Dynamic duos: Brian Watson and Josh Hudnall
The pair founded LAUNCH West CO on the Western Slope
(Editor's note: This is one of ColoradoBiz's “dynamic duos” of Colorado business, who reflect on their working relationships, what brought them together and where they’re going.)
Brian Watson and Josh Hudnall
Though coworking only amounts to a fraction of the overall commercial real estate market throughout the U.S., a noticeable uptick has emerged, with significant square footage appearing in unexpected corners of Colorado. This December, FACTORY – Grand Junction’s newest source of inspiration, collaboration and wireless internet – turned its lights on and opened its doors at 750 Main St. The shared workspace is the result of community leadership pushing for expanded possibilities on the Western Slope.
In 2012, friends, fellow Broncos fans and officemates Brian Watson and Josh Hudnall co-founded LAUNCH West CO, a nonprofit network of entrepreneurs and small business professionals from Western Colorado.
Watson’s parents moved him and his siblings to Grand Junction when he was in first grade, while Hudnall grew up in Colorado Springs, moved to Denver to launch his career and ultimately married a Grand Junction native and planted roots as an app developer on the Western Slope.
“I thought I was the only programmer in Western Colorado,” Hudnall, 35, says. “One of the beauties of working in the tech economy is I can work from Grand Junction and the majority of my clients are out of state.”
Both he and Watson were discouraged by the lack of entrepreneurship in their community.
“The catalyst for LAUNCH was Go Code Colorado,” Watson says, referencing an ongoing initiative through the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office that has five cities compete to help businesses make smarter decisions using public data. Grand Junction was supposed to be one of the cities that participated in 2013, but “We only had three people sign up, so we had to cancel,” Watson says.
Though ripe for recreation and traditional industries, Western Colorado has struggled to attract high-paying jobs and regain relevance in the 21st century economy. “There’s this small-town mindset that what has worked in the past will continue to work in the future,” Hudnall says.
“It won’t,” Watson, age 28, adds. The Go Code debacle lit a fire.
“I looked at Brian and said, ‘You’re really connected and great at drawing people in and I could build a platform,’” Hudnall recalls. “LAUNCH came out of seeing a need.”
The twosome started planning events and monthly meet-ups, building an inventory of people and startups. Job postings followed soon thereafter.
“From my perspective, if I teamed up with Brian, it was going to work,” Hudnall says. He describes himself as a “strong personality,” and calls his partner “more even-keel.”
January 2017 marks LAUNCH West CO’s two-year anniversary. In that time, the network has grown to more than 500 members.
“I think it’s about equipping and empowering entrepreneurs with tools and resources they need to thrive," Watson says.
FACTORY, for instance, is the physical manifestation of the LAUNCH mission. After unsuccessful bids to build a public-private partnership with local government, Hudnall and Watson responded to an RFP and found community partners including Proximity Space, the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, Mesa County Public Libraries and Alpine Bank.
The shared workspace is funded by a Department of Defense grant through CAMA “to strengthen the resilience of manufacturing in the state,” according to Tim Heaton, president of the trade association. “It has been a community effort,” he says of FACTORY. “Josh and Bryan’s proposal was selected because of their commitment to inclusivity.”
LAUNCH West CO also announced they were merging with Proximity Space, a Montrose-based shared workspace which landed the No. 1 slot on Forbes “10 Best Coworking Spaces on Earth” list in 2016. Watson says the partnership will create the largest network of independent coworking spaces – roughly 100 – in the country by the first quarter of 2017.
When he's not working on LAUNCH or FACTORY, Hudnall is co-founder and CEO of fastPXL inc., a mobile app development firm with clients ranging from Oprah Winfrey to Oracle. Watson is the communications director for Grand Junction-based video production company Hoptocopter Films.