startups

Moon Selfie lights up MIN #99 in Roxbury

BIG WINS AT MIN: The top teams from the MIN #99 showcase celebrate their pitches Wednesday night. FOUNDERSWIRE PHOTO


By JARIANA OLUKOGA

BOSTON—Four companies shone bright Wednesday night as they emerged winners of Mass Innovation Nights #99—but one was especially over the Moon.

Moon Selfie, Donii, Black Girls Nutrition and CEDE won audience votes to take the top four spots over a full slate of African and African-American founded tech startups.

Moon Selfie, “the world’s most advanced selfie light,” won the night as the “top fave,” with a product designed to fit any smartphone or tablet for better illuminated selfies. Moon Selfie products, created by Edward Madongorere and Dishen “Dixon” Yang, retail for around $49.

Founders took the stage at the Thelma D. Burns Building in Roxbury, hosted by MIN in collaboration with the Greater Grove Hall Main Streets, showcasing African and African-American founders of tech companies.

“We are very excited to support diversity in tech and bring visibility to startups looking to be heard in the noisy tech space,” said MIN founder Bobbie Carlton. “I love to see the community come out and support each other. But my favorite part was when someone would say ‘Oh my gosh, this is just down the street from me so I had to come,’ ” she said.

In addition to featured experts, networking and presentations from winners of online voting, companies represented included BeautyLynk, Dolume, Kids in Tech, dot Teach, FABLabs for America, IncluDe, Pulse24/7, Quality Interactions and UZURI Health and Beauty. There was also a student startup from Wentworth Institute of Technology’s Accelerate program, Occ Youth Unleashed, the Roxbury-based, youth-led nonprofit startup that aggregates community program information to keep kids engaged.

Kyle Colon, co-founder of Occ Youth Unleashed, said his team started with initial funding of $1,000 from United Way. After proof of concept, they returned to pitch United Way in June 2016, winning an additional $10,000. Now they are currently competing in the 2017 MassChallenge accelerator program.

“This has been an amazing experience—and we’re young, only 18 years old. Everyone else is double or triple our age,” Colon said. “All we really want to do is keep teens off the street. We don’t get paid for this at all. We do this on our own and with the money in our pockets.”

Final four competitor Black Girls Nutrition launched when the founder felt ready to make a big change in her life.

“It started 12 years ago because I weighed 350 pounds,” said CEO Katia Powell. “I went to the grocery store down the street and got honey buns, hot pockets, cheesecakes and came back home. I was about to watch Love Jones and I caught my reflection in the mirror. I felt like time actually stopped. I needed to make a decision to save my life.”

“We are a company centered on helping women of color connect and find healthy ways to live their lives through nutrition, fitness, mindfulness and stress awareness,” said Tangela Kindell, digital marketing strategist for Black Girls Nutrition. “We are also working on an app that makes all that easier and can fit in the palm of your hand.” BGN, according to Powell, is “the first nutrition company that specifically focused on black women.”

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spoke to the group, sharing his thoughts on the crucial problem-solving entrepreneurs must do to be successful. “Focus on one issue at a time and try not to let outside influencers bother you,” he said.

He also encouraged the founders to ask for help and to take criticism freely, without fear. “I think people often take criticism as a bad thing, criticism is not a bad thing. Sometimes criticism is a good thing and you can learn from it.”

“I think there are a lot of people who could be great entrepreneurs that are just a little worried about going for it and asking for help,” he said.


The next MIN, a milestone evening at number 100, is scheduled for Wednesday, July 12, at the Museum of Science. The theme will be space technology. Find out more and RSVP HERE.

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Syncthink, Twiage, Rendever snag prizes at PULSE Finale

CURTAIN CALL: The startups of PULSE @MassChallenge and their champions gathered at the Wilbur Theatre to celebrate their awards ceremony this week. FOUNDERSWIRE PHOTO


 By ALLISON HUBER

BOSTON—The historic Wilbur Theatre played host to a different kind of drama at Tuesday’s PULSE@MassChallenge Finals, as 31 companies showcased their healthcare solutions to investors and spectators alike.

