Posts about Startup
In sports and in business, communication is key. But when it comes to high school athletics, it isn’t just the players on the field, track or court that need to be in constant contact. Athletic department need to keep parents, coaches and fans in the loop of everything happening with their teams. But how?
Enter Varsity News Network (VNN), a Grand Rapids-based startup that aims to connect communities with their local high school sporting teams. With their easy-to-use mobile applications and online software, athletic departments can update schedules, scores and roster information with a click of a button. Founded in 2011, VNN has grown to include 1,500 partner schools across the U.S., including 200+ in Michigan.
To learn more about VNN we caught up with the company’s Marketing Director, Romy Glazer, to hear more about their services and the role Grand Rapids has played in the company’s growth.
Meet Varsity News Network
What does your company do?
VNN is a communications platform that brings the local community together around high school sports.
Our apps help athletic directors streamline the tasks they already have to do every day (scheduling, registration, reporting scores), and our technology delivers that information to the right people at the right time. With VNN, final scores are delivered to the media the second a game ends, messages reach athletes the second their coach makes an announcement, and parents are alerted with any new photo gallery of images from sports their kid plays on.
What role does the city of Grand Rapids play in your company’s identity and culture? Do you think things would have been the same if you’d chosen to start somewhere else?
Grand Rapids is our home. It’s where many members of our team grew up, where our family lives, and where we’ve been welcomed and enriched by the startup environment. Being from the Midwest, it means we are hard-workers, and it shows in our culture. In Grand Rapids, we’ve benefitted from the boom in young creative talent that’s come to the city, as well as our low-cost of living and scenery.
I do think things would be different if we started elsewhere. For one – our company being surrounded by local communities passionate about high school sports is something you can find elsewhere, but is very near and dear to the hearts of the Grand Rapids, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and the rest of the area that our company is from. In ten minutes, we can drive out to any number of our local customers, share in their excitement and become a part of what they’re doing in part because we’re located here. Had we started the company in a place like NY, our passion for high school sports would have stayed the same, but I don’t think we’d have been living our business quite like we do with our home here.
In addition to the communication software, VNN also runs a fantastic blog, chock full of intriguing high school sports stories from around the country. Check it out!
What has been your company’s largest challenge so far? How have you/are you able to overcome this?
Our biggest challenge is balancing the short-term, and the long-term goals, of the company. We’re venture-funded, which from the outside seems glamorous. But what it really says is that our products have lots of potential, but don’t currently make us enough money to sustain ourselves, so we borrow from partners who think we can succeed in exchange for growth. And when you’re doing that – you always need to balance things that you can learn and achieve quickly –– to show your team that the company is moving in the right direction –– while also planning ahead to position the company correctly and build the platforms needed to truly own the market. Focus too short term and you’ll only tackle the small things and build it on a shaky foundation, while if you focus too long term, you’ll run out of money with nothing to show for it. The only way to overcome this is through good communication between departments, utilizing small-scale prototypes to teach us about what the market wants, and digging into the user information we already have to learn about trends and estimate impact on the organization.
How has your company evolved since it was first founded?
In our experience, our product has evolved as we’ve learned more about our customer, the high school athletic director (AD), spent time with and empathized with them. At first, our product was a website, which allowed athletic directors to post information so parents could find it and promote their entire sports program. When we learned that ADs didn’t always have enough time to keep their site active, our apps came into the picture –– streamlining the things they already have to do every day and automatically creating posts, and allowing other stakeholders, like coaches, to help carry the load. Once we had the information, we realized that a website was only one way to communicate, and that our company would be well served by providing the right information to the right person at the right time. So, we built text message and email functionality into our platform along with a sync to social media, which gave us new channels to bring a community closer together. It’s incremental, but our product should always be evolving to stay relevant to the needs of our customer.
What is your company’s vision for the next three years?
We see a lot of potential in the power of contextual information that actively helps parents manage their kids sports lifestyle, and delights fans. The simple relationships within communities and how people connect with one another will be essential for us to understand to move to the next level.
Don’t miss our other Startup Spotlights on companies in the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas!
