Wichita and this country need more millennials, those under 40, to become entrepreneurs to help reinvigorate our economy. Surprisingly, we also need more seniors, who have been dropping out of the labor force, to help them if the matches of experience and personality are right.
A great example of what I have in mind can be found in Wichita at Clutch Studios. a company specializing in developing customized mobile and web applications for businesses of all sizes. The company’s website lists examples of its clients (clutchstud.io/dev/).
Clutch’s founder is Carlos Fernandez, the son of a Mexican immigrant, who grew up in a Wichita neighborhood where going to jail was more common than going on to school. Self-taught in software coding, Fernandez got into freelance web design as a teenager, and later landed a job at a record company that flew him around the world on various assignments.
But his heart always was in web design and software, so he took the leap in his 20s to found his own company, doing jobs for a wide range of clients at the beginning, including the University of Kansas and Kansas City’s Union Station. He also wrote a software app for volunteer firefighters, Page-Out, for which he won a national software development award. He has twice been honored with invitations to visit the Oval Office and meet with the president of the United States.
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More recently, among its multiple assignments, Clutch has designed meters and web apps enabling companies to know in real time when they need to reorder supplies. Think of it as applying just-in-time manufacturing to a business of any type.
Fernandez is the first to credit others with helping him on his journey, including his employees and contractors he enlists in Clutch’s engagements. He got a major boost when he was accepted as an entrepreneurial fellow in the prestigious Pipeline program for high-growth entrepreneurs, based in Kansas City.
Fernandez also got lucky when several years back he was introduced through a mutual friend to Brad Broadfoot, who is more than 30 years his senior. The two hit it off right away, and now Broadfoot works part time with Clutch to assist in business development and as an adviser.
Broadfoot moved to Wichita in 2005, is a cancer survivor and feels strongly about giving back. His 20-plus years as a high-level executive compensation consultant with such firms as William M. Mercer and Ernst & Young enabled him to compile the kind of Rolodex that has helped opened doors to companies, large and small, to Clutch.
Broadfoot also counts himself lucky in finding Clutch. As he says, “You can only play golf so much before you want something more meaningful in life,” and Clutch has given him that new purpose.
Meanwhile, Fernandez is now also giving back to the Wichita community as one of the founders and steering committee members of 1 Million Cups, Wichita’s new program that is building the city’s entrepreneurial network. Fernandez’s story, and his partnership with Broadfoot, are examples to us all of the power of melding people with different life experiences at different stages of life to build successful companies.
Robert Litan, a Wichita-based attorney and economist, is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Twitter: @BobLitan.