Category: News

zWORKS Graduate Spotlight – Chris Jackson and Glampfitter

Connecting people to nature. It’s a simple idea and the genesis for zWORKS member Chris Jackson’s start up, Revival Recreation, founded in 2019. Some might remember the company name when Chris won the “People’s Choice” award at the inaugural zWORKS Pitch Night. A win he calls “proof of concept.”

Chris was first introduced to zWORKS through his close friend, zWORKS Board President and ongoing business mentor Paul Dreier. Paul encouraged Chris to join, so he could utilize the community, resources, and opportunity offered by zWORKS. The membership has proven invaluable to Chris’ journey.

Chris says “entrepreneurship is a lonely endeavor” and discovered the community zWORKS provided him resources needed for the twists and turns (known and unknown) ahead. His business isn’t the traditional tech-related, coworking, zWORKS startup. A retired US Air Force explosive ordnance disposal team leader, Chris wanted to create a glamping experience for the non-camper. His original idea was to simply set up a glamp site for his customers and take it down when they were done.

After retiring from the military, Chris earned his bachelor’s degree in leadership psychology and a graduate degree in outdoor recreation, while also completing the Syracuse University Veteran Entrepreneurship in residence program at Purdue University. This business foundation told him his idea was good, but the question remained: how do I scale it?

Chris consulted fellow zWORKS members including The Growth Coach Bob Paden and TRG Web Design. He formed a board of advisors that includes Dreier and zWORKS member, Jon Sheedy, founder and principal of Bull Capital. Chris says he “leaned on the support of the community to fail fast, learn, and succeed.”

In the fall 2019, he also met with Zionsville resident Hunter Smith, former Colts punter and owner of WonderTree Farm over breakfast. Chris remembers they talked for hours, a conversation that foreshadowed his future.

With fellow zWORKers input, advice, guidance and a small stipend from his People’s Choice win, Chris got to work shifting his business model to develop Glampfitter LLC, a campground outfitting company dedicated to partnering with existing campsites by outfitting glampgrounds nationwide at KOAs and other locations. The 2020 New Year would be the official launch.

In February 2020, Chris brought Glampfitters to the Indianapolis Boat Sport and Travel show where over 100,000 people experienced his Glamp setups over the course of one week. With the assistance of advisory board member’s Jon and Paul, they left the show with over $250,000 in contracts ready to be finalized at the end of March. Startup was feeling successful.

Then bam—COVID19 began closing the country. The orders were cancelled, and Chris was back to square one. What could he do with four glamp setups in a country quarantined during a historic pandemic?

On a whim, Chris called Hunter at WonderTree Farm to see if he was interested in outfitting a few glampsites (Chris’ display merchandise) during the summer. The two met. What was supposed to be a 30-minute conversation turned into a six hour vision-casting session. They discovered a mutual vision: connecting people to nature and the land.

Hunter started WonderTree farm to build something for his family for generations to come. Growing up on a ranch in Texas, he understood and believed in regenerative farming practices. He wanted to create a system with processes to prove how effective farming benefits the land while bringing fresh food options to the community. Chris was ready to focus and streamline many business operations of the farm while bringing people to the site for a glamping experience.

Four glamp sites were set up and sold out at WonderTree farms in 2020. The glamping experience allowed people to experience the farm while gaining insight and education to regenerative farming practices that benefits community, quality of food, and life of the animals. Overnight guests book a site and get to order fresh eggs, bacon, meat and other items to cook (grills included) during their stay.

Chris and Hunter poured entrepreneurial energies into operations by updating the point of sale system, creating business processes, installing new freezers, and managing costs by finding ways to partner with local farmers and business owners.

Ultimately, the two have developed a shared vision for an AgrilPark model, dedicated to becoming a food staple provider for people living in the surrounding 10 miles and creating job opportunities for the community. WonderTree Farm includes Indiana’s first drive-through farmers market that allows community members to visit the farm and purchase fresh meat, eggs, raw dairy and other food items.

When Chris reflects on his entrepreneurial journey, he credits zWORKS saying, “My successes in this community are solely based on my connections at zWORKS.”

About WonderTree Farms

  • Located at 2280 US 421 Zionsville
  • The glamping season opens April 15. Get rates, options and book a stay on the website.
  • The WonderTree Farm Market is open Tuesday to Friday. Hours vary

About Regenerative Farming

  • Regenerative farming focuses on building soil health. This allows farmers to invest in their farmland for future generations.
  • Regenerative farming is good for the environment. Regenerative farming practices help to decrease CO2 emissions.

Featured Startup: Jewelr

Co-founders unite passions

One co-founder loves jewelry and one loves startups. And together – Natalie Whitmore and Richard Crowe are combining their passions to start Jewelr – a software management company for retail jewelry stores.

