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How a startup becomes a scale-up

Posted by Leigh Keeton
Leigh Keeton
Leigh manages Lorain County Community College's economic development messaging w
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on Wednesday, January 11 2017 in Business Assistance

All successful companies start as an idea, but at some point, that idea has to generate sales if the business is to succeed.

“People come up with an idea and start a business but in a lot of cases don’t have the business background to drive the company through to profits,” says Cliff Reynolds, co-director of GLIDE.

Companies that are able to make the leap from startup to scale-up find the right support along the way.

Jim Walborn of Banyan TechnologyWhen Jim Walborn and Lance Healy started a commercial construction materials distributorship in 2001, it wasn’t with the idea of becoming technology entrepreneurs. But as their young company developed processes to better manage freight logistics and connections, the pair began to see the potential for software that could help other companies do the same.

They took their idea for Banyan Technology to GLIDE, Lorain County Community College’s technology incubator, with the idea of growing it into its own business.

“When we first moved to Lorain County, we took that leap of faith from an entrepreneurial standpoint,” Walborn says. “A big reason why we moved here was because of what LCCC and GLIDE provided in terms of support for a tech startup.”

After relocating to the Great Lakes Technology Park on the LCCC campus, Banyan Technology’s staff learned important lessons that helped them bridge the gap from idea to commercialization to growth. These lessons have transformed the company into a successful freight management software and solutions provider.

Find good advisors

It’s a lesson any tech entrepreneur needs to learn early – discover people who have gone down similar roads and learn from them. Mentorship is crucial because there are so many potential pitfalls in going from a startup to a growth company.

“GLIDE exists, in part, to help take some of the learning curve out of the entrepreneurial life cycle,” Walborn says. “You learn from fellow business owners who have been where you want to go.”

By focusing on the business development process, the GLIDE team helped the company bring clarity and understanding to the business, developing a strong foundation for growth.

GLIDE’s Reynolds says that without that strong foundation and a well-defined sense of direction, a young company may not make it past the startup phase.

“Our job is to take a great idea that an entrepreneur has and give him or her the tools to fashion it into a business plan,” he says. “We take someone who might have a great idea for a product or concept, but might not have the business background, and help them connect with mentors and other relevant support.

“Initially, mentors are experienced people the founders trust,” Reynolds says. “But as you get bigger, creating a formal board of directors that meets on a regular basis and provides the management with strategic input becomes important.”

As Banyan progressed, Walborn and Healy formed a formal board of directors, whose membership has changed over time as the company scaled and its needs changed.

“When we look at a board, we are looking for those people who could help govern and guide,” Walborn says. “At the end of the day, Lance and I have a great vision of what we want to take Banyan to, but how do you complement that with other industry experts or businesspeople who are very good at what they do, from either a finance standpoint or experience in an industry? How do you make that gel together to strengthen the backbone of the company?”

Fund the business

Cliff Reynolds of GLIDEFunding is the biggest issue for any company going from startup to scale-up mode, Reynolds says.

“Because young companies carry a high risk for investors, obtaining cash requires constant effort,” he says.

It sounds like a cliché, but cash is the lifeblood of any growth company.

“You need to know what your cash needs will be as your business advances,” says Russell Donda, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at GLIDE. “What does your cash position look like in the next month, the next quarter, the next year? Plan for any shortfalls by raising the money that you’ll need ahead of time.”

While that has to be done from the start, it can become even more of an issue as you grow, Donda says.

“As you are adding people, adding overhead, you’ve got a bigger nut to crack every month. You have to understand clearly and early where your shortfalls are and plan for those.”

Through its network, GLIDE provides access to a number of potential funding sources. For a young Banyan Technology, that meant securing a $350,000 early stage commitment from JumpStart, a Northeast Ohio nonprofit focused on accelerating the success of entrepreneurs.

“With GLIDE’s guidance, we became a JumpStart portfolio company,” Walborn says. “The two organizations accelerated our growth not just through financial investment but through the investment of knowledge that they’ve passed on as we’ve grown.”

Banyan Technology used that early money to improve its computer infrastructure and ramp up its hiring of computer programmers. As it was doing that, it was reducing its risk.

“As companies accomplish development milestones, they become less risky, and when commercial launch -- and then increased revenue -- occur, investment risk becomes even less, and more investment opportunities become available,” Reynolds says.

