Startup Showcase: For entrepreneurs who need a little extra help
Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews entrepreneurs for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on April 21, 2019.
Data from the Minnesota Secretary of State Office shows that there were over 67,000 newly registered businesses in 2018 and according to the SBA small business report there were over 500,000 small businesses registered in 2017.
Building, supporting, managing and maneuvering an ecosystem of that size can prove to be a challenging and frustrating for all involved. What steps do you take next? What resources are out there? And how do you track meaningful growth? Answers to these questions can often get lost in the noise of options and chatter.
David Ponraj, founder and creator of Startup Space, felt that frustration first hand and made it his mission to find a simple and efficient way to engage the entrepreneurial community, measure impact and build stronger ecosystems. His hope is that Startup Space will interconnect entrepreneurial communities around the country, build stronger ecosystems and ultimately strengthen the success rates of startups and small businesses by connecting them to meaningful resources, real-time assistance, advice, support and mentors. #SmallHelpsAll
Name of Company: Startup Space LLC
Business Start Date: June 2018
Number of Employees: 5 -10
Number of Customers: 3,000 + app users
Name: David Ponraj
City of Birth: Gujarat, India
City you live in: Dunedin, Fla.
High school attended: Santosha Vidhyalaya (India)
College attended: University of Delhi (Bachelor’s in Physics), St. Petersburg College (Bachelor’s in International Business), University of South Florida (Master’s in Business Administration)
A. What led you to this point?
Q. Startup Space was an idea that was born out of the frustration that I felt as a startup when trying to find resources to help me over a decade ago. Exactly a decade later, I came back to address this issue because I knew that there had to be a better way to engage with the community and measure impact. Startup Space is that solution by bringing the community together to help entrepreneurs and startups.
Q. What is your business?
A. Startup Space is an online platform that provides community organizers and ecosystem builders with tools that connect their startups with the resources needed for success. These tools include ways to measure the effectiveness of current events and programs, collaborate with mentors and service providers, and grow ecosystems with cutting-edge technology solutions that elevate the effectiveness in serving entrepreneurial communities.
Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. I knew there had to be a better way to engage the startup community and measure impact. I didn’t find one that worked, so I built it.
Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. Entrepreneurial community leaders are doing entrepreneurs and startups a disservice by not bringing efficiency, measurability, and innovation into the startup ecosystem. This case for change is a look at a bold new world where entrepreneurial activity is driven by innovation and made efficient by measuring the real impact of activities and events through technology.
The absence of a platform that can bring the various ecosystem players together has resulted in a fragmented ecosystem. In cities across the United States, there is now an explosion of events for entrepreneurs every day, many of them similar or redundant in the outcome they are driving.
Yet it has never been harder to start a business. In fact, I would argue that all this noise hurts the startups trying to make it to their next milestone or find that first customer. Startup Space provides ecosystems with a way to make engagements more meaningful so when startups are pulled from their desks to network or learn a topic, organizers can track the effectiveness of their programs and ensure that the time spent at events has been meaningful for the participants.
By building a better tool to communicate with each other as community builders, the Startup Space platform helps organizers reduce noise and drive stronger clarity and purpose in their ecosystems.
Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. I have experience in managing technology teams and building technology solutions at a large multinational corporation, so I was able to bring this skill to my own business.
I am also passionate about sales and meeting customer needs. This is a critical skill for any founder and has helped me make sure that all our product features prioritize customer needs from the very beginning.
As we grow, another important skill will be organizational design and people management, which will ultimately help us scale.
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. I am proud of how we have been able to build a software solution that is beautiful and easy to use for our customers. This is so difficult to do, so I am proud of how we have worked to make this a reality.
I am also proud of the team we have put together. This is the most important aspect of starting a company and a key ingredient in long term success.
Q. What obstacles must you overcome to be wildly successful?
A. Being able to go from a beta company to a growth company with a profitable business is extremely difficult. We will have to overcome the initial obstacles of being a startup to be wildly successful. The secret is to delight your existing customers, as well as assembling a solid team to help you grow.
Q. How are you funding your business?
A. We are organically growing our company today, but we are actively seeking angel investments for a seed round.
Q. What would be success for your business in the next 2-3 years?
A. Growing our user base to over 20,000 users and hitting the $10 million mark for revenue are two goals we are working towards for the 3-year mark.
Q. In your opinion, what does it take to be a great entrepreneur?
A. The main skills of a great entrepreneur are the ability to adapt and change plans, an eagerness to learn and seek new information, understand the value of working with people and not being afraid to fail.
Q. How did the James J. Hill Center and 1 Million Cups Saint Paul help you with your business?
A. The James J. Hill Center and 1 Million Cups St. Paul have been instrumental in providing opportunities to grow our business in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area. They opened their arms and welcomed us in when we showed up to present at the 1 Million Cups in St. Paul. They are truly entrepreneur-focused and go out of their way to help entrepreneurs succeed.
Interview by Lily Shaw, Director of External Relations at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a startup organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to [email protected].
The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit business center in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday-Thursday. You can hear from startups like the ones featured in Startup Showcase every other Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.JJHill.org/1-million-cups.