At TracSoft, we care about our clients. We’re a home-grown company living side-by-side with the very people we serve, supporting their businesses just as they support ours. Recognizing our interdependence, we celebrate their successes because when our clients succeed, we do, too. For this reason, TracSoft will be profiling some of our clients over the next few months, focusing on their impact on the greater Columbus metropolitan area, highlighting their achievements, and exploring the beneficial relationship that exists between us.
To say Columbus is changing is an understatement of grand proportions. In the last few decades, motivated Columbusites have created a thriving arts scene with world-class entertainment and a burgeoning tourism industry that brought in 2.3 million visitors and $364 million in FY 2019. A revitalized downtown now hosts businesses ranging from trendy to chic, with fine dining experiences to rival anything in the state.
Still, when Columbus 2025 completed a 2016 assessment of how Columbus compares to other cities of similar size, the results were not positive. Chairman Billy Blanchard, quoted in the Ledger-Enquirer, explained that “in certain measures, like how many startups there are in a region or how many businesses there are that are five years old or younger—and the percentage of workforce that works in those businesses—we as a region were falling behind a lot of other communities.”
This is a problem for Columbus because small startups are important to cities. They stimulate local economies by providings jobs, especially for people who might not be employable by larger businesses. Small businesses also support larger businesses, who frequently outsource work to them. Unlike large corporations, who are usually risk-averse, startups tend to be innovative. And importantly, small local businesses provide products or services that improve quality of life for residents in a city. A lack of small businesses indicates a city is in trouble.
What Is StartUP Columbus And What Does It Do?
One goal of Columbus 2025 is to build prosperity in our community by supporting local businesses. That’s where StartUP Columbus enters the picture. An outgrowth of the 2025 initiative, the organization’s purpose, according to Director Ben MacMinn, is to “create a thriving entrepreneurial environment” that will help these small businesses take root and blossom. This happens through programmatic pieces (such as talks from community business leaders), office space in their soon-to-open coworking space, and mentoring by other business owners in the community.
But the heart of StartUP Columbus is social connection. “People want to be in business for themselves, but even though you’re in business for yourself, you don’t want to be by yourself,” MacMinn explains. By pooling knowledge, giving and receiving feedback, and accepting guidance, entrepreneurs improve their odds of success—sometimes drastically. While participation in a business incubator doesn’t guarantee success, the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) found in a 2010 study that startups that participated in a business incubator had an 87% success rate in contrast to a 44% success rate for businesses that did not. StartUP Columbus is only in its second year, so not enough data exists yet to determine the success rate of businesses that it helps. However, the outlook seems bright.
A lot of this social connection happens through StartUP Columbus’ CO.STARTERS course. The course is a nine-week, cohort-based program that brings together budding entrepreneurs from different industries. They meet weekly for 3 hours to work with a facilitator to complete hand-ons activities designed to help them start their business. This includes research to determine the viability of their business model, which they will refine during the nine weeks. Participants will explore important considerations like costs, supply lines, possible markets, and the logistics of providing their product or service. They also meet with service providers who can offer advice and support.
“The question we had when we started is how can we get individuals ready to be in front of investors and get capital?” MacMinn explains, noting that many participants have never owned a business before. The answer was CO.STARTERS, which he says, “takes ideas and turns them into action.”
What Stage Of Business Development Will Participants Be In When They Finish CO.STARTERS?
Nine weeks isn’t very long, so I asked MacMinn if participants in CO.STARTERS usually have a fully-functioning business by the end of the course.
“It’s dependent on the individual,” he replies. “The program is not a traditional class, so there’s no homework and participants aren’t pushed to finish.” Some people enter the course a little more prepared or their business idea is more straightforward. In those cases, yes, people might finish and be ready to open for business. But it’s more common that people will still have some work to do. The goal is that participants will have the tools and connections to continue working until their business is a reality.
