Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurship’ Category

Rest In Peace, Dr. Oliver Sacks

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

The blog for Dr. Oliver Sacks reports that he died at his home this morning, surrounded by his close friends and family. I have always admired the way Dr. Sacks lived his life with passion and purpose and wish peace and comfort for his families and friends at this time.

The Resilience of Baby Boomer Entrepreneurs

Sunday, August 16th, 2015
Over 50 and Entrepreneurial

Over 50 and Entrepreneurial

Christiane Northrup M.D. has a new book for us to enjoy, Goddesses Never Age, and she delivered an engaging talk on public television about how to maintain vitality and radiant health with each passing year. Dr. Northrup’s information appeals to a wide audience, as even the youngest of the Baby Boom generation are eligible to join AARP. But as a member of Generation X, I had to pause and rewind the part where she quoted an opinion piece from Robert Love, editor-in-chief of the AARP Magazine:

“The Smart Money is on the 50+ Crowd…. We the people over the age of 50 are 100 million strong. We will soon control more than 70 per cent of the disposable income in this country. We buy two-thirds of all the new cars, half of all the computers and a third of all movie tickets. We spend $7 billion a year shopping online.  Travel? More than 80 per cent of all the premium-travel dollars flow from our credit cards.”

Mr. Love’s piece laments the fact that advertisers focus their attention exclusively on the 18-to-49-year-olds, when in fact, the consumer purchasing power is disproportionately held by those over age fifty. It is a valid point, but I wish that Dr. Northrup had chosen another example. Those over age fifty are not just powerful as consumers, they are powerful as producers. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 73 per cent of Baby Boomers expect to continue working well past the age when they will become eligible to collect Social Security benefits: 41 per cent by choice and 32 per cent by economic necessity. Increasingly those boomers are starting their own businesses. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that nearly one-quarter of those starting their first businesses are age 55 or older, a proportion that has nearly doubled over the past twenty years. For that reason, the AARP has partnered with the Kauffman Foundation to offer entrepreneurial training workshops for those age 50 and older starting their own businesses.

And that is why the largest advocacy group in the U.S. for those age 50 and older is no longer known as the “American Association of Retired Persons”, but as AARP, because many of the members are not retired. And that brings us back to the choices advertisers make. Their focus on the 18-to-49-year-old demographic does not result from a lack of appreciation of the spending power of the 50+ crowd. Rather, they focus their advertising efforts on younger adults because they believe older adults have already cemented brand loyalty and are less likely to change their purchasing preferences based on a snappy commercial. And that is where they are missing the point.

I notice this all the time when I speak at small business conferences. Invariably, people (okay, mostly women) come up to me with questions, like “What type of computer should I purchase for my business?” or “What are the best products for cyber-security so I can be sure my business information remains safe?” These people usually appear to me to be over the age of fifty and they are clearly open to brand suggestions, because they have no fixed preferences or brand loyalty. Notwithstanding their years of work experience, people who spent their entire careers in large companies working for someone else had purchasing decisions made for them for business use. The IT department decided which brand computer they would use at their place of work. The procurement department selects the corporate credit card, and so forth. The employees generally don’t know why these decisions were made or appreciate the selection criteria for purchases.

Once they leave their employers and start their own businesses, they need advice and guidance. The performance criteria for business and personal use computers are very different. The credit card you use for your personal spending is likely not the right choice for your business account. That is why I find so many people age fifty and over approaching me at small business conferences seeking product advice. I wish Dr. Northrup and AARP would use that example to illustrate why advertisers should pay attention to older people. The image of people over age fifty using their years of experience to bring their entrepreneurial dreams to life is a much more positive image of healthy aging than self-indulgent boomers overspending on credit cards. (And it also illustrates why we need to increase our focus on small business disaster resilience. Lack of preparedness is risky for any entrepreneur, but particularly those who have more to lose and less time to play catch up.)




Entrepreneurs, Unite!

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Today Dell launched a campaign to promote sustainable entrepreneurship. Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell, who also serves as the United Nations Foundation’s first global advocate for entrepreneurship, seeks to include entrepreneurship in the UN’s development agenda, in order to create jobs and economic opportunity for the world’s growing population, known as “Goal 8”. To date, the campaign, #entrepreneurs UNite, has attracted 20,000 signatures from entrepreneurs worldwide and hopes to have 100,000 signatures by September 25, when the General Assembly will vote on the final development goals and priorities for the UN. The infographic below was developed by Dell to make the case for entrepreneurship as critical to economic and social development.

