Four Richland County natives will return in late September for Mansfield's first-ever Techstars Startup Weekend. Among them is Lexington grad and Mansfield SunDown RunDown alum Dan Manges. Dan is not CTO of Root Insurance, but was formerly the cofounder of Fractal Surfing, a Braintree tenant company.

Matt Armstead, a 1991 Lexington graduate and co-founder of Horizon Two Labs; Crestview product Falon Donohue, CEO of VentureOhio, 2003 Lexington alumnus Dan Manges, co-founder of Root Insurance, and Madison product Marquise Stillwell, founder of Open Box Design Studio, will all partake in Startup Weekend Mansfield, set for Sept. 28 to 30 at Idea Works, 40 W. 4th St. Donohue and Manges will travel from Columbus, Armstead from nearby Powell, and Stillwell from New York City. They will act as judges, speakers and mentors.

Here's what they said when asked about their experience with startups.What’s project has your immediate attention?Armstead: I’ve got two. I’m on the board of Bybe, a company that digitizes rebates from wine and spirits. And there’s SMRTSVR. It’s a 1099 worker’s tax saving plan. It automatically helps you save, and at the end of every quarter, it pays the IRS for you.Donohue: VentureOhio is working with top venture capitalists from across the state to create and publish the Watchlist – Ohio's 50 most promising startups of 2018. The goal of this list is to highlight the caliber of companies being built across the state in an effort to attract talent and capital to the region.Manges: We've seen an incredible response to Root in the 20 states that we're currently in. Root is now a top 50 Finance app on both iOS and Android, with a 4.8-star rating in the iOS App Store. We're working hard on making Root available nationally.Stillwell: I’m currently working with a robotic startup, Artmatr. It’s focused on disrupting the printing industry with 2D printing. The community of artists and engineers working at Artmatr are merging digital technology with traditional painting methods.Why did you agree to be part of Mansfield's Startup Weekend?Armstead: I truly believe great companies can start anywhere. They can start right there in Mansfield. If they are surrounded with support, anything is possible. That’s why I continue to give back and participate in these kinds of things – it’s one of my greatest joys.Donohue: I grew up here and know that Mansfield is full of talented and creative people. I can't wait to see what the groups come up with over the weekend.Manges: I grew up in the Mansfield area and want to help support local entrepreneurs who are working on creating new companies and products.Stillwell: I believe Mansfield has untapped potential for fostering great talent, and Startup Week is a good platform to begin that process. I’m happy to be a part of it.

What impact have you seen Startup Weekend have on other communities?Armstead: I think Startup Weekend helps build a community of entrepreneurs, designers, hustlers and other people who are experimenting with startups. It’s a great opportunity to get creative, network, come up with ideas. It’s rare, but companies do come out of this. But at the same time, the odds of failure with any startups are extremely high.Along with other events, it’s a great step towards Mansfield building a stronger startup ecosystem.Donohue: Startup week is an incredible opportunity to learn, engage with your community, make friends and meet potential co-founders. The ripple effect that Startup Weekend Columbus has had on the community has been incredible - there is a strong bond between participants that lasts.The intent of startup weekend is to learn, meet like-minded people and improve the entrepreneurial culture of your city. However, a few promising companies have been born out of Startup Weekend, including RapChat, born out of Startup Weekend Athens. RapChat has gone on to raise $1.7 million.Manges: Startup Weekend in Columbus is a great initiative to help provide entrepreneurs with support in launching new ventures. I'm hoping that we can create similar momentum in Mansfield.Stillwell: I have spoken and judged many types of Startup Weekends. Startup Weekend is a great place to inspire and encourage entrepreneurs to continue to dream and find other entrepreneurs that they can borrow, build, and share with. It’s a great place for leaning, collaborating, and being inspired.

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Root Insurance Co. has been valued at $1 billion after raising $100 million, the largest funding round for a Central Ohio startup in the 2000s.Tiger Global Management, a New York City firm, led the Series D round on the heels of Root raising $51 million this spring.The digital auto insurer is in 20 states and is aiming to go nationwide by the end of 2019. The financing will help speed hiring of engineers, actuaries, claims adjusters and customer support staff.

Root joins CoverMyMeds as Central Ohio's billion-dollar "unicorns." The prescription management software company was acquired by McKesson Corp. last year for $1.3 billion. No other tech firm has raised so much venture capital in the region since SubmitOrder's cumulative $400 million in the 1990s.Also participating in this round are previous investors Redpoint Ventures, Ribbit Capital and Scale Venture Partners, all of which are based in the San Francisco and Silicon Valley region. Past investors also include Silicon Valley Bank Capital Partners and Columbus-based Drive Capital LLC, the first to invest three years ago.

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The Tech Tribune staff has compiled the very best tech startups in Columbus, Ohio. In doing our research, several factors were considered. At the top of the list was Mansfield SunDown RunDown alum Root Insurance.

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Mansfield SunDown RunDown alum launches fundraiser for Liberty Park

July 29, 2018
by Tracey Geibel, Richland Source
Longtime Mansfield resident Travis Behrendsen has set up a fundraiser to help bring Liberty Park back to life. Members of Mansfield's entrepreneurship ecosystem remember Travis as a presenter at the November 2017 SunDown RunDown pitch night.

