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32 posts from February 2012

February 28, 2012

GMCC launches new tech networking event

Kevin Levy, chair of the Greater Miami Chamber's Technology Committee, sent along this information about a new networking event on Thursday.

The Greater Miami Chamber's Technology Committee will be hosting a new event this year from 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m. on Thursday, March 1, titled MIAMI'S GOT TECH! - Where Innovation, Business and Talent Meet. This will be an incredible networking event (expected attendance of 150)  created to bring together our leading South Florida technology companies and top technology talent from area universities, colleges and technical schools. The evening, held at Miami's newest and coolest high tech venue, 600 Brickell Avenue, promises to be a lively interactive event where you will meet, talk and share tech with the best South Florida has to offer.

Levey says that "too many sharp, smart and savvy technology students are not aware of all of the technology jobs (of all  levels and types) available in South Florida, and too many South Florida  technology companies are not aware of all of the sharp, smart and savvy technology students in South Florida. To grow the technology community ecosystem, we need to bring these groups together."

There is a charge for the event -- if you register in advance, it's $25 for members, $35 for nonmembers and free for university students with ID (at the door: $50). Go here to register and find out more.  

Small businesses, how's your credit?

Elizabeth KarwowskiElizabeth Karwowski founded Get Credit Healthy to help individuals improve their credit health. She is also a volunteer with SCORE and she will be leading a workshop called "Understand and Improve Your Credit Score" on Thursday evening in Davie. More details are here. One of her colleagues will be leading a workshop in downtown Miami for SCORE on Saturday morning. Details are here.

Elizabeth wrote this guest post for The Starting Gate:

Due diligence can be defined as ‘appropriate carefulness.’ Today, more than ever before, shopping for small business capital has become a greater challenge to those seeking to breath life into their ventures.  As standard practice, lenders ‘pull’ the individuals credit report and from there review the business financials to determine suitability for a loan. Failure to receive funding quite often is not caused by business heath or potential, but a low under 675, personal credit score.

Most lenders in the USA use FICO Scores to determine credit worthiness and the interest rate they should charge. By assessing variables within your credit history, a calculation is made and a number applied to your account. The average is 650 with a range extending to 800. The higher the number, the better the credit risk and the easier it becomes to access credit.

How often you make payments and paying on time every time is the largest single factor lenders consider. It demonstrates repayment responsibility.

In the FICO model past payment behavior accounts for 35% of your credit score.

The amount you owe, the total of all your outstanding debt, accounts for 30% of your score and is the second most important consideration lenders use when evaluating credit risk.

Credit behavior and consistent repayment history over time is worth 15%.  While the amount of new credit that you carry 10%.  Multiple recent credit lines suggest financial difficulty tending to lower your score. Applying for credit lines should only be done when absolutely necessary. Avoid credit cards that offer a period of no interest just for signing up. Tabled on your report, they can lower your score.

The final 10% of your FICO score is determined by your credit mix. A variety of revolving credit from various lenders, serviced on time every time, indicates that the borrower is able to manage his debt and accordingly is less of a credit risk. 

The mistake made by many small business owners when, shopping for credit is not knowing their personal credit history and credit score. 

A clean bill of personal credit health provided by your credit report is a must.  Without it, small business loans will be extremely difficult to come by.

 Elizabeth Karwowski is founder, president and CEO of Get Credit Healthy Inc., a consumer-advocacy organization, to help individuals improve their credit health. She has FICO and Fair Credit Reporting Act certifications.  Karwowski is also a volunteer counselor and workshop presenter for the business nonprofit SCORE.

 

February 24, 2012

CodeMeet, LiveNinja emerge from SuperConf shark tank with $$

Odemeet.jpgNine startups competed in front of a shark tank-like panel of judges at SuperConf, held at the Miami Beach Convention Center on Friday. After the judges deliberated, one Miami company — CodeMeet — left with $26,000 in cash and prizes.

