SpatiaLink pursues entrepreneurial success

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 264 views 

The team behind SpatiaLink Solutions must wait another week before finding out their final placement at the Governor's Cup academic investment competition in Little Rock, but they're not sweating the results.

"It's out of our control now, so what we have to do is go over the things we did well and the things we could improve on, and get ready for the next competition," Nate Allen, Chief Information Officer and Co-Founder, told The City Wire in a recent interview.

The SpatiaLink team has good reason to feel confident about their chances. Not only did they make it to the finals of the competition over the weekend (March 30 and 31), but they've also won two prior events and around $16,000 in prize money.

With a win at the recent “Gone in 60 Seconds” event at Fort Smith’s Second Street Live, SpatiaLink picked up $1,000 for its 60-second "elevator pitch," which means "you've got 60 seconds to effectively pitch your business plan," Allen explained. "It's intense."

SpatiaLink uses a process to make more efficient use of retail shelf space.

“It’s everything up the supply chain: the amount of stuff that comes in a box, the outer case that wraps the product together, transportation components. No one’s taking these things into account. They're primarily looking at sales data,” explained Chief Product Officer and Co-Founder Steve Fortner. “We’re about looking into how to optimize the shelf based on supply chain and category management constraints.”

Prior to the Fort Smith win, SpatiaLink added another $15,000 in prize money for winning an event in Louisville, Ky., thus qualifying for the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition (GVLIC), considered the "Super Bowl of investment competitions" by those on the circuit, Allen said.

GVLIC will take place at the University of Texas in Austin from May 2-5, and will pit 40 teams "from around the world" against each other for "a $135,000 prize package," according to the University of Texas website.

In addition to vying for prize money against the rest of the world, SpatiaLink will also do battle with two additional teams from their class at the University of Arkansas: Boston Mountain BioTech and Learning Differentiated, who won regional feeder competitions in Nebraska and Canada, respectively, to qualify for the competition.

According to Dr. Carol Reeves, the three groups' professor at the University of Arkansas and one of Fortune Magazine's 10 most powerful women entrepreneurs of 2011, this is the first time in the history of GVLIC that any university has qualified three individual teams through regional wins.

"Dr. Reeves recently confirmed it with the University of Texas, and sent us (the teams) an email that said, 'The bar has been raised,'" Allen said.

Allen and company are fine with the "bar being raised," as their software solution has attracted multiple investors, who wish to speak with them following graduation in May. Their idea promises to help brick and mortar retail stores better manage empty shelf space through intensive data analysis, Allen said.

Allen continued: “It’s in everyone’s best interests to keep products where the customer wants. Traditionally, stores look at sales data, but there are other components that go into it.”

Allen and Fortner, along with CEO Aaron Huffaker, Chief Business Development Officer Bethany Haefner, and Chief Financial Officer John Miller, all co-founders, have developed the business in the last year as part of Dr. Reeves’ graduate level class.

Reeves serves as the university’s Associate Vice Provost for Entrepreneurship. Her classes have secured approximately $11 million in investments and grants in the last six years. The SpatiaLink crew is looking for “around $1.125 million” to turn their class project from a business competition wunderkind to a real solution for retail stores.

Reeves seems confident they will meet their goal.

“The SpatiaLink team are very well suited to their idea. These individuals are superstars in their fields of expertise. They work hard, they’re bright, and they’re willing to be coached,” Reeves told The City Wire.

Despite the fact all five team members are still enrolled in graduate courses, they’ve created that “superstar status” that Reeves refers to with more than 32 years of experience in supply chain and category management and information technology. They’ve worked for companies like Walmart, Hershey’s, Kellogg, Unilever, PepsiCo, and Umarex, and continue to hold down full-time jobs.

“What we learn in our jobs, the knowledge we’ve gained, is critical to our success. Steve and Bethany work in category management, John works with financials, and my expertise is with online marketing and technology. We have to have all five pieces (of the company) to continue our momentum,” Allen said.

“We’ve identified a pain in the market. Just by that, we’ve had more interest from potential customers. We don’t even have a product completely developed yet, and these businesses are saying, ‘If you can just get this developed, we’ll probably buy this software, we need it that bad’,” Fortner said.

But before that happens, SpatiaLink will continue to refine its approach and work the university competition circuit with an upcoming 42-team event at Rice University in Houston, which will kick off April 12.