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Best Local Place for Free Business Startup Help

They don’t have money to really market or advertise their existence, and most business owners and would-be entrereneurs have never heard of them. But America’s 1,100 Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are a terrific resource for startups. Most SBDCs are hidden in out-of-the-way corners of local colleges and universities, chambers of commerce and vocational schools, but finding one is well worth the effort.  If you’re looking to unleash your inner entrepreneur, one of the the best places for most people to start is at a local SBDC.

“We’re seeing more individuals interested in starting businesses, and I can’t say we’re surprised,” says Christian Conroy, State Director of the Pennsylvania SBDC, a network of 18 college-based centers providing help to new and existing businesses in PA.  On-Site Heavy Equipment Repair in Clarence, PA is one example of a startup that forged ahead despite a dubious economy. Husband and wife team Don and Coleen Reese began their business just after the collapse of Bear Stearns in 2008. Working through the Penn State University SBDC, the couple got help developing a financial model and doing market research that helped them secure startup capital.

SBDCs offer counseling, training and tech help in all areas of business management, including finance, marketing, production, engineering, and feasibility studies. The program is run jointly by private enterprise and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

Despite cuts in funding, SBDCs are seeing a surge of interest in starting a business.  Sharon and Frank Gundy of Hazleton, PA, looked at a new venture as a way to recoup lost income. Frank had been laid off, and Sharon, a real estate agent, was hard-pressed for sales. The couple sought help from the Wilkes University SBDC to launch their novelty gift business and build an online presence.

And Kelly Schick joined the entrepreneur ranks after being laid off from her job at Osram-Sylvania, the giant lighting manufacturer. The Gannon University SBDC helped Schick take over a former sports bar in downtown Warren, PA, after navigating her through the loan process. “I might have given up without help and encouragement from the SBDC,” says Schick, now the proud owner of Kelly’s Pub.

Free help from an SBDC is available to anyone interested in starting a small business for the first time or simply improving and expanding an existing small business, and who cannot afford the services of a private consultant. To locate a  Small Business Development Center near you:

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

10 Ways Small Business Uses Google Apps

BizBest has often recommended Google apps (some free; some fee) as great productivity tools that any small business or startup can access quickly and easily, including business email through Gmail, shared online calendars (Google Calendar), documents, spreadsheets and presentations (Google Docs), easy-to-build websites (Google Sites), and many others.  

These easy-to-use applications offer dozens of ways to leverage the web to work efficiently and get ahead of the competition.  Here are 10 ways that small business owners are using Google Apps for key tasks every day using Google’s template galleries for such tasks as invoicing, conducting customer surveys, managing employees, building a budget, writing a business plan or creating a website.

The first six tasks use the Google Docs template gallery; the other four use website templates from Google Sites.

  1. Design your business letterhead:  Create a professional looking template for your outgoing letters and share it with others in the company. Print letters directly from your browser.
  2. Build a business budget: Easily build budgeting spreadsheet that you can edit from anywhere throughout the year – no matter where your spending takes you.
  3. Create professional looking invoices: Save time by creating invoices in a spreadsheet – totals are automatically calculated, and you can share them with co-workers to ensure accuracy and speedy payments.
  4. Survey your customers: Get feedback from customers and visitors about your product or service with a form. Easily analyze and graph the data.
  5. Write a business plan: Put your vision down in a doc. Share it with family, investors, banks, and others to get input and spread your ideas.
  6. Manage your projects:  Give others in your company insight into key milestones, completion dates, and other project details.
  7. Build your own company intranet: Build an internal website (intranet) where employees can access company news, employee training information, company policies, holiday schedules, and more.
  8. Track all of your projects: Centralize project information in one place. Display a team profile and key dates, and embed project docs and spreadsheets directly in the site.
  9. Take your team online: Build a team site with team rosters, schedule team meetings, and track progress of action items all in one place.
  10. Create an in-house community:  Build a community by creating employee profile pages where your employees can post their goals, internal resume, and internal blog.

