Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurship’ Category

The Creativity of Entrepreneurs

Sunday, May 8th, 2016
Becoming an Artist

Becoming an Artist

Writing yesterday’s blog posting prompted me to reflect about the extraordinary work done by science journalists. In advance of writing the blog post, I read five different reports about the research performed at MIT to predict when rogue waves would strike. I came away impressed with the talent required to take highly technical concepts developed by engineers with PhD’s in fluid mechanics and make them accessible to a wider audience. I was particularly impressed with the work of MIT’s news department in producing a video about rogue waves.

They have a tough job to do – I learned this when, in connection with the work in communicating the messages in Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best: Disaster Preparedness and Recovery for Small Businesses, I participated in a week-end training workshop facilitated by the manager of the news center of a major research university. One of the modules addressed the challenges of writing technical content, and headlines, to engage the reader. He presented some compelling examples of his own:

  • “Linkin’ Lizards!” – to headline an article about a section of DNA found in lizards native to a tiny community on the Atlantic coast of South America that exactly matches the section of DNA found in lizards in a tiny community on the Atlantic coast of West Africa. The scientists’ discovery supports a theory as to exactly where what is now South America and Africa had been connected to form one contiguous land mass until the tectonic plates shifted and the continents are now separated by an ocean. The South American and African lizards are cousins. I loved this headline; it made what could be a dry topic about reptiles DNA engaging and fun.
  • “Meet the Flintsteins!” – to headline an article describing how archeologists working in Germany found fossils and other artifacts that change our understanding of how Neanderthal families lived and worked together. The American cartoon characters the Flintstones became the Germanic Flintsteins and the readers laughed and learned something new.

I learned more about the art of writing engaging headlines when my columns appeared in various publications of Dow Jones. Editors from publications such as the European or Asian editions of the Wall Street Journal, the online content for the small business section of the website or the weekly financial magazine Barron’s, can and do change headlines to engage their target audience in the content. So when it came time for me to develop a tagline for my own business, Prisere LLC, I reached out to a seasoned journalist to help communicate the brand. There followed a collaborative process with each of us refining and improving the ideas of the other, with successive iterations until we arrived at “Deep rooted. Farsighted™”

What I love most about entrepreneurship is the creative process, the act of bringing an idea or concept to fruition. In a typical corporate environment, people work in functional departments, specialized silos of expertise. Entrepreneurs get to think across disciplines; creative work occurs at the intersections of these disciplines. I am not a science journalist (but I was a science major in college) or a branding expert for that matter, but I get to explore those areas as I work to build my business. I hope that when this blog posts unusual content on business resilience, like research into rogue waves, it sparks some ideas in the readers. I love to hear about them.

Hooray for Our SBA Administrator!

Sunday, May 1st, 2016
Supporting Small Business

Supporting Small Business

Continuing its excellent series for the 2016 Small Business Week, USA Today features an interview with Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Here is my favorite part of the interview:

Q:  What’s a main message that you would like to get out there during Small Business Week?

A:  Let’s level the playing field for small businesses. I see small businesses getting the run around at every turn. When a corporation arrives at a municipality and says, “We’re going to locate here,” that municipality says, “We’re going to give you tax breaks; we’re going to open up this for you.” When a small business shows up in City Hall, (they’re told) “Stand in line, take a ticket.”

Exactly – cities and states offering incentives, subsidies and tax breaks to large corporations are shifting the tax burden to smaller businesses and effectively acknowledging that they are such awful environments that they have to bribe large corporations (they are the ones with the clout to extract the concessions) to remain. I am glad Contreras-Sweet has a Cabinet-level position. It is so rare to have a plain-spoken person in public office.

Invest in Yourself

Friday, April 29th, 2016
Small Business Week

Small Business Week

“Invest in yourself” is the message from entrepreneur and power-motivator Tony Robbins, delivered in an engaging article in USA Today. The newspaper has planned articles featuring successful entrepreneurs to appear each day through May 7th in recognition of Small Business Week. This article cited research findings supporting the theme of small business owner burnout (lack of scheduled vacation, work in excess of 50 hours a week, etc.) leading Robbins to advise us to work smarter and not harder. I particularly appreciated his insights to the effect that we over-estimate what we can accomplish in a year, but we under-estimate what we can accomplish in a decade.  He advises better self-care to see that we accomplish what we are capable of doing and recommends that we invest in ourselves for learning and growth.

