Author Archives: Guest Author

Corporate Partner Spotlight: Softlayer serves Preteckt

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Co-Founders Peter Bassa, Ken Sills, and Sasha Kucharczyk (pictured below respectively) are building a predictive truck maintenance platform using real time data science and machine learning in the long haul truck industry.  Preteckt, a Start Co. alumni (Seed Hatchery ’15), streams 16,000 data points a second off a big rig truck to the cloud and then using high powered machine learning in the cloud their data systems analyze data and predict when a truck will break down in the future and which part or system will fail.  We asked the Preteckt team a couple of questions about their business and their partnership with SoftLayer, a Start Co. partner. SoftLayer’s Catalyst Startup Program provides our entrepreneurs with the cloud infrastructure to help them scale their companies quickly and correctly.

dd15-008Q: Why did you start Preteckt?

A: Preteckt was started because the Co-Founder’s hated it when their vehicles broke down on them.  It was a ghastly occurrence that ruined their day and usually the following week.  We realized we were not alone in suffering that pain, so we set out to find a way to prevent breakdowns from happening.  In developing our solution we started working with trucking companies due to the increased costs associated with a truck breaking down compared to a passenger vehicle.  A truck breaking down can create a loss of over $10,000!  Since then we have been focusing our time and efforts to make breakdowns a thing of the past.

Q: What has Preteckt been up to since going through the Start Co. 2015 program?

A: Preteckt is currently installed in multiple fleets totaling 800 trucks.  We can currently create $850 of value per truck per year with our predictions.  With already 3000 trucks in our pipeline we don’t show signs of stopping. We have used this traction to raise $300,000 to accelerate the development of our technology and get ourselves ready for commercialization.

Q: How did Preteckt discover—and choose to develop a partnership with—SoftLayer?

A: Preteckt discovered SoftLayer due to its partnership with StartCo.  We chose to develop the relationship early during the accelerator due to a forecasted need for a large computational backbone in the near future.

Q: What do you think sets SoftLayer apart?

A: We need a service that can grow with us. Softlayer has great customer support, and has the ability to scale our operation from one hundred units, to one million units. Softlayer is a very competitive hardware-as-a-service company. They allow you to order your own “bare metal” (a real, physical, completely yours) server without the need to hire hardware experts for building and maintaining the machines. The cost vs the computing power is lower than other competitive services, and there is no competing with other users for resources like on a virtual server. The other big advantage is that we are able to customize the hardware that goes into our servers to make sure we get exactly the performance we want. So creating a data backup server (a lot of hard disk space) vs creating an analysis server (a lot of CPUs) is the same process and we pay for exactly what we need.

Q: Do you have any advice for other founders who want to build good relationships with their platform/hosting providers?

A: Get to know them before you need them.  Make friends, stay in contact with them, and treat them like real people.  People like helping people that they like and trust.  In turn, they will want to see you succeed.

Q: What is the latest at Preteckt?

A: Preteckt is growing strong with help from SoftLayer.  We closed our round and started scaling the data generation side of the company.  SoftLayer’s services have given us the comfort that as we add more trucks to our service we can scale with ease.  With a goal to be installed on 5,000 trucks by the end of 2016 and significantly more in 2017, we feel comfortable that SoftLayer has us covered!

 

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Preteckt is a 2015 Seed Hatchery alumni.  They can be reached at team@preteckt.com

Being Held Accountable Leads to More Success

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That’s right! You are far more likely to achieve your goals when you have someone to hold you accountable. Startup entrepreneurs take note and find someone.

If accountability leads to more success, why are people so afraid of it? It might have something to do with their childhood upbringing. I’m sure your parents held you accountable for completing your chores. They had to be done ‘right’ before running out the door only to return for lunch and beat the street lights home. So, what I’m really saying here is most things that fall under accountability have little to do with fun or comfort. They do, however, help us become better individuals at prioritizing, order, and systems.

At Start Co. this is exactly how we lead. Entrepreneurs and innovators come through our doors with ideas and/or working businesses seeking help to move to the next level. During our initial meetings, we spend time assessing the current needs of each individual and team so we can plug them into the proper channel of resources. These resources include one-on-one mentoring, a co-working space, 90 day accelerators programs, weekly workshops on fundraising, pitching, and general business development.

