At 26, Jeff Horst already has five years of entrepreneurial experience behind him.
That’s long enough to know that starting two companies at once is too much; that volunteering in many different social and community agencies can lead to burn out; and while he gains energy from relationships and community, he needs boundaries or levels of relationships with an inner core that is fully mutual.
It was in an intense house-church/communal-living time that he and Matt Martin, his friend and first cousin, became close and eventually developed the ideas for echosims, a platform that connects businesses with customers that want their services or products.
During a 2010 co-op placement through Conestoga College in Kitchener, Horst realized that business people had neither the skills nor the time to use the then-very-new social media platforms. When they asked him if he could provide this service to them, he said yes, and then had to go away to develop a business that would live up to that promise.
He and Martin also developed Meersocial, a business that was to help people learn how to use social media for their businesses, but that proved to be too much and it is lying fallow for the time being.
Horst credits his family and Mennonite background for his balance and success. His mother told him that he should work with people, not become a carpenter or one of the other professions many in his community in Hawkesville, Ont., took on. It was his brother-in-law, Shawn Good, son of Marion Good, regional director of resource development in the Waterloo Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) chapter, who nominated him for the inaugural MEDA 20 under 35 Awards.
Horst and Martin work out of their new offices on Water Street in Kitchener. At this point they have learned that their most successful clients are franchises. One of the reasons for this is that they can only take on one business in an industry, so that they don’t end up serving competitors in a geographic area. Since franchises are already geographically spread out, it works great for them.
Horst serves on the Grand River Hospital board and runs a fundraiser that combines his passion for playing ball hockey with getting food to the local food bank. Besides that, the employees and owners of echosims try to do one thing each month that serves the community.
Horst’s family went through a significant time of shift from the time he was 12, leaving a Midwest Mennonite congregation and moving on to other groups that were less conservative. He has retained a faith in God but is less sure about having all the answers or needing to share his faith overtly all the time. He finds that his life, the choices he makes, and his friendliness lead to enough opportunities to share questions and intensely discuss the meaning of faith and life.
He and Martin have discussed their goals and have decided that making piles of money is not the key to happiness. Instead, they are interested in having real relationships with their clients while exercising their gifts in bringing people together.
In 2014 Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) presented its inaugural 20 under 35: Young Professionals Changing the World Awards, honouring young adults from Canada and the U.S. for their “faith, entrepreneurial spirit and service.” Canadian Mennonite is featuring profiles of the Canadian winners. See also: