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Startups the focus of NKY Chamber’s April Eggs ‘N Issues; forum led by those who have had success

By Mark Hansel
NKyTribune managing editor

The April 2019 Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Eggs ’N Issues discussion focused on embracing the region’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Patrick Crowley of Strategic Advisers (left) moderated the NKY Chamber April Eggs ‘N Issues discussion. Left to Right, Casey Barach of NKY Tri-ED and Uptech, Jackie Roberto of Madison Design and Guy van Rooyen of the Salyers Group talk about startups and starting out.

“Startups and Starting Out” featured a panel of entrepreneurs that have faced the hurdles and achieved success. 

Casey Barach, a senior vice president at Northern Kentucky Tri-ED is the director of Northern Kentucky Office of the Kentucky Innovation Network and the founder of the UpTech Program.

The UpTech accelerator program was launched to connect talent, money, and ideas in the Cincinnati entrepreneurial ecosystem, and create a digital information industry cluster in Northern Kentucky. 

Jackie Roberto has more than 25 years of experience in the field of graphic design and directs the sales and marketing efforts at Madison Design.

She serves as the strategic brand lead for clients that include Mercy Health, TechSolve, Summerfair, and Cintas.

Guy van Rooyen is the President and CEO of Salyers Group. It’s commercial businesses in Covington include Donna Salyers Fabulous Furs, Donna Salyers Fabulous Bridal and the Madison Event Center. 

Most recently, the investment company was responsible for developing the Hotel Covington, which has been a staple of the Northern Kentucky area since its grand opening in September 2016.

The discussion was hosted at Receptions Event Center in Erlanger and moderated by Patrick Crowley of Strategic Advisers.

Van Rooyen said it takes determination and a belief in one’s self to start up a business.

“(It takes) perseverance to just bust through that wall of challenges that is put up in front of you and never give up on what you believe is your business plan,” Van Rooyen said. “Be prepared, do your due diligence, do your work beforehand, so you are not trying to backfill information before you go to market with something.”

It also takes the ability to be flexible, he added, because things do not always go to plan. 

“In the start-up mode, you are so focused on all of the positives and…very rarely do the pro-forma’s actually eventuate as you expect them to,” Van Rooyen said. “Be prepared and spend an equal amount of time thinking about the negatives that can happen to the business, so you are prepared for those, and not surprised by them.”

Jordan Huizenga of Children, Inc. asks the panel a question at the NKy Chamber’s April Eggs ‘N Issues, which focused on startups. (photos by Mark Hansel).

Roberto has been in business for more than 20 years and said she has the attitude of “agility at all times.”

“One of the challenges is managing all of the outside forces that you can’t control,” Roberto said. “I learned to keep my eyes, open our eyes, open…and to be willing to change before you are forced to change from the outside. Focus on what you can control, your attitude, your intelligence, your level of knowledge, the ability to ask for help. That’s been very critical.”

Often, when an entrepreneur believes they have the “next big thing,” there is a desire to do too much, too soon. Roberto says that can be a critical mistake.

“We really took our time and slowly transitioned. We kept our overhead very low on purpose – we didn’t want a lot of stress – borrowing money and working with lawyers or bankers,” Roberto said. “Our experience has been very different and we really learned as we went.”

Having a great idea is only part  of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Barach said the willingness to learn from those who have been there and done that can be invaluable.

“Take advantage of the help that is out there, but you have to be coachable,” Barach said. “There are so many people that start companies and know the exact path they are going to take; it’s not going to be that path. I would say, keep it simple, it is the basics – get help and then listen to that help.”

Making those connections, Barach says, has been very satisfying, and for an entrepreneur, it could be the difference between success and failure.

“If somebody is in a certain lane or certain type of business, we hook them up with someone in that same type of business to be a mentor or advisor,” Barach said. “I think it’s critical to you go out and get that advice and we are happy to make that connection.”

Even if a business experiences success, it’s critical to be vigilant and adjust to a changing market.

Van Rooyen said the Madison Event Center in Covington has been a successful business in his company’s portfolio for years but continues to adjust, to meet the changing needs of its clientele.

One of its biggest events has traditionally been the New Year’s Eve celebration.

“We used to do probably a third of our gross profits on New Year’s Eve, but that’s completely changed now,” van Rooyen said. “Millennials and the current generation don’t want to go to the traditional New Year’s Eve party – pay $100, all you can eat, all you can drink, sit in a ballroom like this, watch a band and then go home. It’s now about going to breweries and bouncing around to different bars and locations, so we had to adapt our business model (and) now, thankfully, people find it cool to get married on New Year’s Eve.”

The change in the wedding habits of its customers led to another adjustment in the business model of the Salyers Group.

“Destination weddings were going to be a big thing and we were going to be extracted because everyone wanted to go to Aruba and be married on a beach,” van Rooyen explained. “Well, we own a bridal business and we own a banquet center as well. A lot of people have second weddings, (some) families still can’t travel, so we adapted and created a new product, sort of a reception after your wedding and that’s been very successful.”

Entrepreneurs are by nature, risk takers and Barach says a certain level of uncertainty comes with that.

He recalls early on, a business was struggling and he held his breath when he went to open his door every day because he didn’t know if his investors had changed the locks.

“It’s just another level of stress toward success,” Barach said. “I don’t think it ever really leaves you. At some point, you become confident that the key will work, but you never really know for sure what will happen.”

The Eggs ‘N Issues discussions take place monthly at Receptions Banquet and Conference Center, located in Erlanger. For more information on Eggs ‘N Issues, click here.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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