Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • Empact: Spreading the culture of entrepreneurship to small communities

    Michael SimmonsMichael Simmons started a web development company at age 16 and earned $40,000 working 10 hours a week during his senior year of high school. He had watched his mother, a government employee, earn two percent raises annually. When he realized how much control self-employment gave him over his income, he says, “I was amazed no one else in my school had started a business.”

    Even once he arrived at New York University, he says, he was disappointed not to find many other entrepreneurial-minded people. The one he met during freshman orientation, Sheena Lindahl, became his business partner and wife.

    He published the bestselling Student Success Manifesto during college, and with Lindahl co-founded Empact, an organization that inspires other young people to explore entrepreneurship and strives to nurture a culture of entrepreneurship in struggling communities.

    Business Week named her a top-25 entrepreneur under age 25 in 2006, and he, now 31, has won entrepreneur-of-the-year awards from the

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  • 306 entrepreneurs, all 35-and-under, head to the U.N this week

    A platform for crowdfunding your medical expenses, a healthy foods vending machine company, and a no-contract wireless phone company approaching $100 million in revenues are among the more than 306 entrepreneurial ventures that will be celebrated at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City this week. The third annual Empact Showcase, October 24-25, is the brainchild of 30-year-old entrepreneurs Michael Simmons and Sheena Lindahl who call the event “the largest showcase of the best companies founded by young entrepreneurs.”

    To apply to be featured in the showcase, entrepreneurs must be age 35 or under, with a business that generates revenues of at least $100,000. Simmons says the average annual revenues of companies featured this year are $4.5 million. The event is mainly about bringing young entrepreneurs together to network, share challenges, and “serve as consultants and champions for each other’s growth,” but it will also honor the top 100 business founders in the room.


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  • Data shows that the future of the startup ecosystem is bright

    “It’s an exciting time to be an entrepreneur with a software company.” That’s according to Mark McCaffrey, whose company PricewaterhouseCoopers released a report today revealing that venture capitalists’ investments in software companies in the third quarter of 2013 exceeded $3 billion for the first time in 12 years.

    In addition, the fact that more than half of the quarter’s deals came from early and seed stage deals prompted McCaffrey to state, “There’s credible reason to be optimistic about the future of innovation and the vibrancy of the startup ecosystem.”

    All told, VCs invested $7.8 billion in 1,005 deals in the third quarter of 2013, representing a 12 percent increase in dollars invested and a 5 percent increase in the number of deals over the last quarter, according to the MoneyTree Report from PwC and the National Venture Capital Association, which is based on data provided by Thomson Reuters. McCaffrey predicts that at the current pace of investing, “total venture capital

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  • Fundable: A website that generates $1 million a week in startup funding

    Uncharted Play, developer of the Soccket, raised $500,000 on Fundable

    While crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo were transforming the way artists, dancers, filmmakers, game and app developers, and other creative types get project funding, Eric Corl saw a need for a similar platform that could help everyday small businesses raise capital.

    He’d already had experience at a company that connects entrepreneurs with investors online: as an Ohio State University freshman in 2004, Corl had served on the founding team at

    Corl’s idea eight years later was that, similar to the way projects on Kickstarter and other popular platforms reward funders with branded t-shirts, coffee mugs, and cameos in films and books, businesses could raise money by taking pre-orders for products in development. He would provide the platform for offering pre-orders, as well as for conducting equity crowdfunding with accredited investors (individuals with an annual income of $200,000 or a net worth of $1 million). Businesses would offer shares of company stock

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  • Backblaze: Backing up should not be hard to do

    Gleb Budman is one of those techie types who is religious about backing up his computers. So, a few years ago, when he found out how his girlfriend was backing up the gigabytes worth of photos that she stored on her laptop, he was dismayed. “She had a COB flash key,” Budman says. “I said, ‘that’s only 1 gig. There’s no way all your stuff fits on it, you’re probably not backing up to it daily, and you keep it in your laptop bag, so your backup drive would go with the laptop if it were stolen’.”

