AOL’s First Floor Labs Helps Young Entrepreneurs Start Up with Free Office Space

AOL may not be considered by some as an incubator of young tech talent, but it literally is. The incubator made its debut four years ago as First Floor Labs mainly because it was on the first floor of AOL's Palo Alto building. It has since moved, but still offers young entrepreneurs office space, a gym and kitchen.

Mendel Chuang, director of First Floor Labs, said the incubator exists to help people create their startups. "We know doing startups are hard," he told Press: Here. "We want to give them the resources and a community to be around."

Chuang is the founder and chief executive of mobile shopping app Smoopa, which was created at First Floor Labs.

Chuang said that the incubator is a free, six-month program, but unlike others in the Bay Area, it doesn't have as many strings attached. "We're not going to assign you a mentor, there's no weekly check-in, and there's not pressure in three months to have a demo day," he said. First Floor Labs also takes no financial interest in the projects -- it doesn't demand a piece of the pie if the startup sells.

There is an application process for First Floor Labs where applicants are vetted based on their project,  First Floor Labs also has a few rules for applicants:

  • Work out of the office at least 4 days a week
  • Attend weekly Thursday lunches and occasional other events
  • Share your learnings, give a tech talk, and do a product demo
  • Sign a Service Agreement and Non-Disclosure Agreement with AOL and undergo a background check ($103 fee and $25 security deposit)
  • Be a good member of the community and help each other out

Some success stories include Aviate, a mobile homescreen app startup, was sold to Yahoo last year. In January, Dropbox acquired Pixelapse, a startup that offers mobile design tools. 

While AOL Ventures, AOL's venture capital arm, could fund some startups (since it's in the same building), there are no guarantees or expectations that it can occur. Still, it shows that AOL could get something out of supplying free office space to young entrepreneurs.

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