Two Pittsburgh startups just formed a partnership to help others grow.
Honeycomb Credit and Sustainible IO announced this week that they would work together to bring business assessment tools to more startups and small businesses in southwestern Pennsylvania. The hope is that by leveraging each of the two company’s strengths — Honeycomb’s financial expertise and Sustainible’s business model consulting services — more small businesses in the area will be able to have access to both funding and advisory services that are needed to scale.
Crowdfunded loan platform maker Honeycomb made waves last year when it announced its $1.75 million seed round, and earned recognition as a finalist in the final MoneyPitch competition in October. Sustainible, for its part, participated in the sixth cohort of city government-run accelerator PGH Lab and was named as an honorable mention in Technical.ly’s inaugural RealLIST Startups for Pittsburgh. Sustainible cofounder and CEO Talpha Harris also participated in a founder roundtable conversation with us at the beginning of this year.
The businesses that participate in the tools offered by the new partnership will be able to complete Sustainible’s 10-minute assessment tool, which points out a business’ strengths and weaknesses and how to adapt for improvement. Following that, businesses will have the option to take a crowdfunded loan out through Honeycomb, though it’s not mandatory that they do so.
“Though we work in the same space, this is our first collaboration,” Harris told Technical.ly in an email. “As a [Venture for America] fellow, I was always impressed by Honeycomb’s economic development work, and thought that the impact we could make by collaborating could really help small businesses.”
Honeycomb cofounder and CEO George Cook echoed those sentiments, pointing out the commonalities between the two startups’ missions in helping small businesses move past the early idea stage. The companies Honeycomb works with through its loan platform had also expressed a need for business advisory tools that were outside the scope of Honeycomb’s product offering.
“I was also impressed with [Sustainible’s] technology platform and saw immediately how many businesses that come to Honeycomb could benefit from the service,” Cook said via email.
The program will start out by working with around 100 businesses across the region, with the goal of expanding the service to more if successful. Right now, the partnership doesn’t have an exact end date, but both Harris and Cook said it will take place over the next few months, at which point they’ll assess feedback and initial data from participating businesses and decide how to move forward.
While each of the two startups probably could have partnered with larger orgs or corporations in the Pittsburgh region to achieve these goals, both founders said there’s a certain advantage to working on a startup-to-startup basis.
“One thing we love about working with other startups in general, and Sustainible in particular, is the flexibility,” Cook said. As the two companies hammered out the details of the partnership, Harris was able to efficiently make product changes as needed, he said. Because of that, “we were able to put the whole partnership together in weeks, not months (or even in years in some cases!).”
Harris echoed those sentiments, emphasizing that the speed of innovation at the startup level is much more satisfying and fulfilling when it comes to mission-oriented programs like this.
“I think startups inherently hold the power to innovate and solve problems quickly,” she said. “For me, the benefit of working together is the new energy and ability to quickly launch creative solutions.”
And soon, more small businesses can benefit and grow from similar styles of innovation. Both Cook and Harris said that the goal of this partnership is to better prepare local entrepreneurs to take on capital that will give them the chance to grow their businesses. Finding that early stage capital (or capital of any size) remains a bit of a problem for Pittsburgh’s startup economy, and the hope is that this partnership can be one solution to it.
“The ability for a business to borrow fair capital opens so many doors for an entrepreneur, giving them the ability to turn their dreams into reality,” Cook said, adding that the partnership will serve those businesses while also expanding Honeycomb’s footprint.
Harris is also looking forward to Sustainible’s own expansion opportunities through the partnership. For her team, the partnership is “a continuation of our vision, to create a tool that helps business owners implement sustainable business models, and that contributes to the underwriting process, to open doors for equitable access to capital.”Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
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