Selling Alaskan salmon and Himalayan rock-salt lamps didn’t work out for Lance Pinn after he graduated from Babson College in 2006, so he opened a climbing gym in Gowanus, Brooklyn, with a pair of friends. Pinn is not a climber, but his vision for a space scrawled with graffiti, packed with quirky workout gear and playing host to a steady stream of events and competitions became a sensation, with more yearly visitors—60,000—than any other climbing gym in the country.
Now Pinn is building an indoor climbing chain to push the sport into the mainstream. An investment last year from North Castle Partners, the venture-capital firm that helped build gym chain Equinox, let him plan new facilities in Denver and Los Angeles. A second New York space opened in Long Island City late last year, joining locations in Chicago and outside Boston.
The company’s rapid rise hardly seems to mirror the laid-back personality of Pinn, who grew up in Los Angeles and suburban Virginia. Pinn’s focus on creating features and events beyond climbing—a co-working space, for instance—has propelled the company’s success. He’s also developed a projection system that transforms climbing walls into life-size video games. Next up: a climbing wall inside the concrete caisson of a Hudson River pier.