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41 posts from March 2012

March 31, 2012

Business Plan Challenge entries reflect the realities of economy

I love coordinating the Business Plan Challenge. I admire the entrepreneurs’ optimism, passion and energy as they create their own jobs. It’s exciting to see new businesses forming that could be economic engines for South Florida in the future.
This year’s Challenge, now in its 14th year and sponsored by Florida International University’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center, brought in a record number of entries in both the Community and FIU Tracks — 115 and 45 entries, respectively. The 41 entries in the high school track were as creative as always — about 40 percent of them from one very spirited class at Ransom Everglades.
The Challenge entries reflected the diversity that is South Florida. There were culinary creations, medical products and services, mompreneur businesses, fashion concepts, green products and services, software for various industries and Latin America-focused businesses. There were lots of technology plans, particularly in the FIU Track. In the High School Track, it was apps, apps and more apps.
And, as has been the trend the past few years, many of the businesses and business ideas submitted reflected the economy. Most were simpler with lower startup costs than entries from earlier years. Bootstrapping rules. I saw quite a few construction and real estate-related ideas in the pack, as well as lots of lifestyle solutions to help people live more simply and/or frugally.
Another bright spot: More women than ever before entered — nearly 40 percent of the entries in the adult tracks were women-led businesses. That’s a vast improvement from just two years ago, when only one out of every 10 plans was by a women, and it mirrors a national trend.
What’s next in the Challenge? The entries in the FIU and High School Tracks have been judged, and the Community Track judging is underway. We’ll announce the semifinalists next Monday in Business Monday and MiamiHerald.com/business. Then we will announce the finalists on April 23, and we will also kick off our People’s Pick video competition that week. We’ll announce and feature the top three winners in each track, plus the People’s Pick winners, on May 7. If you would like the judges’ feedback on your plan, email me after the contest is over, May 7, and I will be happy to oblige as best I can. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg and #mhbizplan to keep up with the latest developments in the contest, too.
Which brings me to the part of this job I hate: Bringing the bad news to those who do not win. But now you’ve got a great business plan written, and true entrepreneurs will carry on with their ventures, proving us wrong with their successes. And that makes South Florida the big winner.

March 30, 2012

Women-owned businesses and The Richer Sex trend

Today I am featuring a post by Cindy Krishcher Goodman, host of the Work/Life Balancing Act blog, a Miami Herald contributing columnist and a business owner herself. Before we get started, here are results of some recent surveys on women-owned businesses.
A survey of Women-Led Businesses in Florida by The Commonwealth Institute South Florida suggests:
The majority of women business leaders in Florida are assuming more job responsibilities, including marketing, sales and human resources.
Women leaders follow national legislation closely and indicate they are aware of the impact it will have on their business.
65 percent of women will itilize internally generated funds to finance their company growth.
90 percent expect to maintain or moderately grow their workforce.
Here are results of surveys by American Express OPEN State of Women-Owned Businesses Report and The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institute:
The growth in the number (up 54 percent), employment (up 9 percent) and revenues (up 58 percent) of women-owned firms over the past 15 years exceeds the growth rates of all but the largest publicly traded firms.
Women-owned firms are exceeding overall sector growth rates in seven of the 13 most populous industries.
Women-owned firms in the 2007-2012 period show stronger relative growth than do women-owned firms in the earlier period at the very highest revenue category — $1 million and above.
By Cindy Krischer Goodman
CindyGoodmanSig2012On Monday, I called Liza Mundy for a chat. I felt like I could have talked on the phone with her for days. She has just finished two years of interviewing men and women about work, family, money, power, marriage and decision making. Her findings are in a newly published book called The Richer Sex. I LOVE THIS TOPIC!!!
I included some of my interview with Mundy, along with interviews with female business leaders, into my Miami Herald column today on The Richer Sex. Assuming present trends continue, Mundy believes that by the next generation more families will be supported by women than by men.
I asked Liza if she thought women were uncomfortable being called "breadwinners," traditionally used to describe men.
Women who outearn their husbands might feel uncomfortable with the term, she says. But those that earn all the income in their families would be comfortable being called a breadwinner.
I asked her what has changed in the last decade and why she feels the next generation of women will outearn men.
They are outearning men because they are going to college and are better educated, she says. "Guys think they will graduate from high school and get a decent paying industrial or labor job and they are wrong. Single childless women in their 20s have a higher median income than their male peers."
Are women entrepreneurs contributing to The Richer Sex trend?
Women businesses are doing well. A lot who start their business, do it because they are not getting enough flexibility from their institutional workplace. Sometimes, their businesses do so well that they hire their husbands.
What are the conversations going on in America's households about downshifting and raising kids?
For working parents to reach the highest levels of Corporate America, either the workplace needs to change or someone needs to have flexibility or be the stay at home spouse. Workplaces can only do so much. I know fathers who want to spend more time with kids.
I asked one of the women I spoke with whether she feels she missed out by being the sole provider. She doesn’t feel that way. Because her husband is such good runner of the household, when she gets home from work she can devote time to family. She is the one with the rich vacation benefits and the long workdays but her husband is supportive and she feels she is an attentive mother.
Read the rest of Cindy's post here .
Click here to read the Time Magazine article by Mundy on how women are overtaking men as breadwinners and why that's good for everyone.

