Taking a flying leap at funding

The need for speed came early for Scott Burns by Kevyn Burger

By Kevyn Burger

Only two when his parents first put him on skis, Scott Burns was a familiar figure flying down Spirit Mountain in his native Duluth. A junior Olympic champion alpine ski racer in his teens, Burns went on to compete as an NCAA Division I skier at Dartmouth.

Now the 42-year-old St. Paul entrepreneur is taking his passion for movement to speed-funding Structural, a platform turned tech startup he co-founded in May 2017.

Snagging investors is a much easier job than it was the last time Burns climbed the money mountain.

“It’s taking me 1% of the time it took me to raise money in 2000,” Burns says.

It’s easier to get results when investors have gotten satisfying returns. Burns now has such a record to run on, as they say in politics. He was 24 when he co-founded GovDelivery, a cloud-based software technology company that aids government agencies in their communications with citizens. It was acquired by Vista Equity Partners for $153 million last year and Burns stayed on for a time to helm the transition for the new owners.

Building GovDelivery and managing a staff that grew to 230 alerted Burns to an unfilled need for company managers and HR departments; Structural is the employee management platform created to bridge the gap.

“We saw the need for a platform that takes data on employees and organizes it so employees can better understand their colleagues and their managers and make deeper connections with them,” Burns explains. “It delivers those insights to managers so they can be more effective.”

Accessed nimbly through a mobile application, Burns believes that Structural has the potential to move beyond a niche to becoming universally embedded in the workplace.

“Technology does an amazing job connecting us — with Facebook for our personal lives and LinkedIn for finding jobs,” he adds. “But tech has let down the workforce. Most people are better connected with college classmates on Facebook than the guy they spend 40 hours a week with who’s sitting 15 feet away.”  

Burns collaborated on the web-based software startup with High Alpha, based in Indianapolis; the venture capital company incubated the tech platform and has invested $1 million in Structural to date.

“Then we raised $1 million in bridge financing to beef up our bank account and make sure we had the money to fund the business into 2019,” Burns said. “We’re going to raise another $1 to $2 million this year and early next year and hope to bring in another financial partner.”

Most of the money Burns has raised has come from Minnesota investors who have each staked $25,000 to $100,000 in the startup.

“Many investors have made a lot of money as tech companies scale and offer strong exit opportunities. There’s broad awareness of how even companies that are solid but not wildly successful can generate great financial returns.”

Burns is also seeing an increasing number of investors who are pooling funds and spreading the money around with five to ten startups.

“There’s a longer list of Minnesota investors looking for new deals,” he adds

Although he’s got a winning track record, Burns continues to woo and win investors to Structural. He’s personally met or spoken by phone to each one of them.

Burns was just starting out when he went looking for funding for GovDelivery; now 42, he can assure investors that he knows what it takes to build and scale a tech business.  

“They want to make sure you’ve got your heart in it and that you’re motivated to win again,” he said. “It’s a sacred bond you form when someone gives you money to pursue your dream and raise your own equity. My investors are entitled to my best efforts at getting a return.

“The fact is, raising money shouldn’t be easy, it should be hard. I think it’s healthy that entrepreneurs have to demonstrate that they’re committed.”