Corey Boelkens has been boating since he was old enough to operate a boat—and diving for even longer. His first job was at a marina on Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas. In other words, he knows a thing or two or 20 about boating.
“Ask anyone who has gone out on a boat and they have a story to tell about getting stranded,” he says. “Better yet, ask anyone who has gone boating socially and ask about how much time was wasted waiting around for people to show up or give updates on location.”
Those problems were the genesis for Little Rock, Arkansas-based RaftUp, a social app for the boating community that connects boaters to likeminded adventure seekers, local help and emergency assistance, and nearby businesses. (The name is actually a nautical term for those not in the know.) He founded the company in June 2015 with his wife, Erin, after they won second place at a Northwest Arkansas StartUp Weekend competition.
A boating app is probably best developed by someone with both boating and tech experience, and luckily, Boelkens has both. In the 90s, he was introduced to robotics while in high school and went on to earn a business information systems degree from the University of Arkansas. Before becoming an entrepreneur, he cut his teeth with tech jobs at large corporations.
“I believe that everything that I have been involved with since starting my first job at the age of 14 has shaped me into the entrepreneur I am today,” Boelkens says.
RaftUp is still in the early stage of starting up but is beginning to make consistent monthly revenue. Boelkens says the biggest opportunity is with RaftUp’s new 911 and Public Safety solution, which can help boaters in distress.
Boelkens credits the startup support in Arkansas for helping them get their business off the ground.
“We have received some really great new startup consulting, advisory, and training support from various Arkansas organizations like the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, The Venture Center, StartUp Junkies and Innovate Arkansas since our founding,” he says.
But, he adds, “There has been little to no interest or support from any Arkansas angel or investment group in funding an early stage company like ours.”
That hasn’t stopped Boelkens from planning for the future.
“I would like to see our company grow to and comfortably support 3-5 full-time resources within the next year and have one entire state piloting our 911 platform. We are on track to meet our current year revenue forecast with a strong demand for our solution.”
For Boelkens, the biggest sacrifice to starting and growing business has been to his healthy lifestyle.
“I have gained forty pounds in the last year and I sleep four to five hours a night and travel at least two to three days a week,” he says. “I am consistently challenged to find the right amount of time to focus effectively on work, self, and family while maintaining some level of mental health that at least borders on semi-crazy with a mild tolerance for being patient.”
For would-be entrepreneurs who are ready to start their own business, Boelkens has some easy advice:
“Buy the top five startup books on Amazon, read those books, mark them up, and start your business,” he says. “Find a mentor without ever expecting that person to invest a dime in your company. Lastly, build a business and not a pitch deck. Arkansas or most anywhere these days is like a dessert and funding is the water. Don’t go looking for a glass of water in a dessert without preparation or experience.”