What’s Your Big Idea? StartUP Columbus Aims To Give Entrepreneurs An Edge For Success

By Tony Adams Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Budding business owners who have an idea for a product or service that they believe in are encouraged to contact "StartUP Columbus" to see how they can go about getting their dreams off the ground.

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.

It's an impressive "stretch goal" that Kim Baxley Wilson has for her fledgling business called MyDoula, an online birthing assistance service she is now ramping up in Columbus.

In four years, she hopes to have 2,300 clients and 150 working doulas per month under her umbrella company that assists moms-to-be through their cherished pregnancies for a fee. On paper, that would generate a profit of $1.1 million on revenue of $3.5 million.

"That's my stretch goal. But, realistically, we should make $100,000 in the next 12 months," said Baxley Wilson, who was on hand Friday for the 1006 Broadway grand opening of StartUP Columbus' downtown office in what is known as The Rankin building.

Another product of StartUP Columbus and its predecessor, ColumbusMakesIT!, is Nathan Carr, a Columbus manufacturer of a Sonic Air Flow product called an "AirJet" that generates 2,000 cubic feet of air per minute using a miserly 54 watts of power.

For now, it's for commercial and industrial customers wishing to lower their heating and cooling expenses by using the straight-line air flow device -- rather than a swirl pattern -- to keep air circulating at an efficient rate.

"It's for everyday use to save money. The fan's really built to run 24/7 and because of its low energy draw it would cost you less than $50 a year to run the fan 24/7, 365 days a year," said Carr, who is in expansion mode after already having installed AirJet devices at St. Francis Hospital and inside the downtown YMCA. He also just landed Phenix City Parks and Recreation as a client and is hoping to do so as well with credit-card processor TSYS.

Both Carr and Baxley Wilson readily encourage those in the Columbus-Phenix City area who have an idea for a product or service that they believe in to contact StartUP Columbus and its Chief Entrepreneurial Officer Frank Braski to see how they can go about getting their dreams off the ground.

"That's what we're looking for," said Braski, who previously launched ColumbusMakesIT! and RiverCity Foundry, both geared toward nurturing business ideas into reality to boost the area economy. "If you are an inventor or an entrepreneur who has an idea, but you don't really know how to make it happen, come see me. That's what we do at StartUP Columbus."

Friday's opening on Broadway comes amid a concerted effort by those in the community to boost the number of homegrown businesses through StartUP Columbus and the resources it can provide, to include mentors, work space and assistance with finding financing. It also is one of the strategic actions from Columbus 2025, a local initiative to increase prosperity and reduce poverty via economic development.

Billy Blanchard, chairman of Columbus 2025, noted that an assessment was done to see how the local region compares to other areas on various levels, to include having an enterprising culture that fosters new businesses, encourages investors, provides resources and helps them have a solid chance of succeeding.

"What we found was in certain measures, like how many startups there are in a region or how many businesses there are that are five years old or younger -- and the percentage of workforce that works in those businesses -- we as a region were falling behind a lot of other communities," he said.

Settling specifically on an incubator-style model that is capable of accelerating business development came from Intercity Leadership visits to other cities organized by the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

Those included trips to Greenville, S.C., Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Texas, and Pittsburgh. Brought into the conversation were higher-education entities such as Columbus State University, Troy University and Columbus Technical College.

"We are thankful for companies like Aflac, Synovus, TSYS and many, many others that are much larger. But small business runs the American economy. Ninety-plus percent of all jobs reside in a small business. That's businesses with less than 50 employees," said Brian Anderson, the chamber's president and CEO.

He pointed out that there is no specific description or demographic for those who might use StartUP Columbus. They could be a college or high school student with a fresh idea or a veteran leaving the service at Fort Benning, or perhaps someone who is transitioning from a long career with a company, but has saved money and wants to try their hand at being an entrepreneur.

"That idea they may start here today or start tomorrow could be the next Aflac, TSYS or Synovus," Anderson said.

Braski knows there is work to be done to get the region where it needs to be as an entrepreneurial hub. He said the area that includes Columbus, Phenix City, Fort Benning and Auburn-Opelika in Alabama should now have about 2,500 business startups altogether. The region is far from that number, he said, with StartUP Columbus with fewer than 40 clients at the moment. More than $380,000 has been invested in those companies, he said while also putting out the welcome sign for those with creative ideas and a dream of working for themselves and generating jobs in a technology-driven world.

"If you are video game developer, there's no reason you have to be in Atlanta. You can do that right here," Braski said. "We have tremendous assets with CSU and Troy and Columbus Tech. We have video game programs. We have simulations and modeling. We're looking at building two video game studios right now. I'm working with several developers right now to make that happen."

StartUP Columbus also is preparing to enter new space elsewhere downtown in the coming months, Braski said. That includes moving into roughly 20,000 square feet of space owned by Columbus State University, specifically on the basement level of the former Ledger-Enquirer building at the corner of 12th Street and Front Avenue. It is to be called "Fab Lab."

W.C. Bradley Co. also is working on a 9,000-square-foot space in the Eagle & Phenix building on Front Avenue that will be a "co-working" center where business startups have access to office desks and other amenities to work on their ideas. Braski is also talking with others in the 1000 block of downtown to have a startup space geared toward those desiring to enter the health and wellness arena of business.

The momentum of it all has put budding business owners like Baxley Wilson and Carr in position to be prime examples of what the organized nurturing and resources that will be offered by StartUP Columbus can accomplish.

"This gives me the ability to help women who are doulas all over the United States," said Baxley Wilson, whose business, aside from assisting those who are pregnant, also trains the doulas in her network each month on different topics, for a fee. She applauds Braski for his persistent encouragement on her startup. "If Frank hadn't kept poking me, this wouldn't have happened."

Asked what he would tell someone who is dreaming big with an idea about the incubator, Carr said the resources being offered are very valuable when launching a business, so take advantage of them.

"Proverbs says with diligence comes abundance, and that's for sure. You just keep at it and keep at it. When you feel like giving up, don't give up," he said. "We're starting to ramp this up pretty quick and we hope to be the next mega-corporation coming out of Columbus."

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