National Entrepreneurship Month feature: Chris Wentz, Everykey

Hear from Everykey's founder and CEO Chris Wentz about his entrepreneurship journey turning a college dream into reality.

 

Every entrepreneur’s goal is to come up with a product or service that solves a problem for consumers. If you’ve ever lost a key or forgotten a password, the company Everykey, founded by COSE member Chris Wentz, has the solution for you. 

Chris’s interest in small business and technology goes back as far as he can remember, but it was in his senior year at Case Western Reserve University that his journey to entrepreneurship really began. The professor of his entrepreneurial class asked students to present an original business idea—one that makes money, but that also solves a problem in the world and has an impact on people’s lives. 

Chris pitched an idea for a wristband with the technology to unlock everything including your phone, laptop, car door and house—and that also stores all account passwords in one place. Chris knew he had a good idea, but thought it was an undertaking for a big company like Samsung, Google or Apple. 

Little did he know that a handshake and an initial investment from this professor would lead to Everykey.

In the beginning, Chris and his colleagues competed in student business plan competitions—mostly through the university. They were fortunate to win several and received money, as well as the attention of potential investors. And perhaps most importantly, there was validation that their product was worth pursuing.

This traction led to prototypes and crowdfunding campaigns, which raised about $300,000 through pre-orders. They were also fortunate to be well-supported through local resources in the Northeast Ohio region, and then more broadly funded by several venture capital firms.

While the actual device may have changed a bit since ideation, the concept is still the same. The finished Everykey product impacts consumers by not only making their lives convenient and easier, but also more secure through its military-grade encryption. 

What was once a college dream has become a successful small business.

Chris shares details of his entrepreneurship journey on COSE’s Small Business After Hours podcast. Here are three key takeaways from that conversation.

Takeaway no. 1: Cleveland can be the next Silicon Valley. Chris views Northeast Ohio as one of the best places to start a business. Most technology startups are created in Silicon Valley, and many believe money must be raised there as well. Chris says this close-minded mindset was more prevalent pre-COVID, but that because remote work is so ubiquitous now, that philosophy is changing. 

In Northeast Ohio, the cost of living is far lower than on the coast, allowing companies to hire more employees for the same price. This is a top reason that Cleveland could become home to some grand-slam-type companies, Chris says.

Takeaway no. 2: There's no such thing as overnight success. Everything takes longer than expected—especially technology. The timeline from ideation to having a ready-to-go product was probably Everykey’s number one challenge, according to Chris. The complexity wasn’t in the hardware itself, but rather in developing the different apps required to work with all web browsers. 

With a name like Everykey, the product must live up to the idea that it can be used everywhere and with all software, which Chris says meant developing from scratch each time. 

As a result of investing so much time and effort into this technology, they are one of only a small handful of providers. And the hard work keeps paying off. Now that they own a patent for this unique technology, Everykey has become even more appealing to potential employees, investors and buyers.

Takeaway no. 3: Every company has moments of doubt; Never give up. One of the lowest points the Everykey team experienced was early on when they were told it wasn’t possible for their technology to connect with all platforms and software. But, with faith that there’s a solution to every challenge, they didn’t let their doubts determine their outcome. 

Chris knows that without those challenges, they could not have developed such inventive technology, they would not enjoy the success they have today, and they would not be as well-poised to expand their product into commercial markets.

His parting advice for entrepreneurs? 

“Even when the chips are down or it feels like all hope is lost, never give up. Continue to believe in your vision. Bust through the barriers people put in front of you and you will come out stronger in the end. We learned so much and created so much value out of the challenges we faced.”

Hear more about Chris’ entrepreneurial journey in episode four of COSE’s Small Business After Hours podcast.

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  • Next up: Within Reach: Closing the gap between employers and their workforce

    Within Reach: Closing the gap between employers and their workforce

    Watch a recent webinar from GCP discussing the implications of local spatial mismatch.