Another thing MacMinn mentions is that not everyone who participates in the CO.STARTERS program actually opens their business. “Some ideas don’t succeed and that’s good,” he says. If a participant realizes their business model isn’t practical or there’s not a big enough market for their business, it’s good to know that and either refine the idea so it does work or try again with a new idea. And MacMinn emphasizes that everyone who starts the program is encouraged to finish, even if they abandon their idea. The program gives them relationships, insights, and tools that they may use in the future.
Who Is CO.STARTERS For?
The program is for anyone interested in starting a new business. This includes first-time startups as well as serial entrepreneurs who might be venturing into a new field. And participants come with different levels of preparedness as well. Some will have a pretty clear vision of their product or service, but have never run a business. Others may have a more vague idea and need help clarifying it. Still others may already have a business, but realize they need to pivot to increase growth or improve the viability of their business.
The advantage of CO.STARTERS is that it provides entrepreneurs with resources. “Not every entrepreneur will use every resource,” MacMinn says, “but we can refer people to other resources if necessary.” In this way, participants can customize the program to their needs regardless of their experience level.
How Is COVID-19 Impacting StartUP Columbus?
MacMinn acknowledged that the pandemic has paused some of StartUP Columbus’ programs. The opening of a new co-working space for CO.STARTERS participants has been delayed. The summer session of the CO.STARTERS program was also pushed back, and MacMinn emphasized that it would look different once it started because of new policies requiring masks and the possibility of holding online sessions rather than face-to-face sessions. Many of the community events that were planned have been canceled.
However, depending on the type of business someone is interested in starting, the pandemic shouldn’t stop them from working on their ideas. “During pandemics and shifts in history—things that are that big and impactful to communities—one of the things that’s important is innovation,” he says. Obviously, businesses that require face-to-face interaction can’t start in the midst of a pandemic, but many other models can be adapted.
How Can Business Leaders Step Up And Lead During Trying Times Like These?
Knowing that many in the business community are struggling with the economic impact and uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, I asked MacMinn, who holds an MBA in Executive Leadership from Liberty University, what advice he’d offer to business leaders in our community. He replied, “Don’t try to learn it all by yourself. There’s so much information out there it’s like drinking from a waterfall.” Instead, he suggested those who need help turn to some of the organizations here in town, specifically to the Small Business Development Center, the Greater Columbus Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and, of course, StartUP Columbus. Organizations like these can distill information and help business owners find the help that’s most relevant to them.
As far as coping with the pandemic, he reflected that “We are in a time that nobody could have dreamed of, thought of, imagined, and that is due both to the pandemic and racial disparities. We have to be mindful our situation is not everyone’s situation.” He pointed out that while some may decide to self-quarantine or work from home, others may open to save their businesses and their families. “Don’t take on the responsibility of knowing every situation,” he advised, “but know that we don’t know every situation.”
What’s It Like Working With TracSoft?
When I sat down to talk to MacMinn, one of the first things he said was that he always receives compliments on the StartUP Columbus website. If you haven’t visited (you should), it’s a minimalist design—clean, but inviting. The uncluttered interface focuses users on the content rather than bells and whistles, and the navigation is intuitive. Strategic pops of color draw the eye through the site naturally.
I asked him what his experience working with TracSoft has been like. “StartUP has had an overall good experience with TracSoft. When creating our website, I had a vision of what I wanted it to look like, and you all were able to make my vision a reality. The website has done a great job explaining who we are and who we serve in the community,” he replied.
As web developers, this is exactly what the team at TracSoft wants to hear. For most companies today, a website serves as the heart of their business. It’s where brand identity is most clearly defined and it’s what impacts their inclusion in the ever-important Google Business Listing database. We understand how essential a solid website is to a business’ ability to compete, which is why we work so closely with our clients to ensure their vision is realized.
If you’re looking for a new website or a website redesign, start a conversation with us today. Don’t be let down by website builders that create generic sites with limited functionality. Our detail-oriented team will deliver a beautiful mobile-ready, future-proof website that will help you establish your brand and increase engagement with your clients right away.