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10 Mistakes Entrepreneurs Make With Investors

mistakes_unpreparedSeeking money for a start-up from friends, family, angel investors, venture capitalists or lenders is an exercise fraught with pitfalls. Many first-time entrepreneurs approach it with great optimism and belief in their business idea, only to fall flat on their face.

Reasons vary, but often it’s just that the entrepreneur hasn’t taken the time to study up on how to approach investors, including what to do and what not to do. The Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC) – an invitation-only group of top young entrepreneurs – recently asked some of its most successful members to name the dumbest mistake they could think of that entrepreneurs should avoid when pitching investors.

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Here’s our take on the top 10 mistakes they came up with (in no particular order):

1)    Making it all about the money: “When pitching an investor, you’re not just pitching your great idea. A relationship with an investor goes beyond the ROI and it’s important to focus on selling yourself as well as your business plan,” says Raul Pla, Founder & CEO of SimpleWifi.

2)    Being unprepared: This is an unforgivable sin. The entrepreneur, of all people, must have the details completely buttoned down. “Even if you get an investor interested, nothing will bring the conversation to a screeching halt quite like not knowing how much you want to raise and what you’ll do with it,” says Jason Evanish, co-Founder of Greenhorn Connect. You must show you can lead a business.

3)    Asking for an NDA (non-disclosure agreement): Only a rank amateur would do this. “Chances are, you’ll be laughed out of the meeting room if you ask investors to sign an NDA,” says Michael Tolkin, CEO of Merchant Exchange. “Ideas are cheap.”

4)    Being overly pushy: Investors accepted the meeting because they saw something in you or your business. But if you push too hard, most investors will shut down. “Be cool and confident, but not like a used car salesman,” says Ashley Bodi, co-Founder of Business Beware.

5)    Meeting your best prospects first: Keep this in mind, says Christopher Kelly, co-Founder of Convene: “Your pitch only gets better with time. You will achieve the best odds by saving the best for last.” Make a note of recurring questions and concerns after each pitch and revise your materials accordingly.

6)    Promising too much: “Go in with what you know, not what you think you can do. Investors will lose faith in you – that is, if they don’t see through you immediately,” says Jordan Guernsey, CEO of Molding Box.

7)    Rushing the pitch: “As nervous as you might be, try to calm down and speak from the heart,” says Logan Lenz, Founder of Endagon. “Speaking more slowly not only allows listeners to register what you’re saying, it also makes you sound more confident and knowledgeable.”

8)    Failing to leave time for Q&A: This is the flip side to #7 above.  You can’t take too much time and not allow questions at the end. “No matter how organized a pitch is, it will fail to answer questions your audience has,” says John Harthorne, Founder & CEO of MassChallenge.

9)    Making all projections and no plans: “Don’t put a hockey-stick graph in the middle of the presentation and expect everyone in the room to swoon,” warns Brent Beshore, CEO of Adventur.es. “Projections are guesses that rarely come true. What’s more impressive is your plan to get there. Investors know a strategy means a lot more than pretty pictures.”

10) Coming off as desperate: “People like to invest in and be connected to winning projects,” says Raoul David, CEO of Ascendant Group. If you come across as if this investment is the only way your business can move forward, it seems too needy and will turn off many investors. This also sets you up to be taken advantage of. “You’ll end up giving away more equity than you should.”

Copyright © 2000-2013 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.

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.

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 Small Business Grant that Really Exists

One of the most persistent myths among would-be business owners is that Uncle Sam and other organizations dole out free, no-strings-attached grants to business startups. With rare exceptions, it doesn’t happen. Yet the fairy tale persists and “small business grants” has long been one of the most popular searches online.

There is, however, one small business grant program that really does exist.  It’s called the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. SBIR offers specialized high-tech development grants and is administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Eleven different federal agencies participate, including the Departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Defense and Transportation, plus the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, National Science Foundation (NSF) and others. These agencies openly invite small firms to submit their technology problem-solving proposals for possible funding.

Be aware, however, that SBIR is a highly-competitive and highly specialized program focused exclusively on developing new technologies and rarely if ever funds startups.

But if that’s what your business does, SBIR is definitely worth a shot. The SBIR Program stimulates technological innovation in the private sector by funding research and development (R&D) at small companies.

