Natasha Pongonis

The conversation is in Spanish, and Natasha Pongonis is here to translate.

Pongonis just completed 10Xelerator, an intense 10-week entrepreneur bootcamp, with an assist from the Small Business Development Center at Columbus State.

During the program, she honed her plan for Oye! Business Intelligence, a tool to track social media buzz in Spanish (and Spanglish). The tool is intended to help companies monitor social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, find out what people are saying about their products, and promote their products more effectively.

Social media tracking products exist, but they don't handle Spanish very well, Pongonis says. They often can't tell which conversations come from outside the US, and they don't have a handle on Spanish slang. Spanglish (a mixture of Spanish and English) mints new words all the time.

Pongonis went into 10Xelerator with a leg up from SBDC and a strong track record of entrepreneurship. The Argentina native is also a cofounder of Social Media Spanish, a Columbus-based consulting firm that helps companies navigate the Spanish-language social media scene. In one recent case, she helped Fox's "X Factor" TV show determine which judge appealed most to Hispanics (Demi Lovato).

Pongonis first approached the SBDC about the Oye! business concept in 2012. This led to the SBDC working with Pongonis during her time in the 10xelerator. The 10xelerator takes the startup process to the next level. Everything is amplified because of the short time frame. Each week brings new challenges for the entrepreneur.

SBDC head Michael Bowers served as Oye!'s lead advisor in the program and worked with Latino SBDC Director Ariana Ulloa-Olavarrieta to assist Pongonis in developing her business strategy and secure resources. Pongonis leveraged the networking opportunities of the 10xelerator both with the other team members and also with the local and extended mentor network. She travelled to the West Coast two times during the program to reach potential customers and investors.

"What I think was the most positive outcome is the connections I made in 10xelerator," Pongonis says.

Coming out of 10xelerator, Pongonis has assembled a 3-person team, including a "Big Data" specialist from Silicon Valley, and is developing the specs for the product. She's signed up several well-known companies as beta testers.

Bowers says she's in a good position for success.

"When you get those letters of intent, and you get beta testers, it's because you're able to tell them a story about how your product is going to work," Bowers says.

The Small Business Development Center, hosted at Columbus State, provides free or low-cost training to entrepreneurs to help create jobs in Central Ohio. It's not Columbus State's only program aimed at small business owners: Our Business Management department offers a degree or certificate in Entrepreneurship.

The college co-sponsored an entrepreneurship challenge, the 1492 project, in 2011. One of the competitors was Dan Wilson, a Columbus State grad working on an innovative design for shipping pallets.

Images: A Year in the Life of Columbus State