The group was selected from a pool of 430-plus applicants and represented 30 states and 20 countries. PULSE@MassChallenge, run by the Boston-based global accelerator MassChallenge, is a six-month program dedicated to pairing startup digital healthcare organizations with experts, institutions and resources. Unlike MassChallenge’s main accelerator program, which accepts up to 128 startups annually, PULSE participants are accepted through a match-making program with one or more of PULSE’s 32 champions (or partner organizations), including the City of Boston, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Microsoft, Boston Children’s Hospital and many more.

Syncthink took the $100,000 grand prize for innovation in eye-tracking technology products that give medical professionals objective metrics for visual attention. Syncthink CTO Daniel Beeler attributed the startup’s success both to its persistence and the unique opportunity presented by PULSE. “I’m shocked, surprised, delighted: It’s wonderful,” Beeler said. “PULSE is a very unique experience. We get paired with a real corporate champion. We get embedded in their clinical apparatus, and it’s simply something that would not happen otherwise.”

Twiage, a HIPPA-secure mobile and web platform that bridges communication between ambulances and the Emergency Department, took the second place prize of $60,000. Founder and CEO YiDing Yu gave special thanks to the PULSE champions. “The 60 EMS agents and the 14 hospitals who believed in what we were doing to help accelerate life-saving care took a risk. I admire them, and I think they are part of the pillars of this community, and we need more of them.”

Rendever, virtual-reality software designed for elderly people in assisted living, took third place honors with the prize of $40,000. Co-founder and Product Manager Kyle Rand described his own commitment to improving the way people age because of his own grandmother’s struggle in assisted living. “An individual goes through having huge, amazing life experiences and then it, all of a sudden, shrinks. We think that virtual reality is the perfect application to re-expand that world and re-connect them. If they’re missing a family event—a family member is getting married on the West Coast—this will allow them to actually sit in that wedding.” Rand and his co-founder spent time living in these communities and understanding how VR could be used to alleviate friction between the elderly and new technology.

Rendever wasn’t the only startup in attendance that was concerned with end-of-life planning. Suelin Chen, CEO and co-founder of Cake, spent her entire career in health care and felt that the biggest problem was end-of-life care. Through the PULSE program, Chen was able to connect with Steven Fink of Harvard Pilgrim to further the development of her company.

Florence Furaha, co-founder and managing director of Meetcaregivers, accredited her passion for health care to her personal experience in the industry. “I worked as a caregiver and a care manager. I saw how many families were struggling to find home care for their aging parents, so that’s how the idea started,” she said. Through PULSE, Furaha and her team developed their online platform to connect families to qualified caregivers at an affordable price.

In addition to the first-, second- and third-place awards, the audience and the startups themselves had the opportunity to vote for their favorite companies. The MACP People’s Choice Award and cash prize went to ACT.md, a platform that connects all care team members through a cloud-based platform.

3Derm, an imaging system that captures and delivers high-quality photographs of skin abnormalities directly to dermatologists, was awarded the Sunovion Startup’s Choice Award. Founded in 2012, 3Derm focuses on improving access to dermatologists to expedite treatment of such serious conditions as skin cancer.

Jeff Leiden, chairman, president and chief executive of Vertex Pharmaceuticals, underscored the importance of teamwork, especially in the realm of health care. “The 31 startups and more than 81 partner companies demonstrate perfectly the impact an ecosystem can have when it comes together to support its newest members and the tremendous innovations that emerge from this community to improve human health.”

Gov. Charlie Baker, who jokingly compared the PULSE incubator to “an American idol for startups,” announced a special surprise for the PULSE program: an additional $170,000 in future funding for the PULSE incubator and $80,000 for the Baystate Health Technology Center located in Springfield, Mass. Looking to further the necessary staffing, programming and cost of startup incubators, the governor reiterated his commitment to expanding Massachusetts’ role as a leader and pioneer in the realm of digital health care.


