Wichita gamers find local support to turn gaming into business

06/15/2014 12:00 AM

06/14/2014 8:46 PM

Ever wanted to start a business? There is someone who can help.

Steve Heiden, who is more determined than most people, would agree.

Heiden was still in high school when he wanted to turn his love of computer gaming into a business.

He and his longtime friend Adam Haselwood opened BattleStations Gaming nearly two years ago at 11330 E. Central.

It turns out that Heiden has the heart of a big-time entrepreneur. He’s the kind of guy who can cold call executives at a $1 billion company and persuade them to let him present a business deal.

But he also sought help from Wichita’s local entrepreneur support system, the collection of government and nonprofit organizations aimed at building business in Wichita and Kansas.

He went to Wichita State University with the specific purpose of learning how to start the business. He learned a lot from the rich entrepreneurship culture at WSU – the classes, two business plan competitions and tons of important contacts.

It was through WSU that he met Wayne Bell, the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration, who was there to judge a competition. Later, the partners got an SBA loan guarantee.

It’s their business, but they have plenty of supporters out there.

“Steve still runs stuff by his professors at WSU,” Haselwood said.

Ecosystem of support

The “ecosystem” of groups and agencies in Wichita that support entrepreneurs ranges from the basics to more sophisticated services.

The support generally falls into three categories: knowledge and advice, connections and money.

The groups and agencies can be government-run or nonprofit, but the staff tend to know one another and make referrals to one another. They also are connected to private-sector bankers, accountants, lawyers and real estate agents.

Starting a business tends to follow a standard pattern. That’s why entrepreneurs are strongly encouraged write a business plan, which forces them to be systematic about their thinking. The SBA website has detailed instructions on how to build a business plan.

The SBA’s Bell said he and those from other groups try to get out into the community, but many new business owners still don’t know about their services, and often don’t know to access resources.

“Too often we see people who come in maybe six to 12 months after they’ve started the business. They’ve spent all of their savings and are using credit cards, and now they need help,” he said. “It’s harder to help them out then because personal credit is part of what is taken into account.”

Marcia Stevens, director of the Kansas Small Business Development Center, would agree.

Even though her group sees 10 prospective entrepreneurs a week, she sees a lot of businesses start up without getting any of the free services available.

“I think the gap is that people aren’t fully aware of the services,” she said. “There is wonderful support both for entrepreneurs and for established businesses.”

Maybe, she said, people get confused about where to start. But they all refer people to each other.

“There is really no wrong door to start at,” Bell said.

BattleStations

Heiden’s entrepreneurial dream started young.

“It started when I was 14,” Heiden said. “Adam used to host Halo nights, and we would pack into his apartment. We would pack 16 people in there...”

“We’d bring all these XBoxes and TVs and plug them together and play Halo all night long,” Haselwood said.

“And we’d have people show up at 10 p.m. after work, and we’d play ‘til 7 in the morning, go home, take a shower and go to work,” Heiden said. “So we had this great community, and I thought, as I was growing up, that that would be a great business.”

BattleStations is a pretty simply business: It charges $5 an hour, or $20 a day, to play any of hundreds of games. It also sells games, gear and snacks.

The business is doing pretty well, but the owners have learned that people don’t buy the games, gear and snacks much, and as a consequence, they don’t need the inventory or the space for those items.

They’re planning for expansion, either through their own locations or franchising.

“Our goal is to be that next national chain,” Heiden said. “The next GameStop or Best Buy.”

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