Vote at

Vote at


Building Capacity

Friday, June 19th, 2015
First Class of the Series

First Class of the Series, Photo Courtesy of RWU

This evening was the kick-off event for the 2015 class of the Executive Learning Series for Diverse Suppliers, a program offered by Roger Williams University and sponsored by CVS Health. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this program, which aims to build capacity for small businesses to access corporate supply chains. For the next five months, I will be spending my Saturdays completing coursework online and in the classroom to improve Prisere’s capabilities in evaluating and developing responses to requests for proposals, working with sub-contractors, becoming a preferred vendor to leading corporations and enhancing our position as a competitive supplier.

Our first class and opening night reception was held in Woonsocket, Rhode Island at the corporate headquarters for CVS Health. CVS executives gave us a warm welcome and a helpful team building exercise as our small group prepares to transform each of our businesses with the skills we will learn in this series. I came away from the event both excited about what we are going to accomplish between now and the end of October and impressed by the commitment CVS’s executive management has made to expanding opportunities for diverse businesses.

Prisere LLC Has a New Website

Monday, April 27th, 2015

Thanks to the efforts of Joanna Gammel, a graduate of the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design, Prisere LLC has a new website. I have already received a number of questions about the photographs that appear in the site. They are original creations. I took the background page photographs. They are meant to convey the prisere stage of the ecosystem, showing a sustainable phase of development. So I included the photographs of the redwood trees that I took at Yosemite National Park, while working with the local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team); photographs of irises and the water pond at Monet’s Garden at Giverny (my visit there will be the topic of a future blog posting); a photograph of the Garden of the Gods taken at Colorado Springs when I was there working with the local small business development center; and other pictures of disaster resilience work done in recent years that illustrate the theme of sustainability.  Stefan generously shared his photograph of the Lower Manhattan skyline with the newly built World Trade Center. The site also includes links to our social media platforms. There is a lot more work to be done, but this is a good start. I welcome your feedback, which will be helpful as we build out our online presence. And let me extend my thanks once more to the incredible people at the Rhode Island School of Design, who introduced me to Joanna and helped to make this happen.

Simplify: The Message of Essentialism

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015
The Importance of Simplicity

The Importance of Simplicity

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is my favorite business book of the year. Its key message is that by simplifying your life to focus on the key essentials, you get rid of the things that don’t matter to make room for the things that do. And the message applies to small businesses, too. I find I can work a 14-hour day exhausted only to realize that I ticked off many of the trivial items on my “To-do” list without tackling the most important items critical to the success of the business. I was reminded of this challenge when I read this morning’s newspaper article about the release of Knowledge@Wharton’s “Simplifying the Future of Work Survey”. The survey, conducted by the team at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, found that two-thirds of business leaders identified simplification as critical to the ability of businesses to innovate and compete.

Complexity is inefficient and costly. The Simplicity Consulting Group found that companies lose, on average, 10.2% of their earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization due to complexity. (I suspect that much of that loss is the result of duplication of efforts and waste or resources.) And complexity is lethal for business continuity planning. As stated in the first edition of Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses, (page 12), “Developing your contingency plan should not become a large bureaucratic effort. Indeed, to be effective, your small business’s contingency plans should be a model of clarity, understood by every member of the company. It begins with key management leaders and includes all of the employees, because in a disaster situation every person who is knowledgeable and prepared can make a critical difference to a successful outcome.”

American Small Business Champions

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015
Small Business Champions

Small Business Champions

We were delighted to learn today that Prisere LLC has been selected as one of the winners of the 2015 American Small Business Championship. The program is sponsored by SCORE (the Service Corps of Retired Executives) and Sam’s Club, the membership club for the small business community. Sam’s Club, together with its corporate parent, Wal-Mart, distinguished itself not only in supporting small businesses, but in supporting disaster-affected communities. The superior logistics and advance planning for which Wal-Mart is known enable the local stores and clubs to provide urgently needed supplies even in the most challenging of circumstances. Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club were particularly impressive for their resilience and support of local communities following Hurricane Katrina.

Each of the “Small Business Champions” will receive a $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card to purchase supplies for their business, an all-expense-paid trip to one of five SCORE regional small business training events, SCORE mentoring for one year and a year of public relations support to showcase the accomplishments of the business. SCORE mentors are seasoned executives with proven track records in growing businesses. We are particularly grateful for the resources provided by SCORE and Sam’s Club to enable Prisere’s growth and look forward to meeting the other winning small businesses.

