COLUMBUS – Many entrepreneurs know their jobs aren’t 9 to 5. Their work doesn’t stop after the sun goes down.
Knowing this, Paul Proffitt of Columbus began the Sundown Rundown Group, a program that began offering evening pitch events in May 2013. It started in Columbus and has since expanded into Mansfield, Akron, Canton and Youngstown.
“When we started doing the pitch events, we ran it as an evening program, running counter to a program called WakeUp StartUp at 7:30 in the morning,” said Proffitt, Sundown Rundown Group chair.
After attending a WakeUp StartUp event at the Ohio State University, Proffitt realized the need for an evening option. He explained the one at OSU had a heavy emphasis on technology and seemed student-focused. With nothing but praise for the Wake-up Startup program, Proffitt decided to start an evening pitch event.
“Some of the people have said they can’t get to these early events. And I said, what if we did it at night at a bar? Well, now they’ll show up,” he said.
His intention was to create an atmosphere where anyone felt comfortable sharing their business ideas.
Each participant was allotted a five-minute pitch, which was followed by five minutes of feedback and questions from the audience.
“We set it up to be an easy, non-threatening environment to get entrepreneurs the feedback they need,” Proffitt said.
There’s no panels and no competition aspect to it. Simply, entrepreneurs of any industry can sign up to share a pitch with an audience that likely includes investors, community connectors and experienced business men and women.
“Sometimes they’ll ask for people to round their team, first customers, feedback on what to do next,” Proffitt said. “Some people are looking for money. Other people need validation.”
It’s a process that’s worked for many. One Cleveland musician who had pitched his startup company Studio Stick in Mansfield went on to win $50,000 on ABC’s Steve Harvey’s FUNDERDOME.
Travis Behrendsen, founder of Red Mystic Studios, has seen an impact on his video game startup since he spoke at Sundown Rundown last fall.
“We got resources and information at Sundown Rundown,” he said. “This is something new in Mansfield, so they’re weary of us, they’re not going to jump on right away (with monetary support), but the amount of help and resources that have been thrown at us, it’s remarkable.”
Proffitt sees value in hearing all types of ideas. He says a “billion-dollar company” can’t always be identified at the idea stage.
He’s been pleased with how Sundown Rundown pitch events have gone. His goal has always been to get entrepreneurs to their next step – whatever that may be – and believes Sundown Rundown often does this.
The greater impact
But the impact goes further. Beyond helping individuals get their businesses off the ground, supporting entrepreneurship can positively impact the whole community.
“If you talk to people who do economic development, they’re trying to get those big wins that create 1,000 jobs in one pop. And those are great to have, but you might not get diversification of the economy. If that industry takes a radical change, you’ve decimated an economy of a region,” Proffitt said.
Having diverse businesses makes an area “future-proof.” When one industry inevitably falls, the others in a community might not. This lessens the blow and allows time for the fallen industry to recover.
“You can say that Columbus has been spared a lot because there’s different things that are there,” Proffitt said. “It softened the blow while other areas got hit pretty hard.”
This was also the case in Mansfield in the late 1900s. While many Rust Belt cities felt the impact of deindustrialization in the 1970s and 1980s, local historian Scott Schaut has said Mansfield held out until the 1990s. He believes this can be at least partially attributed to the diverse industries that populated the area.
“The idea is that if you’ve got multiple industries and one goes away or goes through a change, you’ve got … small businesses to help smooth out those rough spots,” Proffitt said.
It’s only a matter of time before an industry – some local industry – takes a plunge. It may or may not recover, but the entire community can prepare by supporting entrepreneurship, which brings organic growth and possibly diversifies the economy.
Crestview graduate Falon Donohue, who now works as the CEO of VentureOhio, also advocates for entrepreneurs. To get Ohio “back in the driver’s seat” in innovation and job creation, she sees entrepreneurship playing a significant factor. Donohue compares bringing existing companies to Ohio with “moving a tree,” but sees fostering a startup culture as “planting seeds” with the potential to grow into trees.
More on Sundown Rundown
Sundown Rundown started with pitch events, but it doesn’t end there.
Through its Ask an Expert program, entrepreneurs can consult an expert for an hour for free. And its Lunch and Launch programs bring speakers to talk about topics that matter to entrepreneurs -- these primarily take place in Columbus.
To learn more about Sundown Rundown, visit sundownrundown.org.