After finding a fit, the real work begins. Starting up and giving yourself a shot at success is no small task. All massive undertakings such as this require a vision, planning, and accountability. We’ve found that accountability is usually the missing (but important) piece for founders since most are starting up at home or working alone. However, there is power in the social construct of being around other people who are pursuing similar passions. The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem constructed by Start Co. is filled with people who are passionate about the mission of making Memphis a Venture City. They are the people that will hold you accountable in reaching your milestones.

But how do I find an accountability partner?

You can start by asking. Asking is free, but the work to be successful is going to cost you comfort.

#Neverstop!

 

Get plugged in at our upcoming events.

Apply to one of Start Co.’s 2016 Summer Accelerators

 


Al Pickett is the VP of Diversity at Start Co.  He can be reached at info@neverstop.co

From Start to Neverstop

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The cubicle is where it all started for me.  A small confined space with high walls and no decor.  Equipped with a few drawers with missing lock keys, a noisy computer, and a chair.  At least the chair could spin.  Lack of feng shui aside, it was my home away from home, and I found myself conforming to the rules laid before me by society.  It was a time when I believed in the importance of my college degree, and embraced things like “job security.”  Three years later I would find myself laid off from one of the most secure jobs possible, unable to pay rent, and unable to get a new job in the same field.  As Ron Burgundy might call it, I was “stuck in a glass case of emotion.”

I spent the next few months discovering my own self by asking open ended questions.  I asked myself what I wanted to do in life, what I wanted to get out of life, and what I wanted to be remembered for when I die.  Certainly did not want to be stuck in a cubicle again, nor did I want to be bored, and at the end of days I better not be getting any anchovies on my tombstone.  My answers made me aware of the burning desire to break away from the structured path which closely paralleled “The Truman Show”.  Suddenly, I realized I already found my exit door.  Being laid off gave me the freedom to do anything I wanted.  Although being an astronaut did cross my mind, I decided to do something slightly more attainable for a 25 year old and begin my journey of entrepreneurial training.  Through soul searching and employment at two startups, four years later I find myself in the Seed Hatchery startup accelerator program, part of Start Co.’s “Summer of Acceleration.”

When you first arrive at the Start Co. lab in Memphis, you already feel the entrepreneurial chi running through your veins.  The wall-mounted bright green oversized Start Co. logo smacks you in the face and tells you that it’s go time.  I found myself surrounded by the coolest people on the planet.  People that like to break the rules and prove everyone wrong.  People that are never satisfied and yearn to create their own legacy.  It was glorious.  However, five minutes later the curtains were drawn and reality takes the stage… “It’s time to hear your pitch.”  If you’ve seen American Idol, then you can get idea of where I’m going with this.  Aside from the fact that each team’s pitch was torn to pieces by the judges, we all received our Hollywood passes… sorta.

The 90 day program is all about proving ourselves, testing ourselves, hanging our egos at the door, and taking the dive into what we all refer to now as #startuplife.  A life that goes beyond just the program by becoming our personal mantras.  A mantra that simply never stops.

We are halfway through the Summer of Acceleration and already my co-founder, Arnold Gelacio, and I pivoted our business model four times.  All thanks to a little thing called “customer discovery.”  Ask the open ended questions like I did for myself, and you’ll always find the answers you are looking for.  Who knows, they may lead you to one of Start Co.’s startup accelerators in Memphis, TN.

Oh and don’t forget to check out Troopto! Group gifting made so easy that you’ll like doing it.  #Neverstop.


Andrew Goei is CEO & Co-founder of Troopto.  Follow them on Twitter @Troopto.

Meet Tortuga

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Morgan Steffy and Evan Katz

Morgan Steffy & Evan Katz, co-founders of Tortuga

Evan Katz and Morgan Steffy are two of the newest members of Seed Hatchery, an information technology accelerator operated by Start Co. They are working to build an app – Tortuga – that helps everyday people get feedback on the clothing they wear. Evan and Morgan first met while studying abroad in Ecuador.

 

How did you come up with the idea for Tortuga?

The idea for Tortuga arose from trying to solve our own problem – we were tired of sending group texts from dressing rooms asking our friends for feedback on what we were wearing. We first discussed the idea of building an app to solve this problem when we were in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador – hence the name “Tortuga.”

What has been the most valuable resource you have received from Start Co. so far?

