Columbus is ready to welcome back “Columbus Startup Week,” the annual event sponsored by Chase, celebrating entrepreneurial cities across the country. Beginning Monday, May 2, five days of programming will be offered to the public, completely free of charge, to inspire both startup owners or those eager to embark on their own entrepreneurial endeavor. Led by local small business owners/experts, Startup Week provides in-depth insight related to eight business themes: design, entrepreneurship, retail, finance, food/beverage, marketing, social enterprise and technology. Columbus, known for its willingness to embrace small business with open arms, is one of a handful of cities acting as host sites.
ECDI sat down with startup owners Jim Pashovich of Pitabilities, one of Columbus most recognizable food truck brands, Michelle Allen of MMELO, an all-natural confectionary business growing in popularity by the day, and Startup Week Columbus’ lead organizer Brian Zuercher, founder & CEO of the local digital marketing firm SEEN, to discuss the day-to-day of a small business ownership and what makes Ohio’s capital city such an attractive destination for startups.
[ECDI] What is special about Columbus that helps drive the entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated in the continued growth of small businesses around the city?
Brian Zuercher: I wouldn’t be telling a Columbus-ite anything they didn’t know already if I talked about the closeness and collaborative nature of our community. We have a confluence of really great ingredients that are coming together at a special time, and underpinning that collision is the fact that we aren’t tied down by a legacy reputation. Many ‘Midwest’ cities are held back by a specific reputation from the auto industry to some specific cultural attribute. In Columbus we have a Greenfield opportunity to define our city and its future, truly making it the place we want to live.
Jim Pashovich: Columbus is just set up perfectly. The atmosphere is perfect…we’ve always been a test market. Corporations knew this and that’s why they booked Pitabilities initially…to “test” it. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have the food scene we have today. The growth…my goodness two million people now? The more people there are, the more opportunities there are.
Michelle Allen: The community is very open to a good idea. I am truly humbled by how supportive people have been of MMELO. They want it to succeed; you can tell they want it to succeed. They tell their friends about it, they want to be included in email. If it’s a solid idea or product, the community is very supportive.
[ECDI] What is something you wish you had known before taking the leap to become a startup business owner?
Jim Pashovich: How much work it takes. A 9-to-5 is simple…you get to go home and not worry about things. Owning your own business, you are worrying AND working all the time. At the beginning, we were blessed that I had some real estate dealings still going on. The weekend that I decided to go full-time with Pitabilities, I sold five homes in one weekend. That was the only way I survived initially because I didn’t take a paycheck for myself until almost a year after launching Pitabilities.
Michelle Allen: I jumped into MMELO headfirst, and in retrospect, I would’ve put on the brakes a bit. We are evolving very rapidly and you have to have a lot of answers immediately and time and history has taught me that it takes time to come to certain conclusions. There is a lot of research that goes into building a company and establishing your brand. Spend as much time as you can speaking to the people who are doing what you want to do from the onset.
[ECDI] How has ECDI supported you and your business?
Jim Pashovich: The [small business] lending has been helpful and it is important. We struggled with credit when I needed it, so it was helpful to get access to funding without worrying about typical bank restrictions. What’s more important is the business training and support system. There’s a great knowledge base at ECDI.
Michelle Allen: MMELO would not have accelerated as quickly as it has without ECDI and The Food Fort. I wouldn’t be in the position I am right now to take a permanent space had I not formed this relationship. It wouldn’t have happened. The advice and access to a great commercial kitchen at a time of critical need, it was a no-brainer to come to The Food Fort. I would have figured out how to get MMELO started but the fact that I am where I am at now, only five months into my business, is directly related to my relationship with ECDI and The Food Fort.
[ECDI] What’s the latest on your business?
Jim Pashovich: We are currently rebranding our three trucks, which should wrap up by the end of May. The Pita Bar [Pitabilities catering service] is starting to explode with requests constantly, and as far as the food truck scheduling goes, it hard to keep up with all the requests. It’s a fantastic problem to have!
Michelle Allen: We are slowly readying our move to the Short North…construction is currently underway! Corporate events have taken off. We did a big event for the Columbus Foundation just recently to support an awards event. They [corporate events] are great for revenue and for getting the word out. We say yes to every opportunity that is consistent with our brand!
[ECDI] What advice would you offer to someone interested in starting their own business?
Jim Pashovich: Do not think of yourself as the expert…don’t be a starving artist. Everyone is not going to like what you do so you must be open to change and willing to adapt. As soon as you think your business is perfect, someone will start doing something better than you.
Michelle Allen: Envision your business…what it is, what you sell, how you’re going to sell it…how you’re going to communicate that to your customers. I am always amazed when people have an idea and that is the extent of the thinking that goes into starting the company. You must be willing to seek advice and guidance from others and then do something with that knowledge. Take that information and build an active business plan. A business plan is an active, living document. It should be a guide used to help you formulate your decision-making process. Having that is a great sounding board in the middle of the night when you’re trying to get the business off the ground. When you fill that plan with the right research and advice, it will help you come to your “what’s the next step?” conclusion much easier.
ECDI at Startup Week
ECDI will be represented throughout “Columbus Startup Week.”
– Wednesday, May 4 – ECDI President & General Counsel Steve Fireman will be discussing small business financing with other local resources.
– Wednesday, May 4 – The Food Fort, ECDI’s food-based business incubator, will host a panel discussion detailing the state of Columbus food economy with ECDI Founder & CEO Inna Kinney, Jim Pashovich and Michelle Allen.
– Friday, May 6 – ECDI Director of Corporate Advancement Douglas Craven will be discussing ways local resources can support startup owners in the arts industry.
You can review the entire programming schedule at: columbus.startupweek.co.