Q&A with Jason Stambaugh, Startup Kick Starter

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Jason Stambaugh is a Maryland native, passionate about entrepreneurship and helping startups become thriving businesses. As an entrepreneur, he knows just how hard it is to get started, so he’s teamed up with his local chamber of commerce to create a contest for local business owners, sort of an American Idol for entrepreneurs. He’s a man of God, successful in what he does, and fond of small business. Here’s our Q&A session with Jason:

Q: What type of work are you involved in?

A: I have two companies. One is called Wevival, which is a social media, web marketing and development firm. Basically I work with businesses doing bread and butter websites, marketing strategies, social media, etc. Then I have new project, which is called Hometown Startups and I do local startup contests kind of like American Idol for entrepreneurs right in the local community.

Q: How did Hometown Startups get started?

A: I had just shut down operations on a business I had started and I was kind of licking my own wounds. Then I joined my local chamber of commerce to pick up some local web development and social media clients and through that process I became very involved and the chamber fell in love with it a little bit. Currently, I am the president of our young professionals group that’s here in Carroll County (Maryland). So that kind of gave me perspective on the chamber.

Then I also have a business partner who is in the educational technologies field and he was invited to a large communicational startup contest called LAUNCH Edu. Basically it’s SXSW, which is the big interactive conference, and for frame of reference, Twitter was launched there. So it’s a huge, huge conference. So he (business partner) was invited to go out to that and was a little skeptical and thought maybe it might be a waste of time or not a very good use of time. But he comes back and he’s just fired up about his experience and how great it was for entrepreneurs and for the community.

So that gave me a thought—why the heck don’t these cool opportunities happen in my backyard, in my community, for entrepreneurs? So that idea turned into last year’s contest, which is called the Carroll Biz Challenge.

Q: What happens at your contest?

A: Basically there is an application window for local entrepreneurs who have brand new business ideas or existing, early-stage startups can pitch some of their business concepts, and make great connections, get lots of publicity and compete for a $5,000 cash prize. They apply until the application deadline has been reached, the advisory board reviews all of the applications and scores them and then selects five finalists. Then those five finalists pitch in front of a live audience and panel judges at an exciting, live community event where the audience can vote, we can hear the pitch, the panel can ask the finalists some questions and we announce the winner on the spot and give them a big check.

Q: Do you plan to continue the contest annually?

A: Yeah, that’s my plan to continue it every year and my goal is to bring this big startup concept model to areas around the country. So I’m in the process of that and a big national push to bring this contest to more communities.

Q: Why were you so passionate about getting this contest started?

A: It’s kind of scratching at my own niche. I’m an entrepreneur and I was one of those guys that was sitting there scratching my head at my day job, in retail and banking sales, and I was just wondering why the work didn’t seem meaningful. I was building somebody else’s empire and you know, I wanted to do my own thing. Out of that desire, I paved my own way. But the reality is that there are a lot of people like me in Carroll County and local communities around the country and I want to provide all of them with a successful opportunity to get noticed, connected and better. Small entrepreneurs and people who have a great idea need a catalyst, something that helps them along their way, so what a better way to offer that in a community where they are living and working.

Q: What would you say in regards to small vs. big business and how important small business is to our country?

A: Sometimes you look at these stats and basically, there are all of these crazy stats where 60-70% of jobs are built by small businesses. I think that the small business ecosystem is absolutely vital to the economic future of our country. I mean these are the places where new jobs are coming. These are where new ideas are coming from. Now, I say that knowing that their definition of small business is quite the stretch. I think like 500-1000 employees or less is considered a small business. But forget the stats, the bottom line is that the upward trend of development of small businesses account for an enormous portion of the economy. They’re employing people, paying local taxes…they really are the biggest drivers in the economy.

But the trend I’m most interested in is this trend to micro-entrepreneurship, where people encourage other people to start and grow businesses that aren’t necessarily multi-million dollar ventures, but are ventures that feed families, pay mortgages and they add to the vibrancy of the local, small town economic development.

Q: Working with a bunch of entrepreneurs, how do you approach the constant question of risk?

A: I think that I am probably the most cautious of the people that I know who are entrepreneurs. I started my business in my other free hours even though I had a full-time job and I think that’s becoming a more and more popular philosophy that you don’t have to “bet the farm” on a business idea—you don’t have to put your family or kids at risk.

I applaud people who do that (give everything for a startup), but I also think it’s not very smart. So I always counsel people, anyone who is interested in starting a business, to take baby steps. Take small steps while maintaining your current cash flow and make sure you have a way to eat and keep your family sheltered while you make your business dream a reality. I would never counsel someone to go all in until they have a good feel for the market and for the product and service they’re offering.

Q: How do you incorporate your faith in your work?

A: Well, for frame of reference, I was in high school and just a typical high school kid. The gnawing thought I had after my senior year of high school—I was quite successful in high school, team captain, I was great at wrestling and theater, I had won a bunch of awards, I had a really prestigious internship, I was headed to one of the best schools in the country and I felt like I really owned high school—but I had this nagging thought about whether I could possibly get my arm around everything in this world. I felt like I had won and I had beat high school.

So one thing led to another and I started reading the Bible a little bit and then that’s when I got connected with Young Life and a particular leader at a local high school. Then one thing led to another and I was like, ‘man this Christianity thing sounds like a pretty cool thing’ so I rolled the dice and I’ve been a big part of local faith communities ever since.

In terms of how my faith affects how I do business, I’m certainly not a Jesus fish type of business owner. However, where it does come into play is essentially my code of ethics. Primarily, which is integrity. What I do, or rather what I think or say is what I do every single time and that’s a big part of how I do business and how I’ve been successful. So, that obviously means a lot of transparency and honesty. I think that’s something that someone who does business with me, well, I want them to notice.

I try to live up to those things as much as I possibly can, and as you know with business, it’s all about relationships. There is no exchange of value without having a relationship with somebody or someone. So, my goal really is to just be a witness in my faith and what I’m all about in all my business operations.