Leaders & Influencers: Taralinda Willis

In our continuing series on Madison Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Taralinda Willis, co-founder of Curate, a web scraping platform that combines artificial intelligence and automation technologies to deliver comprehensive answers to business intelligence questions.

Tell us a little bit about Curate and what made you decide to found it.

Taralinda WillisCurate was founded when my co-founder, Dale, and I were part of the gener8tor accelerator program and realized that the company we had been working on, unfortunately, wasn’t gaining any traction. gener8tor asked us to think about what other knowledge and skills we had to start something new. Dale, who was working on his PhD in Computer Science at the time, has experience in web scraping technology, and we looked around the marketplace and realized no one was using artificial intelligence in web scraping. We decided to pursue that path, and that’s how Curate was born.

The artificial intelligence piece allows us to provide more contextualized and relevant results to our clients, and also allows us to report changes in data over time. We’re also working on developing natural language processing to better query and search for data, which will be another advantage we have over competitors.

What’s been your biggest surprise in launching a start-up?

This isn’t a very exciting answer, but I was surprised by how challenging it can be to find regulatory laws and follow them. Everyone talks about fostering small business and innovation, and that’s great, but there’s this really practical piece with following the regulations that’s surprisingly difficult. Also, finding the right product for the right fit with the market is a challenge. Mark McGuire [serial entrepreneur and Managing Director of gener8tor Minnesota] references that quote about how being an entrepreneur is like jumping off of a cliff and building the airplane on the way down, and it really is like that.

How has launching in Madison contributed to Curate’s development, and what changes would you like to see here to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship?

Dale and I both went to college in Madison, and we fell in love with the city. We’ve continued to stay here because Madison is getting better and better every day for entrepreneurs. We feel really good about the connections we made after going through the gener8tor program. I don’t think that most people realize what an asset gener8tor is to our community and its entrepreneurial growth.

I do think Madison has some work to do in building its network and support of entrepreneurs. There are lots of people here beyond gener8tor doing really incredible things, including Madworks and Starting Block. The entire community should support these endeavors and help launch more businesses. Attracting and retaining top talent is what makes Madison so incredible.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help startups and nonprofits succeed.

Fine Point Meet & Greet: Zach Miller

Meet the newest Fine Point Consulting staff and learn a little bit about what makes them tick.

Tell us a bit about your background and what drew you to accounting.

Zach MillerGrowing up, I always liked math, so accounting was a natural fit for me. I’d always thought I would own my own business someday, so accounting also made sense as a career path. I earned BS degrees from Edgewood College in both Accounting and Finance, and my first job out of college was as a Revenue Accountant in Chicago for Merge Healthcare, a health tech company. I wanted to get back to Madison, so I then took a job as a Field Examiner for First Business Capital, where I conducted reviews of existing and prospective clients. I’ve been at Fine Point Consulting as Assistant Controller since December 2015.

What do you enjoy most about working at Fine Point?

I like the fact that we work largely with newer startups and entrepreneurs. It gives me the opportunity to work with some of the brightest, most innovative people in Madison. And we work with our clients one-on-one: we’re not just crunching numbers for them in a back room—we’re collaborators. Also, the atmosphere at Fine Point is really great. We use the ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment) management strategy, which means we’re not required to come into the office to work. But the people here are so great, I find myself wanting to come in more often than not.

(Fine Point Owner) Luella is a big reader. Any favorite books?

I don’t do a ton of reading, but I do like Dan Brown’s books. They’re just fun and interesting—I’m not a treasure hunter or anything!

When you’re not working, you…

I played soccer for Edgewood College and I still play sometimes for a men’s indoor league—when my body allows it! I also bought my first house last May and it’s a fixer-upper, so I spend the majority of my non-work time fixing it up and taking on DIY projects.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting to learn how our knowledgeable staff can help your business succeed.

Leaders & Influencers: An Interview with Kelda Roys

Continuing our series on Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Kelda Roys, CEO/Founder at OpenHomes, an online real estate broker. Prior to founding OpenHomes, Roys ran a nonprofit and served as a representative in the Wisconsin state assembly.

Tell us about Open Homes and why you started it.

KeldaRoysOpenHomes is an online real estate brokerage. We making selling a house more convenient, enjoyable, and affordable.

I got my start in real estate during college selling high-end homes in New York, then I left that career to go to law school and do other work. But later, when my husband and I were trying to buy a house for ourselves here in Madison, it just seemed like that every time an agent got involved, the process became more complicated.

I found myself asking why this industry couldn’t be transformed. Middleman services like travel agencies and financial services had been displaced by the internet, but for some reason real estate had been impervious. I started thinking about my vision for buying and selling a house, and how technology could be used to solve the inefficiencies and frustrations.

We’re at a great time now in that people are more inclined to do things themselves online, rather than always hiring an “expert.” Real estate is transforming with things like the public-facing MLS listing and people, in general, are more comfortable with the authenticity of buying online that now makes it possible for OpenHomes to be a transformative, disruptive business model.

How did you use the startup/entrepreneurial community here in Madison to help you get started?

When I got serious about the idea of OpenHomes, I started attending meetings and events like Capital Entrepreneurs and Startup Weekend. My husband has experience working with startups and had co-founded his own startup company before it was acquired, so when I got further along he encouraged me to talk with (Gener8tor co-founder) Joe Kirgues, whom I also knew from my state assembly days. Joe told me I needed to go through the Gener8tor program right away, and so even though I didn’t even have a website yet, I started in the accelerator program. OpenHomes was definitely an anomaly for Gener8tor in terms of how young we were—I literally incorporated the company the day before I started the accelerator program!

How does your experience running a non-profit and being in the state assembly compare to the work you do as CEO of OpenHomes?

