LaunchMemphis Helps Leaders Connect with Developers, Each Other - Commercial Appeal - 2/7/2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

By Chris Allen

For Josh Bell, the key to being an entrepreneur is all about "the ability to bounce back."

Bell started a social network platform, IntoOutdoors, which allows the hunting and fishing community to share stories, pictures, tips and tricks. An avid outdoorsman, he thought it was a natural fit and a sure success. However, the website never gained the high quantity of engaged users needed to develop an online community.

In 2010, Bell transitioned IntoOutdoors from web portal to real-world magazine. The monthly magazine, now in its fifth edition, features articles about the Mid-South hunting and fishing community. The magazine's 12,000 copies are distributed throughout the Mid-South with Bell delivering many of them himself. Bell, who is quick to admit that he is not a programmer, likes the control he has regained.

"When IntoOutdoors was only a website, I had to rely on others who often didn't understand what I wanted," he said. "I have a lot more control over the magazine."

Bell began utilizing LaunchMemphis offerings including the Business Plan Bootcamp, informal investment forums and the Launchpad, the organization's co-working facility.

"For an early-stage entrepreneur, like me, LaunchMemphis is the only organization in the city that will meet with me and connect me with investors, developers and other resources, many that I didn't even know existed," he said.

Now that he is firmly in control of his company's destiny again, he plans to eventually take the magazine back online, offering richer content.

"The web is where I always envisioned IntoOutdoors, and eventually I plan to leverage the real-world audience I'm building with the magazine in a virtual capacity," he said.

Bell often visits EmergeMemphis, the Downtown business incubator, to meet with Gwin Scott, president of EmergeMemphis. The incubator currently houses 26 young companies that are in various phases of growth; it is also where the office of LaunchMemphis is located.

"Being able to make one stop and meet with Gwin and (LaunchMemphis president) Eric Mathews is super convenient for a busy entrepreneur like me," Bell said.

EmergeMemphis is where many startups run into one another. Lori Turner, managing partner of RedRover Sales and Marketing, knows the value of such beehive effects.

"We knew early on that we should be in the incubator," she said. "The support system for early-stage entrepreneurs and collaborative culture is invaluable."

RedRover is the only Memphis agency to integrate sales training and coaching with marketing and public relations. The firm specializes in working with small to mid-sized companies and nonprofit groups, including start-ups and mature organizations, offering them Fortune 500 expertise.

It is uniquely positioned to help clients improve the productivity of their sales force with customized sales training and coaching while also increasing the return on their marketing investment by combining traditional and guerrilla strategies.

"Eventually businesses outgrow incubation and get into growth mode," said Turner. "After growing 400 percent in our three years as part of the EmergeMemphis program, we decided it was time to source our own independent office location to accommodate our growing team."

RedRover did not move far, quickly deciding on an office three blocks from EmergeMemphis.

Turner, a former LaunchMemphis board member and an entrepreneur herself, knows how tough it can be for an early-stage startup to gain traction with little to no marketing budget.

"Growing from idea to viable business is one of the most difficult phases a business will ever experience," she said. "It requires dedication and a huge leap of faith in yourself and your idea."

Turner's advice for any startup is to "leverage the programs at LaunchMemphis. The organization is a true gem in our community worthy of our support."