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Passion & Plan: Entrepreneurs say embracing a vision brings ideas to fruition

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Conventional wisdom says a successful startup requires a clear sense of purpose.

For Joe West, owner of Echelon Coffee LLC in north Springfield, it’s all about community. Even the name of the coffee shop reflects that vision. In biking, an echelon is a formation that has one biker in front working the hardest against the wind while the riders in back have an easier go of things. When the time comes, the leader can rotate to the back and take a turn at an easier ride.

“My wife and I are very focused on building community,” West said.

For Bryce Gott, owner of Culture Counter LLC in the Rountree neighborhood, his vision was an organic one: providing healthy foods sourced from local vendors.

“I wanted to come home and try to connect people to the earth in one way or another,” he said.

And for Eleanor Taylor, founder of Prairie Pie LLC, which this year opened a brick-and-mortar eatery in downtown Springfield, it was mostly about creating and baking pies that are, well, delicious.

“There was never a plan and there still isn’t a plan,” Taylor said, “but it’s somehow going according to plan.

“I’m definitely not a business-minded person, but I don’t think that has hindered me in any way. I make a product that’s delicious.”

There are standard steps to starting a business. The U.S. Small Business Administration outlines 10, and the steps begin with conducting market research and writing a business plan. Next comes raising capital, picking a business location and choosing a business structure.

Nowhere on the list is thinking up new types of pie. So why is that the part that makes Taylor all dreamy-eyed? The answer: That is where her passion lies.

Experts weigh in
Chrystal Irons, director of the Missouri Small Business Development Center at Missouri State University, doesn’t discount the power of passion.

“It is very important to understand why you are in business,” she said. “Why are you going into business? Who are you there to serve? This is what keeps you excited and motivated every day.”

What’s more, employees can see a founder’s passion, and that is something they can use to drum up their own excitement and motivation, Irons said.

Bob Headlee, chair of SCORE of Southwest Missouri, also emphasized the importance of passion.

“There are two pieces that we kind of start out with,” he said. “One is what’s your mission in this. Your mission kind of reveals what your company does, how it does it and why it does it.”

The other component is the vision statement.

“A vision statement really describes why I want to do this – what’s my passion, what am I striving for, what am I trying to achieve,” Headlee said.

Along with the necessity of a mission and vision, Irons said it is important to understand customers.

“Understanding who your customers are is vital,” she said. “If you don’t understand who your customers are and the value you provide to them, it’s going to be hard for you to communicate with customers, vendors, community members – anyone you do business with.”

Irons said a good businessperson knows customers well – what they look like, what they’re interested in, where they go to get their information.

Nationally, the coronavirus pandemic seems to have kick-started entrepreneurship, with 4.3 million new business filings nationwide in 2020 – an increase of 24% over 2019, according to Business Formation Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Both SCORE and the SBDC help would-be entrepreneurs along the startup journey, from defining mission and vision to crafting a written business plan. Banks and backers typically want to see a written plan before committing funds, but even more important is the document’s function of pinning down what can start as a wiggly set of notions.

“Our forte is working with small-business owners and helping them take ideas they have in their head and convert them to paper,” Headlee said. “What a banker wants to see is I have a plan here written – this is how I’m going to operate my business.”

Irons said few people love the process of crafting a formal business plan, but it’s a necessary one.

“When you put it on paper, it definitely does become more real, and that allows you to build on it a little bit more,” she says.

Distinctive dreams
So, an entrepreneur needs passion and a plan, but there is an X-factor as well, and that is a fresh idea.

West said he and his wife, business partner Megan, wanted to provide something special for the busy intersection of Glenstone Avenue and Kearney Street on the north side of Springfield near Interstate 44.

“It seems like there’s been a lack of amenity for the north side of Springfield for a long time. That’s very evident now that we’re open,” he said. “People on the north side are so excited we’re here.”

Echelon Coffee roasts its own beans – the Wests are not new to entrepreneurship, having established No Coast Coffee, a small-batch roaster, in 2017. They also invest in high-quality syrups and ingredients.

West said Echelon takes a cocktail approach: “How do we take this drink and make it special and an experience, and not a drink they’ll forget about?”

Echelon’s featured drink is the Autumn Sparkler, an espresso-based drink with blackberry, sage and orange mixed with sparkling water.

At Prairie Pie, Taylor offers a selection of pies including almond plum, earl gray tea and hibiscus lemon.

She was living in New York and working as a baker, but she knew she wanted to move home to the Ozarks and start her own business.

“I came back to live in Missouri in 2016, and I knew I wanted to sell pies, so I just started making pies and reaching out,” she said. “It’s been a very natural progression.”

She has been at her storefront since March 2021 – her interior designer mom has created a space Taylor loves – and since the pandemic shutdown, she has expanded to pot pies.

Taylor said she basically felt her way forward.

“If I’d had a strict plan going in, it wouldn’t have gone as well,” she said. “I really enjoy what my business has turned into. It’s amazing.”

Gott, on the other hand, had a plan, and he loved the process of making it.

“A business plan for me really was developed out of necessity to understand my business,” he said. “It wasn’t so much to sell my idea to someone else. I recognized it as a practical document.”

Gott’s idea was to take advantage of the rich offerings of local vendors and bring their products directly to customers.

“I wanted to decrease the number of stops between the consumer and the Earth,” he said. “If you buy something from me, I bought it from a local vendor who either manufactured it or grew it.”

Culture Counter offers a salad bar, sweet and savory specialty waffles, and organic ice cream.

Gott said he signed the lease on his space – in the neighborhood he grew up in – before he had a business plan in place. At that point, he pulled one together with input from trusted friends.

“It was a really awesome process,” he says. “It took a lot of focus and attention and a fair amount of time. Having something in writing that people could follow became necessary. Having a business plan got people to take the idea seriously.”

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