Local Entrepreneurs Talk Startups, Lansing and Life

Thursday night, a panel of entrepreneurs out of the TIC spoke to East Lansing Emerging Leaders program. The panel, an overview of the Startup Scene in East Lansing, consisted of three entrepreneurs running businesses out of the Technological Innovation Center (one of the 7 places in Lansing to help your business startup). Rick DeShon of Strametrics,…

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Thursday night, a panel of entrepreneurs out of the TIC spoke to East Lansing Emerging Leaders program. The panel, an overview of the Startup Scene in East Lansing, consisted of three entrepreneurs running businesses out of the Technological Innovation Center (one of the 7 places in Lansing to help your business startup). Rick DeShon of Strametrics, Jesse Flores of Cognite Labs and StartupLansing, and Usman Majeed of Tech Twurl, gave their thoughts on the entrepreneur life, East Lansing and more.

The panel was moderated by Quin Stinchfield, Business Incubation Manager at LEAP.

A Bit About The Companies:

The companies each provide different services in different industries to different kinds of customers.

Strametrics:

Strametrics, founded by Rick and his wife Karen, is a consulting company that works to repair the “people systems” within and organization in order to keep that company running smoothly. They also assist companies that just want to make their organizations better through their people.

Cognite Labs/Startup Lansing

Cognite Labs wants to help startups launch. They do this by harnessing their power for growth through software development and website design.

StartupLansing is a website meant to educate, connect, promote and celebrate Startups in the Lansing area.

Tech Twurl

Tech Twurl lets you sell your phone in three easy steps; get an offer, ship for free, and get paid. They also offer an app that protects your phone by showing you the lowest cost repairs in the area.

Why East Lansing?

While Strametrics could do business anywhere and works with people across the country, Rick was bothered when he heard Michigan was the only state to lose population. It may be easier to do it somewhere else, but he is passionate about Michigan. It’s also great having access to so many bright kids at MSU and he wants to give them a reason to stay in the area. “It’s a great resource and we are tapping into it.”

The TIC has also offered him the answers and resources he needs to run his business.

Usman joined the Hatch and the TIC about a year ago and takes advantage of the many resources, like funding, the organizations offer. His team just recently journeyed to SXSW where they were finalists in a student startup competition and the Hatch covered their expenses to get there. “It’s great to have everything he needs so close.”

 Jesse, when he moved here from Atlanta, saw a potential for East Lansing and Lansing to have the power of density that Atlanta has in their Startup community. You need that density for a vibrant community that interacts with each other. This region has that potential with the Hatch, The TIC, Spartan Innovations, the university, all here in East Lansing. “It has all the things the community needs to explode.”

 

What is your company’s biggest challenge?

Rick’s challenge is a great challenge. They have a substantial revenue stream, but they are struggling with what to do with that money. “It’s a great problem to have.” They are also at capacity and are looking to expand and looking for help in order to do that.

 Along with revenue, the company is struggling with identity. Rick has come to see that sometimes you have to turn money away if it doesn’t coincide with who you want to be.

Tech Twurl’s biggest challenge is definitely cash flow. They are always seeking different avenues for funding. They are also struggling with finding talent, specifically students since they can’t afford to employ full-time people. Along those same lines, they are working on how to scale up properly.

 Jesse, while he typically works with a good cash flow, struggles with how to manage revenue that can be lumpy. He would like to be able to create a predictable, manageable pipeline. He and his team are actually coming up with a product that will not only help his own pipeline problems, but others as well. He also struggles with making sure his team is “eating their own dog food.” Are they doing the things they can promise to deliver?

 How does running a business affect your personal life?

“It’s always a struggle,” says Rick. He’s always been a bit of a workaholic so it’s easier for him to keep working than it is to take a break. But he’s working to find that balance.

 Jesse says he’s not great at it.

He adds that there are multiple layers to that balance. One of those layers is making sure you do the things you need first thing in the morning. He also strives to make sure he’s home before his daughter goes to bed even if he is working after.  

Usman’s life is a little easier to balance since he’s a student. “I just need to make sure I get good grades and keep my parents happy…” Though, he did get a surprise when he realized being your own boss wasn’t as simple as he thought it was.

 

 But, he also agrees that it really doesn’t seem like work if you are passionate about it.

Can you grow in Lansing?

 

 Despite the excuses many people give about not starting businesses in Lansing, with the resources offered, there’s no reason people can’t startup and stay in the area.

Strametrics can stay in the area and be where they want to be only if they can use the internet to make a product. If they can’t, they have to go somewhere there are more companies.

 Jesse is attracted to the region because of the low-cost of living, “It makes it really attractive to build something here.” Many other companies are realizing this as well.  But, on the other side, staying in Michigan means struggling to find specialist talent, for him and many others.


But, many are working to solve that problem. TechTuesday is one way Jesse and others are trying to close the talent gap. Meetups, StartupGrind and an upcoming Code School are all sponsored by Jesse and his team simply because he’s working to find talent.

 Usman says that part of this problem is that in the local school and at MSU, many of the students are geared toward the corporate tracks and aren’t trained in the new features like Ruby on Rails and JavaScript. 

But there are organizations in Lansing, like The Hatch and The TIC, working to help with that gap and to get individuals the training they need and feed their interests.  

Both Jesse and Usman mentioned how much growth they have witnessed in the Hatch and the area in just the last year because of these resources.

 

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?

 

 

 

 

And, of course, the perks of starting your own business?

 

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