Round House opened on South Railroad Avenue in January. This week saw a major expansion that represents growth “leaps and bounds beyond what we envisioned,” according to founders Kyle Sandler and Chris George.
The start-up space has expanded across town, retaining the original location for the accelerator that will begin in May and moving the co-working and incubator aspects of the business to 216 S. Eighth Street, in the building that most recently housed Resurrect Antiques.
“We quickly got to capacity,” Sandler explained. “We’ve had a lot of attention. People like what we’re doing.”
Attention grew after a recent USA Today piece revealing the Round House’s association with John McAfee, anti-virus and cyber-security guru, who has joined the company to work on applications promoting smartphone and social media security as part of the Future Tense Central incubator.
Round House will surely gain even more exposure after a visit from Dateline NBC this week. Dateline reporters interviewed John McAfee at Round House Wednesday; the segment is set to air Thursday.
Sandler said they grew concerned about the potential problems of housing the accelerator and the co-working spaces and incubator all under one roof. With an aim to give the companies in the accelerator plenty of space to work and learn, as well provide a better, undisturbed atmosphere for the co-workers and incubator companies, the expansion to place in the space of a couple of days.
The original space will be renamed Locomotive by the Round House and will be one of the only start-up accelerators in the company that boasts its own space. The new location, open and airy, features offices spaces and the co-working lab, as well as a special room just for students in Opelika’s Young Entrepreneurs Academy.
“You don’t really know until you get started what you’re going to need sometimes,” said George. “I think we realized fairly quickly we were going to need more space to accommodate the growth.”
The accelerator is Round House’s major focus locally, with the application period closing at the end of March. Slots are available for six eager start-ups, and Round House has received about 30 applications so far. The companies that are chosen will come work and learn in the accelerator; they will receive an investment from Round House to cover their living expenses and to use to grow their business, and Round House, in return, will receive equity in the company. The program will wrap up with a presentation to investors, and then companies that choose to stay in the area for an extended period will receive additional monetary incentive in return for further equity. Professors from Auburn University and the University of Tennessee will help create the curriculum, and the start-up participants will “be able to have their heads down and work,” Sandler said.
“When we partnered at the beginning, we knew the incubator would be temporary in our space, and we knew we would expand fast,” said Richard Patton, who, along with Allison Kovak
and others, has worked to prepare the space where Round House began. “(The expansion) is a great thing that happend – sooner than we expected.
“We have to get the accelrator ready for the guys coming,” he continued. “We’ve got to upgrade some things, get all the furniture and desks in and really get this space ready.”
A lot of preparation is going into the accelerator on Sandler and George’s end as well – scheduling meetings, speakers and workshops and working out affordable rentals for living accommodations for participants. “It’s like planning entrepreneurial summer camp,” Sandler said.