When Dan Fernback and Zac DiVencenzo started shopping their concept for JuggerBot 3D back in 2014, the newly minted Youngstown State University graduates knew they were on to something. After all, additive manufacturing and 3D printing were on the rise, especially in their home base of Youngstown — where the America Makes national tech accelerator had planted roots just two years earlier in 2012.
There was just one problem. They didn’t know what problem they were solving.
“When we first pitched this idea to Youngstown Business Incubator and entrepreneurs-in-residence from JumpStart, they told us, ‘It’s great to see young engineers who are excited to pitch this idea, but if you can’t prove there is a problem, your idea doesn’t mean anything to us,’” recalls Fernback.
Fernback and DiVencenzo spent the next eight months surveying various manufacturers and end-users across North America to better refine their value proposition around 3D printing, which Fernback now considers “a very critical step in the beginning of our company.” Today JuggerBot 3D is one of Youngstown Business Incubator’s established portfolio companies and manufactures industrial-grade 3D printers that utilize readily available production materials.
Looking back, Fernback now knows that JuggerBot 3D was in the ideation stage, one of four stages that JumpStart has identified as being part of the universal entrepreneurial experience. That’s one of the reasons Fernback was among 20 founders recruited by JumpStart to inform the creation of the Entrepreneur Roadmap—a soon-to-launch initiative that provides a resource-packed GPS for navigating the entrepreneurial journey as it relates to the tech sector.
“The idea of entering the tech world can be very intimidating and overwhelming,” says Heather Hall, who has been a JumpStart entrepreneur-in-residence for two years. “The roadmap is meant to offer relief to that by providing a framework to go from ‘I have an idea’ to ‘I’ve launched it’ to ‘I have paying customers and now I need to grow’—and all the things that come in between.”
The mid-September launch of the Entrepreneur Roadmap does just that—offering a wide variety of resources and programming to educate Northeast Ohio-based entrepreneurs on the four stages of developing a tech business (ideation, development, launch, and acceleration). A dedicated section of JumpStart’s website offers blogs, worksheets, on-demand video, podcasts, webinars, and other content to provide a robust knowledge base and reference library.
“Entrepreneurship can be very lonely,” says Hall. “Having people in the same space who have the same challenges is hugely valuable. Not only will they be able to work through what each stage looks like, but they’ll build camaraderie so they don’t feel like they’re alone in it.”
JumpStart collaborates with other organizations in the Entrepreneurial Services Provider (ESP) network, such as Bounce Innovation Hub, Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) and Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE). “We’re be encouraging a lot of our very early-stage companies to take part in this,” says Corey Patrick, director of marketing and communications for Youngstown Business Incubator. “Seeing these steps clearly spelled out can ease a lot of the nerves around taking that leap.”
And it appears a lot more Ohioans are taking that leap, as the state saw record numbers in the number of new businesses filed this summer. For Fernback, whose JuggerBot 3D company has now reached the acceleration phase, he believes the Entrepreneur Roadmap can guide emerging entrepreneurs and help them find their footing. Says Fernback, “it’s a powerful resource to use and an invaluable tool to leverage in building a business.”
This article originally appeared in Cleveland Business Journal on September 22, 2020.