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Advanced Pitching Skills: Avoid the 9 Worst Thin Spots

Adapted from a piece that originally appeared on The Seraf Compass.


By CHRISTOPHER MIRACLE
@cmirabile

If you want to get through a demo day or pick up a few seed investors, you can do it by covering the basics. But if you want to raise serious money, you are going to have to dig deeper into your bag of tricks and address some of the advanced issues. These are the critical areas where pitches are almost always too shallow. Knowing which are the trouble spots and how to make sure they are covered is essential advice. Let’s go through them one at a time.

Explaining The Market Moment

To be credible, a pitch must answer the “why you, why now?” questions that provide context for the business. What has changed in the universe that makes this business suddenly not only possible, but a great idea? An entrepreneur must explain why they are the gal or guy to do it.

Detailing The Go-To-Market

An entrepreneur has to be specific about how they are going to crack their market. Selling is really hard, especially to certain types of customers. They are going to need to convince investors that they have a very specific and detailed plan or business model innovation that is going to allow them to acquire their intended customers affordably (relative to their lifetime value).

Assuming Fast Consumer Behavior Change

Making assumptions about how target customers’ behavior is magically going to change has been referred to as “delusional economics.” After the few early adopters, mainstream customers have incredible inertia. The power of the status quo can be immense. The arrival of the internet/wireless/mobile is not going to suspend the laws of physics and gravity in an entrepreneur’s industry. It is not safe to assume that if they build a more efficient clearinghouse / marketplace / trading platform / matching service, everyone’s behavior will instantly and automatically change. Convincing customers to buy from them is going to be hard and expensive. They need to explain what secret sauce makes it less hard.

Paying Insufficient Attention to Buying Priorities

Certainly someone will want an entrepreneur’s product. Unfortunately, their immediate addressable market is limited to the people for whom buying their product is a top priority. How many of them are there? Although a lot of businesses identify a real, legitimate problem for customers, they still fail because other higher priority problems gobble up customer wallet share.

Omitting Marketing Skills

When talking about their go-to-market, entrepreneurs either need to convince investors that they have the marketing experience on the team, OR that they know they don’t and they plan to go get it. Everyone thinks they know how to market. Most don’t. Entrepreneurs need to identify the marketers who can help them.

Building a Realistic Model

Most entrepreneurs totally underestimate what it will cost to achieve success. Investors have seen and experienced many business models and know it is always harder, takes longer and costs more than anticipated. It is crucial to really think through the necessary people, time and financial resources required, and to come prepared with a realistic plan. Entrepreneurs should use both a bottom-up and a top-down approach. Then sanity check it against benchmarks. Underestimating costs and showing an improbably fast time to big revenue and profitability doesn’t impress people with the model – it highlights the naivety.

Assuming It Will Translate

Even if an entrepreneur can paint a credible case for their initial target market, don’t assume that the next vertical, next geography or next customer segment will be as easy. Logic dictates that they are starting in the easiest place. By definition, any expansion will be harder and farther out of their comfort zone and experience base. They must be realistic about their expansion assumptions. Yes, their brand and momentum will help a little, but nowhere near as much as they think (see Build a Realistic Model).

Engineering a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Even if a company can fight to win a segment, if it cannot make any money at it over the long haul, they’ve still lost. Too many entrepreneurs talk as if their market is standing still, when, in fact, any market worth tackling will always be evolving and growing more competitive. It is critical to talk about how they will defend their position, their pricing, and their margins against the inevitable competitive reactions. It might be intellectual property, it might be some kind of tolerable customer lock-in or switching cost, it might be a product roadmap that keeps their value prop more compelling over time. Whatever it is, they need to explain it, and the explanation needs to be believable.

Failing to Think Exit Scenarios Through

Most entrepreneurs don’t think through their exit strategy adequately. If they succeed, who buys them? Ultimately this is the bottom line for investors. Equity from investors is like a loan that the buyer of their company pays back. They need to talk in detail about the different classes of buyers, why they would buy the company, what they would value it for, what kinds of multiples they might be expected to receive, and what milestones they will need to hit to command those prices.

