EntreFEST inspiration leads Stratbase to the Iowa Startup Accelerator

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – check back all week for more and find the series here.

Stratbase founder David Shafer (in the suit) talks about his company. (Photo: Ben Kaplan/We Create Here)

David Shafer knew he was due for a change, but he didn’t know it would take him all the way to a spot in the Iowa Startup Accelerator.

After a 15 year career in technology at the University of Iowa, Shafer decided to move on almost exactly one year ago. He had an idea, so he started with what he knew best – coding and making a plan for the technology.

A trip to EntreFEST, Iowa’s largest entrepreneur conference, gave him an “ah-ha moment” when he was exposed to the lean startup method, business model canvas, and the idea of customer discovery – all ways to develop an idea before building it.

“I geeked out that whole time – it was amazing,” Shafer said. “It really made me reevaluate my whole approach.”

He was especially inspired by Jacquie Berglund, founder of Finnegan’s Beer, a company that donates 100 percent of profits. The idea of social entrepreneurship, or applying business practices for good, appealed to him.

Today, Shafer’s idea has evolved into Stratbase, a tool that helps nonprofit organizations set strategic planning goals, measure their progress and share results with both collaborating organizations and the public.

Shafer saw the need for this kind of tool while volunteering with nonprofits, and especially small nonprofits, in Iowa.

“All of them had good intentions, but they didn’t have the tools and resources,” he said. “So really, annual planning turned into an exercise in reviewing all the things you didn’t accomplish over the past year.”

The need for collaboration, in particular, is becoming more and more prominent as nonprofits work together to make a difference.

“You’re seeing a new approach among some of the larger nonprofits – community foundations, big nationals – they’re trying to set high-level direction, then work with other organizations to promote that agenda,” Shafer said.

Shafer thought about offering the product to for-profit organizations as well, but in customer discovery, he found that others had the same passion and pain in their nonprofit involvements.

“People would say, ‘I don’t really know about that, but let me tell you about this nonprofit I work with.’ I really felt it click at that point,” he said. “My passion for this product really lined up nicely with my passion for nonprofits.”

Stratbase will likely be a webapp, offered on a freemium model – where large or complex organizations can pay for extra features, but small nonprofits can use it for free.

For now, Shafer is the lone founder and employee of Stratbase, but he doesn’t plan to keep it that way. One of his main goals for the 94-day accelerator program is to figure out how he will grow his team, he said.

“The timing was right for me…it’s perfect, because it’s Iowa,” he said. “I love what’s happening in Iowa, and Eastern Iowa especially. To be a part of that, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

One in a series of stories introducing the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 cohort – find the rest here.