For Banyan Technology, that opportunity came from River SaaS Capital, a debt fund that specializes in lending to Software-as-a Service companies. It provided $2 million in nondilutive capital that not only simplifies Banyan Technology’s debt structure but fuels accelerated growth by paying for much-needed sales and marketing resources.

“Lance and I were the two sales guys,” Walborn says. “Lance and I are not the sales guys any more. We put together a sales team and we are putting together a marketing team so we can create the market awareness to help drive sales.”

Wendy Jarchow, chief investment officer of River SaaS Capital, says her firm is eager to fund scaling companies and work with them to continue their growth.

“Companies like Banyan are getting traction, they have a solid customer base, they are growing and need capital so they can focus on sales and marketing so they can scale their businesses,” Jarchow says. “River SaaS is not just a financing partner. We can bring to bear some operational experience and we can help portfolio companies with introductions to new networks.”

Hire and develop talent

As young companies begin to scale up, it becomes increasingly important to find the right talent.

“You are only as good as the people you hire, so it’s important to find qualified people,” GLIDE’s Donda says. “The companies that I’ve worked with that brought in good people have rocketed to the next stage.”

For Banyan Technology, being on LCCC’s campus gave it ready access to high-quality talent. LCCC’s student population provides Banyan Technology with a pipeline to the specialized workforce of technology developers it needs to keep its business thriving.

“We have had 17 interns through LCCC and the University Partnership, and hired seven of them as full-time employees,” Walborn says.

As the company has matured, it has evolved from a startup into a pillar of the technology park.

“We didn’t plan on taking over the third floor of an entire building, or growing from five people to a team of 42 in the same location,” he says. “But this is where we’ve found the resources to grow the company.”

Banyan made a major hiring move in October. Brian Smith, who helped grow Proforma from $40 million to $400 million and ultimately became its president and CEO, came on board as Banyan Technology’s new chief executive, a role previously held by Walborn.

“Lance and I have a vision to make a difference in our industry,” Walborn says. “We understand the industry. There is experience that Brian Smith brings to the table that we don’t have. He’s navigated the HR side. He’s navigated the finance side. He understands growth and can complement what Lance and I are doing. We just put in another pillar to strengthen the organization. That’s really what Brian brings to the table. He’s a classic hire that is better than yourself.”

Build a strong culture

A company’s culture plays a major role in attracting and retaining employees. In the midst of trying to develop and commercialize an idea, the founder of a scale-up can’t lose sight of the type of business he or she is building. It’s the founder’s idea and company, but for the people coming on board, it’s their livelihood and their reality for 40 hours or more each week.

“As a company gets bigger, the CEO can’t touch every single thing,” Reynolds says. “When you bring in a level below the CEO, and then you’ve got employees reporting to them, it changes the chemistry. Hopefully, every level you bring in takes on the culture of the CEO.”

Walborn and Healy have worked hard at keeping a strong culture as Banyan Technology scales in size.

“We have a culture where we have each other’s backs,” Walborn says. “In our space, you really need to have a work hard, play hard kind of culture, where you know how to balance work and play, and you emphasize the importance of giving back to the community. It’s about creating the type of culture that people want to be a part of.”

Walborn credits GLIDE, LCCC and other regional institutions for making it possible.

“You look around and see the investment opportunities and the high caliber of interns and graduates produced by the educational institutions throughout the area, and you realize this is a great place to develop a business,” he says. “There are so many organizations out there to help you. All you have to do is ask the right questions.”

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  • Work with SMART Microsystems yields big wins for Nordson – and the region

    Nordson Corp.’s Lorain County roots run deep.

    The global industrial company, based in Westlake, was founded in Amherst by Eric and Evan Nord, sons of local industrialist Walter G. Nord. While the Nord family no longer runs the company, the manufacturer retains close ties to the community, and nowhere is that more evident than in its relationship with SMART Microsystems, located in the Richard Desich SMART Commercialization Center for Microsystems on Lorain County Community College’s Elyria campus.

    Roots of the partnership

    Nordson SMART partnershipThe relationship between Nordson and SMART began in 2010 when the center bought state-of-the-art equipment from Nordson’s Advanced Technology Systems group, giving it a competitive advantage with capabilities in automated dispensing, plasma treatment and X-ray inspection.

    “We do microelectronic packaging, and Nordson manufactures a wide variety of equipment that supports that,” says Matt Apanius, president and managing director of SMART Microsystems. “When we first got SMART off the ground, we purchased four initial pieces of equipment from them.”