I have taken this message to heart. Each year, I commit to a professional/entrepreneurial development program. In recent years, this has included the Executive Learning Program for Diverse Suppliers and the Tuck-WBENC-IBM Executive Program. This year, I am participating in the Emerging Leaders Initiative of the U.S. Small Business Administration and am evaluating courses for the second half of the year. One of my classmates in Emerging Leaders is a professional football player, formerly with the New England Patriots who has his own fitness business. He provides strong motivation for fitness and better self-care to run the entrepreneurial marathon. Tony Robbins probably didn’t intend his remarks to be interpreted in my limited context of disaster preparedness and recovery, but his approach reinforces my belief that the resilience of the small business emerges from the resilience of the business owner.

Starting the Day with the NYT

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

One of the key elements of my morning routine to begin each day in the most positive and focused way is reading the New York Times on my iPad over breakfast. Today’s edition featured the story of a beneficiary of the NYT’s Neediest Cases Fund. The Fund provides direct assistance to New Yorkers who are struggling. This particular article presented the story of a lady from the Dominican Republic who sustained a terrible loss when American Airlines flight 587 crashed in Queens shortly after takeoff. Her incredible work ethic to learn English, pursue an education and support her children is inspiring. It is a reminder of how the poor are the most vulnerable to disasters and why the work we do is so important. It is also a reminder of the importance of supporting the Neediest Cases Fund. Read the article if you want to lift your spirits today.

Building Capacity in the Non-Profit Sector

Monday, January 11th, 2016
All Together Now

All Together Now

This evening I finally got around to organizing my notes from a workshop I had attended last week at the headquarters of Citizen’s Bank in Providence, Rhode Island. The private banking team of Citizen’s hosted an extremely informative workshop on capacity building for non-profit organizations. Matt Chittim, a major gifts officer of Providence College, delivered a presentation on fundraising approaches. His colleague, Sarah Osowa, PC’s director of annual giving, presented a session on engaging volunteers. Participants in the workshop included representatives from the Providence Performing Art Center, the Highlander Charter School, the Providence Children’s Museum, the Visiting Nurse Association and other nonprofit organizations. Citizen’s Bank was a very generous host and has committed significant resources to helping nonprofit organizations scale and grow.

I learned a great deal from the workshop. One of the key takeaways for me was Matt’s presentation of the research finding that 90 per cent of Americans are not fulfilled in their jobs, such that engaging them in the work of a mission-driven organization can address needs that are not satisfied in their regular employment. My interest in part-time non-profit work has been driven, in part, by the ability to learn better ways to fulfill a socially-oriented vision while working with extremely limited resources – lessons that benefit my own business.

The other takeaway for me was the importance of small business owners in supporting the essential services that nonprofit organizations deliver to communities. I believe that as the Rhode Island economy revives and attracts more private sector employers, one of the first beneficiaries will be the local nonprofit organizations as they are in need of entrepreneurs to contribute their time and expertise.

Book of the Week: Good Profit

Sunday, January 10th, 2016
Good Read

Good Read

My business (book) reading this week is Good Profit: How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Successful Companies by Charles G. Koch. The author is the chairman and chief executive officer of Koch Industries, Inc., a $100 billion company. I have read other titles about the Market-Based Management®  system in use at Koch Industries which seeks to create internal markets to align incentives and actions within the company with the external marketplace in which the company must compete. I am trying to learn more about the MBM approach to aligning resources and opportunities.

This book picks up where Koch’s last book left off by addressing, in greater detail, how to create a company culture that brings forth the best contributions from all employees while ensuring that they are working on the right initiatives. Good Profit also advances a moral defense of capitalism which, despite the occasional market failure, is the best known system for creating wealth and improving human welfare. I highly recommend this book.

Setting the 2016 Business Goals

Friday, January 1st, 2016
Fresh Start

Fresh Start

It is January 1 when motivation is high to comply with the ambitious set of New Year’s resolutions. This year, I decided not to make any resolutions after watching a Ted talk by a psychologist on the topic of motivation. He argues that resolutions are counter-productive and suggests setting goals instead. The trouble with resolutions, he argues, is that the first time you break the resolution (which is inevitable, given how hard it is to change established behaviors), you lose your commitment as you have already failed. But setting a goal allows for progress, even with the occasional slip-up. So I set one business goal and one personal goal and, even allowing for the occasional failing, I look forward to making progress over the next 365 days and being in an even better place next year – with a stronger, more resilient business for having achieved my New Year’s goals.