CodeMeet, founded by Deverraux Jones, is a live video and realtime platform for developers around the world to meet and work on code together. Jones moved to Miami about six months ago from Boston, where he was a student at MIT and developed the platform. So far a one-man show, Jones is ready to put his prize money to work by beginning to build out his team, and will be looking for programmers and business development people, he said.

(Photo above by Bruno Miranda shows grand prize winner Deverraux Jones receiving his prize from SuperConf founder Auston Bunsen and one of the judges, Pedro Torres Picon, founder and managing director of  Quotidian Ventures.)

Each presenting company gave a 10-minute pitch. Then, judges, most angels and VCs from Silicon Valley or New York such as Brad McCarty of The Next Web, Matt Tanase of Slicehost and DevStructure and Pedro Torres Picon of Quotidian Ventures, lobbed questions at them on revenue models, scalability, target markets and marketing strategies, among other topics. The startups also took a grilling from the packed room. The pitches were also live-streamed at supercomf.co/live.

LiveNija.jpgThe other companies that presented were Freqent, Politify, LiveNinja, 71Lbs, GoodMate, WhatUpBridge, Flomio and DateLatte. All but Politify and Goodmate are from Florida. Miami-based LiveNinja, a video chat marketplace and monetization platform for experts on any topic, was runnerup and received $3,500 in prizes. Its founders are Will Weinraub, Emilio Cueto and Alfonso Martinez. (Photo by Bruno Miranda shows runner-up Will Weinraub and other LiveNija team members receiving their prize.)

The nine companies were chosen from a pool of about 60 from around the country, the organizers said. Opportunities to network and pitch in front of investors are becoming more commonplace in South Florida, and that's a good thing for the entrepreneurial ecosystem.

SuperConf is billed as a two-day conference where web development and entrepreneurship converge. Audience.jpgOrganized by developer Auston Bunsen for the second year, the conference continues Saturday for ticket-holders, and will feature speakers such as Jeremy Ashkenas of the New York Times and creator of programming language CoffeeScript, Zach Holman and Ben Bleikamp of GitHub, Jason L. Baptiste of OnSwipe, Chris Nagele of Wildbit, Richard Crowley of Square and Luke Seeley of MetaLab, publicist Pabla Ayala said.

(Photo by Bruno Miranda shows the SuperConf audience asking questions of a startup after a startup presentation)

SuperConf is one of about a dozen events that were held this week as part of Miami Tech Week.

 

Get a leap on your business plan with a free workshop Wednesday

Cornell Crews, program director for the Partners for Self-Employment, a terrific nonprofit that offers the community help in everything from starting a business, to finding financing, to taking it to the next level, is offering a free seminar (all this organization's seminars are free) called "The Business Plan" on Wednesday, Feb. 29.

Cornell said the seminar will cover writing a business plan, elements of a business plan and funding sources (both traditional and alternative).

The details: It will be Wednesday, Feb. 29, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Partners for Self-Employment offices, 3000 Biscayne Blvd., Suite 215, Miami. It's free but RSVP is required to cornell@partnersforselfemployment.org. Free parking available.

Read an earlier Q&A with Cornell about Partners for Self-Employment here.

February 23, 2012

International challenges, local solutions

Miami_Herald-FIU_Forum_-_2-23-12_(3)Currency fluctuations, customs and laws, red tape, supplier issues, shortages of labor, long turn-around times -- these are all challenges of doing business internationally. "Don't underestimate face to face business. Get on a plane," Devon Rifkin of The Great American Hanger Company, who does business around the world, told the audience at the Miami Herald Small Business Forum Thursday. Though  the company has many of its hangers made in Asia, what's new is that the company is now giving customers  more Made in the USA options.

Frank Unanue of Goya Foods of Florida noted that in his industry margins are already small, so great logistics, a lean supply chain and vertical integration are key. Goya sources from all ofter the world.  "We try something and if it doesn't work we try something else." But one thing he sticks by: loyal, trustworthy, reliable suppliers -- even if he has to pay more. Some have been with his company for more than 50 years.