It is not easy for an entrepreneur to step back and look at their story objectively enough to spot where it is thin. But there are a few critical big-picture elements they simply cannot afford to blow past. Their job is to make sure to cover the above topics adequately—this is the key to convincing investors that the company and team is one that just might reach exit velocity and escape rather than fall back out of orbit and burn up on the way down.


Seraf Co-Founder Christopher Mirabile is the chair of the Angel Capital Association and also Co- Managing Director of Launchpad Venture Group. He has personally invested in more than 50 startup companies and is a limited partner in four specialized angel funds. Mirabile is a frequent panelist and speaker on entrepreneurship and angel-related topics and serves as an adjunct lecturer in entrepreneurship in the MBA program at Babson.

Price your development project for value, not cost

Companies in growth mode have knowledge gaps—and FoundersWire’s newest expert, Chris Swenor, CEO of East Coast Product, wants to help fill them. He’ll be taking your tech-related questions and answering them here in this column every week. Submit yours today, RIGHT HERE, with the subject line: Tech & Tell.


 By CHRIS SWENOR
@ECPBoston

Q: How should we estimate the cost of developing? Is there a preferred per-hour rate or is it better to pay per-project scope?

A: Don’t base your decision on cost, you need to be more concerned with value.

I’ve seen prices as low as $15 per hour and as high as $500 per hour.  I’ve seen project quotes for ridiculously complex projects as low as $10,000, and easy projects in the millions.

Find a company that gets the vision, is easy to work with, and has amazing referrals.  The company should bleed your company’s colors, and want the project to succeed as much as you do. Values alignment is extremely important.

You should have direct communication with the people working on the project, and the company you hire shouldn’t be afraid to give you constructive feedback and suggestions.

Usually, the lower the price, the bigger the gamble. That being said, there are outsource companies out there for $60 per hour that are amazing. The question you should ask yourself is “Is it worth $50,000 to have a 10 percent chance of getting the product I need, or should I invest $150,000 into a company that will give me a 90 percent chance to succeed?”


Chris Swenor is the CEO and co-founder of East Coast Product, a digital product agency that works to enhance existing teams with the app development cycle—everything from strategy, to design, to user testing, to development. 

Chris offers CTO and CPO guidance to ECP’s clients and the greater Boston tech community. Previously, Chris was the director of New Product Development at zMags and the CTO at Vsnap, both of which have had successful exits. Outside of East Coast Product, Chris volunteers as the technical advisor for Resilient Coders. Interested in discussing product and learning more about ECP? Connect with Chris at chris@ecp.io.

Who made this year’s MassChallenge

The new class has been announced for the seventh round of the world’s largest startup accelerator, MassChallenge.

Explore the full list of companies HERE.

Boston’s list of finalists include Catalyst for World Water, Ubuntu Capital, Courageous Parents Network and 125 more chosen from more than 1,700 applicants from nine countries and  16 states, according to MassChallenge data.

“We received consistent feedback from our judges about the quality of applicants this year, and I’m confident we’ll have an incredibly high-caliber class of entrepreneurs joining us in Boston,” says Scott Bailey, Boston’s managing director, in a release. “These entrepreneurs will be challenged throughout the program to impact communities and provide disruptive solutions across a wide range of industries.”

This year’s finalists will receive mentorship over the next five months and compete for their share of $1.5 million in prizes at the accelerator’s awards ceremony Nov. 2.

“There’s a universal need and responsibility to help early-stage startups across all industries and backgrounds succeed as they set out to solve some of society’s biggest problems,” says John Harthorne, founder and CEO of MassChallenge, in a release. “Communities that focus on creating an environment that’s open, collaborative, and supportive will drive more value, opportunities, and wealth as a result. We’re proud to continue advocating for this movement and fueling innovation around the world through our global accelerators.”

Using global ethics as strategic advantage

By GREG STOLLER
The Language of Business

Executives often treat global ethics defensively— they follow internationally accepted rules of engagement to allow themselves to sleep better at night and as insurance against a prison sentence. Or they go through periodic ethics training to check off the box of completion.