Powerful Words from Dr. Oliver Sacks

Friday, February 20th, 2015
An Inspiration

An Inspiration

Every now and again, we have to stop work, look up from our desks and take stock of what is important. The op-ed written by Dr. Oliver Sacks in yesterday’s New York Times calls us to do exactly that, as Dr. Sacks shared that he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Oliver Sacks, M.D. is a professor of neurology at New York University School of Medicine and a prolific author. I have read many of his books: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, Oaxaca Journal, The Island of the Colorblind, and Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. His book, Awakenings, was made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. As Dr. Sacks lives in Brooklyn, I was able to attend one of his local lectures, at which time he kindly autographed each of a dozen or so of his books I brought with me, one copy for me and one for my dad.

Dr. Sacks’ words are always inspiring: whether he is explaining the neuroscience of autism or learning how geographically isolated communities in the Pacific came to have high numbers of color-blind people, he provides insight into the human condition. In his world, our limitations become our unique gifts. The empathy he expressed for his patients makes us long for a time in medical practice when the family physician knew and cared for us as individuals. What I found so powerfully moving about his op-ed was the honest way he confronted the knowledge that he is approaching the time of his death, that he expressed compassion for himself, just as he had done for others, and that what he predominantly felt at this point in his life was profound gratitude – for everything. After reading his words, I felt gratitude, too, for Dr. Sacks’ generosity in sharing his experience with all of us.

Resilience for the Long-Term

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015
Swiss Mime Theatre


I am looking forward to experiencing the magic of Mummenschanz this evening. I was first introduced to Mummenschanz, a Swiss mime troupe, when I was preparing to relocate to Switzerland. I made a week-long visit to Zurich to take care of immigration paperwork and check out apartments with a real estate broker. As my host was unsure of my level of proficiency in German, he planned an evening of entertainment with the world-renowned Mummenschanz troupe who were performing in Zurich that very week.  The creativity and artistry of their performances is inspiring. Happily for me, they are performing locally as part of the First Works series, aimed to connect art with audiences.

Attending this performance is part of keeping my New Year’s Resolution to take more time off to avoid entrepreneurial burnout. I had written of what it was like being in Lower Manhattan post-9/11 and of the benefits I derived from taking an afternoon off to visit an arboretum. You need to take time away and clear your mind to continue to work in a productive manner. I am starting to appreciate that even though I am no longer in a federal disaster area, I still feel some of the stress of that experience as I re-live the common elements in performing other types of disaster risk reduction and recovery work. And being self-employed has its own stresses. So after tonight’s performance, I expect to be back at my desk tomorrow morning with a clearer mind, ready to resume work.

Intuit’s View of the Future

Thursday, January 8th, 2015
Preparing for the Future

Preparing for the Future

Yesterday I participated in a day-long program of Intuit titled “Future-Proof Your Practice”. Intuit is the maker of the QuickBooks small business accounting software and appropriately, the speakers addressed the accounting needs of small businesses. In addition to executives from Intuit, the roster of speaker included representatives from companies that are part of the QuickBooks ecosystem, fellow Wiley author Ron Baker who shared with us copies of his book Implementing Value Pricing, and accountants who are Certified QuickBooks Pro Advisors. Intuit kicked off the day with a presentation on the four macro trends impacting small businesses: social media, mobile devices, cloud computing and big data. What struck me was that each of the speakers, and this was not by design, touched on an aspect of small business disaster preparedness, largely aligned with the benefits of hosting data in the cloud.

For example, Barry MacQuarrie CPA mentioned that most of the commercial office buildings in the city where he works have only a single pipe for an Internet connection, underscoring the importance of redundancy. If the Internet connection is interrupted, many small businesses would lose sales and productivity. Dawn Brolin CPA presented the example of a client undergoing an acrimonious divorce whose estranged wife burned all of the receipts for his business expenses, with the result that the IRS disallowed most of the deductions. Had the client scanned in and digitized his receipts and stored them in a secure online facility, he would have been protected. MB Raimondi CPA shared how she had to take her laptop to the nearest Starbucks to use a Wi-Fi connection to continue working when SuperStorm Sandy caused a power loss in her office. The examples were compelling and the insights very helpful. If Intuit offers a “Connect Local” event in your community, do not miss it. It was time well spent to improve my business.