    As Greater Cleveland continues to see substantial business growth and job creation along its outer edges, ensuring that employees have practical transportation options to these employment centers has become increasingly challenging.

    In a recent webinar, industry experts including representatives from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and the Fund for Our Economic Future discussed the impacts this spatial mismatch is having on our regional economic health and how organizations could benefit from a new program designed to close the gap between workers and the workplace.

    Watch the recording below:

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  • Next up: COSE Members Share Their Favorite Small Business Resources

    COSE Members Share Their Favorite Small Business Resources

    We asked some of our COSE members what resources they turn to while running their small businesses. Podcasts, books, websites, YouTube channels... check out their suggestions!

     

    From books to websites to podcasts, we asked some COSE members to tell us what resources they find valuable as they work day-to-day running their small businesses—including any they have personally written or produced. Check out their suggestions and consider adding some to your list.

    Margaret Cassidy, Esq., Principal, Cassidy Law
    A book I co-authored and co-edited, although titled Lawyer’s Corporate Social Responsibility Deskbook: Practical Guidance for Corporate Counsel and Law Firms, is a great tool for small and large businesses looking to design a social responsibility program or to simply take a more socially responsible approach to how they conduct business. It covers everything from cyber security to supply chain and includes checklists, case studies and other practice resources for your business.

    Tim Dimoff, CPP, President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc.
    I wrote a book The You in Business, which is for anyone who manages or owns a small business. Filled with real-life, in-the-trenches stories, it offers insight into the fundamentals of building a business from the ground up. Readers will also learn how to develop long-lasting customer relationships to grow their business and place it on the fast track to success. www.timothydimoff.com 

    Alex Gertsburg, Esq., CEO, The Gertsburg Law Firm
    One of the best books on starting a business is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, about the first 20 years of Nike.  The best personal development book I’ve ever read, and the one I “gift” the most, is The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. The book I’m reading right now (one principle per day upon waking) is Principles by Ray Dalio. All three books should be required reading in any business course. They are amazing and provide enduring lessons for life and business, written in very readable ways by masters in both life and business.

    Janet Gosche, Business Advisor and Integrator
    In Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, Verne Harnish describes John D. Rockefeller's underlying strategy and adds his own suggested three winning habits: 1) Set priorities, 2) Measure key metrics, 3) Get a rhythm of well-organized meetings to keep everyone aligned and accountable. He also provides a tool to document your plan, called The One-Page-Plan. His website, gazelles.com, allows free downloads of the tools.

    jimcollins.com is a website from the author we love, including Good to Great. This site is filled with his articles, tools, and many other resources. It is easy to navigate and find all sorts of inspiring and helpful materials.

    Leadership Unlocked, Unleash the Power of Your Body for Impact and Fulfillment is written by a new local author, Yan Maschke, who shares leadership stories, lessons learned, and leadership practices in this easily digestible short read and quick reference guide.

    Erin Longmoon, CEO, Zephyr Recruiting
    Profit First, by Mike Michalowicz, will turn your accounting on its head and make your business profitable, sustainable, financially heathy, and resilient! Daring Greatly, or anything by Brené Brown... this book will transform your courage, leadership, and mission. Smart Strategy for CPA’s podcast by Geraldine Carter... I am not a CPA, nor in the accounting space at all, and this podcast is brilliant and has opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and solving my business challenges. The Dames, is an online (or some in-person chapters) networking group for female entrepreneurs who make 6+ figures, and who want to be surrounded by women business owners who mean business! LinkedIn with Louise, is a helpful podcast about everything LinkedIn.

    Cheryl Perez, President and CEO, BIG HR
    I have a complete library on my YouTube channel. Here you can find all the tips and tools you need from A-Z to start-up, step-up and level-up your business every week with How To-Tuesdays! My focus is inspiring entrepreneurs to develop and create the processes and systems to grow and scale their for-profit or non-profit organizations. My approach focuses on the structure, strategies, tools, and resources that can help you take your business to the next level and grow. 

