Startland News’ Startup Road Trip series explores innovative and uncommon ideas finding success in rural America and Midwestern startup hubs outside the Kansas City metro. This series is possible thanks to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which leads a collaborative, nationwide effort to identify and remove large and small barriers to new business creation.
Note: Scale is now Redbud VC
COLUMBIA, Missouri — The biggest takeaway from Scale’s first cohort: the accelerator’s leadership needed to tweak its methodology for supporting founders, said Willy Schlacks.
“We have to allow for failure. At some points in Cohort 1, there were times when we offered too much support. Therefore, we set guidelines going into Cohort 2,” said Schlacks, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of the Scale accelerator and venture studio alongside his brother, Jabbok Schlacks, and fellow entrepreneur Jai Malik. Techstars Columbia Startup Weekend is an opportunity for everyone — from students still in school to individuals who have been in the workplace for decades — to get connected to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, said Willy Schlacks. “The idea of trading your stable job for sleepless nights to build your dream can be tough to stomach. Startup Weekend brings entrepreneurs out of their comfort zone to pitch their ideas and take the leap of launching a startup,” said Schlacks, co-founder of EquipmentShare and the Scale accelerator. “There’s hidden talent all around us. Sometimes entrepreneurs just need a little boost of confidence and support to make their existence known.”
Leadership also found it more beneficial to make group sessions more collaborative and less lecture-based, as well as put more weight on one-on-one time, Schlacks revealed.
“The long-term goal with Scale is to build a massive sustaining community of entrepreneurs who are supported by access to capital, talent, network effects, and knowledge,” continued Schlacks, who also co-founded the scaling Columbia startup EquipmentShare.
Schlacks and his accelerator team are solving the access problem at a smaller scale through a proof of concept fund — planning to raise multiple funds in the future.
“In five years from now, we plan to have a full team that is helping upward of 100 founding teams across the U.S. with a focus on the Midwest and underserved markets,” he noted.
Meet the second cohort
When Ash Cintas founded her first business at 21, she needed a resource like Scale to keep her hyper-focused, she shared.
“I created a textile and turned it into a consumer product for the yoga industry. I very shortly realized that the value was in the actual material — not the consumer product,” shared Cintas, founder of City Shoppe and a member of Scale’s second cohort. “ … Everything seemed like an amazing, potential opportunity, and so I spread myself too thin and that business fizzled out.”
Cintas has since been involved with three startups that have risen to national status over the past 15 years. Returning to what she learned from her first business venture, Cintas launched City Shoppe — a SaaS marketplace that enables small businesses to sell products locally and globally.
“When I had my first company, Etsy and Amazon were the only platforms to sell online,” Cintas recalled. “If you’re a small business doing $200,000 to $1 million, $5 million a year in revenue and you have legit manufacture, then you don’t really align with either of them.”
City Shoppe, founded in January 2021 and based in Austin, Texas, is a one-stop-shop marketplace that allows community members across the nation to support small businesses.
“We’re now in 25 cities,” Cintas said. “We definitely make sure that there is integrity and value behind the product and businesses. The great thing about small businesses is that 85 percent of our small businesses on City Shoppe are minority owned, and then over 80 percent have a social impact value — so they are giving back as you shop.”
Through Scale, Cintas has found the around-the-clock access to mentors to be extremely beneficial in growing her startup, she noted.
“I can ask them anything — like, ‘This potential investor is saying this, what does that mean?’” Cintas said. “It can be intimidating to ask a successful startup founder or [venture capitalist] something, but they’ve done a great job at being very approachable.”
Ultimately, Cintas’ goal is to have a hyper-local presence in every city City Shoppe serves, she shared — noting that she is looking forward to visiting Scale’s hometown of Columbia, Missouri, in June to explore the local businesses and meet the rest of the cohort in person for demo day.
Click here to check out City Shoppe.
Nick Farquhar was introduced to Scale through Columbia Startup Weekend, where he was on the winning team for an idea he hadn’t planned to pitch, he said.
With the win securing Farquhar a spot in Scale, he founded Appreciate — a platform for property owners and managers to better track tenant data to make data-driven decisions that lead to appreciated property values.
Appreciate was born from Farquhar’s personal pain point as a property owner and real estate investor who had difficulty with scaling his portfolio.
“What we’re looking to do is address the relationship between property manager and property owner and make it more of a partnership, as well as allow data to prove the value of property managers essentially,” he explained.
Scale has pushed Farquhar to think differently about business, while still keeping true to his values and mission, he shared. Through the network of mentors and other founders, Farquhar has also seen what is possible.
“It’s been incredible for me because I’m not from this world,” Farquhar said, noting he has dropped out of the University of Missouri to pursue his third entrepreneurial journey head-on. “Honestly, in many ways, it’s the antithesis of how I viewed myself as a businessman. I come from a blue collar background … and cobbling that together with some of the brilliant people who think in a more traditional tech startup type of way is, I think, a recipe for success.”
The other five startups in Scale’s second cohort include:
Clearing (New York City, New York) — Building a digital bank for property managers and real estate investors to manage multi-family units by having the flexibility to add individual accounts per unit. This allows them to better track revenue & expenses on a unit level.
FusePay (Cambridge, Massachusetts) — A payment solution that converts cryptocurrencies into fiat money in real-time to purchase goods and services online or in person.
Foundable (Columbus, Ohio) — A web/mobile SaaS product that accelerates launching and supporting a new startup idea. The company is leveraging GPT 3 AI to automate dashboards that include branding, market analysis, customer profiles, etc.
TheGoodz (Columbia, Missouri) — Delivers convenient store essentials in less than 25 minutes using micro-fulfillment centers, in-house drivers, route optimization and transparent pricing.
Otimus (Dallas, Texas) — A robotics company that automates household chores using robotics.
Click here to check out Scale’s first cohort.