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41 posts from December 2012

December 30, 2012

Making the case for crowdfunding: Q&A with Sherwood 'Woodie' Neiss

Sherwoodneiss122112 sherwood neiss ADDSherwood Neiss

Position: Principal at Crowdfund Capital Advisors, Miami.

Age: 43

Grew up: New Canaan, Conn.

Lives: Miami Beach, since 2004

Education: B.A. in Japanese and Political Science from Tulane University; International MBA from Thunderbird, American Graduate School of International Management.

Previously worked: Paine Webber in New York, Ernst & Young and PeopleSoft in San Francisco, before co-founding FLAVORx in Washington, D.C.

Favorite saying: "The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it." -Ayn Rand.

Q&A by Ina Paiva Cordle

Sherwood "Woodie" Neiss is passionate about entrepreneurship. And he has helped lead the charge to change nearly 80-year-old federal securities laws about investing, so that entrepreneurs can gain access to capital.

Called crowdfunding, the changes will allow small investors to fund start-up businesses, hopefully creating jobs and boosting the economy in the process.

Earlier this month, while Neiss was in Dubai speaking at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, we emailed him questions. Here are his edited responses.

Q. Please tell me about your entrepreneurial background.

A. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. I was the kid selling lollipops in elementary school, mowing lawns in high school and selling T-shirts to get through grad school. I learned early on that input drives output and nothing happens of its own accord.

I helped co-found a company, FLAVORx, based in Washington, D.C. FLAVORx solved the problem of getting kids to take yucky tasting medicine. By the time we sold the company in 2007, we’d gone from two to 50 employees and one to 40,000 pharmacies, including the nation’s biggest retail chains like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.

Q. Please explain what crowdfunding is and how you became involved.

A. Crowdfunding is where a group of people pool money together to help fund someone with an idea. As a concept it isn’t new. Prior to 1900, Savings and Building Associations allowed communities to come together to finance home purchases. Charity events and political contributions are also forms of crowdfunding.

 Kickstarter launched the current crowdfunding movement in the past five years. I became involved because, with the collapse of the financial markets in 2008 and the recession, everyone was talking about jobs.

My peers Jason Best, Zak Cassady-Dorion and I (all entrepreneurs) understood that the only way out of the recession was to create jobs. Jobs provide wages, and people use those wages to buy goods and services. Money flowing through the system will improve the economy.

However, in order to create jobs, businesses need access to capital. And with the financial meltdown this capital evaporated. We understood that we needed to get capital flowing to small businesses.

Frustration also helps. I won a Startup Weekend event here in Miami. A crowd of people thought I had a winning idea for a company – using smart phones for instant polling. I went out to raise money for it and couldn’t find it. Jason, Zak and I couldn’t understand why it was OK to ask people to give money to worthy causes but it was illegal to ask those same people to invest in a worthy business.

Q. What was the law previously and when was it created?

A. Seeking investment capital from the public is illegal unless you go through a costly registration process with the Securities & Exchange Commission. One of the reasons for the Great Depression was shysters selling fictitious shares of worthless companies to unsuspecting investors. The SEC was formed with a mandate to protect investors, and also to promote the efficient use of capital.

So in 1933 and 1934 they passed laws to prohibit people (issuers) from publicly soliciting money from people (investors) who are essentially not millionaires (accredited). We’ve lived under these laws with a few exemptions for the past 80 years. The exemptions worked just fine until the collapse of the financial markets in 2007, because the private markets were providing the capital necessary for startups and small businesses to hire and grow. As the capital markets dried up, small businesses suffered disproportionately.

The old rules needed to change. However, it required updating the security laws to the Internet Age, something regulators were opposed to. Our job was to show our legislators that the advances in technology (the Internet) and social media could allow us to do what the regulators couldn’t on their own, patrol the markets.

 Our 10-point framework, called the Startup Exemption would allow communities of people to come together on SEC-registered websites, vet an entrepreneur, business idea, financial model and investment opportunity and decide if it is worthy of funding. Since it was investing instead of donating, we called it Crowdfund Investing.