    From that initial interaction, Nordson and SMART developed an ongoing dialogue, discussing the capabilities of both organizations and how they could develop synergies that would drive both the company and the college forward.

    “They had a couple of conferences on site, and we attended,” says Dave Selestak, business development manager for Nordson MARCH, part of the Advanced Technology Systems group. “That, in particular, allowed us to see the additional capabilities SMART had gained as far as microelectronic diagnostic capabilities and the like.”

    The fact that Nordson, SMART and LCCC are all located in the same region also provided shared motivation for partnering.

    “SMART and LCCC are organizations committed to helping individuals and businesses in the region,” says Apanius. “You want to help the people in your own backyard, because when they’re successful, it benefits everyone who lives here.”

    Uncovering new opportunities

    Over the last six years, Nordson and SMART have worked together on a number of projects. SMART’s ongoing acquisition of advanced equipment and new capabilities has made it an increasingly valuable resource to Nordson.

    “For about a year and a half, Nordson needed sophisticated camera capabilities for looking at microelectronic devices,” Selestak says. “We worked on some designs of experiments (DOEs) that we wanted to turn into a white paper to distribute to conferences and trade shows.”

    Nordson worked with SMART and LCCC Business Growth Services to fund a DOE, a systematic approach to finding the relationship between factors affecting a process and the output of that process. That support helped pay for an LCCC student intern to develop a white paper evaluating how plasma might benefit the manufacture of microelectronics, especially circuit boards.

    The white paper – which showed that plasma helps clean circuit boards without inflicting any damage – was presented to a global audience at the 2015 Surface Mount Technology Association International conference in Chicago.

    “That student now works at SMART,” Apanius says. “It’s a great example of how everyone can work together for a lasting benefit to everyone involved.”

    Nordson continues to market the results of the study and has performed other DOEs with customers to find new uses for its plasma technology. The company is using the analytic capabilities and inspection equipment of SMART Microsystems to conduct the studies, which are a critical part of the commercialization process.

    In addition to these projects, Nordson has sponsored a series of biomedical sensor technology conferences at LCCC, helping to boost the industry’s profile across the region.

    “We bought equipment from them, they’ve helped us with event sponsorships, and now we’re helping them find new applications for their products,” Apanius says. “We’re both open to new ways in which we can work together, and that’s a big factor in our combined success.”

    Helping Nordson grow

    As Nordson continues to leverage SMART to help develop new product lines, Selestak considers the relationship a critical factor in Nordson’s continued success and growth.

    “SMART and LCCC are very valuable sources for developmental capabilities,” Selestak says. “When you are in the process of developing a device, LCCC not only has the facilities to support the tangible needs of development but also the industry expertise that is going to help shorten the time to market. It’s not only about developing the device, it’s about turning it into something that’s commercially viable, and doing it as soon as you can.”

    Meanwhile, the partners always looking for new ways that their relationship and mutual goals can benefit each other, as well as the region.

    “The more applications Nordson develops, the more they sell, so that’s an instance where the partnership has a direct correlation to their bottom line,” Apanius says. “Every time we’ve worked together, it’s been a win-win for SMART, the college and Nordson. We’re creating a high level of mutual value for all involved, and that’s always what you want to aim for.”

    This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Impact magazine

  • As additive manufacturing explodes, MakerGear gets spark from LCCC’s Fab Lab

    In the early days of 3-D printing, MakerGear founder Rick Pollack bootstrapped a small business making components in his Shaker Heights garage.

    “When we started out, we made our machines out of laser-cut plywood,” Pollack recalls. “I was making printer parts one at a time in my garage.”

    In 2008, a friend introduced him to the Fab Lab at Lorain County Community College’s Nord Advanced Technologies Center. The lab had a much better laser-cutting machine, so Pollack quickly jumped on the opportunity to use it to augment his own equipment.

    “The lab gave us access to a $25,000 piece of cutting and fabricating machinery for basically no cost,” Pollack says. “It was really a visionary thing for the college to do. They saw how manufacturing companies like ours needed access to advanced machinery that required too large of an investment for a startup.”

    Eight years later, MakerGear is a thriving manufacturer selling thousands of 3-D printers a year to companies via its website,, and an Amazon reseller.

    Printing in three dimensions

    3-D printing – also called additive manufacturing – is still a relatively young technology, but it’s fast becoming a key aspect of advanced manufacturing. Once the exclusive domain of research and development, 3-D printers have expanded beyond their R&D roots of modeling and prototyping to the production of end-use products.