Also check out some of Google’s new resources, including product videos and other templates at www.google.com/apps/smb.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

New Business to Business Deal Sites offer Big Discounts

Small and local business owners of all types will have new opportunities to grab deep discounts on business-related products and services thanks to a battle heating up in the daily or weekly deals marketplace.  Several B2B daily and weekly deal sites have sprung up recently, offering big discounts on everything from printing, food services and cell phones, to online surveys, computers, travel and cloud-based business applications.  New York-based MarketSharing, one of the latest to launch, joins the likes of BizDeals, BizSaves and Bizy, in jockeying for position in the booming business of B2B deals.  

BizDeals calls itself a “social eCommerce” site offering deals on products and services that help small business owners generate brand awareness and drive growth. Its weekly deals deliver savings on products and services in the categories of Business Essentials, Business Growth, and Rewards & Recognition.  From marketing services and computer products, to travel deals and entertainment, these categories include key areas where savings can do business owners the most good.  One example:  PR Newswire, a BizDeals launch sponsor, offers discounts on its enhanced PR Toolkit, an online public relations resource tailored to small business and entrepreneurs. 

Chicago-based Bizy helps small business owners buy a wide array of products and services at deep discounts, including office equipment and supplies, IT network equipment, software and hardware, mobile communications devices, shipping, payroll services, legal and accounting services, travel, car rental, banking, credit cards, insurance and more. It works like this:

  1. Sign up to receive an email when there is a new and interesting Bizy deal, or look for invites from friends, colleagues, ads or the website.
  2. When you see an offer you like, you can click the big “buy now” button.
  3. Some deals only work if a minimum number of businesses buy.
  4. Within 24 hours you’ll receive a purchase confirmation.  Print it and take it with you to the supplier or quote the reference number featured in the email to redeem your offer.

BizSaves bargains on behalf of business owners for deals on products and services that small companies and startups need most, with discounts reaching 50% or more. Sign up at the website to receive email notices of new deals weekly.

Meanwhile, MarketSharing hopes to position itself as a “premium B2B deals provider for exceptional business products and services.”  Initial deals are in New York only, but the site plans to expand to other major U.S. cities quickly.  Their first three daily deals include discounts on SeamlessWeb food delivery, BlogWorld and New Media Expo passes and TeamWorx team building events.

MarketSharing aims to offer businesses high quality, deeply discounted (50-80%) daily group deals on a wide range of products and. With an emphasis on brick and mortar to support local businesses, MarketSharing focuses on curating the best local products and service deals for businesses.  “Our vision is to provide deals that foster the discovery of new experiences for businesses, creating a happier, healthier, and more well rounded work environment,” says John Amato, MarketSharing’s CEO.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Why You Should Join Startup America Partnership

The Startup America Partnership is new and largely unknown, but this independent, private-sector coalition of corporate tech titans, advisors, financing firms, mentors and sundry service providers won’t be undiscovered for long.  Any business owner or entrepreneur – from startup (newly created), to rampup (initial growth stage), to speedup (going like gang busters) – should be ready to tap this free resource when the help starts flowing.

The way in will be through a free Startup America membership (via application) that isn’t yet available, but will be soon.  So sign up now to be notified by email when details on the membership application process are released.    

The group’s mission is mighty:  To inspire and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship in the U.S. with services, product discounts, special access, resources, connections and “insider information” from a start-studded lineup of business power hitters.   It’s not a loan or grant program, do ditch that thought. Because Startup America is still starting up itself, most of what’s coming is still in development.  But here’s a sampling of what’s coming:   

