Startup businesses find success, plan for future after CYstarters

CYstarters demo day 2018

The 2018 CYstarters cohort presented their final pitches at Demo Day on Aug. 1 at the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship. Photo provided by the Pappajohn Center. Larger image.

This story is part of a series about CYstarters, Iowa State’s startup accelerator that helps students become entrepreneurs.

AMES, Iowa – CYstarters may have ended, but work continues for the 15 startup businesses founded by Iowa State University students and recent alumni.

This summer’s cohort of 19 student entrepreneurs gathered at the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship Aug. 1 to reveal the progress they made over the past 10 weeks, and their plans for the future. All have concrete plans to continue working on their businesses.

“Entrepreneurship is becoming more and more important here at Iowa State,” said David Spalding, Raisbeck Endowed Dean of the Ivy College of Business. “We’re building a better culture of entrepreneurship and instilling in students an entrepreneurial mindset.”

The cohort got a surprise when it was announced that five “undercover investors” were planted in the audience. Following the presentations, five startups were each awarded $1,000: Aloha 21st Century Boomboxes, Ash Avenue Prints, Lotus, Lunchsox and Home Painter.

“Small businesses are the job creation engine for this country,” Spalding said. “They will sustain the strength that Iowa’s economy has seen over the last several years.”

These final presentations, called Demo Day, wrapped up 10 weeks of accountability sessions, education workshops, work with mentors, networking and collaboration. Two CYstarters alumni also received $1,500 awards: Steven Brockshus, founder of FarmlandFinder; and Clayton Mooney, co-founder of KinoSol and Nebullam.

“People who bring ideas to life: they’re entrepreneurs,” said Diana Wright, CYstarters director. “Every one of these entrepreneurs has a distinct story and unique aspirations, and all of them will face barriers in their own way. It’s our task at the Pappajohn Center and through CYstarters to help them start and pursue their dreams.”

A no-pain solution to painting homes

As he started a different small painting business while in college, Jacob McClarnon heard countless complaints from both painters and homeowners. Homeowners get stuck with uninsured and unreliable painters. On average, an individual painter only books four jobs out of every 10 estimates he or she provides. Scheduling is a nightmare for both.

“Customers are stressed when they’re trying to hire somebody, and I think it should be an exciting, fun experience to get some work done on your home,” said McClarnon, a senior in entrepreneurship from Norwalk. “Our mission is to develop a platform that better connects homeowners and painters.”

When he was talking with people at the Pappajohn Center one day, his idea caught the attention of Anthony House, a senior in software engineering from Ackley. House brought his technical expertise, and they teamed up to create Home Painter, an online platform that plays “matchmaker” between homeowners and qualified painters.

By the end of CYstarters, Home Painter had secured a licensing and branding agreement with Sherwin-Williams. They’re planning a soft launch in October and hope to be fully up and running by next summer. Once they’re established in Des Moines, they want to expand to the Quad Cities, Omaha, Kansas City and Minneapolis.

Find your fitness style with LivSuite

Dawit Tilahun loves fitness, but found his community in personalized fitness classes.

“I got to know the people I trained with in martial arts pretty well,” said Tilahun, a junior in finance from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. “You’re in the same class with them every day. It’s not like a typical gym where you see a lot of people with their earbuds in do a workout and leave. That’s fine, but it’s more fun and engaging for me to go to a fitness class with a directive and familiar faces.”

Boutique fitness is a growing trend, but some can have expensive, long memberships. What about the people who want to try a class but aren’t sure if they’ll like it? Tilahun’s answer is LivSuite.

It benefits both sides: people get to try out different types of fitness to see what they like and want to stick with. Fitness studios get to use the platform for lead generation and marketing and as a way to fill classes.

After CYstarters, Tilahun will continue working on system development and the business and marketing plans. The weekly accountability sessions proved extremely helpful, as Tilahun was able to bounce ideas off Pappajohn staff, mentors and his CYstarters peers to get critical feedback. He plans to stay in touch with everyone.

“A lot of the value in CYstarters is having this community of entrepreneurs there to help and support you as you develop your idea into a feasible business,” he said.

Giving small-town couples a hometown venue

Morgan Muller noticed a problem in Algona, Iowa, a community of about 5,000. Couples were leaving the small town to book wedding venues in bigger cities.

Muller, a recent graduate in event management from Whittemore, wanted to help couples stay in Algona while still having the wedding of their dreams.

This summer she learned that’s not a problem isolated to Algona. Through CYstarters, Muller was able to travel the state and learn from other venues. Venues in rural areas struggle with the same issue: they often lack the capacity and amenities of event space in bigger towns.

She founded Riverside Events, an updated venue with high-quality accommodations in Algona that’s able to hold 450 to 500 guests. Muller says she’s working with potential local investors to move the business forward after CYstarters.

“I would have never had the confidence to go out and speak to people and make my dream business a reality without CYstarters,” Muller said.