Continue reading "Making the case for crowdfunding: Q&A with Sherwood 'Woodie' Neiss" »

December 28, 2012

Miami startup launches Kickstarter for sleek iPhone case

Lester Mapp“As a designer, I have a lot of respect for the iPhone’s appearance. I don’t think its brilliant design should be compromised by a cheap looking, bulky case,” says designed by m founder and CEO Lester Mapp, pictured at left.  

Designed by m AL13 aerial viewSo what did Mapp do? He  designed the AL13, an ultra-thin iPhone bumper that he says protects without compromising the style. It’s made from lightweight aerospace aluminum and has a sleek, premium finish (black, silver or red) that blends seamlessly with the iPhone 4 or iPhone 5.

On Thursday, Mapp and his  team launched the AL13 on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website. Click here to visit the project page.

Based in Miami, designed by m opened for business in November and plans designs for the smartphone, auto and gadget markets, Mapp says.

5 pressing issues small business will face in 2013

By Joyce M. Rosenberg, Associated Press

In 2013, small business owners will contend with many of the same issues that made it hard to run their companies during the past 12 months.

They’re also heading into the new year with a lot of uncertainty. It’s unlikely that negotiations in Congress will resolve all of lawmakers’ disagreements over tax and budget issues that affect small businesses. And there are still many questions about the implications of the healthcare law for small companies.

That points to continued caution — and perhaps slow hiring — among the nation’s small companies.

“Uncertainty is the bane of every small business,” says Scott Shane, a professor of entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland. “Their only rational response is to pull in their horns and slow down.”

Small businesses aren’t likely to get much encouragement from the economy. It’s expected to grow by no more than 3 percent in 2013, according to the Federal Reserve. That’s a moderate pace, better than the 1.7 percent that the economy grew during the first three quarters of 2012. But it’s also far from robust.

Here’s a look at some of the issues facing small businesses in the coming year:


Lawmakers are still haggling over what’s called the fiscal cliff, the combination of billions of dollars in tax increases and budget cuts. Even if Congress reaches an agreement, small business owners won’t have the certainty they need, according to Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association, a group that lobbies on behalf of small companies.

“It almost surely won’t be comprehensive enough that we won’t be revisiting it next year,” McCracken says. He’s concerned that there’ll be another fiscal cliff in six months — which would mean more negotiations and more uncertainty.

Many small business owners are worried about their personal tax rates. Sole proprietors, partners and owners of what are called S corporations, all report the income from their businesses on their individual Form 1040 returns. That means their companies are in effect taxed at personal rates, which can be higher than corporate rates.

One of the most important tax provisions for small businesses, what’s known as the Section 179 deduction, will shrink to $25,000 next year from $125,000 in 2012. Themdeduction, which applies to equipment purchases, was $500,000 in 2011. Congress can increase the deduction at any time, even after 2013 has begun. But for the time being, business owners can’t count on getting a big break. “It’s a huge change for companies planning on making investments,” McCracken says.

It’s not known if Congress will extend the 2 percentage point payroll tax cut that workers have had for two years. If it doesn’t, consumers will have less money in their paychecks to spend, and that is likely to affect retailers and any other small businesses that sell directly to the public.


Healthcare has been another source of uncertainty for small business owners. The new year will bring some, but probably not all, of the answers to questions about how the new healthcare law will affect them. Many will have to devote some time to understanding the law — or hire someone to help them do it.

“They’ll have to get their arms around the law, look at their options, learn more about the exchanges,” says John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, a lobbying group.

Under the law, companies with 50 or more employees will be required to provide affordable healthcare insurance for their employees starting Jan. 1, 2014. During 2013, federal and state health insurance exchanges will be set up, and owners will be able to see how much it will cost them to buy insurance. As the year begins, however, many small business owners don’t know whether their states will be creating exchanges, or whether they’ll have to go into the national system — and they don’t know what that will mean for their costs.

For some owners, that information will help them decide whether they will buy insurance, or whether they’ll decide it’s cheaper to not provide coverage and just pay the government a $2,000-per-employee fine. For those who have close to 50 workers, they may decide to not hire more workers in order to remain outside the law’s jurisdiction.


