“When I was younger, snow days were my favorite, not because I got a day off, but because there was the opportunity to shovel off people’s driveways and make money,” UW-Whitewater senior Andrew Hoeft said.
Hoeft has continued his passion for solving problems through young adulthood, which has led him to create his own small business, Date Check Pro.
Date Check Pro provides expiration date management software that tracks the expiration dates on a per product basis.
Gov. Scott Walker recognized Hoeft’s accomplishments last week in a presentation to Whitewater residents and officials.
Walker announced on Feb. 5 at Whitewater’s University Technology Park that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Whitewater Community Development Authority would form a partnership to provide support to local entrepreneurs with capital in the start up stages of development.
WEDC is providing a $150,000 Capital Catalyst matching grant to the CDA that will be used to provide start up money to new companies.
In addition to the partnership, $10,000 in Whitewater Capital Catalyst Fund grants were awarded to Hoeft and Joe Neuman in support of their companies based in Whitewater. Neuman is the founder of Got Apps, Inc., a company that helps design and build apps built for mobile devices and tablets.
Neuman and Hoeft share an office at 141 Whitewater Street.
Whitewater CDA coordinator Patrick Cannon said the grants help small companies save money upfront, so they do not have to use their own savings to get started.
“The nice part about the two grants we awarded is both companies are using them for rent, which is nice because they can focus on growing their business rather than trying to keep their operating costs in check,” Cannon said.
The beginning of an idea
Before Hoeft had to worry about the operating costs of his own business, he was more worried about working more hours for his summer job at Festival Foods in summer 2010.
He had been working as a Festival Foods cashier and bagger since 2007, and upon asking if he could work more hours, they offered him a job nobody wanted to do, date checking.
Hoeft was not sure, but his boss said he could maintain his own hours, so he jumped at the opportunity. His job was to check every product in the store and make sure they were still fresh.
“It was actually day one when I realized I had to fix it and come up with a better idea,” Hoeft said. “On day three, I figured out my idea and began to try to implement it.”
It started as an excel document, typing in every product and the next expiration date into his laptop. This was no simple task, and when summer was ending, it still wasn’t done. After hundreds of hours of work and help from a team Hoeft’s boss gave him, the Excel document was going well, but it had its problems.
“The most simple limitation was you could only order a spreadsheet by location or expiration date,” Hoeft said. “So either you order by location and you would have to dig through pages, or you could organize by date and walk through the store ten times trying to find the expired product. It was just a hassle.”
Concept becomes reality
Hoeft returned to school for the fall semester with his idea still in the back of his head. He joined the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization with friends Dan Fink and Chris Nwakalo. Fink is a former CEO president.
As a part of this organization, Hoeft was able to share his ideas, get encouragement from his peers and network with people on campus.
CEO held a business model canvas competition at which 94 Labs, an incubator out of Milwaukee, was present.
“Andrew wasn’t even part of the competition, but Chris nudged him to share his idea to the room,” Fink said. “He was hesitant to share, but 18 months later, his company is valued at 2 million.”
The company he shared his idea with, now Genera8or, gave Hoeft the capital to transform his idea and turn his Excel document into an actual product in June 2011. It was an $18,000 investment for 10 percent of the company. They provided an office in Madison, but to Hoeft, the biggest value was the mentorship.
“(Mentors) sit down with you twice a week and go through what you are working on, issues you are having and any hurdles you encounter,” Hoeft said.
When discussing the biggest goal of the first three months of his start up business, Hoeft said the most important part is creating your minimal viable product so you have something to present when you pitch it to investors to show and display your ideas.
“I was fortunate enough that the developer we had for the company was all about getting the first version of your product out,” Hoeft said. “Because of my developers talent, we had the first version of our product in a month. Come launch day, we not only had built it, but we had been testing it. Festival Foods had been using it for a month. We had seen very positive results and even had been having discussing with other grocers like Roundy’s.”
Since the initial testing stages, Hoeft said Date Check Pro has had early adopters of the software and are now focused on selling the product to the mass market, or more simply, as many grocers as possible.
An entrepreneurial atmosphere
With business like Hoeft’s growing and receiving grants, the entrepreneurial atmosphere in Whitewater is at an all-time high. The opportunities for students to create a small start up business from their ideas are now more readily available than ever.
“It is not just hype. Things are happening here,” Hoeft said. “There are numerous stages to it. CEO has done a very good job in creating an environment where students can feel safe in sharing their ideas and work on building upon them.
“The university has created the next step with things like Launch Pad and mentorship in order to focus their ideas. The city and state has taken the third step, which is taking those ideas and creating something and now, with funding, it offers that opportunity.”
As Hoeft finishes his last semester at UW-Whitewater, he plans to continue working with the university and the city of Whitewater in the development and expansion of his company.