Mary Hernandez of the U.S. Small Business Administration, who specializes in its export programs, advised the audience to do your homework and take advantage of resources like export.gov and sba.gov/whyexport, where you can develop your own international marketing plan. She advised working with lenders participating in the SBA's import/export program -- companies need to have at least one year of operation under their belt. She said lending within the program has gone up in South Florida, from $14 million in 2010, to $20 million in 2011, and she expects more in 2012.

Desmond Alufohai, international trade coordinator at Miami-Dade County's Office of Economic Development & International Trade, pointed out that there are also local resources available to help small businesses. His department offers trade missions, webinars and workshops, a newsletter and more.   

There's a growing need. Jerry Haar, professor and head of FIU College of Business's Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center, pointed out there are 400,000 companies in Florida who are exporting and that 97 percent of U.S. exporters are small businesses.

(Photo of Miami Herald Small Business Forum at FIU's College of Business courtesy of BGT Partners)

Web-based businesses built on platform on passion

Miami_Herald-FIU_Forum_-_2-23-12_(1)Heard at the Miami Herald Small Business Forum:

Valerie Holstein started her company, CableOrganizer.com, with $30 for the domain name when she was in her last month of pregnancy.

Birame Sock of Third Solutions launched, ran and later sold her previous company, Musicphone, from her bed -- she didn't even have a desk. To be an entrepreneur, she says, "you have to be a little crazy."

Vince Virga of SkillStorm found his inspiration from his entrepreneurial father and grandfather. Inspired by watching his grandfather's cabinet making, so strong and durable, he couldn't wait to begin building his own great company -- to last.

David Clarke, who launched BGT Partners in 1996, achieved success, in part, by elephant hunting -- going after contracts at the big companies. "You start with a small contract, work your ass off and you get more. They all talk to each other."

Brandon Dorsey of Backlog Capital says wants to see customer surveys and other data to find out how companies respond to feedback and problems.

Some of their advice: Do your own due diligence on your investors (Sock). Business is conducted very differently in every country. I learned that the hard way (Holstein). "You have to have passion-- and have fun with it" (Clarke).  Relationships matter (Virga).

(Photo of web-based panel, from left, Dorsey, Virga, Business Editor and moderator Jane Wooldridge, Clarke,  Sock, Holstein, courtesy of BGT Partners) 

Small Biz Forum: Mike Fernandez brings it home

MIKEFERNANDEZ_PABJumping from a plane in the Army and the shoot doesn't open. Nearly going broke and having to move the family in with the parents -- for three years -- while he worked things out with suppliers. Two heart attacks and cancer. When these things happen, as they did to South Florida's ultra-successful serial entrepreneur Miguel "Mike" Fernandez, "you start valuing your life," he said at the Miami Herald Small Business Forum's keynote address Thursday.

Along the way, Fernandez, who came to this country from Cuba as a child and never finished college, has founded and sold 11 businesses. He currently has six, all debt free, and is chairman of MBF Capital Partners, a private equity fim focusing on healthcare services. "We buy things that are broken, we fix them and we sell them." (Photo of Fernandez by Peter Andrew Bosch/Miami Herald Staff)

Tweets flew as he spoke -- people in the audience of 175 or so in FIU's College of Business Complex were inspired and greatly admired his passion. Some commented on how humble he came across, despite his super-wealth, as he told story after story, speaking from the heart. Though he could slow down, he said: "I love what I do, I am passionate about what I do." He says he works just as hard as he always did, but "probably smarter." Great leadership begins with you, he said. "You've got to believe your own BS. Live it, dream it, see it, believe it" he said, adding high ethical values are very important. More advice: Surround yourself with smarter people than you. He recommended the book "Tell to Win" about using story-telling strategically in leadership.