Consider Irvine, CA-based ChromaDex Corp., a small firm that develops novel, natural ingredients to fill unmet needs in the dietary supplement, food, beverage, cosmetic and pharmaceutical markets. ChromaDex was recently awarded a $500,000 SBIR grant to fund commercial development of plant-based antioxidants (called anthocyanins) for use in nutritional products.

Anthocyanins are naturally occurring plant pigments or colorants which contribute to the vivid coloring of berries and are proven to aid in protecting against oxidative stress and control blood glucose levels to assist with weight management and diabetes.  The grant money came from the National Science Foundation.

ChromaDex will use the grant, along with its own resources, to complete the work necessary to commercialize anthocyanins.  It then plans to market and license these anthocyanins to food, beverage, cosmetic and dietary supplement manufacturers.

Funding R&D in a small company is tricky business, often requiring large amounts of cash with an uncertain outcome sometime in the future. The beauty of an SBIR grant is that it generally comes with no strings attached. And the federal government has over $2 billion it must spend annually on small business technology development. Money is used for all stages, from concept to prototype to marketplace.

A typical SBIR grant is about $850,000, but can go to $2 million or more, according to Fred Patterson, who co-founded two companies that received almost $50 million in SBIR grants. Patterson now runs SBIR Coach, which counsels business owners on how to seek SBIR funding.  He says that while about 15 percent of SBIR proposals are funded, the odds can be as high as one-in-three at some agencies.

Government agencies that participate in the SBIR program regularly solicit proposals from small business to solve specific tech-related problems. Business owners and entrepreneurs can search the listings to find topics in their market or industry. Agency listings will also include details on proposal content and submission guidelines.

“The agencies review the proposals, and rate and rank them according to the degree of originality and innovation, technical merit, credibility of the proposing team and the future market potential,” says Patterson. The best proposals – about 1 in 7 on average – get the grants. There’s no interest and no equity to give up.

The basic qualifications to apply for an SBIR grant are simple:  The business must be organized for-profit, more than 50 percent American-owned, located in the U.S. and independently operated. The principal researcher must also be an employee of the business.

For more details, start at the main program website, SBIR.gov.  From there you can link to current solicitations, SBIR conferences and events, state resources and past awards.  The part awards in particular are helpful to see the types of projects that have been funded, which agencies funded them, and the type of small business that was awarded the grant.

SBIR Gateway is another helpful site to visit.

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

A Secret Stash of Small Biz Capital

Small Business Investment Companies (SBICs) are one of the best-kept secrets in the world of venture capital.  These behind-the-scenes investment firms inject over a billion dollars annually into small firms. Yet they deliberately keep a low profile to avoid being crushed by businesses seeking money.

Last year alone, SBICs across the country pumped about $1.8 billion into 1,477 small companies.  Nearly 25 percent of that investment capital went to businesses that were less than two years old – firms that often need capital in the critical $250,000 to $5 million range that’s often not available through banks or private equity.

Some of America’s biggest and best-known brands got an early boost from SBIC money, including Apple Computers, Costco, FedEx, Intel, Jenny Craig, Outback Steakhouse, Staples and many more.

SBICs combine private capital with government sponsorship and are 100 percent devoted to small business. They often specialize, investing in firms by type, region, industry or other factors, and unlike most venture capital firms, SBICs invest for the long term.

New SBICs are being formed all the time.  New York-based Hudson Ferry Capital (HFC), for example, just launched a new $100 million SBIC to make “buy-in” investments in family-owned U.S. businesses. Tim Ross, an HFC Partner, defines buy-ins as “control investments with existing managers who retain substantial ownership positions; thus creating a common goal to transform a small or regional business into a large, integrated enterprise with much greater value.”  HFC has invested in 27 companies in industries such as manufacturing, building products and business services.

Best place to find SBICs and learn more about the program is the National Association of Small Business Investment Companies (NASBIC) website.

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

How to Find an Angel Investor

Need money to fund or expand your startup?  Forget venture capital.  For 99% of today’s startups, VC money is a pipedream.  Angels are the way to go.  They are more plentiful and better organized than ever, and hooking up with them has never been easier (not easy, mind you, but easier than it once was).

