Church & State: A No-strings-attached Business Incubator for the Community to Use and Build

Sometimes the seed of a great business idea just needs a place to grow – a soft landing in an ecosystem fertilized by likeminded peers and mentors, with all of the resources necessary to sustain it. 

One such place is Utah's newest, and likely most unique business incubator: Church & State, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization and a no-strings-attached entrepreneur center developed in a former church building located at 370 S. 300 East in Salt Lake City.

"Church & State is unlike other incubators because it has no lease, no mortgage, no tax liabilities and no cash burden, so all of our participants – from startups to entrepreneurs – gain free, no-strings-attached access to our resources and mentoring," says Director Garrett Clark.

"We never ask for equity," he continues. "Rather, we augment our entrepreneurs and startups with $20,000 to $30,000 worth of free services in the form of web development, legal and accounting help from our in-house teams."

Hence, for nary a dime, the entrepreneurs and startups invited to locate at Church & State are able to develop their business models, get their web applications finished or refined, get their books squared away and formalize their business entities correctly. In essence, Church & State provides them with a secure foundation on which to build their businesses. But that's not all. Church & State also offers co-working space, office space, conference rooms, a kitchen, a fun room and a gymnasium with classes taught by Gym Jones.

Selection into Church & State's incubator program is done by application. The community at Church & State runs the applications through existing resources and teams. If the concept is approved, the entrepreneur is accepted into the program free of charge. Entrepreneurs are then put through a rigorous development and planning program, called a co-hort, which connects the concepts with mentors, management and team members with a goal to graduate the entrepreneur and his company into the community in about 12 weeks, allowing for the next generation of entrepreneurs to take part in the program.

Clark says membership in the Church & State community and ecosystem is open to all entrepreneurs and anyone with a relevance to the start-up entrepreneur, regardless of industry or geographic location. There are three different levels of membership: use of the co-working space, the no-strings-attached incubator program and membership in the resource center. Memberships are month-to-month and include a wide range of services and benefits.

Membership brings with it 24/7 access to the building, conference rooms and recreational assets. Members can also rent office space in one of Church & State's super cool offices created within the former chapel. For their membership, the entrepreneurs receive access to Church & State mentors, private events and the unquantifiable ability to work with people that may become their future customers, mentors or even their bosses.

"You just never know what might occur until you are here," says Clark. "Making friends, creating lasting partnerships, you never know where that will lead."

The beautiful, 20,000 square-foot facility also provides a venue where the community can hold events for little to no cost. Church & State's venue is free for the asking. However, scheduling can sometimes be challenging because everyone wants to use it.

To be sure, Church & State is not a long-term solution for small businesses. The goal is for them to grow and scale at Church & State and then go out into the world and create jobs. He says the typical stay is between six months to two years – "from the point the dream takes roots to the time the company has raised angel or venture funding. We are a nonprofit with a mission to create an ecosystem that is supportive to entrepreneurs and not predatory," he adds.

Formerly a Central Christian Church, the facility was purchased by Thomas Lee and Ron Heffernan last year. They envisioned an incubator that could bolster the startup ecosystem and help entrepreneurs be successful. Clark expects Church & State will be churning out many successful companies in the future. "We are moving at a pretty good pace," he says.

Church & State is what Clark calls "industry agnostic." Although most lean toward tech, the businesses working from within the incubator include medical device companies, software developers, digital media and advertising companies, SEO marketing companies, a company that sells products and services to young sporting professionals and a high-end creative design firm.

After growing out of its former facility, DevPoint Labs became the first official tenant at Church & State last August. CEO and co-founder Ty Diamse says DevPoint Labs provides an intensive web development coding bootcamp where students learn how to code in an all-day, 11-week format. The results are hard to argue with. DevPoint Lab students have an 85-95 percent placement rate within three months after graduation.

The company focuses on teaching students to code in the core technologies that industry demands, such as HTML, CSS, Javascript, Pitch Databases and more. Diamse says DevPoint Labs has a keen interest in helping women get into computer programming. "Right now, it's a boy's club and there is an overwhelming shortage of women in the computer programming industry," he says.

Hence, DevPoint Labs is offering two scholarships for women. One is for $500 off of tuition. The other is a full tuition scholarship with a paid three-month internship and a six-month membership in Church & State. Women interested in the scholarships may complete an online application One applicant per course will be selected by DevPoint Labs for the scholarship.

Diamse says DevPoint Labs is asking that the women seeking the scholarships participate in a program with the company to visit K-12 schools and encourage young women to think about careers in computer programming. "There are so many benefits in the tech industry for women. That's why we are pushing this," he adds.

For a time, approximately 60 percent of DevPoint Labs' students were from out-of-state, but the average is about 30 percent. Students are coming from as far away as Hawaii, New York, California and Texas to learn how to code, and most of them end up staying in Utah because they find high-paying jobs here, Diamse notes.