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Startups begin journey in business accelerator cohort

Concepts range from sales assistance to social media content monetization

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The Efactory’s fifth business accelerator cohort is in motion after a 2020 break due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A quartet of startups were introduced earlier this month at the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, the downtown home of the Efactory business incubator. Founders of AgButler Inc., MiddleCoast Solutions LLC and Tipper Mobile LLC attended the Efactory event. Vendux LLC founder Henning Schwinum sent prerecorded comments for the forum.

The startups range in age from three months to three years, covering business solutions such as meeting employment needs in the farming industry and monetizing social media content. Each startup receives $30,000 in seed money in exchange for 8% equity in their companies.

The 5-month program, which runs through year’s end, offers mentorship, networking, office space and additional funding opportunities.

Nic and Ali Lamphear, husband-and-wife founders of MiddleCoast Solutions, said they launched the company in May. MiddleCoast Solutions creates web applications for correctional agencies, such as prisons, halfway houses or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency detention centers. The focus is on public safety, the founders say.

“Any place that helps the corrections process, they need very specialized software, and we write it for them,” Nic Lamphear said. “We’re not currently providing for any places. We’re in the process of doing that.”

The Lamphears and the company’s third employee, Dusty Klinger, have nearly 40 years combined experience in law enforcement, as they all work full time for the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners. MiddleCoast is a side hustle born out of the pandemic, Ali Lamphear said. Klinger said he’s worked in software development since 1988.

“It was actually the pandemic that created a vast amount of boredom in our lives, so we decided to get an office space and really put the pedal to the metal,” she said, noting they office out of the Efactory and were encouraged by entrepreneur and mentor Dan Cobb to apply for the cohort.

Nic Lamphear said MiddleCoast is developing a cloud-based application called HeroHub to help companies interface with the public in emergency situations including shootings, fires and earthquakes. The company aims to launch the first phase of the app in November.

Tipper Mobile founder Jahbarie Jefferson said he’d like to roll out his app, which helps content creators make money on social media, by October. He said the launch will depend on finding some help with translating the app for iOS, as it currently is developed only for Android devices.

“It is designed to bring community support to social media platforms,” he said of Tipper Mobile, which as an app extension allows users on Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok and others to press a tip button to transfer money to someone via their username. “We’re hoping the convenience of that will make it a lot easier for people to monetize on social media.”

Jefferson, a 2020 Missouri State University graduate, said he’s been visiting about the app in recent weeks with many low- to mid-level content creators, such as those with 50,000-100,000 followers. Jefferson said he’s not a content creator himself but wants those who are to be paid fairly for their work.

“We’re targeting content creators because they will tell their fans to support them through this platform rather than TikTok or some other one,” he said, noting artists, charities and political movements are among those it could benefit.

Making progress
AgButler’s app, which launched in 2020, has steadily picked up registered users this year, said founder Kevin Johansen. The company was founded by Johansen, a fifth-generation farmer in Lebanon, to find help for his family and other agriculture producers looking for part-time workers. 

“Since March, we’ve increased our user profile numbers by 168%,” he said, noting it has 1,250 users from 42 states.

Employers and laborers can set up profiles for free on the app. Like a ride-sharing service, they log in to search for users within a certain geographic range and can hire help or apply for jobs. Employers can post job descriptions and requirements, while laborers can filter jobs using criteria such as location, industry and pay rate. A flat $20 fee is paid by the employer once a connection is made, according to past Springfield Business Journal reporting.

Sixty jobs are posted on the site, Johansen said, estimating another 300-400 people have downloaded the app but have yet to finish the registration process.

“People are starting to see the benefit of using it and seeing that it’s going to be a great tool for down the road,” he said.

Vendux’s Schwinum said his Kansas City-based company also is getting a foothold among users. Vendux serves as a matchmaker between companies that have a need for short-term sales leadership and executives available for such roles. No upfront costs are required from companies or executives, Schwinum said. However, Vendux takes an undisclosed percentage of the fee the company pays for the executive’s assignment.

Since launching two years ago, the company has a roster of 250 executives across the country available for assignments, Schwinum said. Prior to the Aug. 3 Efactory event, Schwinum spoke with SBJ from Germany, where he was visiting family.

“I created it because when I wanted to put myself out there as a fractional VP of sales, I could not find an agency, a matchmaker that could help me find those assignments,” he said. “My unmet need led me to start this business.”

Schwinum also co-founded Chemidex LLC in 2002. The company, which was renamed Innovadex LLC in 2010, was acquired for undisclosed terms by Underwriters Laboratories in 2013. Innovadex is a search and information exchange platform for supplier chemicals, ingredients and raw materials. Schwinum said he left the company in 2019.

Regarding Vendux, Schwinum said the length of fractional work varies, he said, but is generally between 20%-50% of someone’s work time.

“I reach out to founders of companies that are 1-3 years old and are not larger than 20 employees,” he said, noting someone brought in as a fractional part-time contractor can be an economical option for a small startup.

Setting goals
Schwinum said he has high goals for growing Vendux’s executive roster, noting he wants it to eventually become the go-to for interim and fractional leadership placements. He estimates there are 3,000-5,000 executives available in the United States for those types of roles.

“I would like to see a majority of those on the roster of Vendex,” he said.

Johansen said he wants to learn more about technology from others in the cohort to improve AgButler’s platform.

“The main focus is to go through and test the theories that we have built out,” he said of the next few months in the cohort. “We’re approaching four years working on this and so we’ve been able to build a business plan and do some marketing and messaging. Going through this will help us make that part of the business solid.”

This year’s business accelerator concludes with a Demo Day pitch event set for Nov. 12. The companies will share their progress with the hopes of finding additional investors, according to Efactory officials.

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