When Tony Lever went to start his business, a pine straw delivery company, he quickly realized there was gap in the startup community that needed bridging.
That was in 2004. A decade later and Lever said the problem still exists so he’s looking to do something about it.
“What I found was a disconnect between the older businessmen with years of experience and the younger entrepreneurs who knew how to code and build commercial web applications,” Lever said. “Both skill sets are needed to excel in today’s business world, but the groups are miles apart. The issue is not just in Augusta. It exists all across the country. We want to bring these two segments of the community together.”
In March, Lever launched the first phase of Startup Augusta in hopes of connecting budding, digitally-focused entrepreneurs with their more experienced, business-savvy counterparts.
Lever has assembled a group of six mentors from the local business scene, including Buzz on Biz President and CEO Neil Gordon, attorney Brian King and business faculty at Georgia Regents University. He hopes to expand and diversify that list in coming months.
Lever also has created a strong online and social media presence on outlets such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, so he can post articles from mentors, investment information and other tools to help entrepreneurs succeed.
Startup Augusta, Lever said, is aimed at helping any small or medium-sized startup company that leans on the Internet.
“We are interested in supporting businesses at all levels of development, from notes on a napkin through seed funding and beyond,” said Lever, who also serves on the 2014 Augusta Rotary Club Board of Directors.
Lever will lend himself to mentoring, having an expertise in e-commerce and digital branding as founder of the Pine Straw Store.
Lever started the company after visiting an online gardening forum and seeing two New Jersey residents discuss ways of improving their gardens. One of the women wrote about how a man would travel to her community every spring with bales of pine straw, which he sold for $20.
Lever’s business soon followed. Out of his garage, he started bundling pine straw and shipping it across the country. The packages arrive on customers’ doorsteps within 48 hours after an order is placed.
Lever promptly grabbed the domain name, www.pinestraw.com and phone number, 1-800-PINESTRAW. He now ships to 48 states and has moved from his garage to a local distribution warehouse.
“(It’s) all strictly branding,” Lever said. “You back that up with a quality product and you’re off to the races.”
Within the next two months, Lever plans to begin hosting monthly meetings to connect entrepreneurs and established business owners. In the next year, he’d also like to set up an angel investment network.
According to recent research by the Technology Association of Georgia, Augusta’s technology sector is growing at the second-fastest pace in the state, behind Atlanta.
The city also ranked second in the nation in high-tech job growth from 2006 to 2011, according to a study by San Francisco-based research and advocacy group Engine Advocacy.