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Lakestart mentor network looks to help Lake County entrepreneur

Chuck Soder | Crain's Cleveland Business

Lake County now has its own mentor network for entrepreneurs.

Lakestart was officially launched just this week, but board president Kip Marlow said word got out early. Thus, he’s already working with three local entrepreneurs. And two others have applied to sign up.

For now, the nonprofit is being run entirely by 11 volunteer mentors. Among them are entrepreneurs like Marlow, who sold a medical device company called Marlow Surgical Technologies in 1997, and people with expertise in areas like management, marketing, human resources and intellectual property.

“If there was one reason for my success, it would be having great mentors surrounding me,” he stated in a news release announcing the program. “There is nothing more helpful than experienced entrepreneurs.”

For the most part, it’s a virtual organization, but the city of Willoughby does allow the group to use meeting space at its city hall. The organization raised a few thousand dollars from its own volunteers to establish a website at Lakestart.org, and it plans to raise some additional funding, according to advisory board member Mark Rantala, executive director of the Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority. But it’s not planning to build a building or create a large organization, said Rantala, who will give entrepreneurs advice related to retail and real estate.

He noted that Lakestart is looking to work with businesses that show significant growth potential, be they startups or established companies.

“We’re looking for people who can make a significant difference in the creation of wealth and employment in Lake County,” he said.

The few entrepreneurs Lakestart already is working with are completely different in terms of age and industry, Marlow said. One is college student starting an apparel company. One is a man looking to start a manufacturing business. And the last is a woman who runs an established service company.

“It runs the gamut,” said Marlow, who also hosts local networking events for entrepreneurs.

The nonprofit’s full name — The Raymond C. Kralovic Center for Entrepreneurship — is a tribute to the late cofounder of Steris Corp., a medical equipment and sterilization services company in Mentor.