Blog Posts by Adrienne Burke

  • Their Dream: World's Largest Social Network of Black Innovators

    As investment banking interns on Wall Street several years ago, Nathan Bennett Fleming and five of his Morehouse College fraternity brothers dreamed of finding a way to leverage the Internet to finance African-American startups.

    Black entrepreneurs start businesses at a rate higher than non-minorities in the U.S., says Fleming, pointing to recent research, but many of their operations fail due to lack of sufficient funding. And though the annual buying power of African Americans is close to $1 trillion, minorities lack significant access to venture capital. The men wanted to build a dot.com that could match investors with business and nonprofit ideas that benefit their community.

    In 2011, after earning a law degree from University of California, Berkeley and completing a graduate fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School, Fleming stumbled on an idea during a legal fellowship at the House Financial Services Committee in Washington. He was helping to draft the JOBS Act, which would legalize

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  • Copacetic co-parenting: A divorce spawns a small business idea

    A divorce can be among the most stressful experiences a person can endure. But Traci Whitney likes to “make lemons out of lemonade,” as she says.

    Through her struggles to sort out co-parenting logistics when she and her children’s father divorced nearly 6 years ago, Whitney conceived a business idea. At first, the tech savvy freelance graphic designer and mother of three in Woodstock, Conn., searched online for platforms that might help her share the children’s schedules, medical records, and expenses with their father. But all she could find were “really bad, old, like Web 1.0 kind of things that people had developed a while back,” she says.

    So she decided to build one herself. “I thought, ‘Gosh, I could really do this. I know what people need. I live it. And I work with web developers all the time. Everything about it was what I knew,” Whitney says.

    The result, Two Happy Homes, didn’t happen overnight. “I thought about it for a year, did a business plan, mockups, sketches, got some

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  • The burger king from Queens

    It’s often said that three of every four startups shut down within five years. The fail rate for New York City restaurants is even higher. But Euripides Pelekanos, CEO of Bareburger, seems to have nailed the formula for success.

    Not only does the organic burger and craft beer joint he opened in 2009 in Astoria, Queens, continue to pack in diners and win accolades from Zagats and Michelin Guide, but he has since opened 13 more Bareburgers around the city, will soon open 8 more in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and has franchises planned in Boston, Chicago, DC, Florida, Ohio, and Philadelphia.

    The New York Post recently named the $8.45 Beef Bareburger the city’s best, and dished on all the celebrities who are fans of the chain’s menu that features organic milkshakes and patties made from sustainably sourced elk, ostrich, bison, wild boar, and black beans.

    The average Bareburger store does $2.5 million a year in sales, Pelekanos says. He and his partners take 5 percent in royalties

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  • How to Stop Treating Your Customers Like Crap

    Most companies’ customer service is so bad that consumers “really expect to be treated like crap,” according to Peter Shankman, consultant and author of Nice Companies Finish First. He and his business partner Rachel Honig are so certain that treating customers kindly translates to higher revenues, that helping businesses be nicer is the main offering of their new consultancy, Shankman|Honig.


    Turning things around shouldn’t be that difficult: “If you treat your customers one level above crap they’ll remember that and be loyal,” Shankman says.

    But convincing businesses they need to change might be a tough sell. Among the data Shankman|Honig share in the infographic shown here is the sad statistic that 80 percent of businesses believe they deliver "superior" customer service, but only 8 percent of customers believe they have experienced superior service from those same businesses. How can businesses be so unaware that their customers think their service stinks?

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  • Tips for Winning Fourth-Quarter Federal Contracts

    Winning government contracts has never been easy for most businesses. Recent research from American Express OPEN says typical federal contractors log 24 months and 4.7 unsuccessful bids before notching their first federal procurement victory. And now, under sequestration, small businesses are facing tighter federal spending and a higher level of competition from peers and larger firms than ever.


    But the fourth quarter of the fiscal year that ends September 30 is a key period for winning business from federal agencies. One-third of all government spending typically happens in the fourth quarter, according to Deltek, a company that provides services to government contractors. Dona Storey, an American Express OPEN Advisor who helps small businesses navigate the procurement process, says Q4 is when government agencies are assessing their remaining dollars to potentially check off a few items remaining on the year's spending wish list. “Many small business contractors find that they can Read More »from Tips for Winning Fourth-Quarter Federal Contracts
  • Passion and the Wisdom of Years Gets Entrepreneurs Through Tough Times

    Passion For Business
    When it comes to entrepreneurs surviving the recession, an old adage holds true: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

    Alice Bredin, small business advisor to America Express OPEN and a longtime tracker of small business owners’ behaviors, says a recent survey reveals that tough economic times make entrepreneurs better businesspeople. “When you’re riding high, things are busy and it isn’t a priority to negotiate with vendors or hold the line on getting the best deal on your lease,” Bredin says. “Those are the things you’re forced to do in a downturn, but those are also the best way to run a company, even in good times.”

