Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • A firefighter’s plan to save lives and employ brothers


    Being named Ohio’s “entrepreneur of the year” in April was enough to confirm for Zach Green that quitting his job as an Eli Lilly brand manager to start his own business was the right move. But seeing the announcement of his award in the paper alongside the news that his former employer would layoff 30 percent of its sales force “was the ultimate validation,” he says.

    With a high-paying job and a promising future on the team that had launched Cialis, Green faced with a tough decision two years ago. 

    In his spare time, he’d been inspired by a TV show about photo luminescence  technology to mix the compound into a silicone band for his volunteer firefighter’s helmet. 

    “Most people don’t know what true darkness is,” he explains. For an emergency responder it can be when “someone’s hand is four inches from your nose and you have no idea how many fingers they’re holding up.” A glow-in-the-dark helmet would let his fellow firefighters see him on the job, or find him if he fell through a

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  • Happy: Most Small Business Owners Would Do It Again

    If they had asked you, you could have told them so, but a new study from Manta and Dell confirms that money is not what motivates most small business owners.

    “Personal achievement” or “fulfilling a lifelong dream” easily outranks “financial stability” as the driver of business owners’ success, a joint survey revealed. In connection with Dell’s The Power To Do More campaign celebrating the humble beginnings of great businesses, the two companies polled more than 3,000 members of Manta’s online small business community last month.

    The poll, which asked entrepreneurs about motivations, milestones, and memories around starting their businesses, found that just about half were at their last job when they decided to start their own business. More than 1 in 6 were at their own kitchen table when inspiration struck.

    What business owners consider their key milestones reveals more what drives them: Winning their first repeat customer was the biggest for 36 percent of owners; marking their first

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  • Minority-Owned Businesses Spend More to Win Government Contracts

    source: American Express OPEN

    The payoffs of a government contract for a small business are usually worth all the hard work that goes in to winning one, says Julie Weeks, a global expert on women’s enterprise development. “The government is a steady customer once you break in and understand the rules. They pay more steadily, they provide referrals, and the people you meet can lead to a lot of other business,” she says.

    But federal procurement is a unique market with a big learning curve, which is often even bigger for minority-owned businesses, Weeks’s research shows. And a decline in the federal contracting budget—which is down $35 billion (6 percent) since fiscal year 2009, is making competition fierce.

    Weeks is president and CEO of Womenable, a research, program, and policy development consultancy whose mission is to improve the environment for women-owned businesses worldwide. As an American Express OPEN research advisor, she produces annual reports for the American Express OPEN for Government Contracts

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  • An Entrepreneur Builds a Multimillion Dollar Business with Lego Pieces

    Ranan Lachman, founder and CEO of Pley

    Ranan Lachman says his million-dollar business idea came to him in “one of those moments you realize you’re doing something wrong as a parent.” His mistake? Spending more than $5,000 on Lego toys over the years.

    It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy seeing his son build Super Star Destroyers. “I’m proud of him,” Lachman says. “He drops everything else for two to six hours and can say, ‘look at what I’ve done.’ But then he moves onto something else and you’re stuck with a $400 piece of plastic.”

    Lachman decided it would be more cost effective, as well as environmentally sound, to lease Lego sets and return them when his son tired of them. Of course, no such service existed. So he built one.

    His Lego subscription business, Pley, started small. Lachman invested his own savings to establish an e-commerce website and buy hundreds of new game sets. He began a year ago shipping them to renters from his garage. But what he calls “the Netflix for Legos” has grown 50 percent per month. Now Pley

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  • A Cheap Way to Try Out a Customer Loyalty Platform

    The Huzzah Loyalty platform in use at a cafe

    Perhaps you’ve noticed: Customer retention has been a frequent theme of this blog lately. We’ve reported on how customer loyalty programs are slowly gaining traction, about the big data science to keeping your customers, and on how companies have scaled up by focusing on existing customers.

    If your business is a retail shop, restaurant, spa, car wash, or similar consumer-facing merchant, then you already know that you could stand to benefit from getting more of your current customers to come back for more. But in a recent survey, 70 percent of small business owners told Huzzah Media that they simply don’t have the time or resources to improve their online presence, let alone initiate a customer loyalty program or set up a mobile app to keep those customers connected.

