Startup accelerators and incubators typically cater to digital businesses that don’t need much more than some tables, computers and Internet access to function. Blueprint, an incubator concept initiated by Kidwell, is helping startups in the trades launch and grow.
“Lincoln has a very nice support system for startups,” said Todd Long, Vice President of Innovation and Marketing for Kidwell. “A lot of that is directed toward folks in the digital space. Our history in contracting allows us to offer tailored programs for people in the trades.”
Blueprint looks for partners that have skill and expertise in a trade, but not necessarily in running a business. And they look for people who have an understanding of their market.
“One thing we encourage early in our discussions is where the customer is going to come from,” Long said. “We want our candidates to know how they’re going to get work. We have honest discussions about where the revenue will come from. We need them to be successful in order for us to be successful.”
Candidates apply for consideration through an online form. Additional vetting and assessments are conducted for those who make it past the first round. Once a partnership is formed, startups are eligible for up to $50,000 in seed capital and a range of support services.
“We take a small monthly fee for ongoing partnership and services,” Long said. “At the end of the term, structured at 3 or 4 years, there is a one-time buyout. The business is then owned by the founder.”
Ryan Theil, President of Kidwell and Blueprint, sees the buyout at the end as the revenue generator for Kidwell.
“Monthly service isn’t where we make money,” he said. “The real play is three or four years down the line when they’re on their own and established. We get a little payout and our position is zero at that point.”
The first Blueprint partnership was formed earlier this year with Black Cat Paint & Body, LLC.
“My wife happened to be in the Haymarket and saw Union Bank Catalyst,” said owner Bradley Munderloh. “I called and talked to Tullen (Mabbutt). He referred me to Todd and the rest is history. It was a chance type of thing. I’m a firm believer that things fall into place when they’re supposed to.”
Collision repair is a cyclical business, and Mundeloh is not afraid to seek out customers when times are slow.
“You definitely have to go out and hit it; it doesn’t come in here,” he said. “If I’m slow I go out and pound the pavement. We can’t make people wreck their cars.”
Kidwell has office space available for candidates, along with some yard and storage options. But businesses like Black Cat need their own place, which can require some significant renovations.
“Bradley needed a paint booth, and after we got into renovations we had to adjust the ventilation system to comply with building codes,” Long said. “Kidwell has a lot of experience dealing with codes, and we wanted to do this by the book.”
Blueprint has been in discussions with around 20 candidates thus far, including machinists, landscapers and roofers. While the initial push is in Lincoln, they are looking statewide for prospects.
“Todd’s had discussions out west,” Theil said. “We’re looking at the whole state.”
With headquarters in Lincoln and offices in Omaha and Kearney, Kidwell has resources available for geographic expansion.
“We can certainly work out of our other offices,” Long said. “We’re pretty hands on so proximity is nice but not required.”
So what are the prospects of building growth companies with this model?
“There’s a ton of growth opportunities in the trades with the right help,” Theil said. “Is there a billion-dollar play like Twitter? Probably not. Digital space companies are looking for the home run. We’re looking for growth and a decent profit.”
Long said that Blueprint is open to a conversation even at the early stages of a business idea.
“What we’ve learned is that we’ve had to tailor the program to each candidate,” he said. “If people are just interested in the program, we invite them to reach out through the website.”
Rod Armstrong is Vice President of Strategic Partnerships for AIM in Lincoln, Nebraska. He is a regular contributor to Silicon Prairie News.