Running a non-profit is very much like running a business. At the end of the day, you’re doing your best to build something that matters, with limited budgets and big dreams. You learn a tremendous amount and wear many hats, and there are big highs and lows.

Running a business is very different from being in the assembly. In the political world, taking risks and being innovative is considered an infraction that should be punished. The world is open when you’re an entrepreneur, and especially in technology. As a business owner, I get to wake up and decide what I want to build today, what I want to accomplish. The burden and the opportunity are all on me, but so much of what you do in politics is determined by the agenda of others.

What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in our community?

All of a sudden, being an entrepreneur is the cool thing. It’s taken years, but now there’s this “entrepreneurial chic,” which is great because people are excited and want to participate—and that can only help all of us. With respect to its size, Madison doesn’t have nearly enough early-stage capital. It can also be a challenge to find and keep great talent, especially folks who have technical skills in coding. We have a lot going for us, lots of passionate and committed people who want to see Madison succeed and understand that one startup’s success will benefit everyone. I think this cooperative ecosystem will just continue to develop.

What book do you think every aspiring entrepreneur should read and why?

The Founders Dilemma by Noam Wasserman. It’s a great resource for anyone who is considering founding a startup. It really gets into the nitty-gritty of how a startup fits into the larger goals you have for your life, and considers that there are actually many different ways to define success, and each implicates very different strategies. I also listen to lots of podcasts in the car and at home—StartUp is one I think is particularly great.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help businesses like OpenHomes succeed. 

Leaders & Influencers: An Interview with Liz Eversoll

Continuing our series on Leaders & Influencers, we chatted with IT industry veteran Liz Eversoll, CEO at SOLOMO Technology, Inc., a platform as a service that provides location and identity services to brands. She is also currently involved in bringing Austin-based tech accelerator Capital Factory to Madison.

Tell us about Capital Factory, and why you decided to bring it to Madison.

LizEversollI connected with Capital Factory through Patrick Vogt, who is the chairman of the board at SOLOMO and had previously worked with Joshua Baer, the executive director at Capital Factory. I had been having conversations with Madison business owners and investors, and we all felt that there’s a need for place in Madison for tech entrepreneurs to foster relationships, build connections with investors and strategic partners, and be introduced to new technologies. Capital Factory has a nice model as a long-term accelerator for tech startups; they help with initial seed funding, matching funds, bringing in mentors and advisors. We’re still in the planning stages with them, but hope to have it up and running here in Madison in about four months.

What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in our community?

Everyone says capital is the most important thing you need for a startup, but it’s really more about interest from customers. If you have customers and revenue, that validates your product. We have great, established companies here in Wisconsin, but I’d like to see stronger partnerships with them. Startups would benefit from the expertise, guidance, and investment of established companies, while established companies would advance their digital capabilities through the use of startup technologies and services.

What book do you think every aspiring entrepreneur should read and why?

Drucker, Gladwell, Godin, The Speed of Trust (and all Covey books), The Lean Startup. The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen was actually the book that spurred me to leave my career at CDW, which did great things, had great growth, and was a great company. But it was a traditional model, and Christensen’s book really got me thinking about disruptive technology, cloud and mobile, and I wanted to do the next thing with my own business.

What do you find most interesting and rewarding in your position as founder and CEO at SOLOMO? 

We’re located in downtown Madison, so we’re right in the middle of the tech scene here. I love meeting all the startups, investors, companies, and stakeholders that are working to build the Madison/Wisconsin startup ecosystem. People come to us, and we get to stay involved in the many questions of tech entrepreneurship.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help businesses like SOLOMO succeed.

Leaders & Influencers: An Interview with Amelia Baxter

In our continuing series on Leaders & Influencers, we talk with Amelia Baxter, president and co-founder of WholeTrees Architecture & Structures, a company that re-brands round timber for urban and commercial environments in place of steel. Their work is included in the new Festival Foods grocery store, now under construction on the 800 block of East Washington Avenue, Madison.

Tell us about WholeTrees.

Amelia BaxterWholeTrees is an eight-year-old company that brings the power of trees into buildings, opening high-value construction markets for an underutilized natural resource (small trees). We are a proprietary products company with high-margin, competitively priced natural timber structural systems in the fastest growing segment of the structural systems market. Our software and IP enable a sustainable competitive advantage and will allow our acquirer to scale globally the use of small trees in engineered structural building systems.

I co-founded the company with Roald Gundersen, AIA, to encourage more sustainable forest management by carving new markets for forest management waste. I have a passion for nature and our role as humans in nature, and I believe we need economic solutions that work for our buildings, our sense of beauty, and our interconnection to our ecosystems.

What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in our community?

Entrepreneurs need access to capital, but they also need early adopters for their products. I’d like to see Wisconsin commit to purchasing from early-stage companies, driving demand, while assisting in beta development.

What book do you think every aspiring entrepreneur should read and why?

The Responsible Company by Yvon Chouinard, founder and owner of Patagonia, and Vincent Stanley, co-editor of its Footprint Chronicles, draw on the their 40 years’ experience at Patagonia–and knowledge of current efforts by other companies–to articulate the elements of responsible business for our time.

What do you find most interesting and rewarding in your position as president at WholeTrees?

I am fascinated by the way little building blocks of daily excellence come together over years to build a new company. I am enjoying that the many, many mistakes we’ve made as we innovate and discover do not necessarily knock down our previous building blocks of growth, but teach us new ways to build upwards. I am rewarded by a growing number of people who are delighted with the feel of our product in buildings, and the way in which everyone—from the media to passers-by on the street—picks up on our message of interdependence with forests and grooves on it.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help organizations like WholeTrees succeed.