When applied proactively, however, ethics also proves strategically effective and profitable.

The benefit emerges from closely tying global ethics to a broad-based social responsibility program—in short, analyzing a business holistically to see how every aspect of its operations, from services in the HR benefits office to shop-floor uniforms, can be optimized for strategic gain.

Language of Business Logo

 

One of my BU colleagues often uses a simple ballpoint pen to drive this point home. She’ll ask me: Who produces the ink and do those workers receive a living wage? If portions of the pen are imported, does each country subscribe to OSHA-quality international employment conventions? Is the pen’s mechanical assembly fully recyclable?

Though I’m the first to concede that viewing a company’s operations through a social responsibility lens originally took some getting used to, for a Millennial, it’s as commonplace as carrying a cellphone. Their demographic even takes this one step further—a good lesson for the rest of us—and goes out of their way to frequent and support companies whose operations practice what they ethically preach. This is far removed from boycotts based on Apartheid in the ’90s or consumer boycotts in the ’00s, and is actually far closer to brand management and the lifetime value of a customer.

Even when making a good faith effort to make ethical decisions across global boundaries, though, leaders must be sensitive to potential conflicts between borders. Business practices are a function of the environment in which they’re practiced and are heavily influenced by national and, at times, local culture. This may put even the best thought-out worldwide social responsibility plans at loggerheads with their domestic goals, through no malicious intent.

For example, a multinational company doing business in a developing economy might consider contributing school uniforms to children in its local community as a means of engaging in helpful “charitable work.” This is a no-brainer, right? Not necessarily. The company was totally surprised when it received massive backlash because its donations upset the small tailors and street sellers in the area who suddenly had no income. Additionally, because the uniforms were not following dress code specs, the children were prevented from starting school on time. “Good” work takes cultural collaboration and often is more complicated than it appears at first glance.

It’s also an unwritten rule in some countries that beyond gifts, courtesies will be offered to members of your contact’s extended family, whether through college application letters, job hiring recommendations or otherwise. Failure to play along, even if patently outside of the bounds of your business dealings, or for people whom you’ve never met, might suddenly sour an otherwise solid relationship.

On the other hand, success stories abound.  When a U.S.-based, international nonprofit received positive visibility because of its contributions to a small, struggling school, based on a deep understanding of that institution’s needs, in-kind donations exponentially increased stateside. There are countless stories of U.S. executives donating time in their respective professions during periods of crisis or natural disasters, rather than just sending unneeded supplies. This type of thoughtful contribution offers not only significant visibility to the needs of survivors and people in poverty, but also paves the way for appropriate future resource allocation.

Here are some specific ways that using ethics in a strategic manner in the global sphere can serve as a strategic advantage:

  • Companywide operational review: Companies that view their engagement with stakeholders as a strategic element of their mission are more likely to ensure that their total operations are ethically fair and balanced. As part of a review of all stakeholder relationships and processes that involve them, it’s a good excuse to put everything on the table, even processes that haven’t been changed (or challenged) in years. After completing such a review, one of my Asian consulting clients unexpectedly reduced their overall COGS by 2 percent, by improving antiquated systems.
  • Unique PR opportunities: Effective implementation of a global ethics strategy will provide a unique opportunity to highlight different portions of your company, which normally wouldn’t receive traditional PR. A nonprofit organization I volunteer for found out they could increase employee participation in their retirement plan by translating basic materials into Haitian Creole. Had they not completed a social responsibility audit, they wouldn’t have discovered how many members felt frustrated trying to decode routine company literature using their Pidgin English.
  • Connection with customers: More so than any time in recent business history, customers long to have a personal relationship with their vendors. For example, I take great pride that I’ve been a cardholder with the same credit card for more than 25 years. In the past few months, this company has begun rewarding my loyalty by offering me promotions based on my specific charging history and even reached out with a personal phone call. Similar connections are possible through associated social strategy programs, because they provide an opportunity to connect with customers beyond the traditional service or product being sold. And, exactly like the credit card vendor did for me, it provides another reason customers will want to be loyal.

