May 7, 2019
In Northeast Indiana, climbing the ladder is not a one-size-fits-all corporate journey. For many entrepreneurs, the ladder involves various people, organizations and funding sources working together to help founders launch and grow companies. Mitchell Skees is one such entrepreneur. The startup founder and CEO was barely a teenager in 2016 when he and brothers Connor and Nathan coded the first iteration of 3B Apps, a digital ordering technology for foodservice operations such as restaurants and food trucks.
One of the Skees brothers’ first steps in turning their idea into a business was to enroll in the Northeast Indiana Innovation Center’s Student Business Builder Program. At the shared workspace, they gained access to venture advisory services and mentorship from business coaches and local innovators, as well as office space.
Mitchell Skees also connected with Robert Clark, Elevate’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the time serving the Fort Wayne area. Clark recognized great potential in Skees as a young, technically proficient entrepreneur.
The 3B Apps pitch deck began to take shape, informed by Clark’s vast experience in the entrepreneurial space. Together, they discussed potential funding sources. Skees says they used the deck to secure a funding round in the summer of 2018 and then optimized it for a subsequent seed round.
Meanwhile, Clark also introduced Skees to Censys CEO and Elevate Advisor Dave Corcoran. The serial entrepreneur and technology expert, who is on the board of Elevate Northeast Indiana, helped steer Skees in the right direction.
By 2018, 3B Apps was ready to grow, but it needed money. At about the same time, in May 2018, Elevate Northeast Indiana launched the Farnsworth Fund. The Fund is a vehicle to identify and support founders of companies from the very beginning.
During their first year, Farnsworth Fund leaders committed to make at least 50 “bets” ($1,000 grants) on people who will ultimately drive the entrepreneurial culture in Northeast Indiana, even if their first idea is not their biggest success.
Just shy of its 12-month mark, the Farnsworth Fund has far exceeded its promise. Eighty-eight of 171 applicants have the gotten good news that their proposals earned them a grant. 3B Apps was named a $1,000 winner in June 2018. As a part of the Farnsworth Fund community, Skees worked with its Program Manager, Steve Franks, who further advised Skees and helped 3B Apps get its first foodservice customer.
Nurtured by community, advisors and funding, Skees continued to climb the ladder. In July 2018, Elevate Ventures named 3B Apps a Community Ideation Fund recipient. This newer fund enables ideation-stage high-potential companies to move closer to a specific, measurable technology or product development milestone with an investment between $5,000 and $20,000. Eligible applicants include Indiana-based companies with headquarters in communities under a partnership with Elevate Ventures, and who have no more than $50,000 in trailing revenue over the past 12-month period. Elevate has funded three companies using Community Ideation Fund funds since it’s launch in late 2018.
“Both have helped us a lot in gearing up for this next phase in our company,” Skees says of the Farnsworth Fund and Elevate’s Community Ideation Fund. “With the money we received, we were able to contract a developer to finish building out our platform, which really made our product so much better and something that will add a lot of value when we go to sell the product to clients.”
Most recently, the 3B Apps software expanded to platforms beyond iOS, making it easier for end users to order menu items on desktop or mobile. This important progress wouldn’t be possible without the two software engineers Skees hired, and he’s preparing to hire a third. Even with no dedicated sales or marketing functions in place, customers are buying 3B Apps for their coffee shops, food trucks, restaurants and catering services.
This summer, 3B Apps should close on a $300,000 seed round. The backing will enable the growing team to invest in hiring more developers and the first members of a sales force to target enterprise-level deals. The Northeast Indiana “ladder” has served Skees well.
“I love seeing how the Farnsworth Fund enables Elevate Northeast Indiana to place so many smaller-scale bets on entrepreneurs and their businesses while providing a great set of next steps for future funding. I think the ability to raise money with a lower barrier to entry is really unique because it then lets the entrepreneur jump right in to start working on making their business successful,” he says.