Most entrepreneurs deploy popup shops to launch their own fledgling businesses. Jen Groover uses them to launch fledgling entrepreneurs.
On a cold morning last week, Groover pinged like a pinball around a bright, narrow storefront in Center City, Philadelphia. She greeted arrivals as they strode hopefully through the door or wandered in curiously, lured by the man outside distributing flyers. The newcomers filled out forms: what’s your company’s name? Revenues? Number of employees? Profitability? Why aren’t you twice as big as you are today? Then Groover or one of her half-dozen helpers led them inside to start introducing the professionals who could help make that growth happen.
JumpStart StartUp is a “pop-up store experience brand” launched in October by Groover (pictured above), the serial entrepreneur who made her name by inventing the multi-compartment Butler Bag. Over four days last week roughly 650 people passed through the space. Many already had sole proprietorships they’ve struggled to scale. Others were screwing up courage to launch.
Groover’s popups are meant–in an hour or two–to lay a foundation for nascent companies to grow. They are set up like trade shows. Only instead of wandering aimlessly, attendees are escorted from station to station and introduced to service providers–a bookkeeping business, a legal advisor, a media trainer, a web-site developer, and many more–who for a few minutes answer questions and offer advice. “We essentially mentor them through the store,” says Groover. “Often entrepreneurs miss opportunities because they don’t know what they don’t know. We explain why each person they are going to meet with is important.”
Traffic for this event was not what Groover had hoped: the goal was to attract 1000 companies. But the half-dozen entrepreneurs interviewed sounded pleased with their experience.
“I have Googled and Googled and Googled, and it is impossible to try and find all these people online,” said Samantha Trasatti, owner of the fitness coaching business Philly Fit Girl. “I know these people have all been vetted. I don’t worry that I’ll have to pay $100 to talk to somebody and find out I didn’t even need them.
“This has lit a little bit of a fire under me,” said Trasatti, as she hurried away to her next client appointment.
Free to Founders
Groover has been exercising her own startup muscles for more than 20 years. She parlayed her success with the Butler Bag and several other businesses into a berth at QVC and a speaking, writing, and media career. “My desire was always to help people by simplifying things,” says Groover, a frequent guest on broadcast and cable networks. “I would do TV segments on how to start your business in six steps.”
Then the light bulb: why not stage events where she could walk founders through those steps and curate for them a team of professionals to support their companies going forward? Groover teamed with Joseph Purifico, a fellow Philadelphian who helped pioneer the popup phenomenon 25 years ago with the founding of Halloween Adventure. Their first event took place in this same space in October. The next will be held in New York in May, followed by popups in Baltimore and Boston. (Find the schedule here.)
The events are free to entrepreneurs. Advisors pay Groover a sponsorship fee in hope that these speed dates will turn into marriages. Some consultants are local: in Philadelphia they included companies like the co-working operator Benjamin’s Desk, which was offering a month’s free space to attendees. Others are national corporations, such as Comcast, UPS, and TD Bank.
The City of Philadelphia was also a sponsor, providing in-kind support and helping to promote the popup. “Getting your business off the ground in one day is a wonderful new idea,” says Archna Sahay, director of entrepreneurial investment in Philadelphia’s department of commerce. “Entrepreneurship is a major driver of economic development and job creation in our city. So having an event like that being launched here makes a lot of sense.”
Education and Validation
This was Sean ShizR’s second day at JumpStart StartUp. ShizR is the founder of SickWise, a business that advises individuals and corporate clients on fashion, makeup and design. Determined to take the business up a notch, he came to meet one-on-one with experts he had heard in a speakers’ program held the day before. There he learned, among other things, what paperwork to keep, how to network, and the importance of always being ready.
“First impressions are the most lasting. Anyone you meet could be a potential client,” said ShizR, who was dressed to the nines and toting an iPad and his portfolio. “I can’t believe that yesterday I didn’t have my business cards. I could have lost a prospect because of that.” (Now well stocked with cards, he handed a reporter two.)
Tyree Clark was trying to restart Kill My Butler, an Uber-like odd-jobs business that had stalled for lack of marketing. “I felt like it was dying, and I should give up. But I don’t think I can let it go,” said Clark. “I’ve met people today who’ve explained things about advertising and making an app. I’m ready to go home now and start from scratch.”
The last stop for most attendees was Steve Harrison, host of the National Publicity Summit, a business that helps companies get media exposure. “We’re giving them education but affirmation as well,” said Harrison. “People realize when they are talking to the experts that their idea is better than they thought and what they’re doing is better.”
Harrison turned to Cheri Davis, a graphic and web site designer he was urging to offer webinars. “To come up with the topic you’re going to teach, think of the three or five biggest questions you get asked,” he advised her. “Robert Collier [the self-help expert] said great marketing is entering the conversation people are having in their minds.”
Davis smiled and nodded. “My business partner and I need to add some things to our plates to get this to the next level,” she said. “And I am having an aha moment.”