Todd Whittington and his team at the Founders Factory are on a mission: to provide value to the startup community and address the particular pain points that exist in our region.
Despite having several of the components necessary to fuel a boom in entrepreneurism −quality schools, a variety of industries and employers, young and old people with innovative ideas− Whittington, Founders Factory’s CEO, contends that Central Ohio is going through a bit of an identity crisis.
“What we have to realize is that we are not Silicon Valley, Boston, or even Austin, and we need to embrace our uniqueness and accept the challenges and opportunities that exist in Columbus, and not try to force ourselves into the mold of other entrepreneur cities,” he says.
In the following interview, Whittington discusses why he started the Founders Factory −located at 51 W. 5th Ave. near The Ohio State University− and its place in the startup assistance community.
The Metropreneur: How does the Founders Factory differ from other startup accelerators?
Todd Whittington: The foundation of the accelerator model is mentorship, an idea that experienced entrepreneurs can provide both their insights and connections to founders. Avoiding common mistakes in business execution and getting access to customers and resources effectively shortens the time a company spends in a pre-revenue, or earnings, stage.
The prototypical accelerator is Y Combinator, from which most accelerators base their operation model. Founders Factory is based around mentorship as well, but because Columbus doesn’t have the benefit of second and third generation technology entrepreneurs, like in the Valley, we need engage in a much deeper role to compensate. Instead of a class format, the relationships we create are more involved and the mentors are more invested in the success of the startup. We feel that the greatest success comes from being adaptable to the needs of startups and a one-size approach is less than ideal.
[M]: What inspired you to establish the Founders Factory?
TW: I think most of the people involved in Founders Factory are inspired by the desire to help other people, to share their knowledge and life experience in order to lend a hand to someone who may be struggling. It’s not all altruistic, of course, as mentors benefit greatly from experiencing the excitement of the early stages of a company with the all the potential for thrilling opportunities.
Personally, I have an intellectual interest in seeing how the process of company creation can be improved and mitigating the risk of uncertainty. I also try to focus on the softer aspects of entrepreneurism, preparing the startup founder for the great psychological rollercoaster that often goes unmentioned in the startup conversation.
[M]: What were you doing professionally prior to starting the Founders Factory and how has that work experience impacted the way it operates?
TW: The common factor is that I, and the entire core team at Founders Factory, have all started, grew and sold businesses several times. From there, our backgrounds are quite divergent− from internet security, health care, higher education to enterprise businesses development and consumer electronics. I also have a background in business process improvement, kaizen and lean implementation, which lends nicely for mentoring startups on focusing on value creation activities and incorporating the voice of the customer early in the process.
[M]: How should entrepreneurs who want to work with the Founders Factory contact you?
TW: We have a website, FoundersFactory.com, which contains an online submission form.
[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?
TW: The groundswell of entrepreneurism is gaining momentum in Columbus, with great programs like 10x and TechColumbus’s 1492, along with generous help from the state of Ohio helping early stage startups. We like to see our program as a complement to their offerings and together I think that, soon, Columbus will be in the same discussion as Austin as great cities in which to start a company.
To learn more about the Founders Factory, visit FoundersFactory.com.
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