Launch Pad Shows Opportunity Zones’ Potential

 

Forbes OZ Summit Series: Anne Driscoll, Founder and COO, Launch Pad

On May 21, we interviewed key opportunity zone players at the inaugural Forbes OZ Summit in Newark, New Jersey. 

By the end of 2020, Launch Pad will open 25 coworking spaces in Opportunity Zones focused on start ups. The firm will start a foundation to support Opportunity Zone-based businesses and open a venture fund for related investments. This comprehensive strategy speaks to the faith of Launch Pad’s leadership team in what the OZ incentive can accomplish. Founder and COO of Launch Pad Anne Driscoll says, “I think the biggest potential here is for us to actually create really resilient entrepreneurial communities.” 

Anne knows a thing or two about entrepreneurs and innovation. A former executive at Google, she spent 20 years working for high-growth startups in Silicon Valley. There she learned that while entrepreneurs can build great companies anywhere with the use of modern-day technology, they often struggle to raise capital in non-coastal cities. This is because typically there aren’t enough start-ups in smaller markets to warrant dedicated venture capital funds. As a result, Driscoll believes that national funds must focus more attention on mid-market cities, because their investments have the potential to create “more jobs, more companies getting spawned, more interesting development within the community, and a much more sustainable economy.” Since leaving the Valley, Driscoll has been on a mission to create the world’s strongest community of entrepreneurs, taking the lead by creating her own innovative solution for non-coastal start-ups. 

Aiming to maximize the impact of the Opportunity Zones incentive, Driscoll is getting heavily involved with developing communities as a means to rejuvenate the entire country. With fellow Silicon Valley veteran Chris Schultz, she founded Launch Pad to create coworking spaces that bring innovators together. Its first office was opened in New Orleans in 2009, and Launch Pad has since expanded to Nashville, Memphis, Newark, San Antonio, and Stockton. Driscoll describes the Launch Pad model as, “Coworking ++.” In other words, Launch Pad offers “coworking plus impact — to support the communities we serve — and coworking plus investment — being able to attract investor capital from the coasts.” 

This model has already had success in rejuvenating disinvested city neighborhoods, making it an unambiguous example for Opportunity Zones. In New Orleans, its achievements include more than 5,000 jobs created and hundreds of millions of dollars in capital raised by companies housed in Launch Pad’s coworking spaces. Launch Pad’s experience also highlights a crucial point for the success of the Opportunity Zone legislation: capital needs to flow not just to real estate, but to operating businesses.