ST. GEORGE – Starting a business from scratch is not easy. Once you have a million dollar business idea, what do you do next? What’s the first step towards turning your bright idea into a viable business?
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a mentor: somebody who has started a successful business and who can help you to create a sound business plan and pitch it to investors. Your mentor will be able to show you how to apply for loans and grants, how to network and partner with other companies, and they will offer advice and guidance, helping you make the correct choices at crucial junctures.
If you live in Washington County and you don’t think you have access to people with that sort of business expertise, you’re wrong. Outlier Labs, partnering with the Business Resource Center and other local organizations, has fashioned itself into a launching pad for local startup businesses.
Outlier Labs provides fledgling businesses with 24-hour access to their collaborative workspaces for only $50-per-month. The workspaces include high-speed internet access, classrooms, conference rooms, white boards, and a lounge. Co-founder Jim Boyd compared the concept to that of a round-the-clock gym.
“We offer 24/7 access to our offices,” Boyd said. “We liken it to a gym membership, only you don’t come to work out on your body — you work out out on your business.”
In addition to the collaborative work area, the labs provide startup companies with access to mentors, consultants, and even interns. The founders of Outlier Labs say that their purpose is to help aspiring entrepreneurs along the bumpy road from day dreamer to successful business owner.
Outlier Labs was created through the joint efforts of several local entrepreneurs to create a supportive environment for small startups to survive, to thrive, and to grow during the critical first months when most businesses fail. Five years ago, software developers Brad Campbell and Jim Boyd started CABOsoft, a St. George-based company that designs and builds iPhone and Android apps for mobile devices. It wasn’t long before people began to show up at their doorstep with ideas for apps.
Boyd said that, every day, people would approach them with this or that great idea for a mobile app. Sometimes the ideas would be quite good, but usually people would have no clue about how to make their idea a reality.
“We’d ask to hear their business model and they’d look at you like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Boyd said. “When somebody has an idea for an app, it’s really a business idea. They don’t always understand that they are the same thing.”
Boyd and Campbell began thinking about ways to help aspiring entrepreneurs to get their dreams off the ground. They soon met Ever Gonzalez, another local business owner who was also looking for ways to help startup companies succeed.
Gonzalez is founder and CEO of Capital Freight Management, a St. George-based logistics firm. Two years ago, Gonzalez launched Outlier Magazine, an online publication that profiles businesses and interviews successful entrepreneurs. Outlier Magazine is aimed at a national audience. “We interview entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, anybody who’s doing anything cool with a company, product or service,” Gonzalez said.
Last year, Gonzalez and his business partner Mike Sheffield got together with Boyd and Campbell, as well as Jeff Sherman, a public speaking consultant. Together they formed Outlier Labs, a collaborative workspace at 1071 East 100 South in St. George, nestled into the same building as the Business Resource Center. The labs provide aspiring entrepreneurs with a professional work environment with access to mentors, interns and, most importantly, other fledgling business owners.
One of the main purposes of Outlier Labs is to foster an environment that will help new business owners build relationships within the Southern Utah business community.
Outlier Labs is designed to help forge new business relationships in several ways. The collaborative workspaces allow home brewed operations a way to get out of their basements and living rooms and into a professional setting, working shoulder-to-shoulder with other entrepreneurs. Outlier Labs has several smaller enclosed offices for making telephone calls, conducting meetings and interviews, or simply a private place to concentrate. Much of the workspace, however, is wide open and designed to encourage communication between entrepreneurs.
Jeff Sherman said that new companies often spend countless dollars marketing their products or services but invest little effort into reaching out to other local businesses. Sherman said that if he’s learned anything in his years as a business consultant, it’s that building strong relationships with other companies will often do more to generate new business than any amount of marketing.
“Nothing compares to collaboration in the business world and the relationships you build,” Sherman said. “They will open more opportunities than any marketing you can do.”
When people ask him how to get started with their business venture, Sherman tells them that getting started is taking action and speaking with other like-minded people. By talking about their idea with other business people and asking questions, they are already taking the first and most important step.
Boyd said that, to help provide people with the highest quality coaching, Outlier Labs has had to follow its own advice and partner with outside organizations.
Outlier Labs is working closely with the Business Resource Center, a collaboration between groups like the Small Business Development Center, Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, and Site Select Plus (formally known as the Washington County Economic Development Council).
The BRC, whose offices are directly above Outlier Labs, offers free consultation and training for small businesses, providing counseling, coaching, seminars and other resources. The BRC helps entrepreneurs develop practical skills, such as how to manage their accounts, how to market their business, and how to put together a business plan and a viable budget.
Taking the First StepThe problem that most new business owners face, Boyd said, is that they don’t know where to start. More than anything, what Outlier Labs hopes to offer aspiring business owners is a foothold.
Boyd said that he thinks it’s important that people get going and begin taking steps to turn their idea into a reality. “You don’t have to have everything,” he said. There are people in the community with a wealth of knowledge who are willing to share it.
“A lot of entrepreneurs lack that understanding that it doesn’t have to be perfect,” Boyd said, “it just has to get started.”
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