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RIPPLES OF CHANGE: Rogan Howitt, co-owner of The Golden Girl Rum Club, says convincing old-fashioned cities to try new things can be difficult.
RIPPLES OF CHANGE: Rogan Howitt, co-owner of The Golden Girl Rum Club, says convincing old-fashioned cities to try new things can be difficult.

Springfield rates high as small-biz hub

The Queen City’s small-town culture can bring challenges for area startups, too

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Small businesses are a large contributor to the country’s economy. The U.S. Small Business Administration counts 28 million small businesses operating nationwide.

A sampling of those small businesses can be found throughout the streets of Springfield. There’s so many of them, in fact, that personal finance website ranks Springfield No. 11 on a list of America’s 150 most startup friendly municipalities. The 2017 Best Large Cities to Start a Business list is based on 18 key metrics, including five-year business survival rates and office-space affordability. No. 1 is Oklahoma City.

Ranked after Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and before Raleigh, North Carolina, Springfield received recognition for its 3.3 percent unemployment rate and its low cost of living, 10 percent below the national average.

Working resources
Chris Coleman is a franchise consultant for FranNet of St. Louis, a Louisville, Kentucky-based company that offers franchise consulting services to both franchisors looking to expand their businesses and people wanting to first get into business.

Coleman agreed Springfield is a go-to for entrepreneurs and startups.

He cites the area’s many resources including the Small Business and Technology Development Center, affiliated with Missouri State University’s research and economic development office. It’s funded through the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“They’re a source for people looking to start a business or wanting to grow,” Coleman said.

Its services, according to MSU’s website, focus on providing assistance to businesses and entrepreneurs that will result in job creation, job retention, loans, and increased sales and profitability.

“Usually, if a business fails, it’s within the first few years,” Coleman said. “That’s why it’s important to keep people engaged. A lot of times, business owners don’t see the end in sight. People who have been there before can encourage them.”

Other groups like the SCORE Association, a nationwide nonprofit of volunteer business counselors, and the Springfield Business Development Corp., a branch of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, also are good resources in place for entrepreneurs, he said.

In addition, Springfield’s small-town culture could contribute to what makes area businesses successful.

“I think the mentality that (everyone’s) in this together is really helpful,” Coleman said. “I get very positive feedback from my clients that say there’s a lot of support in Springfield.”

A small-town feel, however, is often accompanied by old-fashioned culture, and that can mean challenges for young entrepreneurs spreading new ideas.

Challenging ideas
Rogan Howitt has gone against the grain some in launching The Golden Girl Rum Club in March 2016. When the tropical-themed bar opened downtown, Howitt and his business partners were setting out to change Springfield’s cocktail culture.

Howitt recently shared Golden Girl’s story at The Network Young Entrepreneur Panel, an event held by the Springfield chamber on Aug. 29.

“It took me a while to realize not everybody is going to like what we’re putting out,” Howitt told the crowd of young professionals.

Howitt’s brother and Golden Girl partner Josh Widner had raised the bar in the mixed-drink game with his opening of Scotch & Soda. At Golden Girl, the plan was to take it one step further.

“The Midwest can be filled with masculine whiskey drinkers. And that’s what makes what we do at Golden Girl more difficult,” Howitt said in a later interview. “People are really rooted. People drink what they drink and don’t try a lot of new stuff.”

Early on, Howitt noticed customers were turned off by the bar’s feminine feel, so it was difficult to market the brand. Now, it’s his personal mission to continue introducing unique tastes in Springfield’s food scene.

“This is my home base. I’m going to stick around here and make sure everyone gets to try something new every once in a while,” Howitt said at the panel.

Things are looking up for Golden Girl, he said.

“New people come in every day. Some are still just hearing about us,” Howitt said. “I think it’s really important that we’re constantly bringing new things to this town.”

Andrew Goodall, co-founder of The Daily Scholar cloud-based educational software, also is in the business of introducing new ideas. Through The eFactory’s business accelerator program in late 2016, he and Tim Dygon began working with 17 area schools to test the software with students.

The firm aims to solve the problem of engagement in classrooms throughout the collegiate levels.

“That gives us about 133,000 school districts, or customers,” Goodall said of the software’s national target market.

During a recent 1 Million Cups presentation, Goodall said the learning software market is expected to triple in the next four years.

“Learning preferences are changing,” Goodall told the 1 Million Cups audience, which meets Wednesday mornings at the Springfield Art Museum to provide networking and educational opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Without a change in the way schools teach, he added, a lack of constructive and meaningful engagement will continue.

To appeal to young people, The Daily Scholar’s software is designed similar to social media. Students can like, share and comment on others’ posts about class assignments.

Currently, only a handful of school districts pay for the monthly subscription, but Goodall and Dygon have larger aspirations.

“Built into our marketing plan is to strategically look at locations across the pond,” Goodall said. “Right now, our marketing plan is more focused on the U.S.”

For now, The Daily Scholar is partnered with a national data and roster automation company called Clever.

“They have partnerships with 50,000 school districts in the country as well as 90 in the top 100,” Goodall said. “That partnership is going to uniquely and strategically place us in position to market our software to the largest school districts.”

Such partnerships can be key to growing a startup in the Queen City.

“Springfield’s smaller population does limit you,” said Coleman, the franchise consultant. “Though it can be a great place to start.”


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