Getting your startup off the ground with expert advice
Are you unsure about your startup’s direction? Wondering where to turn when Google can’t help? Trying to determine whether you’re ready for the next big step? Perhaps a startup advisor is exactly what you need. But what exactly do they do, and how can they help your company?
“Startup advisor” isn’t typically an official title; just ask Brian Genide, Director of Incubation & Venture Development at The University of Toledo, and Norman Rapino, Executive Director of Rocket Innovations. The pair work regularly with entrepreneurs at the University of Toledo’s Launchpad Incubation, where they aim to find and nurture the next wave of startup talent and direct them toward helpful programs.
“My job is to be a tech hunter and find new technologies we can invest in, and potentially develop into a company or mitigate risk for the Office of Technology Transfer at The University of Toledo,” said Genide. “Our venture development group spends a lot of time working with intellectual property prototypes and conducting studies. We also work very closely with area companies that want to create something or do research to see if they can develop a product someone will buy. Our team leads the process and provides in-depth coaching for customer discovery and forming a business. We’re with them from planning stages to final execution.”
But for startup advisors, the goal isn’t just to cheer on the work of an entrepreneur. The advisors are there to help ensure that a project will be successful, and sometimes that means helping a company pivot or change course. Helping a founder understand the necessity of going in a new director can be a crucial part of an advisor’s role.
“We’re good at helping people figure out what doesn’t work,” said Rapino. “Sometimes, people need to know that what they’re working on has barriers they haven’t thought about. We can help people by saving them time and money. Realistic feedback can be very important if you’re an entrepreneur, because you can’t spend the next three years working on something that the market won’t use. We help people move things forward, but we also help them stop things that don’t work.”
Entrepreneurship can be a risky enterprise, and Rapino said his goal is often to help shield the founder and their company from the challenges of a market that he and Genide are all too familiar with. Even a good idea can require tweaks and changes in strategy, which is what the advisors are there for. And with the variety of resources available in Ohio — from the state’s nationally ranked accelerators to incubators like Launchpad, the Ohio University Innovation Center or the Hamilton County Development Company — startup advisors have plenty of places to direct young businesses.
“We keep them safe,” said Rapino. “Because you can’t have a winner if people are heading toward disaster. We’re all about helping people succeed, and that takes time, energy and focus. So they can’t be working on things that don’t have a path to success. We don’t judge the idea. We help them identify the system in which it lives and where it can be successful. There are a lot of places throughout the state where that can happen.”
The startup advisors at Launchpad have worked with a variety of growing companies, including the team behind Guardian Medical, based in nearby Swanton. Their leaders met with Genide, who helped them find grant funding, plan their processes and work through validation. Tracy Momany, VP of plastic technologies, said the advisors’ direction was crucial to the company’s growth.
“We were looking for help with the grant, but we realized that Brian was really helpful with other things like finding sources of funding and working on our pitch deck,” said Momany. “His help certainly made a big difference. We needed help to get that grant funding and he introduced us to some of the other investment funds in the area. It was something we needed to do, but we just didn’t really have a good way in. It’s great to have a resource like that, and I really don’t know of any other good way to get that kind of information and experience.”
To find an advisor for your startup, no matter where in Ohio you’re based, contact the experts at Launchpad, JumpStart, Rev1 Ventures, TechGROWTH, CincyTech or The Entrepreneurial Center. And when you’ve got your plan together, check out our guide to Ohio’s startup scene.