  • Google will provide up to $100 million worth of online advertising to Startup America Partnership member companies to over the next year.
  • Intuit will offer special discounts on its flagship products and services, including QuickBooks Online, Intuit Payroll Services, QuickBooks Merchant Services and Intuit Websites. Value: $37 million
  • Angel Capital Association (ACA) and Angel Resource Institute (ARI) will double the number of high caliber investors in angel groups across the country, increasing annual investment by $1 billion.  Qualifying Startup America Partnership member companies will be matched with angel investor mentors to build their success in starting and growing their businesses.
  • Salesforce.com will provide products and technology to power Startup America Partnership member companies. This includes CRM, a collaboration platform, a resource catalog built on Force.com, and a workflow engine to connect entrepreneurs with resources from private-sector partners.    
  • The National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) will create the NVCA / Startup America Partnership Network, providing access to its 400 venture capital firms, 4,000 investors and thousands of venture-backed company CEOs via events around the country; and will provide access to StartUpHire.com, a free online jobs board for member companies.
  • American Express OPEN will provide special access and advantaged pricing for products and services to help businesses attract and retain customers and improve cash flow. Estimated value: $125 million
  • Cisco will provide training (through intermediaries trained and supported by Cisco) to approximately 6,000 entrepreneurs within 50 cities by January 2014.  Estimated value: $3 million.
  • Ernst & Young (EY) will provide access to EY professionals and the firm’s Entrepreneur Of The Year (EOY) network as advisors and mentors, plus on-line resources and other analytical tools.  Estimated value: $7.5 million.
  • First Data, a major electronic commerce and payment processing firm, will offer discounts on processing services including credit and debit acceptance as well as point-of-sale terminals to Startup America Partnership member companies.
  • HP will offer discounts on laptops, desktops, workstations, Palm smart phones, tablets, printers, wireless routers, servers and more to Partnership members.  Estimated savings for startups will be $100 million over three years.   
  • IndieGoGo, a platform for raising money online via “crowd sourcing,” will offer a 50% discount on campaign fees on the site and feature members on the company’s website.
  • LinkedIn will provide a special platform for Startup America members to build an identity and grow a network. LinkedIn will also contribute training, services, and products to members.
  • Microsoft will offer its BizSpark program to all qualified software startups.  BizSpark provides access to Microsoft software free for three years including support, training and access to Windows Azure, Microsoft’s Cloud Services Platform.  Participants are also connected to a global network of 700,000 mentors, partners and investors. 

AOL co-founder Steve Case chairs the partnership and the Kauffman and Case Foundations are founding partners, providing initial funding and strategic guidance.  

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

8 Getting Started Twitter Tips for Business

Small business owners, local businesses and startups of all stripes are embracing social media marketing with gusto.  Signups on Facebook and Twitter are soaring.  And why not?  Biz owners see these platforms as free marketing that may be tricky and unknown, but well worth a shot.

After all, when half of local businesses say they’ll spend less than $2,500 on marketing this year, the lure of social media is strong with its relative ease, low cost and low entry barriers.  And while Facebook is king, Twitter has seen tremendous growth from local business owners and professionals who aim to build awareness for their products and services – as well as themselves.

If you’re giving tweets a try, here are some vital tips and strategies to keep you from stubbing your Twitter toe:

  1. To start off right choose a good Twitter name or “handle.”  This could be your own name or your business name, a variation or abbreviation of your name or business name, or a combination.  You should make it easy for others to recognize who you are, and connect you to your business, product or service.  Put your Twitter handle (looks like “@name”) on your website, email signature, business cards, name badge, letterhead and anywhere else potential followers will see it.  Avoid cutesy, random or made-up names that have nothing to do with you or your business.   
  2. Set specific business goals for being on Twitter, and pursue them.  For example, you can use Twitter to help position your name or brand, communicate with customers and prospects, announce events, point to articles, videos or other content on your website.
  3. Hone your profile.  A Twitter account lets you create a brief but highly visible profile, so don’t blow it.  I’ve seen many lame profiles that include mundane personal traits or meaningless information. Worse yet, no profile at all.  Others look like random stacks of keywords.  And many lack a link to a website or blog. Don’t make these mistakes.  Include your company, position, fields of interest, and what you have to offer. Consider it your elevator pitch to attract followers.
  4. Avoid pointless tweets.  Concentrate on providing useful information. Promote things you have on your own website, or point to someone else’s content as a useful or interesting resource.   You will only gain followers if people believe they will enjoy, be informed by or otherwise find value in what you tweet.  Concentrate on specialized knowledge your business has and can share with others.
  5. Search the site.  A great way to get ideas for tweets and find potential followers or folks to follow is to use Twitter Search.   This is a highly effective, but under-used Twitter feature that’s both helpful and free.  Also search for tweets that have mentioned your company or brand.  And btw, while you can be choosy about who you follow on a personal account, when using Twitter for business, be sure to follow back anyone who follows your business.
  6. Make Twitter part of your regular networking.  The old days of simply collecting business cards are over.  Today when you attend meetings, trade shows, lunches or other events, make a point to collect Twitter handles and hand out your own.  Many people now display them on name badges, signage or other prominent places.  To go directly to someone’s Twitter page, just add the name (handle) to the end of the Twitter URL, like this:  www.twitter.com/danielkehrer.  
  7. Hop onto hashtags.  Hashtags are used to organize tweets around categories, themes or topics by adding the pound sign (#) before a word or phrase, like #smallbusiness, #entrepreneurs or #startups.  When you use a hashtag in a tweet, it is automatically posted to that category in addition to your basic tweet stream.
  8. Point people to your website.  Tweets are a great way to get people to visit your website.  Perhaps you have a whitepaper available for download, some interesting photos, a new video or some other type of content.  Don’t be shy. Tweet about it with a link back to your site.  But use a URL shortener to avoid filling your entire tweet with a long link.  Two popular services where you can do this in seconds for free are http://bit.ly and http://ow.ly.

