There’s a cozy white house on the north end of downtown Fargo known as the Cathedral District, that now houses two young entrepreneurs free from paying rent or utilities.
They are Sarah English and Trent Cahoon, and they are the first inhabitants of the Fargo Startup House – the only Startup House in North Dakota, and one of only a handful that exist in the USA.
The Fargo Startup House provides a home where up to six entrepreneurs can live, work, and collaborate without paying for rent or utilities. The House was created by Miguel Danielson, founder of Danielson Legal LLC, as a way to support fledgling entrepreneurs and continue growing the local startup community.
“I thought it would be the quickest and best way to stimulate a small number of entrepreneurs and their businesses into a successful startup situation,” Danielson said.
The House is sponsored largely out of his own pocket, Danielson said, with sponsorship from NDSU Research and Tech Park, High Points Networks, and 1gig Internet provided free of charge from 702 Communications.
Danielson also offers his mentorship to all the House inhabitants, acting as a resource to form other connections within the community.
When brainstorming on the idea of the House, Danielson said he drew on his experience as a college student at the University of Minnesota, where he remembers how the camaraderie among colleagues played a meaningful role in their success. After college, however, that experience is often lost.
With the Startup House, he hopes to recreate that collaborative environment while eliminating some financial barriers that might inhibit progress for young entrepreneurs, he said.
So, what’s the catch? That’s what Trent Cahoon, the House’s first inhabitant and founder of Delv Software, was asking when he applied to move in to the house last October.
But surprisingly, he found that there is no catch. Unlike other startup houses that exist mainly on the west coast, Danielson does not ask for equity or any other kind of compensation.
“That’s why Miguel is extra angelic in this, because he doesn’t ask for anything,” said Sarah English, the second and most recent inhabitant of the House. “It’s just out of the goodness of his heart.”
English is the founder of the game design startup Beach Interactive, currently working on an educational language-learning game called The Abettor’s Letters. She moved into the House last December and has since been decorating and feng shui-ing to her heart’s content.
The House now sports a large world map, two “Fargo Greatest City in the World” mugs, and a bathroom boombox that only plays cassette tapes.
It features whiteboard walls, covered with messages, and sliding wooden panel doors – all designed and installed after Danielson closed on the house at the end of 2013.
On the glass dining room table is a small carousel of postcards, one from a seasoned world-traveler who once visited Fargo and gave their “full support” to naming that area ‘The Cathedral District'” ; another hails from Cambridge, England and reads “Hey there Fargo – I’d tell you that you rock, but you knew that already!”
Downstairs, Cahoon’s room is home to a 4-year-old ball python named Tali, a 3D printer, and the Oculus Rift – a virtual reality (VR) headset that Cahoon uses while writing VR software for his company (we can’t share too much about the work he’s doing, as much of it is confidential).
The two agreed that they want the House to be a welcome spot for guests – “like a hub,” English said. She is currently planning to have a weekly Sunday brunch for anyone who is interested, as well as a housewarming party. Future gatherings like entrepreneurial-themed game/movie nights are in the works.
More importantly, they said, living in the House has given them the chance to grow their companies.
“I would never have been able to do this. Not in 100 years. I’d have to keep working to pay bills,” said Cahoon, who previously worked three simultaneous jobs as a waiter, a pizza boy, and a GameStop employee.
“Especially in a tech field, you have to go for it because in a matter of months or years your field, or whatever your project is, is going to be obsolete,” added English. “This is a way of expediting that whole process by eliminating a lot of living expenses. I’m going to be super indebted to this place for sure.”
English said her long-term dream is to run a profitable business and outgrow the Startup House, making way for the next burgeoning entrepreneurs. This is exactly what Danielson hopes to spark in the Fargo community through the Startup House.
“What I’d love to see,” he said. “is that the companies that we foster become drivers of economic activity and creators of jobs, and contributors to a startup community in Fargo that I hope will be one of the best in the country.”
The House still has room for up to 4 more entrepreneurs. Applications can be found here.
There is also an upstairs apartment that can be rented by the public, available here on Airbnb.
All photos courtesy of Marisa Jackels.