Celebrating Small Business Saturday

Saturday, November 28th, 2015
Small Business Saturday

Small Business Saturday

I decided to celebrate Small Business Saturday by exploring a local neighborhood known for its eclectic mix of independent, locally owned shops and restaurants. Hope Village is the community located where the Summit, Mount Hope and Hope neighborhoods in Providence Rhode Island all converge. Many of the small businesses there are part of the Hope Street Merchants Association, a mini-chamber of commerce that organizes seasonal events, such as the Recent Stroll, to encourage people to shop local. The pride in the neighborhood seems to provide proof of the frequently cited finding that 68 cents of every dollar spent locally is reinvested in the community. Residents appear meticulous in how they care for their homes. I enjoyed having a cup of tea and gingerbread at Seven Stars Bakery and then went to Kreatelier, a unique shop offering fabrics, sewing lessons and home fashions. I was especially happy to patronize Kreatelier for the first time as it is a fellow WBENC-certified business through the Center for Women and Enterprise. After a fun afternoon, I can see why Hope Village describes itself as the place offering “small businesses with big characters”. I look forward to returning to visit Festival Ballet. I hope everyone supported at least one local business today.

Design Thinking for Business Innovation

Sunday, September 20th, 2015
Design Thinking

Design Thinking

Design Week Rhode Island 2015 is underway and from September 16th to the 27th, Design Week partners offer events and programs to showcase their innovative and economic impact. Tonight’s event was a screening of “Design & Thinking” at Providence’s Cable Car Cinema. The documentary explores ways to fully engage organizations to  reflect on the changing landscape of business, culture and society. It considers how creative people collaborate to make change and how their work is applied to business models. I attended because I have read so much about design thinking and I want to consider how this methodology can be used to design for resilience. Can we develop business models, processes and products that embody resilience to most disruptions? According to IDEO, one of the world’s leading innovation and design firms, design thinking is a method of meeting people’s needs and desires in a feasible and viable way – in other words, designing something that people will use and that you can afford to supply.

I left the event with a few more design words to add to my vocabulary, but I am not entirely convinced that design thinking is the magic elixir to develop resilience. Design thinking approaches are predicated on a recognized need for a product or service. Since most small businesses don’t believe a disaster can ever happen to them, there is not yet, at least not in my experience, a demand for an elegantly designed solution. But I enjoyed myself and am happy to participate in a number of the other events planned for Design Week. Moo, a graphic design company that produces stationery and promotional materials for small businesses, is hosting a tour of its print facility. The Rhode Island School of Design is hosting several events, including one on design for social change. Food incubators and health care providers are sharing their experiences with design, so I hope to be inspired by what others are doing.


For Entrepreneurs, Life is Very, Very Good

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
Life is Good Founders at Barnes & Noble

Life is Good Founders at Barnes & Noble

This evening I met Bert and John Jacobs, the co-founders of Life is Good, when they came to the Barnes & Noble in Warwick, Rhode Island to discuss their new book Life is Good: The Book – How to Live With Purpose and Enjoy the Ride. I have about twenty Life is Good t-shirts, mostly the designs featuring Jackie (the female stick figure printed on the shirt) with her dog Rocket, enjoying life: roasting marshmallows over a campfire, digging in the dirt or engaging in any activity around the joy of the simple life. I wear the t-shirts and jeans in the office and switch to formal business attire for client meetings or videoconferences. I love the philosophy of the company as stated on its website: “At Life is Good, we believe what you focus on will grow. This is not irrational cheerfulness, and it’s not blind positivity, but a pragmatic strategy for accomplishing goals and living a fulfilling life.”

For small business owners, life is very, very good. We get to do what we love and love what we do. That message came across as Bert and John discussed how they built Life is Good into a $100 million company. They got their start selling their t-shirts in the streets without a store front and grew the business to a recognized lifestyle brand. I enjoyed their down-to-earth and inspiring remarks. I also enjoyed the book, which presents “Ten Superpowers” (authenticity is one) to help you live with purpose and enjoy the ride. And I know that even when disaster strikes, life is still very, very good, because the things that are important become even more so. To lift your spirits and get a jolt of motivation, read the book.