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Launch100: A year later

Claude Booker of Simply Southern Sides. Photos Bob Perkoski
Claude Booker of Simply Southern Sides. Photos Bob Perkoski
Claude Booker's restaurant concept was a victim of bad timing. His idea for a wing establishment featuring his own southern-style side dishes fizzled when the Asian bird flu pandemic threw chicken consumers into a tizzy.

But, like many successful entrepreneurs, Booker rebounded from the setback and this year expects to clear $7 million in revenues from his new business: Simply Southern Sides.

The company's boil-in-the-bag lima beans, greens, blackeyed peas, and other southern favorites have attracted major customers like Kroger, Piggly Wiggley and the military, to which the company is now a top 100 supplier.

While personal ingenuity and hard work may be credited for much of the Macedonia company's growth since its initial year in business -- 2007, when Simply Southern finished with $75,000 in revenues -- Booker credits a new initiative spearheaded by JumpStart for helping beef up his operations with sound advice and resources.

The company is one of 12 minority-owned firms participating in JumpStart's Launch100. Kicked off last March, the pilot is a collaboration between the northeast Ohio non-profit venture development organization and the Ohio Department of Development's Minority Enterprise Division.

The idea is to provide access to resources that many minority-owned, women-owned and inner city businesses find difficult to tap.
Darrin Redus, JumpStart's chief economic inclusion officer and president of JumpStart Inclusion Advisors, says the initial year of the program "has exceeded my expectations from the standpoint of what we had initially hoped to uncover."

Redus says the initial goal was to find six high-potential, scalable businesses that met all of the program's six requirements. The idea was that, after getting behind a half-dozen or so high-potential firms, results would be such that the initiative could be rolled out statewide to an eventual 100 companies.

As it turned out, the response was overwhelming, he says.

"We actually took in 103 applications. And 27 of those actually met all of our criteria."

Emerging businesses often lack the resources to hire strong management teams or back office services like human resources or marketing personnel, Redus says. While the program does not provide direct financial assistance, the program helps businesses find capital they may need to take the next steps toward growth. And the kinds of other help provided can open other, non-financial doors.

The assistance "is truly comprehensive," Redus says. "One is to make sure they have thought through and helped to prepare every element of a standard investor presentation. So we're going to go through and really flesh out their product or service, who are they selling to, what's the competition look like -- a lot of market analysis, competitive analysis."

One of the criteria for inclusion in the initiative is an ability to demonstrate a sound plan to grow by an incremental $15 million or better in a three- to five-year period, Redus says.

"So we assist them in putting together financial projections to provide some validation to this claim of $15 million or better," Redus says.

Help in securing patents, facilitating connections to potential customers, introductions to investors all of it is par for the course, he says.

"I know it sounds kind of broad, but whatever the client needs," Redus explains.

Booker describes himself as "a charisma guy, I'm a grab-hands person and I can get really strategic, that's my gift. But I hate the little details."

When he first spoke to JumpStart about the Launch100 initiative "I wanted to talk to them about money. But when I saw the skill set that they brought, crazy as it sounds, I could care less about the money. Here was a think tank that, if I qualified for Jumpstart 100, I would have access to."

He remembers Johnny L. Hutton, Jr., VP of JumpStart Inclusion Advisors, telling him "'we've got the right jockey and the right horse.' And after he built me up and had my head all swelled up thinking like a rock star, he broke me down and said 'and you're going to fail, if you don't get an infrastructure to support this growth.' He said, 'let's talk about a back office.' And so, basically, he wound up coaching me about how I could (economically), get a back office" using contractors rather than employees.

CFRC Water & Energy Solutions is another Launch100 company with a sky's-the-limit value proposition. As water becomes more scarce around the world and in some parts of the United States, hotels, universities and colleges, the military and every day consumers have an interest in saving money -- and the environment -- by using less water, he says.

CFRC has developed a prototype shower system that President and Founder Chuck Williams says can save up to 70 percent on water usage.

Williams says JumpStart, through the Launch100 initiative, has helped the company in various ways. One of the most important was helping the company find CEO Sean Arnold.

"We made a very good strategic addition to our team, and this was largely because of working with Darrin and his team," Williams says.

The addition was critical to Williams, who is busy with his other company -- Bolinds Solution Services -- as well as his grandchildren, he says.

"I went to Darrin and said 'my background is not finance or any of those things. I've been a salesman and a technologist all my life. I need someone who knows the industries I'm looking at who can have the same passion, and Darrin caught that."

Launch100 has also helped by assigning someone from the JumpStart organization -- Hutton -- to serve as project manager, which Williams says is necessary "to keep things cued in an order and sequence that it builds on itself, as opposed to getting in its own way."

Additionally, JumpStart says CFRC is a prime candidate for inclusion in a soon-to-be-launched pilot in which promising entrepreneurs will have a chance to prove their technology or products in a trial with prospective customers. If successful, each trial will end with a purchase agreement, Redus says. 

Rapid Charge Technologies is another northeast Ohio company selected in the initial Launch100 "portfolio." The Cleveland-based firm's technology, licensed from Georgia Tech, has demonstrated an ability to charge industrial and electric car batteries far faster than chargers now on the market.

Elliott C. Small Jr., a partner in the firm, says JumpStart has supported his company in several ways.

"They've been very helpful in helping us to prepare presentations for funding," he says. "How to put the slides together -- the right content and appearance to make it impressive, how to make it concise. And how to present effectively."

He says JumpStart also connected Rapid Charge with an expert consultant in Six Sigma, a widely used business management strategy.

"He's helped us organize our testing data and also has given us advice on data collection and testing on the rapid chargers so we can make the most effective presentation later to prospective investors."

While the future of the initiative and when it may roll out statewide is still in discussion, Redus says there has long been evidence that a program like Launch100 is needed.

"While minority entrepreneurs generally start a lot of businesses, the types of businesses that are typically started are lower growth, smaller scale operations that typically employ one to four people," he explains. "If we can find out a way to grow larger scale, more competitive minority firms that can do business nationally or internationally and create significant employment opportunities based on the types of businesses they start, we can have a greater impact not only on the minority community, but on the population as a whole."
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