    “The applications of additive manufacturing are expected to grow significantly as advancement in materials and technologies continue,” says R. Scott Zitek, Assistant Professor, Automation and Fab Lab Coordinator at LCCC. “The ability to print objects with various combinations of mechanical, optical and thermal properties will expand the possible applications.”

    Improvements in the speed and accuracy of 3-D printers are creating a world in which plastic or metal parts can be printed instead of formed in tooling molds, eliminating the time-consuming process of creating a mold. That allows the manufacturing process to jump from raw material to product fabrication, resulting in less scrap and waste.

    “As the technology evolves it will be able to produce increasingly more capable parts by integrating materials that offer a range of properties from flexible to rigid, transparent to opaque, and conductive to isolating,” Zitek says. “In addition to prototyping, this technology will be used for the creation of rapid tooling and flexible production.”

    3-D printing can potentially allow for a made-to-order production system in which products can be fabricated quickly and shipped in smaller batches, allowing distributors, wholesalers and retailers to more closely manage their inventories.

    Energizing MakerGear

    LCCC opened the Fab Lab in 2005, making it the first of its kind in the country outside of Boston. When Pollack heard about it three years later, he decided to augment MakerGear’s production operations.

    He quickly set to work using the machinery to build a better product, hiring an LCCC student to run the Fab Lab’s cutter. He even took a course on how to use the lab’s advanced equipment.

    “So many technology businesses are out there looking for a way to bootstrap, and LCCC is one of the local entities that has provided a facility that can help deliver that,” Pollack says. “And outside of the class fee, it’s available for no cost – a huge factor for a company just starting out.”

    With access to the Fab Lab’s more advanced machinery, MakerGear’s business began to take off. Pollack was able to spend less time focused on the manufacturing process and more time focused on building his business.

    “We were really able to bootstrap the business with that increased level of efficiency, as well as build a commercially viable business with the capacity to grow even more,” Pollack says. “We could devote time to refining the product, refining our business plan and developing strategies to take our products to market.”

    MakerGear has continued to grow along with the rapidly expanding market for 3-D printing. It has purchased specialized machinery to outfit its production facility in Beachwood and it is preparing to open a second location in Northeast Ohio to serve as an R&D and production facility. MakerGear will produce parts for existing products as well as develop new products at the new location, which will house multiple production CNC centers.

    As a way to thank the college for its help in getting MakerGear off the ground, the company last year donated one of its 3-D printers to the Fab Lab.

    “You think about the fact that I paid $100 for a course on how to use the Fab Lab equipment at LCCC, and the benefits our company has received from it, many times over,” Pollack says. “It wasn’t a cheap investment for a local college to make, but my business, and so many others, have benefited from it.”

  • As cyber criminals become increasingly sophisticated, digital crime has grown at an alarming rate, motivating businesses of all sizes to strengthen their cybersecurity protocols and hire new talent.

    To learn more about the evolving area of cybersecurity, I spoke with Kelly Zelesnik, dean of the Division of Engineering, Business and Information Technology at Lorain County Community College, Douglas Huber, LCCC assistant professor of computer information systems, and Hikmat Chedid, LCCC professor and director of the Advanced Digital Forensics Institute. Here's what the group wanted you to know:

    Cyber attacks are more common than you think. 

    Zelesnik: Most companies don't want you to know if they have been breached. So every time you hear of confidential files being hacked, there are probably 50 to 100 other significant breaches that you don't hear about.

    Some industries more vulnerable than others.

    Huber: A really vulnerable area is in the manufacturing space. The industrial controls systems that control valves, tanks, manufacturing machines, rolling mills and nuclear power plants. Many of these were never developed with security in mind, and because of the expense, they are upgraded only in a 20- or 30-year cycle.

    There are more stringent cybersercurity policies on the way.

    Chedid: Cybersecurity insurance policies are already in effect, but new, more stringent policies are coming soon. These policies will help ensure that a company is conforming to some minimal security standards and provide a baseline of security.

    Chedid: Companies should also keep in mind that Europe has rich data privacy laws that are different from the U.S. That affects how cybersecurity solutions get architected and delivered, so you have to be compliant with those European standards. People with knowledge of that space can be very valuable in cybersecurity activities.

    Make sure your cybersecurity professionals have the right skills.

    Huber: Cybersecurity involves everything from auditing and policy development, all the way up to very specific technical skills, such as penetration testing and vulnerability testing. There are functions that are technically deep, but there is still a place for nontechnical people in the profession.