Business

Marion Loft Startup Exchange brings new businesses together

Army veteran Rob Rustad (left) speaks about his plans for starting a business during a meeting of the MEDCO Loft Startup Exchange, 700 11th St. in Marion, Iowa on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. The exchange, recently launched by the Marion Economic Development Corp., is a gathering place for entrepreneurs working to establish and scale small businesses. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Army veteran Rob Rustad (left) speaks about his plans for starting a business during a meeting of the MEDCO Loft Startup Exchange, 700 11th St. in Marion, Iowa on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. The exchange, recently launched by the Marion Economic Development Corp., is a gathering place for entrepreneurs working to establish and scale small businesses. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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MARION — A new program in Marion is intended to connect small-business owners and entrepreneurs with each other and the rest of the business community.

Marion Economic Development Corp. launched its Loft Startup Exchange in July.

“It’s kind of a simple concept that we’re offering,” MEDCO president Nick Glew said. “It’s a platform to make connections, share best practices and collaborate on how to overcome common challenges.”

The idea for Loft Startup Exchange was born out of another MEDCO initiative. Last year, MEDCO opened Loft Coworking, a shared workspace in the Uptown Marion district for small businesses, start-ups and other location-independent workers.

“As that space attracted quite a few users over several months, we kept running into companies working in little pockets of the community that were hard to find,” Glew said. “We discovered an audience that didn’t align with the co-working concept.

“They didn’t need an office, they just needed a network.”

Those small-business owners indicated that running their businesses often felt as if they were operating on an island, Glew said. From that feedback, MEDCO identified the need for a platform in which they could share ideas and learn from one another and others in the business community as they establish and scale their businesses.

“It gives them the opportunity to say, Hey, we’re dealing with this issue, how are you handling it?” Glew said. “Entrepreneurial ecosystems thrive when people work together to develop new approaches and solutions.”

Loft Startup Exchange targets businesses that have fewer than six employees, have been in business for fewer than five years, or have an annual revenue of under $300,000.

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Because such companies don’t have a lot of extra money for expenses, Glew noted that membership in the exchange is $100 per quarter with no annual commitment.

Monthly meetups of Loft Startup Exchange members are held on the third Thursday of every month at the Loft Coworking space in Marion.

“The discussion each month is very different,” Glew said. “We don’t control the content. We want it to be natural and fluid based on what’s on the minds of business owners.”

At September’s meetup, MEDCO board member Kevin Hupp, president of Hupp Electric Motors, was on hand for the discussion.

“We want to leverage our MEDCO board members to come be a wealth of knowledge for new business owners,” Glew said.

In addition to the monthly meetups, Loft Startup Exchange members also receive quarterly coaching opportunities with staff from Kirkwood’s Small Business Development Center, access to all Loft Coworking and MEDCO programming, access to Loft Coworking’s conference room and limited access to its workspace, and a company listing on the MEDCO website.

l Know a business that’s been in operation for less than a year that would make for an intriguing “Ground Floor?” Contact michaelchevy.castranova@thegazette.com.

At a Glance

l Program: Loft Startup Exchange

l Sponsor: Marion Economic Development Corp.

l Contact: Emily Russ, business engagement specialist

l Phone: (319) 743-4728

l Email: emily@medcoiowa.org

l Website: www.medcoiowa.org/exchange

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