In order to get up to Novotorium’s second-floor offices, you have climb the Stairway to Innovation — an otherwise nondescript, office-park stairwell that’s plastered with inspiring graffiti. Also on hand are markers inviting passers-by to add their own.
“It helps push people out of their comfort zones, because most grownups won’t write on the walls,” said Mike Krupit, the general manager of Novotorium. He calls himself the “survivor” of six startups, and says working around other entrepreneurs is exciting. “The culture, the passion, the pace, not knowing what’s coming next … it’s often like a drug for many of us.”
So he became an enabler, launching Novotorium with funding from a private investor he once helped make rich. Its purpose is to incubate startup businesses — to provide them with space, technology and mentorship.
“When we bring a company into our incubator, we sit them down and we come up with three-month goals,” said Krupit. “We put together an action plan and a resource plan, and then we let them loose.”
Only after those three months will Novotorium even consider making a financial investment in the startup, something that differentiates it from a typical business accelerator. Also, Krupit’s only interested in startups with long-term plans. He’s not into “churn and burn” entrepreneurs who’ll sell quickly and move on.
Focusing on entrepreneurs, not ideas
Another difference: It doesn’t matter so much how good the startup idea is.
“For us, it’s the quality of the entrepreneur before the quality of the idea,” said Krupit. “Ideas are a dime a dozen.”
The first company Novotorium took on was Zuppler, a website where people can order food from local restaurants for pickup or delivery. The company just announced its second — InHabi, a website that connects landlords with pre-screened tenants.
Krupit says Novotorium hopes to add one new startup each month for the next year.
How to convince them to join a suburban incubator instead of one in Philadelphia or New York?
“We picked Bucks County because it’s not far from many places,” said Krupit. “We’re a half hour from Center City, a half hour from Princeton and a half hour from King of Prussia. We’re 10 minutes from the Trenton transit station, so you can be in New York City in an hour.” Plus, it’s a reverse commute for most people.
And to keep them coming, Krupit’s lined up some incentives: video games, free salad lunches, a gym — even a futuristic napping pod tucked away in a closet.
The value of mentorship
Not that Jameel Farruk and David Friedman would know. They’re the co-founders of InHabi.
“There’s no napping in a startup,” said Farruk.
They both say that of all the amenities, the mentorship is the most helpful.
“There’s a lot of different topics that can be covered, and a lot of things that are helpful to talk about,” said Farruk. “We can get some advice, some wisdom and some coaching from people who’ve been at a few rodeos before us.”
On a recent afternoon they talked about goal prioritization with some guest mentors — a skill they’ll need over the next three months if they want to impress Krupit. And if they really want to impress him, they’ll need to come up with something pretty clever to write on the Stairway to Innovation.