Don’t look for the small business lending climate to get easier in 2013. Owners who are uneasy about the economy, taxes, and healthcare aren’t expected to significantly increase their borrowing, especially as many have been paying down debt since the recession. But even those who are ready to borrow are expected to find it’s still hard to get a loan. Bankers are unlikely to be more liberal in their lending policies.

Continue reading "5 pressing issues small business will face in 2013" »

December 27, 2012

Young entrepreneur already making a difference

Jaretwithleanstartup6a00d83451b26169e2017617548f6d970c-320wiJared Kleinert, a South Florida entrepreneur I met recently at Lean Startup Machine Miami (he was on the winning team, pictured at right), plans to soon (early 2013) launch Synergist, a platform that will allow social entrepreneurs to meet potential co-founders online, collaborate and crowdfund their new projects. "The goal is to spark innovation and provide brilliant minds with everything they need to create magic: exceptional co-founders and partners, a place to build and store their work, and a way to get funding," he says. Jared just launched AliveNDead, a blog about risk-taking and uncertainty in entrepreneurship. He also interns for a San Francisco startup called 15Five, helping companies improve the way they communicate internally. In early 2013, he plans to participate in  The Intersection Event at Google's headquarters and the Uncollege Hackademic Camp, both in Silicon Valley.

His current passion is social entrepreneurship, and he says he wants to change the world. He has some time to rock that lofty goal. Jared is a 17-year-old  junior at Spanish River High School in Boca Raton.

IdeaMensch did a wide-ranging Q&A with him today. Read it here.  


Our top 5 tips to improve your #SocialMedia efforts

By Susan Linning

SusanlinningdownloadSo you’ve jumped on the #SocialMedia bandwagon and have opened accounts on every social media platform under the sun: a professional, customized, Facebook fan page, a Twitter and Google+ account, and even a LinkedIn page to keep up with your professional connections. You’ve experimented with YouTube and Pinterest in order to appeal to a more visually oriented audience.  Now, you may find yourself asking, “What’s next?”

There’s a big difference between simply participating in social media marketing and developing a quality social media presence. Below, find some of our top tips for making the most out of your online initiatives.

Be original: While there’s definitely something to be said for retweets and posting industry articles/links, be sure to include original information and to banter with your online audience, too. Make your posts and tweets interesting, informative, engaging and FUN. Your fans/followers want a unique reason to like/follow you instead of the 500 other similar businesses out there.

Network with other businesses: It may seem counterintuitive to follow your competitors on Twitter, or to “like” their pages on Facebook, but connecting with your competition via social media can be extremely valuable.  Not only will these networking efforts keep you abreast of the latest industry trends, promotions and marketing tactics, but you may also be able to establish cross-promotions or develop a mutually beneficial online relationship.

Spelling and grammar go a long way: Even though this is the age of the Internet, “LOL,” “BFF,” and “OMG,” it’s no excuse to slack on proper grammar, spelling and punctuation. Your audience will appreciate well-written status updates, tweets, and email blasts, and it also reflects well on your business and brand.

Be personal – but not TOO personal: If you run a small business and have established close relationships with your customers and clients, it may be appropriate to add a personal touch to your Facebook updates or tweets. Give a shout out of congratulations to the newlywed couple dining in your restaurant or post a photo of the cute, new puppy a customer brought by your salon, but leave out the images of last night’s meatloaf.

Use visuals: Visuals almost always produce a higher rate of click-throughs, impressions, interactions, likes, retweets, etc. Remember that you only have a small window of opportunity to grab your audience’s attention. Visuals are a great way to stand out in a newsfeed!

The best way to improve your social media presence is to continuously experiment, pay attention to the level of audience interaction and invest in social media education or online learning opportunities.  
No one is an expert right off the bat!

 Susan Linning is president of ECHO SOCIAL MEDIA + MARKETING of Miami, which develops and executes social media and integrated marketing strategies, creating custom content and maintaining pages on social media platforms. ECHO also provides blogging and copy-writing services.

Read Susan Linning's recent guest post on Pinterest here. 

