Zeal accelerator companies prepare for final pitch to investors

With only a few weeks left to go in the Zeal Center for Entrepreneurship Growth Accelerator, four startup businesses are headed toward their Sept. 21 graduation and final pitch to potential investors.

The event starts at 4:30 p.m. To RSVP click here.

Here’s a look at what they’ve been working on.

Well365

In the past few weeks, Zeal has been challenging each company to define who they are, including their target audience, message and goals.

For founder of Well365 Trisha Dohn, this first challenge came with a twofold thought process.

Trisha Dohn

As a new business looking to gain clients, Dohn said she didn’t want to narrow her audience, for fear of missing opportunities to help any business, regardless of size and industry. But there are a few traits that can help when establishing a wellness program. These include being self-insured, midrange in size and already offering employee benefits.

Well365 is an independent wellness company Dohn started after a career of working in corporate health care. Each program she creates for a business looks a bit different, based on individual needs in a company. If a health issue such as managing risk for chronic disease is a priority for an employer, Dohn uses tools such as an online portal, health coaching and other initiatives to tailor to specific employee needs.

Through Zeal, Dohn has identified fall as an important time for companies to start planning a wellness program. This way, the start of a wellness program could coincide with new benefits that come out in January, which then would incorporate wellness goals.

“Plus, I think after the first of the year people are more motivated to look at their health and make behavior changes,” Dohn said.

To reach potential clients, Dohn has been expanding her outreach beyond Sioux Falls into surrounding communities. In August, she visited with HR employees in Brookings, and she plans to speak at a conference in October in Mitchell.

“A lot of it is just educating the community that Well365 exists,” she said.

Along with outreach, marketing and seeking ways to grow, Dohn also has been working with Zeal to develop a budget — an area where she has had to change her mind-set.

“The one phrase I keep going back to that has been hard for me is that you have to spend money to make money,” she said. “At every point, I’m constantly watching every dollar that is being spent … but with that said, that money is helping to enhance my business.”

Independent wellness company focuses on being one-stop shop for employers

Bravo Youth Sports

Bravo Sports LLC owner Scott Perkins has done a lot of traveling this summer, from visiting small-town high schools to attending a soccer workshop in Florida. To reach the next phase of growth, he has met with team coaches and sports leagues, showing them how the Bravo Board works. As a full-functioning LED message board, Bravo allows smaller sports team to keep track of the score, while providing advertising space.

The board can most often be spotted on the sidelines of soccer games, especially in the Southeast where Perkins manages 60 Bravo Boards. Over the summer, he reached out to all of the soccer associations in the U.S.

“Soccer is a main focus simply because there is a huge opportunity for portable soccer boards on the fields that don’t have any,” Perkins said. “So I talked to 40 to 50 people during (a Florida soccer workshop)  that didn’t have any scoreboards on their fields.”

The Bravo board also can be used for sporting events such as high school wrestling that may have multiple events going on at once.

“Indoor is just as important as outdoor,” Perkins said. “One of the questions I get a lot is how are you going to market during the winter? Well sure, it’s winter here, but in the other areas of the country it’s warm.”

Perkins also points out that even places in Sioux Falls that have indoor sports are a market for the Bravo Board, such as the Sanford Sports Complex.

Perkins said a major focus in the Zeal workshops has been refining what he calls a pitch deck, which involves “getting our numbers in place and refining (our business’ story), so if we go to seek funds from an angel investor or venture capital, we have that story in place that is accurate and succinct.”

Scoreboard business focuses on youth market

Gravana 605

The team of three Harrisburg school educators may be back in school, but work on piloting the grammar curriculum they created hasn’t stopped.

Brad Hartzler, Amanda Olinger and Kelly Andrews founded Gravana 605 after watching their students struggle with learning and implementing grammar in their writing. Today, the curriculum is used by both Harrisburg middle schools.

Hartzler said what Gravana 605 needs to continue growing is data that the curriculum works. The three partners have been reaching out to teachers in other school districts asking them to pilot Gravana, so that “we can get validity with our data, to see how they are they using it and what their scores show (compared to Harrisburg),” he said.

Olinger describes the ideal teacher to pilot Gravana as someone who believes in the writing process, along with valuing effective feedback and individual time for students to reach mastery.

“Gravana is a great platform for that, and it’s a great curriculum,” Olinger said. “But we can only make the cake — they have to serve it.”

As former middle school teachers who have used Gravana in their own classrooms, they are confident that once more teachers use the program, “they’ll see that Gravana is productive and effective,” Olinger said.

With only a few weeks left in the program, Hartzler and Olinger both agree that the Zeal program did what it said it would — accelerate their growth.

“We had to have hard discussions, such as developing a budget, and had to answer questions like ‘How do you get in front of somebody who you don’t have a relationship with and try to explain a company?’ ” Hartzler said. “Zeal did exactly what it asked.”

Harrisburg teachers create business out of grammar approach

Jobiki

Launching a website marks the biggest milestone for online search tool Jobiki since creator Alex Guggenberger began working on the idea a year ago, with help from his co-founder and brother, Nathan.

Jobiki.com allows job-seekers to look for employers with similar interests, desires and the right culture, instead of focusing on the job. Potential employees can find the company’s description, benefits, amenities, location and photos all in one spot.

“The soft launch is getting it out there so people can get a sense of who we are and what we do,” Guggenberger said. “It’s a start but nowhere close to where we want to go.”

The site has about 20 companies listed so far and includes only Sioux Falls. As Jobiki grows, it will keep adding businesses and enhancing the job-seeker’s ability to look for specific factors, such as being able to filter for companies that offer a 401(k) or the option to work from home.

Guggenberger is working on adding links to each company’s career page, so after job-seekers find the “right fit,” they can browse through job openings or reach out to the company.

One of the biggest things Guggenberger is looking for in the soft launch is feedback.

“We’re not building this for us. We’re building it for job-seekers, so we want to hear from them and get feedback on what they think,” he said.

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