Take it from someone with a perfect TwitterGrader score of 100:  If you do it right, Twitter can pack a powerful marketing punch for almost any business.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Guide to Sample Business Plans and Business Plan Templates

Starting or expanding a business?  Looking for small business loans, venture capital, angel investors or other financial backing?  Then you need a business plan, plain and simple.  Every successful startup begins with a sound business plan

But why start from scratch if you don’t have to. By using a sample business plan, business plan template or helpful business plan software, creating a buttoned-down business plan that does what you want it to will be a lot easier.  No matter what your business idea, there’s a free sample business plan or template that you can adapt to your own circumstances and needs.   

Even if you plan to work from samples or templates, you should consider using business plan software to put the pieces together.  While there are many business plan software choices available, Business Plan Pro (Palo Alto Software) is a “BizBest ShortList” selection and has been the #1 bestseller for a reason:  It’s simply the best.  At $99 for the standard edition ($159 for premier), it’s something no entrepreneur should be without. 

And here’s a big plus: Business Plan Pro comes with over 500 sample business plans.  Inspire yourself and your cohorts by looking at other successful plans.  You can even start with a sample plan or template and merely edit and change what’s already there to be assured you start off on the right track.

Another key benefit of using business plan software is that it can bullet-proof your numbers.  Nothing frustrates potential investors or venture capitalists like numbers that don’t add up.  Because business plan software comes with built-in formulas and linked tables, you’ll be alerted to any missing numbers, and the software automatically puts data where it needs to go.  Business Plan Pro also comes with data on over 9,000 industries, so you have numbers to back up your projections.

If you’re too cheap or stretched to spring for the $99, check out Bplans (also from Palo Alto Software) which offers hundreds of free sample business plans in popular business categories such as a restaurant, cafe, bakery, retail store, online or eBay store, beauty salon, day spa and service businesses such as accountant, insurance agent, self storage business and cleaning service.  Other categories include consulting, real estate, fitness center, construction and engineering, hotel, bar, medical and health care, pet services and many others.

Free business plan templates are also available from SCORE .  And coming from SCORE, rest assured they are well done and high quality. Free downloads include a business plan for a startup, as well as an established business.  There are also business planning tools for nonprofits.  Other helpful templates you can get for free from SCORE on the same page include: competitive analysis, startup expenses, opening day balance sheet, financial projections, breakeven analysis, bank loan request, cash flow statement, profit and loss projection, and sales forecast.

In the business plan templates for purchase category, Business Plan Success (Version 5.0; $49) is a good choice. It’s a quick and easy way to get your plan into a professional format (and nice looking, too!) that will get serious attention.  The template includes integrated, fill-in-the-blank financials, is fully customizable and comes with lots of extras, including a directory of investor resources, and guide to SBA small business loans.

You’ll also find a large selection of business plan templates and sample business plans – both free and for purchase – at DocStoc.