December 26, 2012

Small business expert sheds light on fiscal cliff, growth issues

By Joyce M. Rosenberg, Associated Press

StanglerHO59T.Em.56Dane Stangler is in a position to understand the challenges facing people who own small companies.

Stangler is the director of the Research & Policy department at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. His job is to help the foundation determine how it can encourage and mentor entrepreneurs. His department conducts research and surveys and analyzes studies done by researchers at other institutions. So he is familiar with the issues that entrepreneurs and small businesses face.

The Kauffman foundation was started in the mid-1960s by Ewing Marion Kauffman, founder of the pharmaceutical firm Marion Laboratories and baseball’s Kansas City Royals. Part of the foundation’s mission is to foster entrepreneurship, something it does through grants and research.

The foundation draws what Stangler calls a blurry distinction between entrepreneurs, the people who start companies or run young enterprises, and small businesses, which Kauffman sees as companies that have made it past their early years. Some small business issues, like income taxes, aren’t a problem for entrepreneurs whose businesses may not be making a profit, Stangler notes. But small companies of all sizes face some of the same problems — the weak economy and the prospect of federal budget cuts.

Stangler spoke recently with The Associated Press as Congress was haggling about the fiscal cliff. Economists have warned that if Congress doesn’t prevent tax increases and budget cuts from going into effect, the country will be at risk of going into a recession. And it’s believed that small businesses would suffer the most.

Q. How important is government policy for small business owners?

A. If you are a business owner, your primary concerns probably have to do with your business. Policy impacts at the margins but I still think that for most entrepreneurs and for most business owners, their top concerns are still customer demand, because consumer spending is still making its way back. Households are still deleveraging. Policy is very important, but getting sales, getting customers, running your business, dealing with employees, probably still dominate the daily thinking of a lot of business owners. Policy obviously impacts that, but not always centrally.

When you do get into policy concerns that either are, could be, or should be at the top of a business owner’s mind, I think tax policy is probably the biggest one because tax rates are about to go up and that’s important because so many small business are taxed at personal income rates –- like S corporations and sole proprietors.

There’s a lot of disagreement in the literature, both academic and nonacademic research, about the impact of tax rates on business owners. We worked with a company called Thumbtack.com on a survey of 6,000 businesses and individuals. One of the things our researchers dove into was the impact of taxes. And we released a paper in October that said it’s not necessarily the level of taxes (that’s the problem). That doesn’t matter, because no one expects to pay no tax. It’s the sheer complexity of dealing with taxes. So it’s not necessarily the rate, it’s just the burden.

Q. What is the biggest issue with the fiscal cliff?

A. The fiscal cliff is not only about the tax code. It’s just the uncertainty. I know that’s a catchall term that everyone uses, but it’s for real this time. Everyone always says businesses hate to deal with uncertainty, and it kind of has a hollow ring to it because just the nature of running a business, you’re always dealing with uncertainty. But at times like this, when politicians have manufactured a crisis, this is serious uncertainty, because no one knows how it’s going to change. If we do go over the cliff, we’re sort of going to get whipsawed because the Internal Revenue Service is preparing for the government going over the cliff, putting in place all the new tax forms, and then, six weeks later, when they reach a deal, we’re going back to the way things were. That uncertainty and that expectation of being whipsawed back or forth is really a serious issue.

Q. Is there any long-term damage done by this kind of situation to small business?

A. There’s very few people who would bet against the U.S. in the long term.

Q. No matter how the cliff is resolved, it’s expected that eventually, there will be billions of dollars in cuts to the federal budget? What will be the impact on small business?

A. It’s probably finally dawning on lots of people, especially on the political right, what a large portion of the economy government spending is. In say, the 1960s, (a percentage of) government spending was what’s called productive spending – the highway system, universities, infrastructure and entitlements. What could be classified as consumptive spending – entitlements (like Social Security) then were a small share. Now it’s radically different. Entitlements are a gigantic chunk and productive spending is really decreasing as a percentage. Nonetheless, that decreasing share of productive spending and even that consumptive spending on entitlements, that’s still a massive chunk of the U.S. economy. And there are tons of U.S. businesses dependent on the government.