    Do you have a business resource to share? Contact us—we’d love to hear about it!

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  • Next up: National entrepreneurship month feature: Destiny Burns, CLE Urban Winery

    National entrepreneurship month feature: Destiny Burns, CLE Urban Winery

    After a career in the U.S. Navy, COSE member Destiny Burns fulfilled her dream of opening an urban winery. Hear about her entrepreneurship journey and learn more about her unique business.

     

    With the right combination of vision and passion, any career path can lead to entrepreneurship. For Destiny Burns, it was after 20 years of active duty in the U.S. Navy, followed by 13 years as a business development executive in the defense industry in Washington DC, that she began her entrepreneurial journey.

    More than 30 years after leaving her hometown of Cleveland, Destiny was ready to move back home and fulfill her dream of opening an urban winery. With her passion for wine, advanced degrees in business, and training in the food and wine industry—as well as the expertise of Winemaker and VP of Operations Dave Mazzone—Destiny founded CLE Urban Winery in 2016.

    The business has expanded to provide more than just opportunities to drink wine. Destiny refers to CLE Urban Winery as a community center and is proud to finally offer such a multi-faceted experience in her beloved hometown.

    In honor of November being National Entrepreneurship Month, here are three key takeaways from Destiny’s journey running her own business.

    A philanthropic purpose is priceless. With her entire life dedicated to service—serving her county and her community—Destiny’s advice for entrepreneurs is to not only focus on the bottom line, but to bring something into the model of your business that brings you joy. 

    In that light, Destiny has formed key partnerships with local organizations including Dobama Theater, Graffiti HeArt, Greater Cleveland Foodbank, Hunger Network and The Cleveland Vegan Society. For Destiny, these partnerships are what recharge her and keep her going. 

    “That’s what feeds my soul. It’s the reason why I became an entrepreneur in the first place.”

    Small businesses need flexibility with products and services. We saw it all through COVID—businesses pivoting their focuses and coming up with new ways to appeal to their audiences during unpredictable times. While CLE Urban Winery was shut down at the start of the global pandemic, they had to find new ways to connect and sell. They accomplished this through the creation of wine tasting boxes, which include five samples of wine and a small pairing of food—as well as instructions and wine descriptions. It was important to Destiny for the wine tasting experience to continue while her customers were safe at home—and to remain part of the experience by personally delivering the boxes herself.

    Additionally, during COVID, they reinvented themselves by creating an online shopping platform—CLE Urban Winery now ships anywhere in Ohio. 

    A good brand is always looking for new ways to be creative. In a market that has its ups and downs, as well as countless competitors, creativity is key for survival. One way that CLE Urban Winery maintains a competitive edge is through its ability to cross over different consumer segments. In recognition of the steadfast popularity of cocktails, Destiny and Dave developed wine cocktails. A favorite wine cocktail among patrons is called the Cleveland Manhattan and is made with blueberry Merlot. The winery also appeals to craft beer drinkers through its creation of Hopped in the Heights—a dry hopped combination of Sauvignon Blanc and beer.

    Destiny has also created a CLE Urban Winery wine club—currently comprised of approximately 145 members—who she refers to as her VIPs. The red-carpet treatment for these VIPs includes special perks such as access to wines created just for club members, behind the scenes access to festivals, and other unique opportunities for wine exploration and education.

    Other ways that CLE Urban Winery is creatively bridging gaps among consumers and helping people explore and think about wine differently are included in the winery’s strategic plan. Their goal is to create a wine makers club with customers who wish to learn how to make their own wine, as well as more formal educational wine tasting opportunities. 