Leeann Drees and Laura Eagin of ellell & co. joined the Grand Circus coworking family in Summer 2016. To say it’s been a treat to have them in our space is an understatement! While monthly massages certainly keep them excited to come in on Fridays, Leeann and Laura have both been super involved in the Grand Circus community and are a great addition to the Detroit’s Madison technology Block. Read on to find out more about friends founding a company together and how Detroit has fostered its growth. (more…)
The hardest part of any New Year’s resolution is sticking with it. As 2017 rolls along, it might be tempting to start slacking on that fitness routine you committed to back in January or begin skimping on your monthly financial savings goals. Luckily, with the help of some industry experts (and members of our team), attendants of our recent New Year, New Career Speaker Series learned some helpful tips, tricks and strategies to stick with their resolutions all year long. (more…)
The saying is true: a picture IS worth a thousand words. That’s why Grand Rapids area company PhotoUp
knows how important images are to a company’s brand and public perception. Founded in 2012, the business provides photo editing solutions to help real estate photographers deliver stunning images that capture the attention of customers. With a team in Grand Rapids and an additional editing team in the Philippines, PhotoUp has experienced substantial growth since it was founded and looks forward to continuing its success in the future.
In order to learn more about the business and the role Grand Rapids plays in its success, we caught up with PhotoUp VP of Marketing, Devon Higgins. (more…)
What mysteries await below the waves? Thanks to a new startup in the Grand Rapids area, exploring the depths of the sea, or just your local pond, just got easier. Fathom Drone offers the world’s first affordable modular underwater drone, allowing users to explore depths of up to 150 feet with stunning 1080p quality video. Similar to aerial drones, Fathom’s underwater model is controlled via a mobile app or a physical controller and can capture HD video and pictures that users can share directly to their favorite social media channels. Thanks to the Fathom Drone’s streamline design and the manufacturing methods, it is able to offer the Fathom One model for the price of $600.
Commuting to work can be tough. Waking up at the crack of dawn and setting out alone to battle miles of gridlock traffic, detours, and red lights isn’t exactly how you’d like to start your day. Plus, the further you live from work, the more costly this daily adventure can be. But what if there was a better way to travel that saved you time, money and most importantly, your sanity?
Ladies and gentlemen, meet SPLT–––a startup based in the Motor City that is changing the commuting game one car pool at a time. Through its mobile app and partnerships with ride-sharing companies like Lyft, SPLT is helping make everyone’s journey to work more efficient and less stressful.
In addition to the company’s great idea, SPLT also holds a special place in our hearts at Grand Circus as an alumni company from our co-working space (they grow up so fast!). Since then, SPLT has gone on to participate in our statewide Google Demo Day and then made it to the nationwide Google’s Demo Day in Mountain View, California. SPLT has received numerous awards and funding prizes at events across the country.
With the energy behind the ride-sharing industry continuing to grow, we had to check in with our friends at SPLT to see what was new. In order to learn more about their mission and vision, we talked to SPLT’s Founder & CEO, Anya Babbitt.
What a time to be alive. The entrepreneurial spirit is thriving across the state of Michigan, especially in cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids. At Grand Circus, we’re proud to be a part of the excitement. With hundreds of rising startups and small businesses right in our backyard, it’s not hard to find new growth. Detroit’s recent startup boom and Grand Rapids’ thriving entrepreneurial community are further proof that we’re a state full of makers, doers and innovators.
Tara Reed recently joined the Grand Circus team as our new Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR).
What is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and why does Grand Circus have one?
Diversity gets talked about a lot in tech circles. It’s not a new issue but one that has become especially topical since Google’s famous (and damning) 2014 employee survey. The survey results laid bare Google’s record on diversity; only 30% of Google’s workforce are women, 3% Hispanic and 2% Black. Not good.
So why does this matter?
At Grand Circus, we think that the tech industry should reflect the diversity of our broader community. We’ve baked this idea into our core values and it guides how we hire team members, recruit students and design programs. I’m proud of our record but in city where 90% of the population is Black or Latino we have more work to do.
I’ve been at Grand Circus for just over a year now. Since I started last February, GC has run 16 bootcamps, hired 7 new full-time team members and hosted a slew of amazing events I felt so lucky to get to attend. We have developed an incredibly talented Learning Team (shout out to every single one of those rockstars), refined curriculum, unveiled an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with Google For Entrepreneurs, and kicked off a Department of Labor sponsored apprenticeship program. A year at a startup can be a lifetime to many, so I thought I’d share a few of my lessons learned from the last several months.