When Travis Behrendsen recently saw a Facebook post concerning the condition of Liberty Park, he did something most people don’t.

He stopped scrolling and got involved.

“There was a guy who posted on my Facebook feed. He was really concerned about the state of the park, and one of the things he asked for was for the community to come together and do something about it,” Behrendsen said. “So, I thought to myself, I might be able to help with this.

”The longtime Mansfield resident reached out to the city’s parks and recreation department and set up a fundraiser for the park that means so much to him.

He remembers learning to swim at the Liberty Park pool as a child and later marrying his wife, Cheyanne, under a tree near the pavilion.

“My goal with the park is to bring it back to life,” Behrendsen said.

As he walked around the park recently with his wife and 1-year-old daughter, he spotted boarded up windows and minor vandalism that hasn’t yet been cleaned.

He also noted the recent efforts of Mansfield Murals and was impressed with the volunteers’ impact on the park, but he would like to put a more permanent end to the graffiti and destruction.

Part of Behrendsen’s plan is to install a security system to deter vandals from returning.He hopes to raise $100,000, which will be used for the security system, clean up of the pool house and pavilion.

In researching the park, he found out that the original plans for Liberty Park included an amphitheater, a concept he’d like to see brought to fruition.“It would certainly bring a lot more events, and I think it’d be of interest,” Behrendsen said.

He intends to give the fundraiser several months to take off.

He anticipates the repairs could take place in the off season and completed before the pool reopens next summer.

To donate to Liberty Park’s revitalization, visit

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Canton SunDown RunDown alum Smoke Staxx in the news

July 12, 2018
by Rachel Abbey McCafferty, Crains' Cleveland Business News
What started out as a hobby for Brian Halasinski and Kirk Hyust is now a promising business, Smoke Staxx Pans LLC in Canton. They pitched their company at the July 11, 2018 SunDown RunDown pitch night in Canton. Last summer, Halasinski had trouble finding a good, round barbecue pan to go along with his round smoker. So he began brainstorming and the two of them came up with the idea for a stackable pan.

What started out as a hobby for Brian Halasinski is now a promising business, Smoke Staxx Pans LLC in Canton.Last summer, Halasinski started using a round smoker, and he had trouble finding a good, round barbecue pan to go along with it. He began brainstorming with his friend, Kirk Hyust, and in December, the two came up with the idea for a stackable pan. In early May, Smoke Staxx Pans went live on Kickstarter. It reached its goal of $15,000 within eight days, Halasinski said, ultimately raising $17,706. Halasinski said that he and Hyust have been busy in recent months, filing for a patent, forming an LLC, registering with the state and setting up an online presence for Smoke Staxx Pans. Halasinski is president of the company, and Hyust is vice president.The way the pans are designed allows smoke and air to flow throughout, even when they're stacked on top of each other. That will let customers stack the pans and cook multiple items without cross contamination, Halasinski said.Hyust said the pan needed to have structure and be able to do something typical pans can't; they couldn't just patent a regular aluminum pan. Hyust has patented a wrench, so he has experience with the process. The business partners met about two-and-a-half years ago when Halasinski hired Hyust for a renovation project. The job ended up being eight months long, and the two became friends in that time. And on this particular venture, their experiences aligned well. Both Halasinski and Hyust have entrepreneurial experience: Halasinski is a pharmaceutical sales representative who ran a head lice treatment center that he recently sold, and Hyust has his own construction company. Before getting into construction, Hyust attended culinary school and worked in the restaurant industry. "It's a perfect combination," Hyust said.The two originally planned to make a disposable aluminum pan, but they found quotes from U.S. and Canadian tool and die makers to be prohibitively expensive. They started looking to Chinese manufacturers, but really wanted to make the product in the United States, preferably in Northeast Ohio, Halasinski said. After a little more searching, the pair came across an Amish manufacturer in Millersburg who said the pans could be made in cast aluminum. That would make the pan reusable, but more expensive for consumers. The original idea of making disposable pans was to make it affordable, Halasinski said. The cast aluminum pans cost about $100 each.But the tooling for a cast aluminum pan would be less expensive for Smoke Staxx Pans, as they wouldn't need to make as much, and that would let the company go to market faster.They decided to make the change."We didn't really have much choice," Halasinski said.From there, Halasinski and Hyust put together an entire supply chain in Northeast Ohio, lining up a company in Southington to make the tooling, one in Medina to do the surface finishing on the pans and another in Macedonia for the packaging. "That's really what we wanted to do in the first place," Hyust said.The region's long been a hub for manufacturing, Hyust said, and he and Halasinski wanted to try to contribute to the local economy.The company plans to sell the pans online. It also has about five retail stores in the area already committed to carrying the product, Halasinski said.Custom Fireplace Shop in North Canton is one of those locations. Manager Jeff Dick said the store has already placed an order with Smoke Staxx Pans. The store carries a lot of barbecue grills, and the pans stand out because they'll let customers increase their cooking surface in a small amount of space, he said.Lehman's in Kidron, Ohio, is another store that will carry the product. It was started as a hardware store for the Amish population in the area and has grown to become a more general, non-electric goods retailer, said sales manager Steve Henry. The store sells a lot of barbecue and cast iron products, and the locally made cast aluminum pans will be a natural fit, he said.Halasinski said he expected production to begin in mid-July and delivery to Kickstarter backers to begin in early August.

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