For us, the mentorship and connections have been the most valuable resource. We’re both passionate about what we’re doing and are learning more everyday, but there’s still a bunch we don’t know. Leveraging the network around us helps us fill in our knowledge gaps and avoid a lot of the common pitfalls of starting up.

What is your greatest challenge so far? How are you working to overcome it?

Our biggest challenge is “solving the puzzle” of our revenue model. Through the customer discovery process, we’ve verified that there’s interest in our core concept. However, we’re still trying to figure out the best way to both build a useful and entertaining experience for our users while generating enough revenue to grow our company.

What are you looking forward to?

As we get closer to perfecting our business model and launching our initial product, we can’t wait to see people enjoying our technology. After our initial launch, we will continue to gather feedback and tweak our product and business into something that’s truly an excellent experience.


Evan Katz and Morgan Steffy can be reached at info@asktortuga.com. For more updates follow them on twitter @AskTortuga or check out their Facebook page.

Top 5 Benefits of Interning at Start Co.

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As I’m nearing the end of my time as an undergraduate I am reminded of a scene from Good Will Hunting. It’s the scene at the bar where Will shares his opinion on higher education to an arrogant grad student. Will tells the guy he “wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library”. While my education was certainly worth more than a buck fifty, I still want to make sure it was money well spent. That’s why I reached out to Start Co. to fill in the gaps of my education before I enter the “real world”. Here are my top 5 reasons for interning at Start Co:

1) Start Co. Atmosphere

I find there to be nothing more inspiring and empowering than witnessing ideas turn into realities and solving problems that have the power to shape the future of humanity. It has been motivating to be a part of the co-working space of the Start Co. Lab and seeing the sense of purpose that drives entrepreneurs.

2) Memphis Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

When people think of Memphis, they generally think of BBQ and Elvis before they think of entrepreneurship. However, there are several entrepreneurial success stories which call Memphis home (FedEx, AutoZone, and Holiday Inn etc.). Through the Start Co. Lab and the MEMx fund, Start Co. is equipping not just startup businesses, but Memphians with the entrepreneurial skills to solve real problems in our community: unemployment, poverty, and the social divide to name a few.

3) Hands-on Learning

I have been given the opportunity to take charge of projects that I want to work on. For example, I helped launch the first ever Business Plan Competition at Rhodes College. Through this project I have improved my event planning, marketing, communication and leadership skills. In addition to this major project, I have assisted with the management of the Start Co. social media outlets, content creation for the blog, and staying up to date with startup news.

4) Mentorship

In addition to working on the business plan competition, one of the most fun and enriching experiences has been sitting in on the ad-hoc mentorship meetings between Start Co. mentors and budding entrepreneurs. There is no better way to experience the power of entrepreneurship than by witnessing it in action. Through these meetings I have witnessed the transition from concepts to working business models.

5) Preparing for the Real World

I have been able to go behind the scenes and improve my entrepreneurial skill set alongside entrepreneurs who are solving real problems. I have seen the critical four D’s of building a business in action 1) Developing your flexibility as a founder, 2) Discovering your customer base, 3) exploring product Delivery methods and 4) maximizing Dollars received.

Now when I enter the “real world” in May and eventually start my own business, I’ll be ready.

To apply for a Summer, Fall, or Spring internship at Start Co., send your resume and cover letter to info@neverstop.co.


Joe Barlia is a Senior at Rhodes College. Contact him at Barjd92@gmail.com.  

Am I too far along for a Start Co. accelerator?

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If you are an entrepreneur, then you’re undoubtedly familiar with the terms: starting up, incubation, and acceleration. Many believe they have a game changing concept; however, they have no clue how to move from the idea stage to the execution stage.  For these founders, moving directly into an early stage accelerator is a wise move.  During their acceleration program they learn the importance of customer discovery, when to pivot, and the three most important words for founding teams: “Iteration trumps perfection.”

But, what about the entrepreneur that’s already launched?  Although there is a cohort atmosphere in any multi-company accelerator, many times the companies are at various stages.  The sole purpose of the program is to accelerate your company from your current stage to the next level.  No matter how well you are doing, there is always room for improvement.  Often some of the best ideas for your company don’t come from your team, but instead come from a member of another team.  This collaboration with  like-minded individuals is one the many advantages of the cohort model.  There is also an element of competition in any accelerator that drives each team to perform quickly and creatively in hopes that they will stand out among to group.

