Will Toot for Funding

“Other people are talking about what’s going on here,” April Foster said during IdeaFestival’s panel on startups in the Midwest. “It should be us.”

Foster, founder of Inked, which connects influencers and products and the web, should know. She graduated from Western Kentucky University, went into, and got out of, pharmaceutical sales and built what’s now the seventh fastest-growing business in Kentucky, according to Inc. magazine. Foster, who admitted she started out scrapbooking, is leading the way in “influencer commerce.” Part of a five-person panel on the state of entrepreneurship in the Midwest and how to cultivate it, Foster echoed the words of the St. Louis crooner Pokey LaFarge: “We realize we’re supposed to be humble because we’re from the Midwest. But I go around saying ‘Yeah, we’re from the Midwest.”

With funding, more is more.

What kind of funding, and from whom, is the challenge all startups face, but the good news is that while access to capital remains tricky, it’s never been cheaper to start-up, according to Jonathan Shieber, who works at Tech Crunch and moderated the panel. Startups need three things Shieber said: access to markets, access to capital and talent.

Jason D’Mello, now an assistant professor at Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship at Loyola Marymount University, said he would add ideas as a fourth requirement for a startup, because without an idea, there’s nothing to start up.

“One of the things we look for are really big ideas that will turn the market upside down,” Wendy Lea, Cintrifuse CEO said, in harmony with the IdeaFestival theme this year to embrace dangerous ideas. Cintrifuse, a startup catalyst organization made of a public-private partnership, is enabling greater Cincinnati to create a new economy, she said. 

What does the new economy look like? According to a study published in the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor for 2015-2016, 95 percent of startups were self-funded. 

Is raising capital less contingent on where you live, than dependent on whether friends and family will invest? What about peer-to-peer lending? What if you startup and fail?

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Drura Parrish, CEO of MakeTime, said watching the ebb and flow of income in his family’s manufacturing business over three generations was the impetus for his entrepreneurship (but added he thinks it’s bred into people, too). MakeTime is an online marketplace for excess machine time. He said he asked people to let him have a piece of equipment for a month to see what he could do with it, to open up opportunities for new uses and markets and voila. Parrish, who grew up in Henderson, Kentucky, said failure is a means to another opportunity and never an excuse to quit, as it’s “disproportionate to the good that can come out of it (entrepreneurship).”

Likewise, Stacy Griggs, a Kentucky resident, and CEO of El Toro, said successful entrepreneurs are ones who don’t quit. El Toro, his fourth startup, helps advertisers target more effectively. Griggs said he believes entrepreneurs are well supported in Louisville. As for the money, Griggs said,  “It’s actually far easier to be successful to finance yourself.”

Fear can’t be a factor if you want your startup to succeed. Indeed, Parrish said, “Go big. There’s not a second to waste on your path … every piece has a distinct flavor — once you taste it, you have to grab it.”

How do we get there? “To do that we have to have a lot of conversations like this,” Lea said.  “Entrepreneurship is bloody lonely.” She sees peer-to-peer relationships as important to survival as an entrepreneur for emotional support and financial support.

“It’s those big, big ideas that take a lot of courage and a lot of capital, too,” Lea said. Lea’s vision for startup here is “to plant enough seeds for all to know each other and it just rolls,” she said. 

Is a Midwesterner’s access to people and funding really that simple now, despite our provincial ways and humble means? “The internet democratized business. You can start from here,” Griggs said. “It doesn’t matter where you are. The low-cost and high-quality living is going to attract talent,” he said.

Hear that Louisville? Now let me see you swagger.

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