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VolunteerLocal: BIZ Helps Serial Entrepreneur Focus

"Focus" was an important element in the development of VolunteerLocal, a business that uses an innovative online software system to help organizations manage their volunteer work forces.

The Business Innovation Zone (BIZ) and BIZ Executive Director, Mike Colwell provided the “focus”, according to entrepreneur Brian Hemesath, VolunteerLocal's president. "Mike helped me understand the potential of what, at the time, was a side project," Hemesath said.

VolunteerLocal Poised for Growth

The potential has proven to be great. Based in Grimes, VolunteerLocal has served clients such as the USA Triathlon, the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games, the Des Moines Arts Festival and the Hy-Vee Triathlon. More expansion is on the horizon. "We are ready for growth," Hemesath said. "2012 will be focused on mostly marketing and networking."

Hemesath grew up in Hudson, Iowa. He graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in computer engineering. He worked for a small technical engineering company in Des Moines and a startup telecom business based in Kansas. Then the dot-com/telecom bubble burst in the early part of the 21st Century.

"I was part of the dot-com/telecom fallout and didn't want to be put in a position where I could be 'let go' again," Hemesath said. "I wanted to take control of my career."

Hemesath became a serial entrepreneur. He has several companies and plans to move the operations into office space this fall. Among his businesses, VolunteerLocal has been the primary beneficiary from BIZ and Colwell's help. Hemesath built VolunteerLocal in 2003, prior to the creation of BIZ in 2007.

Hemesath says he believes his ventures would have been even more successful if BIZ had been around to help him from the start. "I've been doing business in Des Moines for 10 years. I have no doubt I could have been more successful had the BIZ existed in 2001," Hemesath said. Hemesath operates VolunteerLocal with four partners.

Using innovative online software, VolunteerLocal helps event planners and organizations manage workforces made up of volunteers. The system allows a volunteer worker to go the client's website to sign up for a specific volunteer job and work shift. The system even gives volunteers an explanation of what the work involves and tells them how many openings are still available for a specific type of job.

Volunteers work on jobs such as setting up and tearing down event signs, fencing and barricades, staffing information tents, checking athlete credentials and handing out event materials and working at a wide variety of other important positions including licensed sports medicine practitioners.

VolunteerLocal was a side project for Hemesath until he contacted BIZ and Colwell pointed out the potential. Colwell also directed Hemesath to important business connections and assisted him with an application for a grant from the Iowa Department of Economic Development's Demonstration Fund program.

"An introduction to the Demo Fund grant was a big step in getting VolunteerLocal off the shelf and turned into a legitimate business," Hemesath said.

BIZ remains an important part of Hemesath's business contacts network. "The BIZ has been a critical component to many local businesses, and I hope that the community continues to support the efforts of Mike Colwell and BIZ," Hemesath said.

Square One DSM, an initiative of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, is formerly known as Business Innovation Zone (BIZ).