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Small Business Forum packed with advice

BY INA PAIVA CORDLE

Do your research, be sure to network, pick partners who have complementary skills and make sure your product is amazing.

Starting or growing a business can be daunting for an entrepreneur. So have a plan, give only a sliver of your business away to investors, know how much money you need and how you will spend it, and demonstrate your passion when searching for capital.

Experts doled out that advice and more at The Miami Herald’s Small Business Forum on Thursday at Florida International University.

About 100 attendees — budding entrepreneurs, small-business owners and others — gleaned tips and inspiration during a series of panel discussions.

Matt Kuttler, co-president of ReStockIt.com, started three businesses with his business partner, who started as his high school friend.

“The background is trust,” he said, advising entrepreneurs to choose someone with similar values, and to ask themselves: “Can I work with this person? Can I respect them?” In that way, though they have had disagreements, “Ultimately, the mutual respect brings us back,” Kuttler said

Before founding ReStockIt.com, which the partners sold four months ago to a Baltimore company, Kuttler did lots of research and networked with everyone he could, asking questions.

Know what you want and what you don’t want when searching for a venture, he counseled. For example, if you don’t want to work nights and weekends, don’t start a restaurant. And be aware that even though you can have a thriving personal life, you will always be thinking of your business.

PerlmanAlberto Perlman, chief executive and co-founder of Zumba Fitness, energized attendees with his tale of starting and growing the Miami business, which combines exercise with entertainment. Zumba classes are now found in 140,000 locations in 186 countries, and the company has sold 12 million DVDs.

“One of the biggest business lessons of Zumba,” said Perlman, the keynote speaker, “is that the product has to be magical. It has to be amazing.”

Other lessons he offered: only give investors or licensees “a sliver of the business” —only what they need. Always “give people more value than what they are paying for.” And spend the money to hire “A” players.

Paneli3eze.St.56To find financing for a small business or start-up, get help putting together a business plan and a loan application from organizations like SCORE and Partners for Self Employment, their executives said.

Marjorie Weber, Miami-Dade chapter chair of SCORE, advised being careful not to borrow short term if your needs are long term.

And when you are asked, “ ‘How much do you need,’ never answer with ‘How much can you give me,’ ” said Cornell Crews Jr., program director at Partners for Self Employment. “Always know how much you need and how you are going to spend it.”

When pitching to potential investors, do your homework to see what they are interested in, and make a good first impression, said Darius G. Nevin, co-founder of G3 Capital Partners, a mid-market and early-state investment company.

“Image matters,” he said.

To present your business, frame it in terms of a problem and a solution, said Melissa Krinzman, founder and managing director of Venture Architects.

“If you don’t have a problem you are solving for your customer, you don’t really have a business,” she said.

What’s more, show your passion and commitment, said Boris Hirmas Said, chairman of Tres Mares.

“I love clever ideas; I love clever people,” he said.

And find someone who believes in you, because the road ahead may be bumpy, he said. “You don’t want people to pull the plug on you.”

Finally, expert coaches critiqued entrepreneurs’ pitches so they could shine.

Among the tips: begin with a provocative sentence to explain why your business solves a problem. Go from ‘why’ to ‘what’ to ‘how,’ to ‘who,’ and always ask for something — like an investment or advice. Also, offer what experience you and your team have in your field.

Speak directly into the microphone and take your hands out of your pocket.

“Showing your hands shows you have nothing to hide,” said Michelle Villalobos of Mivista Consulting.

And share your passion, said David Suarez of Interactive Training Solutions.

“If you can make your audience feel what you are feeling,” he said, “you have done most of your job.”

(Photos, by Miami Herald photographer Al Diaz, show Alberto Perlman of Zumba Fitness, top, and the panel of financing experts, from left, Marjorie Weber of SCORE Miami-Dade, Darius G. Nevin of G3 Capital Partners, Cornell Crews Jr. of Partnership for Self-Employment, Carlos Alzate of JPMorgan Chase, and Boris Hirmas Said of Tres Mares and FIU entrepreneur in residence. The panel was moderated by Melissa Krinzman of Venture Architects.)

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