    It might seem obvious, but most of us are doing even less to protect our data than the woman who became Budman’s wife. Many people he encounters are uncertain whether their data is backed up or not. “There are a lot of things out there that seem like they’re maybe taking care of it,” Budman says. A reporter he spoke to, for instance, had a vague notion that her iMac was automatically backing itself up to iCloud for free. He set her straight: iCloud’s free storage limit is 5 gigs, and it only

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  • Angie’s (List) lessons for building a great team

    Had her co-founder not noticed her strengths when she was just 22, Angie Hicks might not be the multimillionaire she is today at age 40. Hicks was just out of college when venture capitalist Bill Oesterle offered $50,000 to get her to move from Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio, and work for a year on his idea to create a neighborhood publication that aggregated reviews of local plumbers, electricians, landscapers and other small service businesses.

    Hicks had interned in Indianapolis for Bill Oesterle the year before she graduated from DePauw. She impressed him as an intern, not just because she was smart, but because, in his words, “She got things done.” He says there wasn’t a job he gave her that she didn’t give it her all – whether it was low level or high. The next year, he had moved to Columbus, Ohio and ran into trouble finding a local HVAC guy and looked around for a service he’d used in Indianapolis. That service didn’t exist in Columbus, and he thought it could work there just as

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  • Most think entrepreneurship would be more satisfying, but won’t risk it

    People have been talking about the “gig economy” ever since Tina Brown pointed out in the Daily Beast in January 2009 that no one she knows has a job anymore. Giganomics is the term she coined for the strategy of earning an income piecemeal through as many part-time jobs, consulting contracts, or freelance assignments as it takes to meet the monthly financial commitments that a full-time job used to satisfy.

    Brown didn’t make gig work sound like much fun, and she suggested the new economy was turning former salaried professionals into hustlers “doing three things badly.”

    Fast forward nearly five years, and there are many more workers and employers participating in the gig economy, as well as numerous platforms—including Fiverr, Hourly, eLance, and oDesk—designed to help them find each other. (Although it is worth pointing out that some of the platforms have been around much longer than the term gig economy). A recent Harris Interactive poll commissioned by Fiverr asked 1,800 “employed or

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  • Giant e-commerce seller partners with local retailers: It’s “clicks and bricks”

    Mega e-commerce sites like Amazon have become the bane of small brick and mortar retail stores. But “clicks and mortar” partnerships being struck up between the giant diamond seller Ritani and a network of local jewelry store owners offers a new model for how e-commerce and Mom and Pops could cooperate to increase sales for all.

    President Brian Watkins says Ritani has been in the bridal jewelry design and manufacturing business for 15 years. He says that retail industry statistics show that “multichannel” shoppers—those who shop thru multiple online avenues as well as by phone and in physical stores—are the most desirable across most consumer product categories. But jewelry sales were an exception.

    For engagement ring purchases, he says, 99 percent of buyers browse diamonds and settings online, but fewer than 10 percent make their purchase there. “When it comes to putting down the credit card, at the last minute there’s a hesitation,” Watkins says. Why? “When you’re buying one of the

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  • How to be a place everyone wants to work

    What does it take to be one of the best startups to work for in America? Wharton School management professor Peter Cappelli has some ideas based on two decades’ experience studying business cultures. So the office furniture and design company turnstone invited him to weigh in as a judge for its Best Young Companies to Work For contest.

    To find candidates, turnstone tapped a wide network of industry leaders and peers, partners, customers, and other professionals who had witnessed small companies’ success in building a place where “everyone wants to work.” Owners or employees could not enter their companies in the contest; instead, outsiders—consultants, venture capitalists, small business organizations, co-working spaces, and members of the media were invited to propose nominees with a “positive work culture, forward-thinking leadership, talent retention, business innovation, community outreach, and an intentionally designed workspace.” Contestants could be no older than 10 years old and

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  • Furloughed? Try freelancing on Fiverr

    It was 2009 and the global Great Recession was wreaking havoc on the job market when Micha Kaufman and Shai Wininger conceived the idea for Fiverr. The free agent lifestyle had long been hailed as the future of work, and platforms to enable freelancing such as oDesk and Elance had already been around for years. But Kaufman says their idea was “out of the box and very disruptive.”

    It was to flip the conventional approach to worker-contractor deals. Kaufman and Wininger rejected the “reverse-auction,” whereby sellers try to underbid each others’ prices to win a contract, and the buyer who manages the bidding process often gets what he pays for: the lowest quality for the lowest cost. That process involves “too much friction,” Kaufman says.

    Instead, they “wanted to make this demand for talent come together in a marketplace that is going to eliminate frictions tied to freelancing.” In other words, Kaufman and Wininger set out to build a task outsourcing platform that would simplify the

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