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/worklifebalancingact/2012/03/men-women-money-power.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/worklifebalancingact/#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/27/2717414/women-becoming-the-richer-sex.html#storylink=cpy

March 28, 2012

Google initiative for small businesses coming to Miami -- free workshops April 3-4

This just in, it looks like a terrific program for small businesses so I wanted to post right away. Please note the information in the last paragraph about a free day of workshops coming up and a link to RSVP!

MIAMI, March 28, 2012 – Google today announced its statewide initiative, Florida Get Your Business Online. Google worked with local partners to design the program, which will help drive economic growth by giving Florida businesses the tools and resources to establish a website, find new customers, and grow their business. Increasing the number of small businesses online is one of the best ways to expand the Florida economy. Through research conducted, 97 percent of Americans look online for local products and services, and in Florida, 68 percent of small businesses do not have a website or online presence. 

“The perception that getting online is complex, costly and time-consuming has prevented many Florida small businesses from taking the first step,” said Scott Levitan, director of Small Business Engagement at Google. “This program makes it fast, easy and free for businesses to get online."

For the next year, participating Florida businesses can go to www.floridagetonline.com to get a free website as well as free tools, training and resources to help their business succeed online. Google is partnering with Intuit to provide its popular Intuit Website offerings for free, including an easy-to-build website, a customized domain name and web-hosting for one year.

“As a leading provider of small business solutions, we have witnessed the growth small businesses have seen from getting online,” said Megan Bhattacharyya, product manager at Intuit. “We are excited to offer Intuit Websites for free to all the wonderful small businesses in Florida and to help them create a customized presence that represents their unique brands.”

According to Google, businesses limit their exposure to customers if they don’t have a website. Small businesses need to be online because that’s where their customers are. In America today, no matter the size of the business, having a website is as vital as having a phone. Google has teamed up with statewide organizations, including the Florida Small Business Development Center Network (FSBDCN), Florida Chamber of Commerce and Enterprise Florida to promote the program and advocate the importance for small businesses to get online.

“I am certain that Google’s ‘Florida Get Your Business Online’ initiative will be of great value to the over 100,000 small businesses established in Miami-Dade County. In today’s competitive business environment, penetrating new markets via the Internet is critical,” said Carlos Cardenas, regional director of the Small Business Development Center at Miami-Dade.

To kick off the program’s launch, Google will host multiple free workshops and seminars, where local businesses can register online and receive in-person instructions on how to get and better promote their business online. The free workshops will be held April 3 and 4 in Miami and April 5 in Tampa. To RSVP for one of these free events, please visit http://www.floridagetonline.com/rsvp, or call 1-800-985-3417.

Here is another story about these workshops.



March 26, 2012

Women and entrepreneurship: A Q&A with Nell Merlino

Nell Merlino headshot 6 5 08 (credit Linda Russell)Nell Merlino founded Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence to provide resources, business education and community support for female entrepreneurs seeking to grow their businesses quickly and sustainably. The model is women helping women, and the national nonprofit hosts monthly Meet Ups in South Florida and around the country for women entrepreneurs at all stages of growth. The organization’s national pitch competition will be in July in New York City and always attracts South Florida women. Visit www.countmein.org for more details.