Your local accelerator will bring you into a pre-built and well connected network.  You’ll have opportunities to find mentorship from talented individuals you may not have otherwise met.  You will quickly make connections with other startup founders, accelerator alumni, business executives, accountants, attorneys, and investors.  With each new connection comes a wealth of knowledge and willingness to share.  Plugging directly into this network allows your own network to grow more rapidly as new introductions are made that suit your individual needs and are specific to your industry.  You may even meet that perfect co-founder or team member.

Accelerators get you ready for investment.  For many entrepreneurs, investment is new territory with its own set of rules and language.  Even if you plan to bootstrap your business, it always makes sense to be prepared for the unknown. If you’re lucky enough to have your startup grow so rapidly that you need to take investment, you’ll have a complete toolkit, from the 30 second elevator pitch to the 10 or 20 minute investor pitch.  You’ll have the confidence to pitch to any audience, the knowledge that your numbers are correct, and peace of mind that you’ve already answered the questions that investors are likely to ask.

If you’re are a startup, you can always do more and do it faster.  Accelerators facilitate this by getting you and your team ready for that next level.  Whether you have just an idea for a new product or service, you are an early stage startup, or your business is starting to see some success, an accelerator can be invaluable.  So startup, accelerate, and never stop!

 Apply to a Start Co. Accelerator Today


Founder and CEO of ScrewpulpRichard Billings is a graduate of Start Co.’s Seed Hatchery information technology accelerator. He can be reached at richard@screwpulp.com.

Abandoning the Princess and Embracing My Warrior Princess

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Kelli MeadeSince I was a young girl, I’ve fantasized about the sweet life of becoming an entrepreneur and likened it to that of a fairy tale princess.  You know . . . obtaining unimaginable levels of success and freedom, having buckets of money to take care of family and self, and best of all, no supervisors.  Well, after going through Upstart, one of the world’s first accelerator programs designed exclusively for women-led startups, I realized that the fantasy life of an entrepreneur is far different than the fantasy life of a princess.  Upstart helped me shift from princess to warrior princess.  Here are some insights into my transformation during the accelerator program.

 

Embrace Emotional Versatility

Emotions make female entrepreneurs versatile and enable women-owned businesses to grow at 1.5x the rate of other companies (Source: StartupNation).  To be clear, I do not mean it is okay to play the “Damsel in Distress” or be a diva.  One must be balanced like the warrior princess – neither damsel, nor stoic – both fierce and feminine.  Upstart and our mentors helped me tap into my emotional intelligence appropriately in support of my startup’s growth.

Worst Enemy of Female Founders Isn’t Me

As I was growing as a female founder, I was also learning how to better support future female founders.  Let’s face it: some of the worst enemies of female founders are women.  Coming into Upstart with a cohort of other women-led startups, who were as equally fierce as I am, could have been a recipe for trouble.   Through the experience of Upstart, the warrior princesses in all of us shone as we led our teams and went beyond diplomacy and lip service to help our fellow female CEOs grow their businesses.  Madeleine Albright put it best when she said, “There’s a special place in hell for women that don’t help other women.”

Becoming Resilient

Before Upstart, my tender, fantasy-oriented self had never before experienced the high rate of mistakes and missed opportunities encountered in only the first 100 days of the program.  As a former athlete, I took pride in bouncing back from setbacks, but I hadn’t truly faced crippling failures.  So when I went through the fast-paced, structured acceleration process, the concept of “failing fast” and “failing cheaply” were foreign to me. As an athlete, I wasn’t really taught that failure is part of the pathway to success – it was just something to forget before the next competition.  At Upstart, I fought with myself to accept the logic.  I had to rewire my thoughts to say, “if a failure is one step closer to winning, then bring on more set backs so I can get to sweet success faster.”  The warrior princess fights with resilience, understanding that a set back is part of the process.

Apply to Upstart’s 2014 Cohort by March 15

If you’re thinking about starting a business, especially if you plan on using an accelerator program as a starting point, begin asking yourself some important questions.  Do you have the emotional intelligence to create a shift in your industry?  Will you allow yourself to be fierce yet help others along the way?  Going through Upstart changed and helped me rise to answer these questions correctly.  The new me is a result of being forced to dig deep, deal with toxic emotions, and come up a fighter, like a true Warrior Princess.

PS: Kind of fitting, I went to Auburn . . . War Eagle to Warrior Princess.


