Thursday, March 26 marked the first edition of Startup Storytellers. The biannual event series, organized by CivicHacks Columbus and sponsored by CleanTurn, builds an ecosystem for startups and advocates to share stories and foster support.
Three entrepreneurs took the stage accompanied by CivicHacks Founder David All and City Council President Andrew Ginther to share their startup stories.
A relative newcomer to the Columbus startup scene, Alex Frommeyer shared his experiences as founder and CEO of Beam Technologies. The digital health startup relocated from Louisville to Columbus after attracting a $5 million investment from Drive Capital.
Frommeyer was apprehensive about moving and finding a place as vibrant as Louisville.
“I think Columbus checks all those boxes,” he says. “The vibrance of the city is very apparent, especially from the startup perspective.”
Moving from one Midwestern City to another, Frommeyer addressed the startup culture in the Midwest – and how the region doesn’t necessarily need to compare itself to the coasts.
“The Midwest isn’t going to be competing with software for a long time,” Frommeyer says. “But what it can compete in right now is manufacturing.”
While manufacturing has taken some big hits in the past years, there are still an abundance of people in the region with those specialized skill sets. Skill sets that can be used to manufacture a product like the company’s Beam Brush.
“If you are doing a manufactured good, it makes sense to be in the Midwest,” Frommeyer says.
Finally, the founder spoke to the importance of understanding the “why” behind an entrepreneurial venture. An entrepreneur should ask why they are doing what they are doing.
“If you don’t have a good answer for your “why” question, quit your startup immediately,” he says.
Up next was Joe DeLoss of Hot Chicken Takeover. In just one year, the chicken joint has skyrocketed to Columbus fame and garnered attention for more than just its eats, but for its model of employment.
DeLoss says their social mission of offering second-chance employment creates a different level of commitment from employees. The first year has given him a proof of concept that the model works, and a team he would pit against any other kitchen crew in the industry.
DeLoss has been waiting for this data. In between his previous venture, Freshbox Catering, and HCT, he tried to pitch the model with limited success. But now, seeing that it works, “I would love other employers to latch on to that a little bit,” he says.
It’s a model HCT plans to replicate with additional locations. DeLoss said expansion is in the plans but remained tight-lipped about what exactly that would entail.
The last entrepreneur of the evening was Tanisha Robinson of Print Syndicate.
“Print Syndicate is our first true attempt at an empire,” says Robinson, a serial entrepreneur. “It is possible to come up with an idea, start and get funded.”
The apparel and home goods e-commerce company has experience rapid growth since its launch in 2012, growing to 125 employees in 27 months, and receiving $4.25 million in Series A funding.
Seasoned in startups, Robinson offered some words of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs. The first, ignore the haters. As was the case in her ventures, give it a few years of pursuing an idea and see where everybody ends up.
Aligning values with co-founders – and investors – was another of Robinson’s keys to success. Because Print Syndicate chose investors that align with their values, everyone is in agreement about the philosophy of the company.
And when it comes to investors, “Build the value of the company and you can get investors,” Robinson says. “We’ve really sought insight and not just money.” Seeking that insight might mean taking a beating, but, “Take the beating and keep going,” she adds.
All was pleased with the initial run of the event.
“The stories were very inspiring,” he says.
With a large, diverse crowd, “This really became a spot for collisions,” All adds.
No set date has been announced for the next Startup Storytellers, but CivicHacks is aiming for a fall feature.
For more information, visit civichacks.org.