Nell talked about her views on women in entrepreneurship in a Digital Debrief in today’s Business Monday. Here are some additional questions she answered.

Q. How would you describe your leadership style?

A. Inspirational, direct and fun.

Q. What does it take for an entrepreneur to be successful?

A. Know and go where the money is. Whether it's your banker, investors or customers, you need to know where your money is coming from. You should constantly be developing and deepening these relationships.

You also need to be sure you are doing what is going to make you the most money. To grow your business sustainably and increase revenues and profits you need to have a plan and focus your energy on implementing it effectively and on a clear timeline. Commit to a plan and keep your vision clear and at the forefront.

Q. You created Take Your Daughters to Work Day with the Ms. Foundation for Women nearly 20 years ago. Do programs like that still have value?

A. The focus of Take Your Daughters To Work Day was to grab girls ages 9-14, when they are most vulnerable to loss of self-esteem. To make girls more visible, valued and heard. To help them live their dreams. Yes, there have been significant strides in terms of opportunities for women and girls since then, but we’re by no means out of the woods. There are still far fewer women’s lives highlighted in the New York Times obituary column, for example, than there are for men. We need the work of women to be more regularly publicly recognized for their work in medicine, law, politics, business, the arts, to really have that sense of value come full circle.

Q. How did Count Me In begin and evolve?

A. The original concept for Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence was born in 2000. It was meant to be a multi-million dollar loan fund to help women entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Through what we thought was an innovative month-long campaign supported by leaders in television, on-line, finance and media, we planned to raise $25-50 million for the fund in online donations of as little as $5.

We were wrong. Overestimating women’s comfort level around making online donations, especially to a brand new group, and not foreseeing the impeding dot-com crash, our fundraising targets were way off. We ultimate raised only about $150,000.

I felt like a failure but decided to keep going. I kept talking to people and sharing the vision. Eventually, American Express loaned us money to make some micro-loans, which we did, but the program still failed to take off as originally planned. Within a year, my original partner bailed on the project, leaving me to decide whether or not to pull the plug or figure out a way to reassess our vision and find a way to move forward. I chose the latter.

I came across a U.S. Census report that indicated while women owned nearly half of the nation’s privately held businesses, four times as many men as women owned businesses earned more than $1 million in annual revenues. That article sparked a change in thinking about the mission of Count Me In: what if we focused on what women could do instead of what they lacked? With this revised vision, Count Me In took off and went on to introduce its signature Make Mine a Million $ Business program and other effective business growth initiatives for women.

Q. If you could have a conference call with any three living people, who would they be?

A. President Obama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Lady Gaga

Q. What keeps you up at night?

A. My next big move

Q. What’s a great day for you?

A. Inspired creative problem solving with others or alone along with beautiful bike ride or swim

See the rest of this interview here.



March 25, 2012

What do Oprah and South Florida entrepreneurs have in common?

OprahReading this weekend about Oprah Winfrey's challenges with OWN, her newish network bankrolled by Discovery, reminds me that starting a new venture isn't easy.

 Even for Oprah.

Where am I going with this? Even with a mega-rich mega-brand like Oprah and $300 million-plus in funding from Discovery, she's struggling. She's used to being her own boss -- and still owns 50 percent of OWN network-- but the shakeup this week reminds me that even Oprah is willing to do what it takes to find traction and make OWN a success. Money can't do it all. Read the story here.

Most of the entrepreneurs I talk to would love to have even $100,000 of her wealth to get their business going. But they share a few powerful characteristics with her: passion for their business and the entrepreneurial energy to do what it takes.

I am always reminded about South Florida energy and passion about this time of year, with the 14th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge entry period just closing. This year: 200+ entries in a contest without cash prizes! (I wish we could give cash, but we're a contest for fun and education, exposure and connections). It's great to see such an outpouring of innovative ideas -- and many seem to have the business plans behind them to back them up.

