Issue: June 2007 Issue
This month, Jumpstart Inc.'s Ray Leach is launching an online portal, IdeaCrossing, to connect entrepreneurs with investors.
When Cleveland’s JumpStart Inc. launched in the fall of 2004, its leaders were not prepared for the response.
“No one had a clear sense of what the demand would be,” recalls Ray Leach, CEO of JumpStart, which was designed to help early-stage ideas and businesses emerge into venture-ready companies. “After the first 100 to 120 days, we were informed by the community that the needs were exponentially greater than what we could address.”
The JumpStart team found itself trying to accommodate everyone, and it was getting harder to keep up. “It was a bottleneck for entrepreneurs,” says Leach. “There were entrepreneurs who needed help, and companies willing to provide assistance, and they were all coming to us.”
So Leach and chief marketing officer Thomas Ruhe sat down for a brainstorming session. “We began to think about ways to leverage more tools without hiring more people,” Leach says. “We had this vision to create some kind of tool for an online marketing place.”
And with that, IdeaCrossing was born. The premise is an online portal for entrepreneurs and investors to find each other. Leach looked for software that could provide such a service, but was unsuccessful. So he went before the JumpStart board of directors in fall 2006 and got approval to develop the technology.
“The basic analogy is an online matchmaking process targeted at entrepreneurs,” says Leach. Like the romance matchmaking sites, registered users fill out a detailed questionnaire to put them in touch with appropriate resources.
“The system then goes ahead to analyze the needs and resources to create a match,” explains Leach. “It’s a community that can access self-help.” The software does not initiate a dialogue between matches, but leaves it up to the users.
Due to officially launch this month, Leach hopes IdeaCrossing will generate the same economic impact as JumpStart. “With JumpStart, for ever dollar we invest in a company, we anticipate it to create $10 in five to seven years,” he says. “With IdeaCrossing, it’s the same leverage we’re creating. Hopefully we’ll be helping thousands of companies each year.”
The site, www.ideacrossing.org
, has already generated 500 profiles during beta testing — launched in January — without any marketing.
The goal behind IdeaCrossing is to make it user friendly. “One of the most important aspects of this technology is, first, it’s free,” says Leach. “We’re trying to focus on the outcomes entrepreneurs are needing, we’re not trying to make a buck. Two, we’re trying to make it very easy if you are an entrepreneur. Just as importantly, we want to provide a place for all these resources to go.”
Leach predicts IdeaCrossing will become an invaluable resource for entrepreneurs at every level. “Now, many residents of this region have to create their own opportunities,” he says. “There’s so much more interaction; so much more of a creative process than we’ve had in the past.”
IdeaCrossing will evolve as different needs become evident. “We’re adding to the list of what we’re going to do as we get more focused,” Leach says. “Right now we’re focused on learning — what do they like; what do they not like. We’re not sure where it’s going to go next.”
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