At Sprout Insights, we comb the web to bring you the most up-to-date and actionable resources on how to use social media to grow your business.

To that end, we’re pleased to present the Sprout Insights series Spotlight on Startups. We’ll find the most innovative, useful startup companies out there, get the inside track on what they’re doing, and tell you how you can leverage their products and services for your own business.

This week we’re pleased to cast the spotlight on Venture Connects — a national platform for entrepreneurs, investors, and service providers to meet, partner, and grow their businesses. Venture Connects is based in Chicago, IL. and serves clients all over the U.S.

What Is Venture Connects?

What Needs Does It Address?

Venture Connects is an online and offline forum where entrepreneurs, business owners, accredited investors and service providers can connect and find everything they need for business success. Whether it’s a startup looking for venture capital funding, an established business looking for a contract lawyer, or an investor looking for the “next big thing,” Venture Connects offers a a secure and interactive meeting place to facilitate and encourage all of these types of transactions, and more.

In addition to facilitating connections between all of its stakeholders, Venture Connects offers its business leaders access to resources such as blog articles and informational resources, webinars, and mentorships (both online and offline). The organization also hosts and promotes a number of in-person events to help bolster strategic business connections in the real world.

Entrepreneurs sign up with a paid membership to the site, and can choose between Bronze, Silver or Gold levels of access to the resources on the site. In addition, all entrepreneurs and business owners are granted access to discounted business services from its user base of qualified service providers. Service providers are vetted by the Venture Connects team and pay a monthly fee to be part of the community. Investors may sign up for free, after a stringent screening and accreditation process from the Venture Connects legal team.

Although based in Chicago, and with a large percentage of its current clientele based in the city, Venture Connects launched nationally in January 2013 — accepting entrepreneurs, accredited investors and service providers from all over the United States.

What Needs Does It Address?

What Needs Does It Address?
Unlike most other startup incubators and accelerators, Venture Connects incorporates service providers into the mix of resources available to its startup (and established business) clientele. Also unlike other incubators, Venture Connects does not take an equity stake in any of the member businesses. Its business model is based on paid memberships from entrepreneurs and service providers. “That’s unlike any comparable incubator or accelerator in the startup industry,” says CEO R.J. Pahura.

Another important feature which sets Venture Connects apart from competitors is the accreditation process it puts its investors through before they can become members of the community. “Believe it or not, investors in 99 percent of other venture capital portals are typically not vetted at all. If you say you’re worth $300 million, that’s good enough for most sites,” says Pahura, “but not for us!” Instead, investors that apply for membership at Venture Connects are researched, interviewed and given SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) level accreditation if they pass an application process administered by Venture Connects securities lawyers. “This ensures that the investors are who they say they are, and that our entrepreneurs can trust the deals that are presented within the confines of the Venture Connects community,” says Pahura.

This focus on quality and trust extends to the service providers on the site as well. “We want to make sure we’re only getting the best value-added service providers for our members,” says Pahura. The monthly fee for service providers to list and interact on the site is high enough to be a disincentive to illegitimate or fly-by-night operations. Yet it still provides a return on investment for the service providers “that would put traditional advertising to shame,” Pahura says.

Beyond the technical aspects of Venture Connects, however, there lies a deeper mission and purpose, according to Mr. Pahura. “2012 took a toll on a lot of people,” says Pahura. “Many people lost their jobs, their careers, and they don’t know how to turn things around.” Venture Connects provides people with an option, “a chance to dust themselves off and become first-time entrepreneurs,” Pahura says.

“We can provide them with everything they need to succeed, whether it’s help creating a business plan, writing up supplier contracts, or even securing investment capital to buy equipment or hire employees.” Pahura adds, “at the end of the day, we’re giving people a chance to do something great. We’ve assembled a team and a great group of partners to help make that a reality — whether you’re new to entrepreneurship or a seasoned business veteran.”

How You Can Leverage Venture Connects

How You Can Leverage Venture Connects

If you’re an entrepreneur, a business services provider, or a venture capital investor, Venture Connects provides a plethora of opportunities to connect with resources and partners that can foster your business success. “We believe that 2013 is the year of rebuilding, and the year of the entrepreneur,” says Pahura. “We’re setting our sights well beyond Chicago. We’re getting interested parties contacting us from all over the country,” he says, “and we welcome anyone and everyone who has legitimate value to add to the re-emerging entrepreneurial spirit of this country.”

If that’s not motivation enough to reach out to Venture Connects, as part of its national promotional push Venture Connects is offering a free, three-month membership to the first 10,000 entrepreneurs who sign up. Reach out to Venture connects through its website, or through its Twitter or Facebook accounts.

Know of any other startups that would make a good feature on Spotlight on Startups? Contact us, or let us know in the comments below.

[Image credits: Venture Connects (FB), Voka, DCLG, eschipul]