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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • Startup house: Free rent for possible future stars in Fargo

  • A Fargo native and Harvard-educated lawyer wants to help his hometown become a household name for entrepreneurs.
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  • A Fargo native and Harvard-educated lawyer wants to help his hometown become a household name for entrepreneurs.
    Miguel Danielson built his legal career around Internet companies during the middle of the technology boom and has decided to invest some of his money and intellectual capital into a rent-free dormitory for smart people with unique ideas. The Fargo Startup House is going to help build businesses and Danielson is picking up the tab.
    Six participants will live together for six months in a remodeled house that is wired for Internet speed 100 times faster than their neighbors and decorated with original furniture and artwork. Unlike most business incubators or accelerators, these future stars are not charged a fee nor asked to give up a stake in their companies.
    "The commitment that we ask for is that they'll devote 100 percent of their time while living here to the building of their businesses," Danielson said. "I make no bones about the fact that the primary motive in this is to see something happen in a community that may not have ever happened if we had not built this house. To me, that's of great value."
    Danielson said there's no financial gain for him in the project. He said he hopes to develop sponsorships so the house will be self-sustaining after the first year.
    Greg Tehven, one of Danielson's partners in a Fargo events company and developers for the startup house, said the basic business plan was to find a place for "all the coolest people in the country to live" and give them access to high-speed Internet. The first object was finding shelter, he said.
    "There wasn't a whole lot of strategy, other than the fact we clearly identified the problem, then bought the house and that accelerated the concept," Tehven said. "One important thing is removing that first barrier of where you are going to live. You have a roof over your head and great people around you."
    The 1-gigabit Internet service alone is a selling point. Such fiber-optic speed is normally reserved for corporations or people in the Kansas City and Provo, Utah areas who have been recipients of the Google Fiber pilot project.
    "We said to ourselves that we didn't want to wait around for a Google to be our savior," Danielson said. "We were just going to figure out what it takes."
    Residents also will have access to nationally recognized mentors, business leaders, investors and professional services like health and wellness and legal advice. Tim Brookins, a Microsoft engineer who is volunteering his services as a mentor, said it's a project that fits Fargo's emerging reputation as a hub for entrepreneurs.
    "I have not seen a similar setup like this. That's why I am so excited about it," Brookins said. "It's hard-core. A lot of business type-incubators will have office space for you where you come and sit in a cube and then go home. The fact that you're actually going to live there is the really neat part of it."
    Page 2 of 2 - One of the spots in the house will go to someone representing the international creative firm Misfit Inc., which in turn will provide support services to other residents and assist with applications. Five other participants will be selected in the next couple of weeks. Starting date for the startup house is Sept. 1.
    The modest four-bedroom, two-bath house in the so-called Cathedral District near downtown Fargo was built sometime around 1915. It has hardwood floors throughout the main level. Most of the furniture in the house is built from reclaimed wooden ceiling rafters. The wall coverings are made from brick, wood and steel.
    The living room and dining room are separated by a hanging "barn door," which Danielson, 37, proudly points out when giving a tour.
    "We have put a lot of time into making these common areas, both this living room and the dining area, into really artistic, beautiful places that hopefully will inspire people to want to be there and work," he says, highlighting sliding wooden doors that separate the living room and dining room.
    Even the house's furniture maker/interior designer/artist fits the bill of entrepreneur. Brandon LaPlante built the tables, desks and beds for the startup house and wound up taking Danielson's advice and opening his own business called Link and Timber. LaPlante said he was given a blank slate to make "beautiful and functional" furniture.
    "I wanted to design a space that would inspire people who are in it to be creative," LaPlante said.

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