The entries reflect the diversity that is South Florida: with everything from concepts for the film/TV/music space (this was a very popular category this year -- watch out, Oprah), yummy culinary concepts as always (watch out, Michelle Bernstein) and fashion to lots of plans in the international trade area, publishing and new media (watch out, Herald), a fair share of green business and social entrepreneurship concepts, plenty of mompreneur ideas, and tech, tech, tech (tech IS alive and well in South Florida).

If you entered the Challenge and did not receive an email confirmation, email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com so I can make sure your entry was received. Read more about what is next in the Business Plan Challenge contest here. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg for more contest developments.

Congratulations, South Florida entrepreneurs. You are all winners.     

March 23, 2012

Barry offers international double-MBA program

The following is from Barry University about a new international MBA program:

Barry University’s Andreas School of Business is now offering students from across the globe the opportunity to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Barry as well as one from their native country’s university in almost half the time it would take to do both separately.

Students can take part of the Double Degree program affording them the cultural experience and networking capabilities in two separate parts of the world through partnerships with several universities worldwide. Students study two semesters in their native university and two semesters at Barry. Once their academic work is complete, students have the opportunity to work at a U.S. company where they experience hands-on learning and training

Barry MBA students will also have the chance to study abroad and earn a degree from a partnering university through the Double Degree program.

BarrystudentDSC_0451Zuleima Bustamante, a student from Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia is the first to participate in this new program. She is an industrial engineer with a minor in computer science and is currently working on her Master of Business Administration with a specialization in International Business at Barry. (photo shows Zuleima Bustamante, provided by Barry)

For questions regarding the Double Degree program, please contact Paola Moreno, school of business, assistant dean at 305-899-3531 or pmoreno@mail.barry.edu

Business Plan Challenge deadline nears: Your questions answered

We’re down to the wire now. Saturday, March 24, is the last day to turn in your entries for the 2012 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.
Whether you are entering the Community Track, open to all South Floridians, the High School Track open to grades 9-12, or the FIU Track, open to students and alumni of that university, we will help you through it. Here are some general questions I received last week.
Q. Are there any formatting rules or specified fonts?
A. We require the type size be no smaller than 10 point. We don’t have margin requirements or a required font, but think readability — think about those judges.
Remember, your plan can be three typed pages. In addition to that, you can include one supplemental page for a financial chart, photo, diagram or other visual.
Q. Will I present my plan in front of the judges?
A. In our contest, the judges evaluate the submitted business plans, and their ratings of the written plans determine the winners. However, the top six finalists in the Community and FIU Tracks will present their elevator pitches on video, for the online world to see and vote on, in our People’s Pick contest. The People’s Pick winners will be honored as well. Also, at least three finalists will be invited to present in front of the Miami Innovation Fund, an early-stage fund, in a shark tank-like event and could receive a term sheet. Both of these opportunities provide experience making your pitch in front of investors.
Q. I incorporated my web-based company in 2009 but we launched the business last year. Are we eligible?
A. In our contest, we consider the date you opened for business and began selling your product or service as the start date, rather than date of incorporation. You’re eligible.
Q. I’m a middle school student. May I enter the high school track?
A. How could we say no to that? Congratulations on getting an early start on your entrepreneurial dreams. Give those high school students a run for their money.
Q. I am still researching and formulating my business and have not incorporated yet. Am I eligible?
A. Yes. A business does not have to be incorporated to enter our contest. Even business plans still in the dream phase are welcome. Student and class projects are fine, as well.
Q. I submitted an entry but did not hear from you. What should I do?
A. You should get an email from me within a day or two confirming your entry was received. If you don’t, email me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com so I can investigate. I’d hate for all your work to be held hostage by the spam folder.
Q. When’s that deadline again?
A. 11:59 p.m. March 24 — but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until the last minute to enter.
In fact, entering at least a day or two before the last day ensures I have a chance to check your entry and make sure everything came through and can open. If something is amiss, I can give you a chance to resubmit by the deadline. There are simply too many last-minute entries to do that the last day.
Last year, several people — including one of the winners — was glad they didn’t wait until the last minute because something did need resending.
Where to email your entries:
Community Track: challenge@miamiherald.com
Questions: ndahlberg@miamiherald.com
Good luck, everyone!
Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg #mhbizplan

March 22, 2012

JOBS Act clears Senate, goes back to House for expected final approval

By Lisa Mascaro

Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan bill to make it easier for small businesses to raise investment cash by easing federal regulations cleared the Senate, despite warnings from opponents that it could open the door to a new era of fraud.