Don’t simplify ethics to an arm’s length audit of how much you’re in compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or chastising employees for accepting a golf invitation overseas. Ethical conduct is only one part of a much broader social responsibility approach and when done right, one that will positively contribute toward employee morale, a strong esprit de corps with customers and a higher EPS over time.


Greg Stoller is a Senior Lecturer, and is actively involved in building entrepreneurship, experiential learning and international business programs at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

Boston growth experts open Gateway to success at global conference

FOUNDERSWIRE PHOTO
From left, John Snyder, Telamon Insurance; client Jeremy Ellis, Keysoft Solutions; Bill Starr, The CFO Center; Bob Croak, Baker Newman Noyes; and Steve Snyder, Gesmer Updegrove.

SPONSORED BY THE CFO CENTER

BIRMINGHAM, England—Setting up shop in the United States is easier when you work with friends.

To make that more possible for clients, The CFO Centre Group is importing an expert team from Boston for its global conference here.

The group will give a behind-the-scenes look into doing business in the United States, a service The CFO Centre offers global clients through its Gateway to the United States process.

Bill Starr, managing director of The CFO Center New England, will accompany other top service providers here to share their insight with CFOs from around the world. The group includes Steve Snyder, partner and entrepreneur-in-residence at law firm Gesmer Updegrove; Bob Croak, CPA and principal with accounting firm Baker Newman Noyes; and John Snyder, president, Telamon Insurance.

“Our Gateway to the U.S., delivered by Bill and his wider team in Boston, has helped our U.K. clients who wish to start up there enormously,” says Sara Daw, CEO of The CFO Centre Group. “Speaking from our own experience of setting up overseas, it’s key to get a soft landing from friends in town who will help you navigate through everything new, so you get the right advice at the right time and the right price.”

Starr says he faced the same issues that he and his friends now solve for Gateway clients. “When we launched our own U.S. operations, I went looking for the top service providers I could work with, who I knew I could rely on,” he says. “I interviewed a number of different firms and eventually settled on the team that we have now, because they were continually recommended by others in the Boston ecosystem. They were the best, bar none.”

Boston appeals to U.K. companies “because we can relate to it and it’s easy access from the U.K. The technology focus is also a draw,” says Daw.

Boston’s growth is no secret: It was ranked the No. 1 startup hub out of 25 in the United States, according to a May 2016 report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and startup accelerator 1776.

The city earned top billing for its clear advantages: next-generation tech companies specializing in education, energy and health care, high quality of life ratings and a business-friendly regulatory ecosystem, according to a release from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve seen Boston growing because we’ve been part of it, as business advisors and entrepreneurs ourselves,” says Starr.

Gateway works on a wider scale for global clients looking to start up in the United States, says Daw, because it addresses the unknown with solid answers from people with local experience. “This is a huge opportunity for growth, yet the complexity and unfamiliar ways of doing business and remote working need to be managed. Gateway does just that, enabling growth whilst maintaining control.”

Starr says multiple service providers working in the best interest of a mutual client help mitigate a lot of apprehension. “The chairman of a U.K. company recently told me, ‘We’ve received a lot of conflicting advice from (various U.S. and U.K.) service providers. We get a lot of comfort from the way that you validate each other’s information.’ ”

“We are offering something extraordinary,” says Steve Snyder, who brings nearly 20 years of business growth and legal expertise to Gateway clients. “My starting point is that service providers are a commodity. But at what point do those services become so special that we become indispensable? That’s what we have built here: Together we are a group of trusted business advisors—not just lawyers or accountants, insurance people or CFOs. It’s about being trusted.”

Croak, whose focus is tax, attributes the success of the group to that same trust. “It’s the trust, and the talent that is brought to the table. It’s the process that we bring to these young companies forming into the U.S. and the ability to work off each other. If I find something Steve, Bill or John need to know, it’s an easy phone call.”

