Plant guilt. It’s a thing. Drop a plant in the ground. Watch it wither. Bear the shame.
Enter Gnomesy, a startup in development to “take the time and guesswork out of planning and maintaining a customized green space through regular deliveries of plants and related products.”
“We’re creating a safe space of sorts, so that maybe a plant only lives for three months, but that’s OK,” said Gnomesy co-founder Joella Gamon. “You learn something, and we’ve got you. There’s a new plant coming, and you don’t have to look at the Latin name on Google and figure out all that information.”
Gamon is in the second cohort of Catamaran, Harrisburg-based Andculture’s early-stage startup accelerator that helps new entrepreneurs set sail, offering them mentorship and a host of supporting services.
Andculture’s 20 years of experience on the art of startup survival is a differentiator, said Lauren McAteer, director of innovation transfer acceleration. Another is the partnerships that Catamaran builds with entrepreneurs, who emerge not just with “a business plan or an idea on the back of a napkin,” but a minimally viable product, or MVP, that’s ready to roll.
In Catamaran, failure is an option. Actually, some failure is kind of expected.
Take Mark Wieder, best known for his Popped Culture social enterprise. Wieder entered Catamaran’s first cohort with the idea of offering mentorship for budding entrepreneurs. Pushed by Catamaran’s consultants, he researched the idea and found a bunch of big-name players already in the space.
“It’s one of those really down moments,” he said. “I find those down moments are followed by some of the highest breakthrough moments. If it does exist, what doesn’t exist?”
Founders get customized help from Andculture designers, engineers and strategy consultants. Business partners also provide mentorship—Gift CPAs on finances, Nell McCormack Abom Communications on strategic communications and media relations, Penwell Bowman + Curran for legal guidance and Sandler Training on sales and productivity improvement.
Wieder created his “doesn’t exist” product, called POPrietor, with a “creative space for a professional showcase in a way that spoke to youth.”
“Who you are and what you do doesn’t make sense on just a piece of paper anymore,” Wieder said. “You have social media across the web. If you can put that all in one place, somebody can get a good sense of you and what you’re all about.”
Within Catamaran, Wieder’s developing concept received resistance “from time to time. They weren’t afraid to push back when you needed it and support you when you needed lifting up.”
Or as McAteer put it, “No one tells you your baby is ugly.”
New cohort member Dana Willard admits to being “the type of person who just shoots and aims later.”
She took the leap from financial industry professional to self-employed consultant, helping clients through the complex paperwork associated with a loved one’s death. But after three years, she needed to scale up and provide more solutions.
The first weeks of Catamaran were “a real eye-opener,” Willard said. Catamaran-driven research into her startup, Cope Mosaic, revealed “needs in the community that I didn’t even think were there—maybe with the preplanning phase or things I never even thought I could help people with.”
Andculture, hoping to create new cohorts biannually, has “learned a ton” about the needs of entrepreneurs, said McAteer. Lesson number one: “It’s really hard to go it alone.” So, meet the new cohort—two spousal duos and a team of brothers.
“We are calling it the family cohort,” said Gnomesy founder Gamon.
With her technical lead, husband Tom Gamon, she is developing a service that she couldn’t find in the overwhelming world of gardening.
The minds of Catamaran are helping Gamon narrow her entrance point. It seems to be young professionals, the ones who “start paging through Instagram and then you go to a garden store and say, ‘I want this,’ and they say, ‘That won’t grow,’ and you say, ‘But it looks good on Instagram.’ We’re looking to solve all those problems.”
“Entrepreneurs are seeing this as a place where they can live and work and grow their businesses,” said McAteer.
Ben Lewis approached Catamaran with a single ask: “I’m a construction guy trying to build an app. Help me.”
“That was my question,” he said. “It was almost a statement.”
Lewis and his brothers grew up in construction and, like their industry counterparts, struggle to find subcontractors. Their SubX app will connect contractors with quality subcontractors.
“Catamaran is helping us talk to our target customers to determine if this really is a great product, because we operate in our own bubble,” Lewis said.
Ben’s brother, Will, is the technical lead, while older brother, Andrew, came up with the idea. Other sites bridging the divide operate on a project basis, said Ben.
“But this is connecting people with people,” he said. “That’s a big difference.”
Cohort members pay no upfront costs. As a Pennsylvania benefit corporation, Catamaran applies its profits for community benefit. Participants pledge 3 percent of their equity to Catamaran, which acts as a holding company. If a member has an event, such as a company sale or equity offering, that 3 percent is distributed to all the Catamaran participants.
“There’s not a winner and a loser,” said McAteer. “They’re all helping each other. If you do well, I do well.”
Two initiatives underway—a venture capital fund and an incubator for post-startup tech companies—are intended to support the accelerator’s community work, she said.
Another lesson that Andculture learned from the first round—how to “hone in on proving the concept,” McAteer said. “What’s going to take you to the next level and not get distracted by features that aren’t going to add a lot of value?”
Willard, of Cope Mosaic, sees Catamaran providing forward momentum for her and her technical lead, husband Travis Willard. She advises clients to break down their processes into small steps. It took Catamaran to make her follow her own advice.
“So many different avenues and so many different doors have opened along the way,” she said. “I’m trying to focus on just one. What door am I going in right now and address those other doors later?”
Andculture is located at 200 Locust St., Harrisburg, with plans to move soon to the Old Waterworks building in Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.andculture.com. For more information about Catamaran, visit www.catamaran.cc.