His mantra and screen saver says it all: Achieving SUPER Results: Sacrifice + Urgency + Passion + Execution = Results.

Now Fernandez says he is more in the give-back phase of his life, and his philanthropic efforts are centered on healthcare and education. He admitted that it took a while to fully get on board with this, and credits his Jewish friends as role models. "The more you give, the more you get."

Read an earlier profile of Fernandez and other South Florida serial entrepreneurs by my colleague Ina Paiva Cordle here. And look for Ina's coverage of the Forum in Monday's Business Monday.

 

The economy: How optimistic are you?

I don’t know about you, but most of the entrepreneurs I know are optimistic. I think it comes with the territory. But let’s see if you agree with these survey findings:

According to the first Kauffman/LegalZoom Startup Confidence Index released this month by the Kauffman Foundation:

28 percent of the startup respondents said they plan to hire more staff in 2012.

68 percent of them expect the economy to improve or stay the same; 31 percent expect it to deteriorate.

81 percent are confident or very confident that their businesses will be more profitable in the next 12 months than they are today.

The findings are based on 800 responses to a nationwide survey in January. The Startup Confidence Index is the first in a series of quarterly surveys to gauge entrepreneurial confidence. The next survey will be conducted in April 2012. The complete findings are available at www.kauffman.org/confidenceindex.

Do you think you will be hiring in 2012? Are you confident that the economy will improve?

February 22, 2012

Last day to buy tickets online for Small Business Forum

Tickets are available here until 5 p.m. Wednesday to attend the The Miami Herald’s annual Small Business Forum on Thursday, Feb. 23. Sponsored by Florida International University’s Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship South Florida, this year’s forum will feature business experts who have been in the trenches with small businesses, either as entrepreneurs themselves or as consultants and agency leaders who work with small businesses every day.

Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners and one of South Florida’s leading serial entrepreneurs, will be the keynote speaker.

Panels of South Florida entrepreneurs will explore how to finance your business idea, launching and growing a web-based business and seeking opportunities in international markets.

The forum, held at FIU’s South Campus at the College of Busienss Complex, will be held Feb. 23 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets cost $25 and include a continental breakfast and lunch. Small Business Forums have sold out in the past.

To buy your ticket now, go here. A limited number of tickets may be available at the door.

Is Pinterest right for your small business?

Today's guest blogger is Jorge Cordova, a digital marketing consultant with WSI Digital Experts. Here is his post.

JorgeCordovaJust when you’re getting your arms around Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, out of nowhere comes the next new thing: Pinterest.

Think of a community bulletin board at a church, dorm room or other gathering place -- turn it virtual -- and you have the concept of Pinterest. Users can share images they find interesting or inspiring, and these “Pins” can be placed on thematic “Boards” that users can customize by topic.

In case you blinked and missed it, over the past six months Pinterest has become the new social media rising star, going from virtual anonymity to more than 8 million unique visitors per month and a buzz that is reaching a fever pitch among the digital marketing ecosystem. In record time it has become one of the most popular social media portals for consumers to visit prior to visiting a retailer’s website.

As you’re starting your new business you’ve probably been advised that you need to explore social media sites to get your message out and begin a dialogue with clients and prospects. Is Pinterest right for you? Consider the following before investing your finite resources:

It’s extremely visual. The key to getting attention on Pinterest is to have very engaging pictures. A funky fashion boutique or a cupcake shop that has professional looking images of their products would generate more appeal than a legal firm.

You can’t directly sell products. That violates Pinterest’s terms of use, but you can get creative and cross promote to contests and other content you publish on Facebook or your blog. You can also put a “Pin It” button on your website and it will pin your image or video with a single click.

Creativity pays. Unique images and content tend to stand out in Pinterest.

Jorge Cordova has worked in electronic commerce for more than 15 years and is currently a Digital Marketing Consultant for WSI Digital Experts. You can follow him on Twitter: @WSI_JCordova or contact by email jcordova@wsidigitalexperts.com.