Holekamp Hits a Homerun for NEXT

Cliff Holekamp (pictured above with Greenville mayor Knox White) may be an expert in things like seed rounds and cap tables, but he’s no stuffed shirt. He’s the real deal—a guy who believes in collaboration among competitors, plugging into his community, and telling it like it is.

In short, the co-founder, managing director, and general partner for Cultivation Capital knocked it out of the park at the first NEXT Community Event of the year, a “fireside chat” for entrepreneurs on how to make their businesses marketable to investors.

Eric Weissmann is getting his family settled in Greenville after taking over as executive director of NEXT Upstate a few months ago. The City of Greenville partners with NEXT to help support entrepreneurs in our area. Weissmann has a vision for building an entrepreneurial ecosystem that aligns with the city’s goals of attracting, supporting, and retaining high-impact startups.

Weissmann knows that to be successful, he has to bring people together and do a lot of listening. That’s how you find out what parts of the current ecosystem are working and what parts need improvement.

In some places, an event like this could have been a total flop—but this is Greenville. Here, people show up, speak up, and, in general, root for each other.

NEXT streamed the event live on Facebook, but even if you didn’t watch it in real time, you can still consume every kernel of knowledge Holekamp, Weissman, and the audience dished out.

We'll share some of Holekamp’s tips later, but, early-stage startup founders, do yourself a favor and watch the video. You’ll likely learn a few things that will help you in your entrepreneurial journey. You might even laugh out loud at some of Holekamp’s stories—especially the memory of telling his own mom it wasn’t a good idea to invest in his business simply because she believed in him.

ONE FOR ALL

Allan Symonette is the founder of Surcee.com. During the “fireside chat,” Allan asked when entrepreneurs should take advantage of free advice and when they should ask someone like Cliff Holekamp for help. That question was for his own benefit, but Symonette is also asking big questions to serve what he sees as the greater good. He wants to collaborate with other founders and engage the entrepreneurial ecosystem in a way that makes it easy for customers to get what they want or need from local businesses instead of ordering from a major online distributor.

Adam Steinhoff is an entrepreneur who grew up in a newspaper family. He knows what it takes to tell a good story, and he had some advice for the #youcangreenvillesc team. He encouraged us to tell stories of celebration and success but also shed light on the not-so-shiny flip side of the entrepreneurial journey: nights of waking up in a cold sweat and mornings filled with worry about the future. “The real story is in the grind,” Steinhoff said.

Many companies fall apart before they ever really get off the ground, but Steinhoff believes entrepreneurs can add a powerful weapon to their arsenal by signing up for a business mentor. After the event at NEXT, Steinhoff pulled out his phone to share a raw and honest example of the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and how his mentor, serial entrepreneur Derek Pedersen, has helped him overcome the challenges.

Steinhoff is such a proponent of mentorship that he’s building an app to help foster the relationship between up-and-coming founders and their advisors. Steinhoff didn’t have time to dive into the details of MentrBee and how it works. He had to bolt to make it from the Innovation Center to Poe West to take part in the Village Launch Business Entrepreneur Academy. In that startup support program, Steinhoff takes on a leadership role by mentoring a founder who’s gaining new skills to build a business.

Before he left, Steinhoff introduced us to the co-founders of Sustain Edu, Chandler Long and Zachary Stephens. The two met at the College of Charleston and are developing a platform called Sustain App to help streamline and centralize data on student engagement. The South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) and the College of Charleston awarded the founders a matching grant, and since then, they’ve been able to get startup help from additional grants and corporate sponsors.

Long and Stephens are also grads of the first GVL Starts cohort. They say their business, Sustain Edu, started out packaging four products into one. GVL Starts, run by The Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, helped them narrow their focus to the strongest component. In the last couple of months, they’ve refined their plan for their app.

Here's how it works: A student enters volunteer experiences, philanthropy, and extra-curricular activities into Sustain App(TM). The platform keeps a running list of knowledge and skills the student has acquired on top of their academic record and generates an impact score. Sustain App(TM) also allows volunteer supervisors to contribute performance reviews and verify student service. Students could then include their Sustainability Transcript(TM) along with a traditional resume and portfolio when they apply for jobs--adding professional value to the time they invested in their community while they were students.

The co-founders of Sustain Edu aren’t from Greenville, but they have found a great deal of support here. “You can change the world from anywhere,” said Zachary Stephens, “but what makes Greenville special is you have an entire ecosystem working hand-in-hand with you.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

A FEW OF MANY LESSONS FROM CLIFF HOLEKAMP AND THE NEXT COMMUNITY EVENT:

  • Investors want a narrative that shows momentum and trajectory in early-stage startups
  • Find a corporate sponsor who needs your solution
  • Venture capitalists are very collaborative—often share investment leads with others
  • Crowd-funded startups are not appealing to venture capitalists
  • Be 100% certain you have accredited investors
  • Startups shouldn’t do anything unconventional that might scare off investors
  • Investors want to hear directly from founders to see if they can sell themselves
  • When interviewing investors, pick those in the early part of their investment cycle
  • Don’t get stuck in perpetual fundraising—close each round and wait six months
  • If you get a good lead investor, it’s easier to fill out your round
  • Start and continually update your Crunchbase profile
  • Get involved in your community to get leads on investors, employees, etc.
  • It’s never too early to develop relationships with investors, but don’t pitch them until you’re ready
  • Use local banks and build relationships with them

Want more helpful hints to make your business more marketable to investors? Watch the recording of the NEXT Community Event with Cliff Holekamp here.