Get to know this year’s Zeal Growth Accelerator entrepreneurs

July 10, 2018

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

The five Sioux Falls-area businesses chosen for this year’s Zeal Growth Accelerator are off and running with big goals for their 12 weeks in the program.

You can meet them at their graduation Sept. 18, but in the meantime we took a closer look at their entrepreneurial journeys so far.

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.

Why did you start the business?

Vance Thompson and I started Conjtac as a formal way to develop his patent ideas into something tangible. We have several patents that apply his knowledge from refractive surgery, like LASIK, into other arenas of vision correction. We hope to be able to help patients in different and innovative ways.

What’s been your greatest challenge so far?

I have multiple answers for this. One challenge is that the patenting process takes a long time. It is a bit of a waiting game. Then coupled with that, when one is waiting, we kind of lose momentum on the project. I think this is behind us now as we have solid patents issued for each project, which is exciting because we can more freely talk about the projects. So it really is the perfect time to join the accelerator.

What made you decide to apply for the Zeal accelerator?

I have been a co-worker at Zeal since we started, and I watched last year’s participants grow so much throughout the process. I was inspired by Trisha Dohn and Well365. I really think that the accelerator process is exactly what we need at this point in our business journey. We have some exciting proof-of-concept work happening, so having some structure and strategic guidance as we progress will be significant for Conjtac.

Where would you like to see your business at the end of the program?

By the end of the program, I would like to see our business with some prototypes developed for pre-clinic work, working towards regulatory approval and having a strategic plan for each patent’s development.

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.

 

Why did you start the business?

I started the business for multiple reasons: The timing was right in my personal life and in the industry, I have always wanted to own my own business, I have a passion for drag racing and wanted to channel that into a profitable business.

What’s been your greatest challenge so far?

Technology! There is so much to having an online presence, such as the logistics of managing a website with over 40,000 parts in inventory — and keeping it simple and user-friendly. Also, navigating online marketing strategies can be mind-boggling, such as how do I best spend my advertising dollars in the cyberworld.

What made you decide to apply for the Zeal accelerator?

I knew that there were aspects of my business that I did not understand and needed help with, especially marketing. I know my industry and my products, but marketing was beyond my expertise.

Where would you like to see your business at the end of the program?

At the end of the program, I would really like to have a fine-tuned, user-friendly website, a detailed marketing strategy and a network of people who are willing to be a resource for me as I face challenges going forward in growing my business. 

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.

Why did you start the business?

Starting SolarVITA was a way to combine my passion for developing and commercializing products and 10 years of experience in solar. In my various solar roles, I’ve learned that people want to go solar but often don’t because it’s too hard to figure out.

People are wanting energy freedom for their off-grid adventures, whether RVing, camping, hunting, fishing and so on, but they don’t want to become part-time engineers to figure out how to design and install solar systems. That’s why SolarVITA is developing AC solar panels that are easy to use, plug and play, and modular.

Our tagline has been making solar as easy to use as a wall outlet in your home to spend less time setting up and more time living. Check out gosolarvita.com to learn more.

What’s been your greatest challenge so far?

My main challenges will be to raise sufficient funding to design and manufacture the AC solar panels, specifically the micro-inverter technology which acts as the “brains.”

What made you decide to apply for the Zeal accelerator?

A major reason that I applied to the Zeal accelerator is to overcome the challenge of raising sufficient funds to develop the SolarVITA AC solar panel. Zeal has some funds of their own for accelerator participants that I’ll apply for, and they will also help me prepare to pitch to investors, such as the regional angel funds.

Where would you like to see your business at the end of the program?

My three main goals to accomplish by the end of the program are to:

  1. Have raised or be on track to raising the necessary funding.
  2. Have the AC solar panel product designed and have a few test units produced.
  3. Be prepared to launch a crowdfunding — example Kickstarter — campaign.

Up Tempo Music Lessons – Andrew Rogers

Founded in January 2014 

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

 

Why did you start the business? 

When I was young, I quit piano lessons because they were not relevant to me, and I wouldn’t practice. Fortunately, I kept going with music by learning chords on piano, learning guitar and playing in bands throughout high school. I decided I wanted to teach lessons in a way that I would have wanted to learn at that age by making them relevant and fun.

What’s been your greatest challenge so far?

My greatest challenge has been managing the growth of Up Tempo. At first, it wasn’t difficult to go teach my own students and work within my own schedule. When I hit the point of needing to hire instructors, I had to learn more about management, recruiting and organization for a business.

What made you decide to apply for the Zeal accelerator?

I think I’ve grown Up Tempo as far as I can without outside help. Our pace of adding students has been slow and steady, and we are ready for that next level of growth.

Where would you like to see your business at the end of the program?

I am looking to expand our roster of students and team of instructors. On top of that, we are looking at the possibility of opening a physical location for group lessons and rehearsals, and a wider offering of music programs. My hope is for Zeal to help me determine if that is the right move and how we take the steps to get there.

WrapAbility – Kyle Vanderhull

Founded in June 2017

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

Why did you start the business?

Coming from several generations of business owners, it is in my blood to run my own shop. I have a passion for artistic vehicle wraps and high-end cars that no one has pursued in this area. I wanted to carve out a niche as the premier wrap company in the Sioux Empire area and beyond.

What’s been your greatest challenge so far?

Time management. The days and weeks and months fly by faster than I could ever imagine. When I’m in charge of everything from running payroll, scheduling, ordering, designing, billing, training and wrapping, there’s just not enough time in the day. This has caused me to fall behind on customer designs and quotes. Thankfully, I have some pretty great customers who are patient and understanding.

What made you decide to apply for the Zeal accelerator?

To guide and steer me through my rapid growth. Things are moving fast, and I need help ensuring that all the necessary parts are in place to facilitate this growth. I figured since they are geared towards accelerating companies forward, they would be well-equipped to aid me as I have the pedal to the metal.

Where would you like to see your business at the end of the program?

Caught up on designs and quotes with the pieces in place to create fast turnaround times. I would also like to have the back-office structures and documents in place to reach the next stage in growth — expansion into new regions.

Get to know this year’s Zeal Growth Accelerator entrepreneurs

The five Sioux Falls-area businesses chosen for this year’s Zeal Growth Accelerator are off and running with big goals for their 12 weeks in the program.

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