What is your Drive To Innovate concept, and how did it get started?
I actually left the Efactory about a year and a half ago and whenever I was over there, part of being in that community is you give your advice away. Having that experience and going through the ups and downs, I learned a lot of what to do and what not to do. Creating Drive To Innovate as a platform, I call it an on-demand innovation help desk. People can go there and utilize an hour of our time or a hundred hours of our time to help them innovate any type of a startup all the way up to large organizations in need of some outside innovation.
How is that on-demand support structured, and what’s the cost?
I wanted to create something that people could budget for knowing there are needs within startups and technology. One example would be raising money. (CellARide) just crossed the million-dollar mark in raising funds. That’s a huge amount of money. But when you think about startups over on the coasts, they can get $1 million before they even have a product. Here in the Midwest, it’s a lot harder. So it’s teaching somebody how to do that, all the steps that we went through to raise money. That’s the challenge. We have an hourly rate that we work out with them, and I’ve even worked where if you were to purchase buckets of hours you could get a discount off my typical $100 an hour rate.
Why is it hard for entrepreneurs to raise capital locally?
There is no secret about the fact that we’re undercapitalized in the Midwest, and especially here in Springfield. Making sure that you’re telling the story of how you began, where you are and where you’re going – those are the three pillars that I always use when creating that pitch. There have been some angel groups and investment groups that have come and gone. There’s a reason: I think there wasn’t really an infrastructure in place to help that. Once the Efactory showed up, and 1 Million Cups, some of these programs that we’ve developed over time has helped with that. Now, what we have to do is really show success.
With these challenges, why would you encourage a startup to stay in Springfield?
Not everybody is going to be able to take an idea, turn it into a product and actually start commercializing that, but finding the people that do and keeping them here is key. It doesn’t just happen overnight. I’m not going to be able to look somebody in the eye and say, “You were thinking about going to Austin, Texas, but I really think you need to stay here because we have a lot of resources for you.” I can’t quite do that yet, but I think we’re getting closer to that. It takes education, people believing in these entrepreneurs and giving them a chance. I had the opportunity to move (CellARide) to St. Louis. I went through an accelerator up in St. Louis, and it became one of the Top 10 technology accelerators in the country while we were in it. But my heart and soul is in Springfield, Missouri. I thought, you know what, I think I can help build this community. I’m a bigger fish in a smaller pond, as well, so that helps as opposed to being just another number up there.
Less than a year in with Drive To Innovate, how many clients do you have?
We have five clients. One of them is Weiss Insurance. Another one is a company called Springfield Property Buyers and then another one is SRC Logistics. It currently is more around the marketing side, but my hope is that it will lead into other innovative, outside-of-the-box thinking.
Josh Holstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adrianna Norris became a first-time business owner with the opening of Finley River Chiropractic; PaPPo’s Pizzeria & Pub launched its newest location; and Huey Magoo’s opened its second store in the Ozarks.