Education

YBI Tells Startups How to Avoid Mistakes Most Make

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Brittany Housel and Jim Cossler recall the challenge Hudson Fasteners Inc. faced when it became a tenant company at the Youngstown Business Incubator.

“We had two ladies who were in a male-dominated industry,” Housel, the YBI client development coordinator began. “We really tried to help them power through, use their strengths to set themselves apart from their competitors.”

Cossler, CEO of the incubator, picks up the tale: “Every entrepreneur comes in at different ages, with different life experiences, with different technical experiences, with different technical knowledge. There’s not just a homogeneous thing called an entrepreneur.”

Adds Housel, “We see really technical people who need business assistance [and] we see really business-minded people that need technical assistance. We see whatever their skill sets are and then we try and find whatever complements that.”

Hudson Fasteners, which moved into the incubator about two years ago, sells various screws, bolts and such connectors used to attach one part to another.

YBI staff has been helpful guiding Hudson “in preparing us for taking ourselves out for venture capital, helping us to prepare that pitch deck and then introducing us to interested parties and investors,” said Lisa Kleinhandler, president/CEO of Hudson Fasteners. YBI gave “us the knowledge of different programs that might be available.”

In addition to the office space YBI provides, the company has access to its resources and the connections its personnel have developed, said Cris Young, executive vice president of Hudson.

And the company’s owners inspired a new initiative, Housel said, to help guide business startups of all types. From 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, YBI will launch its new Women in Entrepreneurship program with an information session. It’s one more way the incubator hopes to remedy the biggest failing Cossler sees in would be entrepreneurs – starting out with nothing more than an “assumptive market” for their ideas.

“We just can’t move a company forward – nor would we work with a company – until we’ve confirmed that there is a verified market,” he stressed. Often the entrepreneur feels he has a confirmed market based on first-person “anecdotal confirmation” of the concept, Cossler said.

“If they’re really stuck on that, nine times out of 10 they’re really married to that idea and not willing to pivot,” Housel said. At that point, she isn’t sure how YBI can help.

When they counsel a company, YBI business counselors work hard to agree what its strategy should be, Cossler said.

“Brittany’s not always right. I’m not always right,” he said. “But collectively the odds of us being right are pretty good.”

Housel has firsthand experience with a company that went against YBI’s advice. She was an employee of a startup that Cossler advised.

“The entrepreneur had a brilliant mind, brilliant idea, and got mixed up and went against Jim’s advice — to be quite frank — and then brought on management that ultimately led to the death of the company,” she recalled.

“We strongly advised against it,” Cossler confirmed.

“He was one of the most brilliant people we ever came across – brilliant mind, brilliant idea, but at the end of the day, uncoachable,” he added.

Based on his tenure at YBI, Cossler launched Start-up 101. He shares with entrepreneurs what he’s learned. The rationale for the course consists of increasing YBI’s deal flow as well as improving the odds the startup will succeed.

The CEO of the incubator is quick to admit he doesn’t have all the answers, but he says he has a good idea of what they shouldn’t do.

“I may not know the right answer, but I know every mistake in the book,” he remarked. “I can tell you what not to do with absolute certainty and confidence. I cannot say the same about what to do.”

Pictured: The YBI’s Brittany Housel confers with Hudson Fasterners’ Cris Young and Lisa Kleinhandler.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.