Remember these keys to good business plan:

  • It should be simple — which means easy to understand.
  • It should be detailed and specific. Your goals, objective, benchmarks, competitive analysis, market overview and other key items should be concrete and measurable.
  • Be specific about what actions the business will take, with specific completion dates, who is responsible, and budgets.
  • Your business plan should be realistic, including your sales goals, expense estimates, market size projections and milestone dates. Unrealistic plans fall apart quickly.
  • And be sure to read BizBest’s Five Steps to Business Plan Perfection.

Visit the BizBest StartupSmarts section for more helpful ideas and resources for starting a business.  

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Small Business Solutions of the Week

BizBest 30-Second Solutions

“30-Second Solutions” – a BizBest exclusive – spotlights the best new and undiscovered profit- and productivity-boosting products and services for small business, explainable in 30 seconds or less.  Here’s our latest half dozen: 

  1. Daily Discount Deals for Biz Owners:  BizyDeal is a new site offering business owners deep discounts on products and services such as computer networking equipment, software, mobile devices, shipping, payroll, legal and accounting services, travel, car rental, banking, credit cards, insurance and more. It’s free to register and be notified when a new deal arrives.
  2. Your Own Custom Visa Loyalty Cards:  Want to turn heads with a custom designed and branded Visa loyalty, gift or incentive cards featuring your own logo or product images?  It’s easy for any small business to do with a new service from Incentive CardLab.  Arizona-based Woolaver Orthodontics uses the cards to thank patients for referrals.  For any referral that begins treatment, the referring patient receives a $100 Visa Incentive Card with Woolaver branding.  Law firm Balch & Bingham uses the cards to reward employees for years of service.
  3. Boot camp for Startups:  Startup Weekend has a simple premise: “No Talk, All Action.  Launch a Startup in 54 hours.”  So if you have startup on your mind, this is for you.  Startup Weekends are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups. Events held at locations nationwide offer hands-on experiences where aspiring entrepreneurs can develop and test their startup ideas. 
  4. Quick and Easy Tax Filings:  Got employees?  If so, you must file quarterly IRS Form 941 reports to process tax payments and reconcile tax withholding.  FileTaxes.com – a BizBest ShortList selection – is an easy-to-use, low-cost way to file your forms online.  I’ve used this web-based tax filing service myself for years to process 1099s, W-2s and other tax forms, and it’s been a terrific time-saver.  No more tripping on filing rules.  The FileTaxes service ensures compliance and provides copies for your records that you can print or store and access anytime online. Just enter your summarized payroll data online.  Cost is just $4.95 for each Form 941.
  5. Free IBM Software Suite:  One cornerstone of starting and operating an efficient, profitable business is having the right tech tools and software. But software costs can quickly eat into capital. Lotus Symphony 3, IBM’s office productivity suite, is free and has more features than the typical fee-based office suites bundled with a new Mac or PC. With IBM Symphony, you can customize and arrange toolbars, create one-click PDFs and work in either a tabbed view or dedicated window views for applications (documents, presentations and spreadsheets).  Make no mistake: Symphony is packed with power and easy to use, and is every bit the equal (or more) of its costly counterparts. So why not break out of the costly upgrade cycle of Microsoft Office?  A unique click-to-cloud feature lets you connect directly to the internet from within the application and store or share your documents.  Symphony already has over 12 million users worldwide, and online support is easily available.  Download here: http://symphony.lotus.com.  
  6. More Gov Contracts for Women-Owned Biz:  Under a new program now underway, women-owned small businesses (WOSBs) have more opportunities than ever to snag lucrative federal government contracts.  The first contract awards are expected near the end of 2011.  The Program allows contracting officers, for the first time, to set aside specific contracts for certified WOSBs and EDWOSBs and will help federal agencies achieve the existing statutory goal of five percent of federal contracting dollars being awarded to WOSBs.  The WOSB Federal Contract Program will provide greater access to federal contracting opportunities for WOSBs and economically-disadvantaged women-owned small businesses (EDWOSBs). The Program allows contracting officers, for the first time, to set aside specific contracts for certified WOSBs and EDWOSBs and will help federal agencies achieve the existing statutory goal of five percent of federal contracting dollars being awarded to WOSBsGo here: www.sba.gov/wosb.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

World’s Richest and Largest Business Plan Contest

Graduate level student-entrepreneurs at universities worldwide are percolating new ideas and pitching them to business plan contests to a record pace.  For a few, the result is money — and gobs of it.  For example, the Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC) — the world’s largest — will award more than $1 million in prizes to aid new startup businesses at the 11th annual competition at Rice University April 14-16.