Inc. magazine every year does a list of the fastest growing companies. Government services dominated the list in the last decade. Washington D.C. is the top metro area for Inc. 500 companies since 2000. If a substantial of that is cut, you’ll have a massive effect not just on small businesses, but innovative, fast-growing companies. History certainly shows that government spending has certainly played a very important role in innovation and economic growth. National Institutes of Health-funded research at universities is hugely important. Small Business Innovation Research grants at federal agencies are hugely important.

Continue reading "Small business expert sheds light on fiscal cliff, growth issues" »

December 24, 2012

Six ways to create buzz for your brand on Pinterest

By Tasha Cunningham

TashaAre you puzzled by Pinterest? If you’re wondering how to make the most of the rapidly growing image-sharing service, you’re not alone.

According to an October survey of nearly 500 small business owners conducted by Vertical Response, a San Francisco-based software firm, small business owners are focused more on Facebook and Twitter, while their use of Google + and Pinterest isn’t as robust.

Pintertest is among the fastest growing sites with more than 40 million users in November, most of whom are women, according to comScore. To help you make the most of Pinterest, BizBytes has developed a list of six ways you can create a buzz about your brand starting today.     

1. Get pinnable: Pinterest is all about sharing or “pinning” photos. Make it easy for customers to share images of your products or service by making photos available on your website for download. You don’t have to limit yourself to just pictures on Pinterest. Diagrams, charts and other visual images can also be shared on Pinterest.

2. Keep it keyword rich: When you set up your profile on Pinterest, be sure to develop a description for the “About” section that is rich in keywords that relate to your product or service. This will ensure that your Pinterest page comes up in search engines. Don’t overdo it on the keywords though. Search engines sometimes flag pages that contain an overabundance of keywords. A good rule is to use three keywords per paragraph. Check out the Pinterest pages of L.A. Sweets and Misha’s Cupcakes, two Miami-based companies that rank near the top of a Pinterest keyword search for “cupcakes in Miami.”

3. Sync your social media. When you’re ready to begin pinning on Pinterest, be sure to integrate the page with your existing social media platforms. When you create a new account, Pinterest allows you to connect to your Facebook and Twitter pages. It’s important to integrate your social media platforms across the board. It’s makes the page easy to maintain and for branding consistency.

4. Create your brand around your content. The point of Pinterest is to share photos of the things that you are passionate about, which includes your small business. But to share that passion, make sure you don’t create something that looks like a direct sales pitch. Instead offer information that consumers can use. On the pinboards of Martha Stewart Living, you’ll find recipes and cooking tips. On the pinboards of American Eagle Outfitters, you’ll notice short, creative headlines like “Romina Lives in Skinny,” featuring a student from Miami who was featured in the company’s Live Your Life campaign. The board features American Eagle products by telling Romina’s story.

5. Use infographics to inform: Infographics are a popular visual tool used by major brands to convey statistics and other small nuggets of information about a particular topic. Creating an infographic doesn’t require experience in graphic design. Free tools like Easel.ly and Infogr.am make it easy to get started.

6. Curate your content: Curated content is aggregated from a variety of sources and presented as a combination whether that’s a blog post or e-book. That concept works well on Pinterest where users present a series of visual images from various sources and pin them on a virtual pinboards.

Tasha Cunningham's column runs in the Miami Herald's Business Monday. Find more on bizbytes101.com.

For a post about using Pinterest Business Accounts, go here.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/12/16/3144941/six-ways-to-create-buzz-for-your.html#storylink=cpy

December 23, 2012

More and more, companies born to be global

By Jerry Haar

Jerry Haar photoWhat do Skype (Internet/software application), Mavi (clothing), HTC (smartphones), and Cochlear (medical devices) have in common? These firms from Estonia, Turkey, Taiwan and Australia, respectively, are all "born global" companies — enterprises whose genesis stems from a major (and sometimes exclusive) focus on foreign markets rather than their own ones.

