Alumni Spotlight: John-Mark Bantock, 2011 Accounting and Entrepreneurship

May 25, 2016


Industry Experience Leads to Entrepreneurial Opportunities

Serial entrepreneur John-Mark Bantock has been busy since graduating from the McGuire Entrepreneurship Program five years ago. Not only has he launched several businesses, he has also jumped into industry jobs to hone various skills, and then leveraged those experiences and relationships into new businesses and partnerships. Today, he is president of Catalyst Group, a Tucson-based company he founded to provide innovative software solutions and strategic consulting for businesses. 

Bantock got his first taste of entrepreneurship well before he was accepted into the McGuire Program. The accounting and entrepreneurship double major was one of those children who readily identified ways to make a buck, whether it was reselling found golf balls at age 8, baking cookies to sell at age 10, or later selling the items he created from his passion for woodworking. While the McGuire Program didn’t introduce the concept of entrepreneurship to this born entrepreneur, it did formalize his understanding of the principles of innovation and provide the foundation for his future entrepreneurial successes. 

“I thoroughly enjoyed the McGuire Program,” he said. “It brought a level of sophistication to the process of ideation and the valuation of ideas. It helped me understand what can make a compelling business.”

While in the McGuire Program, Bantock and his team developed Velocis, a custom electric bike manufacturer.

“We poured everything into the venture and had a great outcome, winning the venture pitch competition and an innovation award,” he said.

Bantock launched Velocis after graduating in 2011 and successfully ran it for over a year before making the difficult decision not to scale up manufacturing. 

While Bantock never doubted that he would start another company, he realized he wanted to know more about marketing before he did, so he took a job at an established marketing company. The firm was going through a rocky transition from traditional print marketing to digital, and Bantock gained a lot of insight into the struggles many firms were having implementing new technologies and adapting to a global economy. After 10 months, he had identified many pain points in the industry and was ready to launch another business to provide solutions.

“I took what I learned from the experience and founded Catalyst Group, which is a software development and strategic consulting firm,” he said.

Catalyst Group provides a range of services, from helping businesses growing their web presence to developing custom software and mobile applications. The focus is developing strategies that improve efficiency and mitigate frustrating pain points for businesses, he said.

With Catalyst Group established, Bantock decided to get back into technology and renewables, joining a local solar company.

He quickly grew the residential division from $50,000/month in sales to more than $1 million/month in sales across 5 states. However, it became clear that sales were outpacing operations and the firm had to scale back. At the same time, Bantock saw other solar companies that were struggling for precisely the opposite reasons; they were extremely efficient at operations, but lacked sophistication in sales.

“I saw an opportunity to develop a software platform to unite a very fragmented industry, give them the tools to operate more efficiently and provide a service to identify and facilitate new partnerships in order to drive down costs and open markets that were previously unreachable,” he said.

Traditionally, the residential solar industry has only a 10-15 percent close rate, but Bantock said his collaborative software solution has doubled close rates in the two months since he launched the joint venture with Lead Genesis to create a new marketplace pilot program in Arizona and Texas.

Bantock hopes to extend this model of innovative software development to other industries. He is working through Catalyst Group to identify needs and build software for joint ventures or licensing opportunities.

“I love being in a position to jump on unique opportunities,” he said. “I want to continue to work with entrepreneurs to identify new opportunities in other industries that run at a tech deficit.”

Bantock said that other trade-based professionals, such as lawyers, CPAs, and physicians are often highly skilled in their area of expertise, but lack sophistication in technology or sales. Though he isn’t planning to work directly in any of those industries at the moment, Catalyst Group could quickly learn about their pain points and create custom software solutions to allow these businesses to work much more efficiently, he said.

“I have a strong work ethic and a drive to really dive deep into a problem and understand it,” he said. “It’s in my nature to be optimistic. One of my strengths is that I’m not afraid to be wrong and I’m not afraid of moving forwarding. Movement is the key to success.”

Banktock now has several University of Arizona alumni working for him at Catalyst Group and is looking to hire more energetic problem solvers interested in business and technology development. He also has some words of wisdom for the recent graduates of the McGuire Program.

“It can be frustrating looking for the next big idea and often you never get started because you’re waiting for the perfect one,” he said. “Start out just solving simple problems. Create a new opportunity. Initially, young entrepreneurs think what’s needed is an idea to make a billion-dollar company. But more often, it’s incremental improvement that can do it.”

He encourages young entrepreneurs to follow their hearts rather than any particular career track, and to consider getting experience at smaller businesses rather than just Fortune 500 companies. You might not make as much in a smaller firm, he said, but you’ll get more depth of experience and you can leverage that experience into opportunities.

“I have enjoyed jumping back and forth between my own ventures and industry jobs,” he said. “It’s not your standard career projection, but there is a lot you can learn from both sides. I have learned to keep an open mind and explore all opportunities. This has led me to exciting and impactful work. I love what I do and look forward to what lies ahead.”

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