Forty-two teams were selected from more than 500 entries, an application pool that was more than 20 percent higher than last year. They were chosen based on their executive summaries to compete in six categories: life sciences, information technology, energy and clean technology, green technology, renewable and recycling, and social and other. The teams will have 15 minutes to present business plans and the top six will vie for the big prize valued at $400,000.

The Rice University Business Plan Competition is the world’s largest and richest graduate-level business plan competition. It is hosted and organized by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship which is Rice University’s flagship initiative supporting entrepreneurship. The competition aims to give collegiate entrepreneurs a real-world way to fine tune their business plans and elevator pitches and perhaps generate funding. Judges evaluate the teams as real-world entrepreneurs seeking startup funds from early stage investors and venture capital firms.

2011 Rice Business Plan Competition teams

Business NameUniversity
AluseraUniversity of Gothenburg, Sweden
Amma Healthcare TechnologiesRice University
Antenatal Screening KitJohns Hopkins University
Arctic SandMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Are You a Human?University of Michigan
Black LocusCarnegie Mellon University
BOSS MedicalJohns Hopkins University
C5 BioMassachusetts Institute of Technology
CamGaNUniversity of Cambridge, England
ClearBrook ImagingThe University of Texas at Austin
cycleWood PlasticsUniversity of Arkansas
DeepScanThammasat University, Thailand
Diagenetix Inc.University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
EternoGenUniversity of Missouri
Exciton SystemsUniversity of Illinois at Chicago
Fiddlers’ GreenRice University
GreenCoatThe University of Texas at Austin
Hemova MedicalJohns Hopkins University
iLumi Lighting SolutionsThe University of Texas at Dallas
InnovatorsIndian Institute of Technology
JanusUniversidade Federal Minas Gerais, Brazil
NeuvelNorthwestern University
OsteoceneBaylor College of Medicine / Rice
PK CleanMassachusetts Institute of Technology
PulmoCADWashington University in Saint Louis
Purisorb Inc.Dalhousie University, Canada
QR Code CityBrigham Young University
Quantitative Insights The University of Chicago
ReGenerate Solutions University of Michigan
ReGreen TechnologiesGeorgia Institute of Technology
RhoManiaCarnegie Mellon University
Sahara BotanicalsUniversity of Oxford, England
San + CONorthwestern University
Secure InfoShareGeorgia Institute of Technology
ShuaTech Chemical SystemsLouisiana Tech University
SmartershadeUniversity of Notre Dame
Somatis TechnologiesUniversity of Southern California
StaticFlow AnalyticsUniversity of Washington
SulicoLondon Business School, England
TiFiberUniversity of Arkansas
TitinGeorgia Institute of Technology
TNG PharmaceuticalsUniversity of Louisville

Prizes this year include the $150,000 Investment Grand Prize from The GOOSE Society of Texas, the $100,000 Waste Management “Think Green” Investment Prize, the $100,000 DFJ Mercury Tech Transfer Investment Prize, and $100,000 Opportunity Houston / Greater Houston Partnership Technology Prize, the $100,000 Opportunity Houston / Greater Houston Partnership Life Science Prize, the $100,000 Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers (KPCB) Prize for CleanTech Innovation, and the $75,000 OWL Investment Prize.

In 2011, applications increased nearly 20% from the previous year.  More than 100 corporate and private sponsors support the business plan competition. Venture capitalists and other investors from around the country volunteer their time to judge the competition, with the majority of the 250+ judges coming from the investment sector. More than 100 past competitors have gone on to successfully launch their business and are still in business today, raising in excess of $327 million in funding.

“Great ideas are just that – great,” said Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance. “But, taking that novel idea ensuring it holds a competitive advantage in the market, conducting market research and identifying opportunities, demonstrating management capability, financial understanding and investment potential are what develop that great idea into a venture and hopefully a financially successful business.”