Consider Mark Risher who recently sought funding for his internet security firm Impermium. He found funding heaven at a new place called AngelList.  “Within hours of posting we had dozens of qualified, top-shelf investors and by the end of the day we were 100% oversubscribed,” he says. “At first we were reluctant, thinking the semi-impersonal list might be a last resort after personal introductions dried up. But my only regret is that I delayed for so long.”

Angel investors have become a key force supplying startup and early stage capital to tens of thousands of promising young companies yearly.  Angel investors are actively looking for ventures to back. Once conducted largely behind the scenes, the angel investment process has moved more into the open. Some angels act solo, but today’s angels are more likely to work through angel investor groups that have proliferated nationwide.

Angel investors and venture capital (VC) firms are different animals. Angels invest mostly in startup and early stage businesses. VCs provide growth capital for businesses further along. The good news for entrepreneurs is this: Locating angel groups, learning how they work, what types of startups they are interested in, and finding out the exact process for how they can be approach, has become easier thanks to websites such as AngelList as well as organizations such as the Angel Capital Association (ACE) and the Angel Capital Education Foundation (ACEF).

ACE is North America’s professional alliance of angel groups, bringing together over 6,500 angel investors. ACEF is a non-profit founded by the Kauffman Foundation, a premier organization that supports entrepreneurship. ACEF does not make investments, but provides information and links to support the process. The “Entrepreneurs” section will tell you:

  • If your type of business is right for an angel group investment
  • When to approach an angel group
  • What criteria angel groups use to select entrepreneurs to back
  • What process you can expect to apply for group funding
  • Whether you should expect to pay fees to participate.

The investment process has numerous steps, including an initial application, pre-screening, screening, investment meeting, due diligence and, finally, a term sheet offering if you make it all the way through. About one in three angel groups charges a fee to present your idea. For those groups that do charge, the average application fee is about $150, and the average presentation fee is $500.

FindVenture.com is another great place to look.  This site has partnered with leading venture funds and angel groups to form a kind of “capital exchange” that connects investors with small biz owners and entrepreneurs seeking funds.  FindVenture uses a computerized system to scientifically match investors and entrepreneurs. Getting your funding request on this site is a great way to help get yourself on the map.

You can also search for angels on the ACE website at AngelCapitalAssociation.org.  Go to the “Directory” section which lists most members of the organization. Groups are organized by state, region or country, such as California, New England or Canada. The directory includes a link to each member’s website where you can learn more about that particular group, including investment preferences and application process.

Here are three “must know” tips about finding and approaching angels, from the non-profit Angel Capital Education Foundation:

  1. Angels are not venture capitalists (VC).  Angels invest their own personal funds in a business. VC money usually comes from institutional sources. Angels also back startup and early-stage businesses, while venture capitalists prefer later stage companies. Individual angels invest $5,000 to $100,000, while VC investments go $2 million and up.
  2. To attract angel interest, be willing to give up some ownership or control of your business, and be able to show a significant return within 3-7 years, as well as a profitable exit strategy.
  3. Seek angel funding when: a) your product is fully developed; b) you’ve already invested your own money and exhausted other alternatives (like family and friends); c) you have existing or confirmed potential customers; d) you can demonstrate that the business is likely to grow fast and can pass $10 million in revenues within 3-5 years.

For small sum, tech startup backing, check out Y Combinator. If you have a startup idea in the software or web services area and need between $5,000 and about $20,000, step up and submit your idea. These savvy startup funding folks are more interested in good ideas than slick business plans.

Thinking of placing a pitch on AngelList?  Here’s their advice on how to write it:

“We look for the same things that early-stage investors look for:  traction, market and team. Social proof also helps when you’re trying to get a first meeting. So you need to kick ass in at least one of these areas.  Before you pitch investors, build a minimum viable product, put it in front of customers, and learn something about product/market fit.  If you can’t get this far on your own, find some idea investors instead.  Then write a 150-word elevator pitch and apply to AngelList. Our elevator pitch template is a good place to start. Spend time writing and re-writing the pitch until it’s awesome. Get feedback from good writers and entrepreneurs who have raised money.”

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