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This piece is presented by the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship.
While most new college graduates start looking for a first job, Mike Vetter knew he wanted to start a business.
Then he learned how much he didn’t know.
“I knew about the ‘nerd stuff,’ but knowing how to write code and build servers doesn’t translate automatically into business and making good decisions,” said Vetter, who founded DataSync in 2007.
The self-described IT “fix-it guy” fortunately found the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship in the early days of his business — back then it was called the South Dakota Technology Business Center — “and they added all the business aspects to my base of knowledge to get me from concept to reality,” Vetter said. “Zeal was so instrumental in being the difference between a failure to launch and actually creating a real business.”
DataSync launched at Zeal a decade ago as an IT consultancy and branched into other services. At one point, the plan was to offer a number of small-business apps in the cloud, but it became clear the better market niche was customer relationship management, or CRM, implementation for service providers.
While Microsoft and QuickBooks captured the market for online email and accounting services, “CRM still needed a lot of help, so we focused on installation and training,” Vetter said. The business “has not only survived but grown over the years,” with a team of 15 people split between full-time employees and contractors who work as a virtual team across three states.
His experience growing the business led him to a quick yes when asked to join the board of directors at Zeal and provide guidance to a new generation of business owners.
“Many entrepreneurs have great ideas and great skills but need what Zeal has to translate it to a real business,” he said. “I really believe in the culture they’re creating at Zeal. They’re creating an entrepreneurial community that is healthy. It’s not about trying to make as much money as possible. They’re trying to add value to the community, and I believe in that, too.”
Now, Vetter’s own entrepreneurialism is taking him in a new direction — and leading him back to Zeal.
While DataSync is a service company that helps companies install software, his new venture involves creating unique software specifically for the manufacturing industry.
Called Flywheel, it’s named after the key engine component that keeps motors running. That’s also what the software tries to achieve for manufacturers. It collects information on everything from marketing and sales activity to service and customer sentiment and delivers it in a way that allows users to sense where the market is heading. The whole system can run on mobile devices.
“It’s amazing how ignored manufacturing has been, because so much of our economy is based on it, but so many software firms have focused on professional and financial services that manufacturing as a whole has been very underserved,” Vetter said. “We have customers that were trying to adapt products on the market, and they just weren’t cutting it, so we said we’ve got to go do it.”
He decided to launch the software at Zeal, using a four-person team in the E@Z co-working space, sponsored by Interstate Office Products.
“I love the Zeal co-working model,” Vetter said. “Our team is partially remote and can work at the office at Zeal, they can work at home, or they can work from Denver where we have employees. And being at Zeal is really conducive to learning new things. And another startup, Jobiki, is working out of the same space, so our developers can talk to their developers and share ideas.”
The first version of Flywheel has had “very positive” response from manufacturers, and a second version is scheduled to come out early next year. Some local manufacturers are helping pilot it.
“South Dakota has manufacturing and agriculture as two of our biggest industries, and we think we can serve them in our backyard,” Vetter said.
He’s also committed to showing other established businesses that Zeal can be a resource for them in launching products.
“I’m on a mission as a board member to prove that companies can do this,” he said. “I even think for traditional companies it wouldn’t be a bad idea to buy some co-working memberships and use the space for employees building new things. I’m hoping that space gets used for more than startups. It’s important for launching new products and ideas.”
Mike Vetter started as an entrepreneur at Zeal years ago, graduated from it, joined the board — and then brought his latest startup venture back to incubate.