Whitmore worked in wholesale and retail jewelry for several years. Whether it was failing software, frustratingly complicated software or simultaneously juggling eight software programs, Whitmore had experienced it all.

When people asked what software she recommended, she had no good answer.

Featured Member: Daryl Knecht

A career of tech trends

To say one zWORKS member stumbled into the world of technology would be inaccurate. It was more of a calculated stumble.

From computer-aided manufacturing to data analytics to low-code technology, this is the story of an engineer-turned-sales-techy who has made a career of anticipating the next tech trend.

The year was 1999 and Daryl Knecht saw an opportunity.

He started out as a mechanical engineer in the computer-aided design and manufacturing world. During the five years in that industry, he received one too many offers to convert to the sales world and finally acquiesced.

“Ultimately, I married the engineering background with sales and got into the technical sales arena,” he said.

The year was 2009 and Knecht saw an opportunity.

Featured Startup: PerfectFit Software Solutions

zWORKS programmer turns hobby into career

It’s a tale as old as time. Or should I say, a tale as old as the late 1900s.

There’s three integral parts to this tale. First is an ‘80s kid. Second is a computer in some basement somewhere in America. Third, mix the first two together and – shazam – it’s a future tech genius in the making.

One zWORKS member’s story started like so. Matt Metcalf is the co-founder of PerfectFit Software Solutions and his tale is currently in the software startup chapter.

“I grew up with computers in the house and I was fascinated with them,” he said.

Featured Member: Jordan Morrissey

zWORKS member finds passion through design

It has been a 10-year journey for one zWORKS member from Bluffton, Indiana to owning an interior design company in Zionsville.

Jordan Morrissey came to Indianapolis to study interior design. After working for two designers, she decided to take a different route into space planning.

During one client visit with her mentor, Morrissey said she didn’t think she wanted to do interior design. A few years later and she’s telling a different story.

“Now if I see my mentor, she tells me I totally ate my words,” Morrissey said.

Featured Member: Eric Siemers

zWORKS member dedicates life to Alzheimer’s research

One zWORKS member was one of thousands to take Lilly’s retirement package in 2017.

Dr. Eric Siemers spent two decades researching Alzheimer’s disease at Eli Lilly and is continuing his life work as an independent consultant.

He joined a group of five other former Lilly employees and set up shop at zWORKS to support each other in their individual quests.

“What’s interesting about Alzheimer’s is that even people at other pharmaceutical companies – we’re all rooting for each other because everybody just wants a success,” Siemers said.

Featured Member: Jordan Hollingsworth

zWORKS member makes safety cool

Safety is the new black and Jordan Hollingsworth knows it. He’s making work environments safer one project at a time.

It all started with a seasonal college job with a utility company. Sometimes it’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know, and Hollingsworth met someone in the safety management department. That person became his mentor and the rest is history.

Over a decade later and Hollingsworth has been working at Safety Management Group for 12 years.

Featured Partner: MDLF

zWORKS partner focuses on Indiana leaders

It’s all about young innovative leaders for one zWORKS partner.

In fact, their mission statement is “Enable Leaders. Drive Change”. This year’s Mitch Daniels Leadership Foundation Fellows Program is a group of 20 young professionals from around Indiana.

The program has undergone some recent changes headed by one of our very own – Kate Swanson, MDLF Executive Director.

Swanson called it a revitalization of the organization after it began in 2014 – a few years after Mitch Daniels’ second term as Indiana governor. This year has been about focusing on the program’s curriculum.

Featured Startup: Revival Recreation

Personal experience motivates zWORKS startup founder

For Chris Jackson, recreational therapy has played an important factor in all aspects of his life.

Fly fishing was the form of recreational therapy he connected with the most. A few years ago, he went on a trip to Norway with Project Healing Waters and it changed his life.

“I experienced the intervention of recreation and outdoors in my life transitioning out of military service after being medically retired and transitioning into civilian life,” Jackson said. “Outdoor recreation was the vessel by which I experienced healing.”

Seven years ago, Jackson was living a very different life. He pulled apart roadside bombs for the U.S. Air Force; his title – Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Leader.

Featured Startup: Maker Factory

At zWORKS, we’ve seen how beneficial collaboration can be. One zWORKS startup is looking to bring collaboration to the engineering world in Indy.

Brian Hull is one of the founders of Maker Factory and his goal is to start a maker space in Indianapolis.

A maker space is coworking for engineers and builders. It provides the tools and supplies needed like lasers, welders, 3D printers, design software, tools, etc.

“I’m a part of zWORKS because I think it’s similar,” Hull said. “It’s a coworking space and I think the next generation of workers are experimenting with coworking.”