Kelli Meade, Founder and CEO of GemPhones,is a graduate of Start Co.’s Upstart Accelerator for women-led startups. Through GemPhones, she is bridging the gap between lifestyle, fashion, and electronics for women and is passionate about answering the call to the question: “Women love our fashion and we love our tech…so why is there a disconnect?” She moved to Memphis, TN in 2009 to work for the US Navy in emerging technology development, and created her first pair of earphone necklaces in 2012.

 

The Screwpulp Story–Part Two

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Richard BillingsThe Memphis startup ecosystem has played a significant role in the Screwpulp story. I began by pitching my idea to archer>malmo ventures who gave me some simple advice: “The idea is great but, you’re not ready. You need a team.” I continued to develop my idea, and a year later, was ready take it to the public at a Start Co. 48 Hour Launch event. After being selected as one of the four ideas to be developed that weekend I had many firsts. I did my first public pitch, completed my first business plan, worked with my first mentors, and even met my first co-founder. It was the first of a series of ‘starts.’

We continued work closely with Start Co. and were chosen to compete in the Amazing Risk competition – which had us pitching against 3 other startups around the city, including a federal judge’s court room. We won the contest, which provided us with a small operating budget. A few months later we were accepted into Seed Hatchery, a 90 day, boot camp style startup accelerator. During those 90 days we added two more co-founders, took on our first investment, honed our business models, and launched our product.

After Seed Hatchery we able to find more capital. We were chosen to showcase at the Southland conference, asked to sit on panel at the Digital Publishers Innovation Summit in NYC, and were selected by Launch TN as one of the top “TENN” startups in the region. Through our continued work with Start Co, we recently raised $330K in our seed round which allow us to continue to develop our product. Now that we have a solid team and working product we have taken the story full circle. We are now working with archer>malmo ventures.

The Screwpulp story is far from over.  If fact we’re just getting started.  We will continue to work with Start Co. but now, not only as clients but also as mentors to the next wave of startups.

Through the 48 Hour Launch and Seed Hatchery accelerators we learned early on that if you’re building a product, whether you’re developing a tech-based startup or writing the next best seller, you must rely heavily on customer feedback and mentors within your profession. Tapping into your local ecosystem, like Start Co. for entrepreneurs, or writers and readers groups for authors, can facilitate both of these. If you have an idea, there’s no reason not to start today. Start up. You’ll be glad you did.


Founder and CEO of ScrewpulpRichard Billings is a graduate of Start Co.’s Seed Hatchery information technology accelerator. He can be reached at richard@screwpulp.com.

The Give and Take of Starting Up–Part One

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Richard BillingsIt begins with a simple idea. Maybe it’s a general idea of the whole thing, without all of the details filled in. Or maybe it’s a few small pieces of something larger. It’s an idea you just can’t get rid of. You start to flesh it out, to allow those fragments to grow. You set some of it down on paper, possibly to begin an outline or even diagrams.

As your idea becomes more substantial you really grow to love where it’s heading. You’ll add something new that makes you smile and think, “Man, that’s clever!” All of a sudden it hits you. Who am I crafting this for? Me? Who’s my audience? Just because this is your idea doesn’t mean that you are the target audience.

You find that you have to get out and start talking to people. You give them the brief synopsis and you find many people are interested (phew!), but as you get into the more fleshed out details you hit snags. Now you’ve lost them. They offer up ideas: “What if… ,”  “Have you thought about…” Suddenly you’re ripping up some of your proudest accomplishments – your favorite parts.

Now the hard part begins. How do you completely rework your idea to fit your audience, all while keeping the initial essence of the original? You find this process near drudgery. You begin to doubt the entire thing. You certainly begin to doubt your audience.

After much struggling, you’ve reworked many pieces and thrown others away completely. Some parts you refuse to change, but instead find ways to reintroduce them, better ways to work them in. When you go back to your audience with your new retooled effort, you find that the whole thing flows much better with them. The suggestions are fewer and easier to implement. You run through this process several more times, each iteration becoming easier to achieve than the one before.

This give and take between the audience and the creator yields a product that both you are proud of — and your customer will appreciate. This is the process of “starting up” but you may see similarities between this process and other forms of creation.

Check back Thursday for Part Two of Richard’s startup experiences.


Founder and CEO of ScrewpulpRichard Billings is a graduate of Start Co.’s Seed Hatchery information technology accelerator. He can be reached at richard@screwpulp.com.