12 weeks later, here’s how far these accelerator entrepreneurs have come

Sept. 12, 2018

This paid piece is sponsored by the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.

It’s called an accelerator for a reason.

Just ask the five entrepreneurs who recently completed the 12-week program at the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.

From honing their models to connecting with new resources, we caught up with them to learn more about their experience and where they’re headed.

You, too, can meet the founders and learn more about their businesses at the accelerator graduation ceremony from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18  at Zeal.

Presented by The First National Bank in Sioux Falls, Eide Bailly and Woods Fuller, the celebration of entrepreneurship is free and includes drinks and hors d’oeuvres. To RSVP, click here.

Conjtac – Chelsea Asmus and Vance Thompson

Founded in November 2016

Contjac strives to apply the principles of refractive surgery, such as LASIK, to other areas of vision correction, such as contact lenses, orthokeratology and myopia control.

What has been the biggest change in your business since we last talked to you?

We have gotten more structured and gotten a lot of guidance in creating that structure for the company, which is exactly what we needed to get from the accelerator program.

What has been your biggest surprise during the accelerator?

Budgeting. It’s one thing to have an idea of what you want to accomplish; it’s another thing to pick that apart and really examine what that would cost. It has been enlightening and helped us to really focus attention in the key areas.

What resources did you find especially valuable during the program?

Getting connected with all the entrepreneurs-in-residence was great, but my most valuable piece was meeting with Mr. Ryan Oines one-on-one. He was a great mentor in this process and deserves a lot more credit than he gives himself. He’s very humble and generous.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do during the accelerator, or did you take a different direction with your business?

We actually did shift some direction a little, twice actually. At first, we decided to focus on one patent, but then after analyzing the opportunity, we shifted to focus on two patents to really push forward. Now, our focus is on testing the feasibility of these patents and gather some good data as fast as we can.

What’s next? Where does your business go from here?

This is the path we were on, but the accelerator has helped us to define it better and plan for moving faster. Our road is a little different than the others as we have to get through clinical work before we can really take anything to commercialization.

It has been an honor to work with this cohort of entrepreneurs and learn from them. They really have great businesses, and it is awesome to see them grow in this process as well.

Feed the Stripe – Ruth and Steve Scherschligt

Began operations in April 2018

Feed the Stripe LLC specializes in selling high-performance racing parts to the drag-racing market.

What has been the biggest change in your business since we last talked to you?

I am much more organized and have a solid infrastructure in place to accommodate rapid growth. I have set up QuickBooks, analyzed my future cash flow requirements and developed a system that allows me to be proactive in responding to my customers’ needs.

What has been your biggest surprise during the accelerator?

The level of access I have had to experts in the various fields was quite surprising to me. The wealth of experience and knowledge of “veteran” entrepreneurs that I have been able to learn from has been amazing!

What resources did you find especially valuable during the program?

There were many great resources, but the most valuable would be the network of professionals in the community that I have developed.  Not only are they available to help me with ongoing questions, but I have been able to develop some strategic partnerships that ultimately improved my bottom line.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do during the accelerator, or did you take a different direction with your business?

A little of both.  I have met my original goals but have come to realize that “goals” are never fully accomplished in business; they are always evolving, depending on the environment. As I mentioned before, I have also developed some strategic local partnerships, which have improved my profit margins. I did not anticipate these changes in my supply chain, but they have been a blessing!

What’s next? Where does your business go from here?

Keep using the skills and resources I have gained from the Zeal accelerator program to grow revenues. A majority of my business costs are fixed, so if I really focus on growing revenue, then I can significantly improve my net profit.

SolarVITA – Braden Bills

Founded in June 2018

SolarVITA is making solar power as easy to use as a standard wall outlet, developing off-grid AC solar panels that are easy-to-use, modular and are plug-and-play capable.

What has been the biggest change in your business since we last talked to you?

The biggest change in SolarVITA is simply the progress that we’ve been making. We were a newly formed company at the start of the accelerator program, and now we’re a new company with a focused strategic plan.

What has been your biggest surprise during the accelerator?

Our biggest reminder is that it is up to us to articulate why SolarVITA was started and what our product is and isn’t.

What resources did you find especially valuable during the program?

The Zeal team has been an especially valuable resource in two major ways. They’ve been an incredible sounding board in developing our strategic plan, and they’ve also been a resource of resources, where we’ve made many connections, especially with an entrepreneur with two decades of experience in the outdoor-retail-product space, and marketing, banking and legal experts.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do during the accelerator, or did you take a different direction with your business?

Yes, we’re making progress in accomplishing our goals of developing AC solar tiles to be like the Lego building blocks of solar and working towards raising the necessary funds for development.

What’s next? Where does your business go from here?

Keep executing and working towards a product launch by the end of this year.

Up Tempo Music Lessons – Andrew Rogers

Founded in January 2014 

Up Tempo offers in-home music lessons specifically designed for children and young adults.

What has been the biggest change in your business since we last talked to you?

We have a more focused direction on when and how we will grow. We’ve always made an effort to set goals and grow, but now we have a blueprint for how to get there.

What has been your biggest surprise during the accelerator?

I was surprised with how much working with the other accelerator members helped me. There has been a lot of collaboration with everyone, and I think we all gave insight that we wouldn’t have received elsewhere.

What resources did you find especially valuable during the program?

The people who have taken time out of their days to contribute to this program has been overwhelmingly valuable. Everyone who has spoken at the group sessions has been more than willing to meet up with each accelerator business to have a discussion and give advice. I learned something valuable from each meeting I had with one of the entrepreneurs-in-residence. Ryan and Thad have been great as well. I found our one-on-one sessions to be especially helpful with keeping me accountable to the goals I set out.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do during the accelerator, or did you take a different direction with your business?

I feel like I have accomplished what I set out to do. There have been a couple changes to our strategic plan along the way, but I’m excited for these revisions.

What’s next? Where does your business go from here?

The next 12 months will be focused on growing with more students and instructors to teach lessons. From there, we have plans to expand our program to include a physical location where we can offer group lessons to younger students and a rehearsal space to get kids playing in bands throughout the year.

WrapAbility – Kyle Vanderhull

Founded in June 2017

WrapAbility creates and installs vehicle and trailer wraps, and corporate wall and window displays.

What has been the biggest change in your business since we last talked to you?

Personnel and processes! I’ve let go of some employees that were not helping with growth and have hired some rock stars to help push things forward. These new team members have helped create new processes to make things run smoother and more effectively.

What has been your biggest surprise during the accelerator?

How fast I grew — trying to keep up!

What resources did you find especially valuable during the program?

The expert help from the Zeal team and other business owners that spoke with us. I’ve been able to speak with many of them outside of “class” and have learned a ton.

Did you accomplish what you set out to do during the accelerator, or did you take a different direction with your business?

My chaos has been given a route to move forward, so yes! It did push me in a slightly different direction with the future of my business.

What’s next? Where does your business go from here?

Pushing into online sales and nationwide distribution rather than focus solely on local service.

12 weeks later, here’s how far these accelerator entrepreneurs have come

They joined the Zeal accelerator to jump-start their businesses. Twelve weeks later, here’s what happened.

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