Senators voted 73-26 to approve the legislation, after adding a provision that would bolster investor protections on the emerging practice of “crowd funding” — soliciting pools of investors online and through social media.

The measure now returns to the House, which is expected next week to pass the bill and send it to President Barack Obama, who supports the legislation.

The bipartisan support for the legislation reflects the desire of both parties to show voters that they are trying to bolster the economy.

Republicans, in particular, have insisted that the Jumpstart Our Business Start-ups, or JOBS, Act would help smaller companies expand and lead to job growth.

Read the rest of the story here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/22/2708644/jobs-act-clears-senate-back-to.html#storylink=cpy

Are printed business cards passe?

I just ordered a new set of printed business cards. Did I waste my money on this time-tested marketing and networking tool? Are they going the way of the dinosaur these days? I have noticed more and more people not having them. The LA Times wrote this week about the trend of people turning away from business cards. "Your business card is your website," one young business owner said. Read that story here. 
But maybe the business card as we know it is just evolving. Maybe a combination of printed cards, digital cards and storage capabilities, a website and just being open to reaching people in different ways is what we all need. 
What do you think? What kind of cards, apps or services are you using these days? 
Today my guest columnist is Jorge Cordova of WSI Digital Experts. He explores this topic and writes about some great digital tools. His post is below:
By Jorge Cordova 
CordovaIf you worked in an office environment as recently as twenty years ago, you might remember your sense of surprise when telexes, typewriters and fax machines reached obsolescence in relatively short periods of time. 
Could printed business cards be next? 
Printed cards date back to the reign of Louis XIV in France. Though they remain predominant in the business world, today even the most beautifully designed business card says “old school.” If you are looking to refresh your company’s image, cater to a younger market or simply want to impress your clients, you’ll probably want to consider mobile marketing replacements for the traditional business card. 
Here are three which I have found most popular and useful: 
Bump. As the name implies, instead of exchanging business cards, you literally bump your smart phone with the person you want to exchange contact information with. The free app on your phone senses a bump, sends your contact data to the Bump servers in the cloud and transmits it to the phone that bumped yours. One plus is that it’s multi-platform so an iPhone could bump a Blackberry, for example.
Cloudcard. Instead of sending a digital contact, Cloudcard allows you to send a personalized iPhone or Android app to the recipient. The app icon can be your picture or company logo. Your personalized app can include your contact information, a map to your business, link to your website, and even a video. Cloudcard is not free, it is currently priced at $3.00 a month.
Card Munch. For those still dealing with a lot of printed business cards, this may be the best option. It is a free LinkedIn iPhone app which allows you to take a photo of the business card and it will be transcribed, associated to their LinkedIn profile and show you what connections you have in common. Unfortunately though, it’s not available for Blackberry or Android phones. 
King Louis would be happy to know that it might be a bit early too say adieu to your paper cards, but if you are looking for a “wow” factor, there are a growing list of options at your disposal.
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.
Read Jorge's earlier post on Pinterest here.

March 21, 2012

Accion partners with New York Stock Exchange to create Job Growth Fund for small businesses

The nonprofit microlender Accion said Wednesday that it is partnering with the New York Stock Exchange, which has committed $1.5 million to help create the Accion NYSE Job Growth Fund. The partnership is part of NYSE’s BigStartUp initiative, a nationwide movement that connects young companies and entrepreneurs with corporate America to fuel job creation.

The NYSE is also calling on the corporate community, including about 70 Florida NYSE-listed companies, to donate to the Job Growth Fund. Accion’s goal is to raise $10 million in this fund by 2020, which it believes can impact 1 million small businesses across the country.

Accion, the largest microfinance lending network in the United States, said that since 1991, it has made more than 1,950 loans to help support and build small businesses in Miami.