Experience matters — even in an ecosystem built upon disrupting the status quo, said Raina Knox, CEO and co-founder of Stratex Solutions.
“It’s uncomfortable for some in the startup community to embrace the concept of people with portfolio careers still having a meaningful impact,” she said, noting her lengthy career as a “fixer” in the world of strategic planning.
“The richness of the knowledge that we can bring is meaningful, just like the freshness of millennials’ ideas is meaningful,” Knox added. “But seeing acknowledgment of both those? We’re not quite there yet.”
Stratex Solutions is a cloud-based tool developed by Knox and co-founder Courtney Cole to provide clients with step-by-step strategic planning structure and workflow. From interwoven data entry to tracking outcomes and reporting, the sophisticated system is designed to adjust to the level of the user, Knox said.
Developing the complex offering wouldn’t have been possible without her deep background in consulting, as well as corporate positions at such Kansas City heavyweights as Sprint PCS and H&R Block, she said. (Knox also holds a doctorate in organizational leadership and information systems technology.) Nor would the tech behind the tool have come together without the expertise of Cole, a former technology executive for Target and Microsoft who now serves as vice president of technology for the Indiana Pacers basketball team, she said.
“Of our principal owners, none of us are of the younger generation, the typical startup entrepreneur. All of us have gray hair,” Knox said. “But for this kind of business, you couldn’t have a millennial create this. It takes years and years of experience.”
When Knox took Stratex Solutions to the Overland Park-based business incubator BetaBlox in 2016, her idea caught the attention of mentor Dan Stifter. But it was the strategic planning veteran’s obvious talent that truly cut through the noise of her competition, Stifter said.
“You know what’s in the startup community and what’s in BetaBlox. A lot of it is just … well, it is what it is,” he said. “And then Raina walks in the door with this incredibly polished product that has a whole lot of potential, but it’s in a squirrelly, boring, weird space.”
Knox agreed with the assessment of Stratex Solutions’ marketing challenge, which corresponds to client organizations’ general reluctance to embrace strategic planning, she said.
“It’s not fun. It’s not sexy. It’s hard. They don’t know how to do it. And it’s excruciating!” she said. “When we’re working with clients, even the ones who are fully committed, at some point will ask, ‘Do we really have to do this?’ Yeah! You do! Because at some point, someone is going to make a decision about the direction of your company and it might be your employees on the line choosing without you even knowing it. They need the structure and guidance of a plan.”
Stifter was impressed enough by Knox’s solution to join the company as its third principal owner in January 2017. He was excited to dive into the Kansas City startup space after years of “endless meetings” at such well-known firms as Hallmark and Coca-Cola, he said.
“I retired four years ago and didn’t want to do corporate nonsense anymore,” Stifter said.
Drawn to Knox’s perseverance, he’s been amazed by what she’s accomplished in the two and a half years since founding Stratex Solutions, he said. That unflinching push for growth is reflected in the firm’s work with the city of Kansas City, Missouri, he added.
Knox sought entry in 2016 to Kansas City’s Innovation Partnership Program, which provides entrepreneurs with an opportunity to develop, test, and demonstrate innovative solutions with the city’s data and infrastructure. She hoped to apply Stratex Solutions workflow to help address possible city inefficiencies, Stifter said.
“I told her it was a waste of time,” he added.
“I’m not always a good listener,” Knox said.
Today, Kansas City is one of Stratex Solutions’ banner clients, she said. The mayor and city manager soon will be using the firm’s software to facilitate staff meetings, Knox added. In addition, the tool will help them align citywide plans with departmental plans, cascading from the top.
The technology is adaptable across market sectors, she said.
“Our clients are school districts, nonprofits, universities and health care,” Knox said. “Good strategic planning is good strategic planning.”
Despite her success — Knox also is a member of the new ScaleUP! class — the force behind Stratex Solutions said she’s still finding her place in the Kansas City entrepreneur ecosystem.
“Frequently in the startup community, I’m the only woman in the room. Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to be there, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to showcase a woman-led tech company,” she said. “But there are two strikes against me. I’m female and I’m not a millennial.”
Stifter, on the other hand, gets the collective benefit of his gender, race and height, he admitted. Reflecting on one of several meetings wherein he believes Knox was minimized because of being a woman founder, Stifter said the worst offenses often are with clients who should know better.
“Three of us were making a presentation. Raina was leading the whole damn discussion — she knows everything about the platform and the company — and I’ve been sitting there, not saying a word, taking notes. But the client turns to me looking for an answer,” he said.
It happened three times in one meeting.
“It just stunned me. And it still does,” Stifter said.
Kansas City is an above average community for startups, Knox said, and she’s proud to buck any preconceived notions about what a founder can or should look like.
“I think there’s an opportunity for the community to evolve a little bit — to be more inclusive,” she said. “I think there’s a perception with age that there’s a corresponding loss of energy. Well, there’s no loss of energy here.”
Knox now serves as a BetaBlox mentor herself, one of two graduates of the program to make that transition, she said. Through the program, she’s become even more convinced that inclusivity is a scalable concept.
“There’s room for everyone. When I am mentoring, I am learning right alongside the them,” Knox said. “Now imagine you have a bunch of people on a larger scale with a startup passion to solve a problem, and you add the positives of the 24-year-olds and those of us who are older, working together with enthusiasm — what an amazing place that would be.”
Stratex Solutions is playing host to a Strategic Planning Knowledge Sharing group intent meeting 1 p.m. Feb. 22 at Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technologies, 14520 Botts Rd, Kansas City, Missouri. The firm hopes to help organizations identify comparative processes and benchmark results through the group.