The phenomenon of born global companies has been growing rapidly in recent years; and our own community of South Florida benefits from this trend. Witness FIU’s recent Americas Venture Capital Conference now in its third year where many presenting companies were born global, such as Open English, a Coconut Grove firm that targets Venezuela and other Latin markets, and Idea.me, an Argentine crowdsourcing company, akin to Kickstarter, with subsidiaries in five countries.

Just what are the forces in the macro-business environment that are spawning and nurturing born global companies? They include: access and affordability of technology; the democratization of innovation — for example, Priceline required $3 million in technology in 1997, but could be launched today with only $1,000 in start-up funding; lower costs of travel and communication; ever-lowering barriers on trade, investment and financing; and the continuous migration of talent.

At the firm level, there are a number of characteristics unique to born global companies. First, they are very active in international markets from or near the beginning — they have to be. For example, with 1.3 million people in Estonia — half the population of Houston — there are not enough current or potential Skype customers to make the enterprise worthwhile. Although the tech sector dominates born global companies, these firms are also found in processed foods, consumer goods, furniture and other areas.

Continue reading "More and more, companies born to be global" »

December 22, 2012

MDC to open Social Entrepreneurship Academy

In the new year, Miami Dade College will launch a new Social Entrepreneurship Academy (SEA), which aims to teach people about how to start a B Corporation, how to market a “green” business or how to embrace a lifestyle that values sustainability and social responsibility, among other offerings.

The academy will offer a series of non-credit courses, through the School of Continuing Education and Professional Development, at Miami Dade College’s (MDC) InterAmerican Campus at a cost of $235 per class. MDC says SEA will offer networking opportunities, mentorship, complimentary admission to a speaker series, internship opportunities and online profiles of graduates and their projects on a website created by SEA partners.

Instructors at the academy include Corinna Moebius of People Place Connect and co-founder of the Little Havana Merchant Alliance; Karja Hansen, founder of the co-working/co-trade/co-educational space {Barrio} Workshop; Sonia Succar Ferre, principal at Sustain Ventures and former environmental liaison for Miami’s Office of Sustainable Initiatives; and Julia Onnie-Hay, a certified holistic health educator at Earth ‘N Us Farm (a sustainable farm in Little Haiti).

Members of the community can find out more about the academy at an Open House. Here are the details:

WHAT:            Social Entrepreneurship Academy Open House

WHEN:             Monday, Jan. 7, 6 p.m.

WHERE:           MDC InterAmerican Campus, 627 SW 27Ave., Rm 401

For more information about classes, contact Karina Johnson at 305-237-6587 or kjohnso6@mdc.edu. For information regarding all other aspects of SEA beyond the classes themselves, contact Corinna Moebius at 786-564-2662.

December 21, 2012

SCORE Miami-Dade offers workshop series on starting a business

ScorelogoSCORE has developed a 5-part workshop series that will take you through the basics of starting up a business. If you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work with the instructors you'll come away with a good understanding of the specific challenges and opportunities you will face. You will have a financial plan, a marketing plan, and an estimation of the funding you will need to get started.

 1) Start-up Basics. A no nonsense look at the requirements of starting a Business. This is a Free Seminar. Date: Thursday, January 17, 2013

The following workshops are to be taken as a group. They are as follows and the cost is $100 for all. They cannot be taken separately:

2) Business Concept Development: Key concepts involved with creating a business plan. Date: Thursday, January 24, 2013

3) Marketing: How to market your product or service. Date: Thursday, January 31, 2013

4) Creating Financial Forecasts and Reports: Understanding business financials and how they work. Date: Thursday, February 7, 2013

5) Funding Your Business Sources of capital -- financial statements and financial management. Date Thursday, February 21, 2013

Location for All Workshops: Shake a Leg Foundation, 2620 South Bayshore Dr., Coconut Grove, Fl. 33133

Time for all workshops: 5 pm until 7 pm.

Parking is free with validation

To register for the free semiar: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e6ppacazfda6b3b4&llr=ry4vprn6

To register for the special four-workshop series:   http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07e6pvlp1z3300ec67&llr=ry4vprn6

 More information about this workshop series or any of SCORE's services including free counseling and low-cost workshops: http://miamidade.score.org/ or 786-424-9119