Taking the plunge to start your own business takes courage, commitment and encouragement. So it’s not surprising that successful entrepreneurs often have interesting stories to tell and valuable advice to offer.
The Network, the Chamber’s young professionals group, brought together three such storytellers at the Young Entrepreneur Panel, held August 29 at 425 Downtown. The local business minds on the panel offered their viewpoints on the challenges of launching a start-up, the advantages that Springfield has to offer, and their advice for others looking to follow in their footsteps.
One of the biggest initial challenges of going out on your own is that you are literally on your own. “I’m really a party of one,” said Amy Blansit of Solely Jolie. “And with many entrepreneurs, including me, it’s not your main job – it’s added alongside everything else we do. So setting priorities and making sure your business is in the forefront is a difficult balance.”
Another initial hurdle: finding capital to get going. “Getting funded in the beginning can be challenging,” said Luke Kuschmeader of Küat Innovations. “It’s really important to have a good business plan and good advisors to make sure your plan is as thought out as it can be.”
They also noted that Springfield itself, while very supportive of entrepreneurs overall, would be well served by a stronger network of early-stage investors. “We need people willing to take risks,” Blansit said. “People who are interested in investing, but in the sense of, ‘I’m not an expert in your field but I believe in your product and support what you’re doing.’”
When asked what keeps them in Springfield and why they are building their business futures in southwest Missouri, panelists’ answers were as varied as their businesses.
“I was born and raised here, and when I got out of college, everyone my age started to move away and it drove me crazy,” said Rogan Howitt of Golden Girl Rum Club. “It’s crucial to bring new things here, to keep people here and bring in new people. It’s my goal to help make Springfield a more metropolitan community and help people try something new.”
For Blansit, the idea of the “little big town” is appealing. “You can be once removed from someone who knows or has the idea or product or connection you need – and you can ask for that help,” she said. “That personal connection is so much more present here than in a bigger city.”
Kuschmeader, on the other hand, has seen direct growth as a result of being here. “When we first launched, our idea was to be an international product. And like most entrepreneurs, I thought it would be super easy,” he said. “But we had an unproven brand, so it was challenging to get traction. Without the support of the Springfield community – bike shops, local businesspeople, word-of-mouth marketing – we wouldn’t be here.”
When asked what advice they could offer to other budding entrepreneurs, the panelists had some pearls of wisdom to share.
Blansit suggested discovering your own weaknesses and surrounding yourself with those who fill in those gaps. Howitt pointed to the importance of having a good support system, both personally and professionally – “I can’t imagine there are a lot of people who can do it all on their own.”
And as for Kuschmeader, he advised hiring people who match your passion for your ideas and then just going for it. “The worst that can happen is that you go bankrupt,” he added with a laugh. “And worse things happen to people all the time.”