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

Finding Startup Funds Made Easier

Websites hoping to play matchmaker between investors and startup entrepreneurs have come and gone with great regularity.  FindVenture.com looks like a player.  The site has partnered with a long list of venture capital funds to create a kind of exchange that connects VC and other investors with biz owners and entrepreneurs seeking capital.  FindVenture uses a special algorithm to match investors and entrepreneurs — a time saver for both sides — and carries detailed profiles of VC firms and other investment companies.  Biz owners and startup entrepreneurs can post a funding request on the site and get themselves quickly on the funding map.

Copyright © 2000-2011 BizBest® Media Corp.  All Rights Reserved.

A Looming Boom for Business Incubators

Startup entrepreneurs rejoice!  After decades of living in the shadows and back alleys of entrepreneurship, business incubators are about to enter a Golden Age.  Incubators – some now donning the updated moniker “seed accelerator”– are shared resource groups that nurture entrepreneurs and their fledgling ventures with mentoring, market research, office space, technology and other services.

At long last the stars are beginning to align for incubators to take a bigger, more coordinated and better-funded role in helping get businesses off the ground, starting with just the germ of an idea.

The latest jolt of juice comes from the newly-formed TechStars Network (www.techstars.org/network), which will facilitate the sharing of resources and best practices among independently-owned and operated incubators in the U.S.  And to seal the deal, the Kauffman Foundation, the premier non-profit organization backing entrepreneurship, just coughed up $200,000 to develop software to coordinate, track and analyze what’s going on with seed accelerators across all industries.

With some deep pocket funding, and exposure as part of the federally-backed Startup America initiative, the new network ensures that millions more potential entrepreneurs will know about expanding incubator opportunities.

TechStars Network – which didn’t exist until February 2011 – counts as its members the top incubators coast to coast, including TechStars itself, one of the hottest and most successful incubators going. TechStars offers entrepreneurs up to $18,000 in seed funding, plus mentoring and, most importantly, the opportunity to pitch to hundreds of angel investors and venture capitalists at the end of the incubation period.

Other network members include Alphalab (Pittsburgh), Betaspring (Providence), BoomStartup (Salt Lake City), The Brandery (Cincinnati), Excelerate (Chicago), Founder’s Co-op (Seattle), Incubate (Miami), LaunchPad (New Orleans), Tech Wildcatters (Dallas), Jumpstart Foundry (Nashville) and many others. There’s a list with links on the TechStars Network website. These groups alone will back at least 6,000 young entrepreneurs over the next three years, says David Cohen, Founder & CEO of TechStars.

Not to be overlooked in all the sparkle coming from TechStars is the much older but finally breakout-ready National Association of Business Incubators (NBIA) which has spanned 25 years to become one of the world’s leading organizations advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship. While NBIA’s main mission is to help incubators (about 1,900 worldwide are members), the best (free) benefit the organization has for entrepreneurs is an incubator locator tool which lists incubators by state.  Click the “Find a Business Incubator” link under “Directories” on the right side of the NBIA home page (www.nbia.org).

How Incubators Work

Incubators come in both non-profit and for-profit forms. Acceptance criteria vary.  Some expect you to have a fully developed business plan.  Others require only a good idea and will help you develop a plan.

Most for-profit incubators will want an equity share in the business in exchange for space and services.  Most non-profits simply charge fees for space and services.  If speed to market is critical to your business idea, giving up equity to secure quick cash may be right for you. But if you think you can raise your own funding, don’t want to give up equity and are willing to build your biz more slowly, then paying fees for services and space may be a better choice.

If you want to work with an incubator – and especially if you have more than one choice – here are nine things you should ask about:

  1. How long has the incubator been operating and how well is it performing?
  2. Has it successfully graduated startups, and if so, how long have they been in business outside the incubator?
  3. What do graduates and current clients think of it?
  4. What’s the incubator’s “graduation” policy or exit requirements?
  5. How flexible is that policy in case your idea needs more time?
  6. How long do entrepreneurs usually remain in the program? (Incubators typically graduate companies within three years.)
  7. How long has the current staff been there?
  8. How much time does the staff spend on site?
  9. Have the program’s mentors had entrepreneurial successes of their own?