    If business owners can hone their skills in a downturn, their businesses will be better for it, Bredin says her data indicates. The American Express OPEN Ages Survey she conducted examined the post-recession opinions of entrepeneurs in Generation Y (ages 24-35) and who are Baby Boomers (age 48-70), as compared a pre-recession analysis of the same generations. The

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  • Most entrepreneurs call Obama policies “too hostile” to small business

    More than half of American voters say President Obama’s policies toward small businesses are “too hostile,” and even more entrepreneurs (55 percent) agree with that statement. The data comes from a Rasmussen Reports survey that was published this week.

    Business Policy

    Rasmussen surveyed 1,000 likely voters by phone last week, and says this is the first time its data indicate that a majority of voters call the president “too hostile” to small business. Thirty-five percent of respondents overall consider the President’s policies toward small business to be “about right,” and only three percent say his policies are “too friendly” to small business. Twelve percent are unsure.

    Asked to rate Obama’s policies toward big business, 30 percent of respondents say they are “too hostile,” and again, more entrepreneurs (33 percent) take that view.

    Not surprisingly, survey respondents who identified themselves as Republican voters are more likely to dislike the President’s policies; 52 percent say he is too hostile to

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  • A company that keeps talent by letting them go away

    The TableXI team at their annual Costa Rica retreat

    Free espresso bars, bean-bag chairs, and office scooters are standard perks at tech companies nowadays. But imagine working for an organization that keeps its employees happy by helping them pursue their dreams.

    Employees of the web development and design company Table XI (pronounced “Table ex eye”) have taken months-long sabbaticals to explore South America and Spain, have shifted to part-time status to study dance with Martha Graham or pursue a PhD in cognitive and neural systems, and take annual retreats to Costa Rica together. One got help starting a nonprofit to educate the coding community about bipolar disorder and depression. Another got support to volunteer with Girl Develop It.

    One partner, who calls himself a digital nomad, didn’t step foot in the office for 18 months as he and his wife worked while wandering to wifi-enabled locations throughout the US (including Hawaii), Central America, and Argentina. CEO Josh Golden just asked that he keep within a time zone radius that

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  • Lawyers create ice cream for carb counters

    Halo Top Creamery founder Justin Woolverton

    Their buttoned-down professional photos and corporate law backgrounds give no clues that Justin Woolverton and Doug Bouton could be the next Ben & Jerry. But if these fitness-oriented Gen-Yers succeed, their Halo Top Creamery could be to health-conscious indulgence what the now-famous Vermont hippies were to socially conscious consumption.

    When they met in a Los Angeles lawyers’ basketball league a few years ago, Woolverton was keeping trim eating an all-natural, high protein, low sugar, low fat ice cream that he made at home in a Cuisinart. “I couldn’t find what I wanted, so I made it myself,” he says.

    Halo Top COO Doug Bouton

    He was getting enough positive feedback on the taste and so much sympathy for his notion that no one ever eats a single serving of ice cream from a pint, that he was thinking about going into business with his low-calorie concoction. In Bouton he found an enthusiastic entrepreneurial partner who was committed enough to quit his law firm job to launch the company while Woolverton

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  • Degrees don’t make a difference to many small employers

    The cost of a college education has parents and students alike questioning the value of a diploma these days. But small business owners have apparently known all along that the job candidate holding the degree isn’t necessarily going to be the better performing employee.

    A recent survey of nearly 1,000 small business owners revealed that half employ some staff without a college degree, and 62 percent say they don’t notice any performance difference between staff with or without college education. The study was done by Manta.

    Business owners themselves, however, are more likely to have post-secondary education. Nearly 70 percent of those polled have a bachelor's degree and most said college was important to their success. Still, 39 percent reported they’re indifferent or do not see any value in higher education for success in the business world.

    Access the full survey results at Manta’s website.

    Infographic: Manta

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