    You can learn more about CLE Urban Winery and Destiny’s journey as an entrepreneur by listening to episode three of the COSE Small Business After Hours Podcast. You can also check out this short documentary in celebration of CLE Urban Winery’s fifth anniversary

     
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  • Next up: GCP Testifies in Support of Key Provisions in House Bill 110, Two-Year State Budget Bill

    GCP Testifies in Support of Key Provisions in House Bill 110, Two-Year State Budget Bill

     

    Last week, the Greater Cleveland Partnership offered proponent testimony for Ohio House Bill 110, the two-year state budget bill. “GCP greatly appreciates that House Bill 110 currently presents a balanced budget approach without any readily apparent tax increases,” the testimony states. “Predictability and stability are key factors to consider as the business community continues to navigate an uncertain environment.”

    There are several key provisions that GCP supports, many of which align with our 2021 – 2022 Public Policy Agenda, including:

    • Preserve Ohio’s small business tax deduction on the first $250K in business income.
    • Sustain Ohio’s current commercial activity tax (CAT) rate.
    • Support the $460M grant proposals that would aid small businesses, new businesses, bars and restaurants, lodging facilities, and indoor entertainment venues.
    • Approve the proposed funding for broadband affordability issues in urban areas.
    • Advance the $200M proposal to provide up to $2.5 million grants for infrastructure projects.
    • Authorize $100M to expand the Cleveland Innovation District.
    • Fund the H2Ohio program fully with $240M.
    • Support technology-focused credentials through the TechCred Program, including the Individual Microcredential Assistance Program.
    • Approve $15M to support targeted workforce investments in economically distressed rural and urban communities.
    • Devote $16M toward the goal of helping high school students earn 70,000 workforce credentials each year; support the additional $25M proposal to aid schools in offering new and high-demand credentials to students.
    • Support the expansion of Ohio to Work to help Ohioans facing job loss connect with a career coach, supportive services, and rapid re-training to become employed in an in-demand job.
    • Fund the Industry Sector Partnership Grant to support partnerships among business, schools, training providers, and community leaders, strengthening the local workforce; these partnerships develop and enhance career pathways for workers in specific industries.
    • Support and expand programs like the Export Internship, Diversity & Inclusion Internship, and Choose Ohio First.
    • Guarantee every student in Ohio has access to computer science education.

    The Ohio House of Representatives will continue hearing budget testimony from proponents, opponents, and interested parties via various subcommittees. Once complete, the House Finance Committee will formulate a new version of the bills on recommendations from subcommittees. GCP will remain active throughout this process, providing the perspectives of the Northeast Ohio business community and advocating for provisions that will strengthen our regional economic outlook.

    Following an affirmative vote by the House of Representatives, the bill will be considered and amended by the Senate, and ultimately be considered by a conference committee of both House and Senate Finance committee members. The agreed-upon version of the budget must be signed by the governor by June 30 for the appropriations to take effect on July 1, 2021.

    You can read the GCP’s full testimony here.

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  • Next up: GCP Testifies in Support of State Bill to Provide Grant Support to Impacted Businesses

    GCP Testifies in Support of State Bill to Provide Grant Support to Impacted Businesses

     

    Earlier this week, GCP testified in support of Senate Bill 109 (SB 109), legislation that would provide grants to businesses, local fairs, childcare providers, and veterans homes. The bill allocates $20 million for grants of $10,000, $20,000, or $30,000 to indoor entertainment venues impacted by COVID-19. It also allocates $10 million for $10,000 relief grants to new businesses opened after January 1, 2020. Finally, the bill allocates $150 million for the Ohio small business grant relief program to provide $10,000 grants to applicants who applied before December 12, 2020, but whose requests were not funded.

    In 2020, GCP was extremely supportive of the Ohio small business grant relief program, which offered crucial relief during the pandemic. SB 109 is a welcome addition to that program. Cuyahoga County yielded the highest number of program applications and awards when the program closed in December 2020. Across the county, over 1,800 small businesses were awarded a grant.

    In written testimony, Marty McGann, Executive Vice President of Advocacy and Strategy at GCP, advocated for strong economic development tools to bolster support for Ohio-based companies and create the conditions for recovery. The proposed bill, he stated, “will help foster a strong, vibrant business community in Ohio.”

    You can read GCP’s full testimony here.

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