My team and I came up with the idea for our electronic action toy business back in February 2017. We were excited to hit the ground running, except we had never created a product before and had no idea where to start.
We knew what we wanted to build — we called it flypdeck — but we didn’t know how to build it. Luckily, a variety of local business-support organizations throughout Hampton Roads was there to help us.
The local entrepreneur ecosystem is supportive like that.
Luckily, shortly into our search for assistance with the electronics aspect, I happened to hear a radio commercial on 96X for 757 Makerspace – a community workspace for education, creation, entrepreneurial, and prototyping endeavors. Bingo! I was convinced right then that we needed to head to Norfolk and check out what the Makerspace was all about.
We quickly scheduled a tour of the space through the Makerspace website. We were given the tour within a few days by the creative director, Beau Turner, and immediately knew that this was the perfect place for us to bring our idea for the toy’s enclosure to life. We saw how stacked the Makerspace was – it has everything we could possibly need including 3D printers, Laser Cutter machines, 3D carving machines, welding tools, and tons of other machines and tools. The Makerspace also provides classes to learn how to use these machines and tools so that members can work on their own schedule and pace. While touring, we met several friendly and helpful members that we could tell would be a lot of fun to rub elbows with while working on our prototype. Within a few hours of touring the space we were signed up for a 3 month membership and were ready to rock and roll.
Beau also invited us to present our current prototype at the time via a Maker Lightning Talk at the space, which brought on a ton of conversations and suggestions on how to produce the toy affordably and in high quantities.
Conversations and suggestions from members after the presentation directly inspired us to utilize one of the 3D printers at the space to print plastic 3D pieces — which we could then use later to build molds for plastic and foam injection.
The advice and ideas of the Makerspace members helped shape the toy into what is today, quite literally. If you want to make something but don’t have any experience and don’t know where to begin, I highly recommend getting in touch with 757 Makerspace. You can learn more about the space at 757makerspace.com.
Hatch / 1000Four
As we began to pick up steam regarding design and manufacturing (thanks to 757 Makerspace), we realized we needed to figure out how to officially start a business and raise capital in order to produce our product at high volumes. Enter downtown Norfolk’s business accelerator, Hatch, and their entrepreneurial community platform 1000Four. Through 1000Four, Hatch maintains a strong network of entrepreneurs and small business owners from all over the nation who are ready to share their experience and help guide you through your entrepreneurial journey. We contacted and met with Zack Miller, Hatch’s founder, to learn more about Hatch and 1000Four and were blown away with Zack’s knowledge and the extensive 1000Four community.
We officially joined 1000Four and immediately started meeting other members and exploring all of the amazing online content available. This includes everything from how to run a successful crowd funding campaign to social media presence and marketing and all the way down to how to formulate email subject lines to grab someone’s attention. What I like most about being a part of the 1000Four community is having an entire network of entrepreneurs to seek advice from and bounce ideas off of at a moment’s notice. I have had the opportunity to learn from experienced business owners and first time entrepreneurs alike, as well as the pleasure of offering suggestions to others in the limited areas of my expertise.
Through 1000Four I was also directly introduced to a member that had previously ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. This member enthusiastically offered a ton of invaluable advice which will better my own chances of running a successful campaign. Through Hatch, my team and I have also been introduced to an expert in product exportation and required certifications. As a result of a reply from one of my posts in the 1000Four Facebook group page, I learned about, applied to, and ended up having our product featured in the Startup Spotlight of The Hampton Roads Business Journal. This article lead to several opportunities, including pitching at 1 Million Cups – Virginia Beach and connecting with the Hampton Roads Chamber – both of which subsequently led to additional opportunities.
If you’re thinking about starting a business and want to network with and learn from other entrepreneurs, you absolutely need to check out Hatch and 1000Four. You can learn more at StartWithHatch.com
1 Million Cups – Virginia Beach
Developed by the Kauffman Foundation, 1 Million Cups is a free program designed to educate, engage, and connect entrepreneurs with their communities. Presenting our product at 1 Million Cups – Virginia Beach connected us with several established business owners and also introduced us to an individual with product manufacturing connections overseas. These connections are helping pave the way forward for flypdeck’s next steps.
Through 1 Million Cups we also learned of ODU’s Center for Enterprise Innovation, which is the home of several programs that help up and coming businesses. One of these programs is 757Pitch, a competition that gives startups 7 minutes to pitch for a chance at $757 to put towards their business. We will be applying to 757Pitch for the next competition being held on March 20th.
Every Wednesday morning, 1 Million Cups hosts one or two early-stage businesses who present their companies. These events are free and anyone is welcome and invited to attend. What I learned from attending these events is that there are a lot more inventors and entrepreneurs in our community than I previously thought. I really enjoy having conversations with the folks that attend these events, especially since the 1 Million Cups culture is explicitly supportive, inclusive, and welcoming. We also received a ton of useful feedback and suggestions after our presentation and would urge anyone interested in business and entrepreneurship to attend as many of these events as they can.
You can learn more about what 1 Million Cups is all about at 1millioncups.com/virginiabeach.
Hampton Roads Chamber
Also resulting from the Startup Spotlight article was being contacted by an individual at the Hampton Roads Chamber and subsequently being invited to a few of the Chamber’s networking events. The Hampton Roads Chamber is a pro-business organization in Hampton Roads that offers networking opportunities, education programs, marketing tools and other services to businesses members.
Through our very first Chamber networking event we learned of the Richmond Kids Expo at the Richmond Raceway and in turn have reserved a booth at the Expo. We are very excited for the opportunity to get our toy into the hands of eager young players, which we would have never had without the Hampton Roads Chamber. If you are interested in starting a business or growing a business you are currently a part of, I would highly suggest learning more about the Hampton Roads Chamber. You can learn all about the Chamber at HamptonRoadsChamber.com.
You can do it. Hampton Roads can help.
With the help of Hampton Roads’ small business ecosystem and its pulsing synergy, our small team of first time inventors was able to turn a cocktail napkin idea into a legitimate product in less than a year.
These communities are full of people who are extremely passionate about what they do and genuinely want to help others succeed. We are extremely excited to now be a part of this ecosystem and have the opportunity to help up and coming inventors and small businesses. If you have an idea, now is the time to get involved with these groups and get to work. With hard work and the help of the local ecosystem you can bring your idea to life.
Learn more about flypdeck at flypdeck.com and look for their Kickstarter campaign launching March 1st.