    So Huzzah came up with an offer that seems too good to be true. For just $1, the mobile app developer will set you up with a turnkey customer loyalty program. The company is offering to send any small business a

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  • A Week to Prepare Your Tax Return? Typical

    (charts: NSBA 2014 Small Business Taxation Survey)

    And I thought the three full days I spent preparing my self-employed tax return last week was painful. Turns out most Yahoo! Small Business readers probably have it even worse.

    A survey released today by the National Small Business Association indicates that a majority (60 percent) of small businesses spend more than 40 hours per year grappling with the complex and inconsistent federal tax code, and 40 percent spend more than 80 hours.

    In addition, the organization's 2014 Small Business Taxation Survey revealed that 86 percent of owners must pay an external tax practitioner or accountant to handle their taxes; nearly a third spend more than $10,000 annually on federal tax preparation; and nearly half spend more than $5,000 in the form of accountant fees, internal costs, and legal fees.

    As NSBA First Vice Chair Tim Reynolds testified yesterday to the House Committee on Small Business, "This is before they even pay their actual taxes!"

    The NSBA survey release was timed to coincide with

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  • Why You Must Always Test An App Before Launch

    Business owners are hearing a lot about why they should build mobile apps: they’re great tools for marketing, good for building brand loyalty, useful for customer retention, practical for gathering customer data.

    Sure, but an app can really backfire for your company if it doesn’t work, gets bad reviews, or creates problems such as security breaches.

    Kevin Surace is CEO of Appvance, a company that provides app testing and validation. He says it’s a huge mistake to launch your new app without testing it first. And he says your app developer is not the person to do that. Yahoo! Small Business spoke with him about why and how you need to test your mobile or web apps before launch.

    Your company tests mobile and web apps for performance and security risks and can determine the root cause of bottlenecks when there are millions of users. This doesn’t sound like a service for the typical small business owner.

    Today, there are small companies that put out apps—startups that don’t have 5 people

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  • Bad teenagers make good entrepreneurs, study says

    Wondering how to spot a future entrepreneur? Look for the smart teenager who keeps getting into trouble with the law. A new study of successful self-employed people finds that “a mixture of learning aptitude and‘break-the-rules’ behavior is tightly linked with entrepreneurship.” 

    Ross Levine of the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, and Yona Rubinstein of the London School of Economics looked at self-employed individuals who had incorporated (as opposed to the unincorporated self-employed). Their working paper, “Smart and Illicit: Who becomes an entrepreneur and does it pay?” published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concludes that:

    class="MsoNormal">“The incorporated self-employed have a distinct combination of cognitive, noncognitive, and family traits. …The combination of ‘smarts’ and ‘aggressive/illicit/risk-taking’ tendencies as a youth accounts for both entry into entrepreneurship and the comparative earnings of entrepreneurs.”


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  • SBA Seeks to Recognize Innovative Small Businesses

    The U.S. Small Business Administration this week issued a call for nominations for its two annual contests: the Tibbetts Awards and the Small Business Innovation Research Hall of Fame Awards. The deadline for nominations is May 2 at 11:59 pm, and awards will be presented in June during the annual SBIR National Conference at the National Harbor.

    The Tibbetts Awards, named for Roland Tibbetts, known as the father of the federal government's Small Business Innovation Research program, go to small businesses and individuals who exemplify the best of the program, and promote its mission and goals, as well as those of the related Small Business Technology Transfer program.

    But your business does not need to be a recipient of SBIR assistance to win: One type of Tibbetts prize will go to any businesses that have participated in the SBIR or STTR Phase I and II award programs. A second type will go to individuals who have not received assistance but supported the programs. A maximum of 60 awards

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  • Filmmakers Capture Small Business Stories on a National Roadtrip

    Small business owner Sean O'Toole is among the first to be featured in a new short film campaign

    The first two three-minute movies posted to the Small Business Road Trip web site—about a hat shop in Manhattan and a dog grooming boutique in the city’s South Street Seaport—are touching enough to inspire you to start your own business (or perhaps just join the road trip).

    New York independent filmmaker Trisha Dalton and cinematographer John Sears started a 10-week cross-country tour yesterday as part of the “I Am Small Business Proud” campaign sponsored by Spark Business from CapitalOne. Starting with New York, where they hit a dozen businesses before moving on to New Jersey, the duo will travel 7,300 miles and stop in more than 35 cities including Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, Austin, Denver, Seattle, and Los Angeles “gathering exclusive content and insights into the lives of small business owners.”

    Viewers of their captivating mini-films have already learned how JJ Hat Center owner Sean O’Toole watched his parents bring their business back after the 9/11

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