Working to create a cohesive strategy across financial, legal and insurance needs is of vital importance, to help companies avoid costly mistakes, Croak says. The Gateway process keeps lines of communication open.

“Because we work on so many clients together, I know when Bill zigs, I can zag,” Croak says. “I can almost anticipate his questions before he even asks. And he has been there with me, to ask the questions but then get my thoughts. Because Bill is the center point of the relationship in most cases, my job is to support him and to make sure we’re getting everything done correctly so there are no problems in the future.”

John Snyder, whose insurance expertise helps clients navigate the multi-layered territory of healthcare, human resources and corporate liability coverage, says Gateway minimizes the risk for them as service providers, too.

“If we know Bob Croak is in there, I can trust his work. It provides a layer of confidence, peace of mind,” he says. “We all ask, ‘Who do you work with legally, or on your finances?’ If we don’t know these (other service providers) and issues come up, it slows our ability to help the client. Because we have such a close working relationship, we know what they’re doing and everything becomes much all more streamlined.”

Gateway’s goal is to simplify the process and keep that door to the U.S. market wide open, John Snyder says.

“It’s challenging enough for domestic companies that have a great idea to run a company,” he says. “When you’re coming from another country, it’s exponentially more difficult when you don’t know the rules and the people. So for (global companies), we have a turnkey solution that can help build a foundation for them. This is where they’re going to take their business to the next level.”

And the work is as satisfying for the Gateway providers as it is for their clients.

“When you work with people like Bill, John and Steve, we just have fun—it’s not work any more,” says Croak. “And the issues that different companies have, we can solve them as a team. Here at BNN, Telemon, Gesmer, CFO Center, there hasn’t been a problem we haven’t been able to solve and that’s fun. It’s fun to get compliments from your clients.”

What got you here won’t get you there

By BONNI CARSON DiMATTEO
Atlantic Consultants

As you recall from our last article, “10 Characteristics of a Successful Entrepreneur,” we discussed the essential traits that set successful entrepreneurs apart when founding a business. But what does it take to grow a business?

There’s a fork in the road when it comes to starting a business and growing the business. That Ferrari mindset of the entrepreneur has to be fine-tuned and focused in order to grow the business. We call this journey–from being an entrepreneur to becoming a leader–Leaderpreneurism.

There is a reason only 20 percent of those who start a business actually survive after five years. There’s also a reason many successful business leaders, those who excel at outpacing their competitors by 22 percent, have the 7 LEADERPRENEUR commitments.

For example, we worked with the leader of a tech company who was regularly drawn into the technology of the company, instead of the business. She couldn’t get herself out of the door to meet and develop new opportunities for growth strategies.

An Atlantic LEADERPRENEUR journey begins by overcoming the first challenge: working on the business, not just in the business. There are several areas we coached her on to enable her to grow the business. The first was hiring, developing, and empowering a strong management team. Letting go of the tactical was deeply embedded in the fear of failure, which is an undercurrent for entrepreneurs. There are no guarantees, but we do know that not letting go of control is one sure way to snuff out the light of the company.

Secondly, we created several strategic growth goals that were dependent on her working on the business: developing a larger line of credit, identifying strategic alliances or potential acquisitions, and looking into more vertical opportunities.

Thirdly, we helped her commit to taking some time out to recharge her batteries. Even Ferraris need tune-ups and a battery change. It brought her back reenergized and able to sustain the 20,000-foot perspective needed to take a hard look at the company and work on the business.

If you have been openly focused on the tactical parts of the business or keep getting drawn into the firefighting, it may be time to hit neutral, assess the situation, and restart your engine. Like all high-performing cars, even Ferraris need an engine assessment and diagnostic to see what’s working well and what has to be fixed. This five-minute growth  barometer assessment will help you to see where your strengths, roadblocks or blind spots might be which may be hindering your journey.

Click here to take our Growth Barometer Assessment. 

The first 10 assessment respondents will receive the opportunity to receive a free pass to our next Atlantic LEADERPRENEUR Panel event on April 4.

Tune in next month when we’ll provide tips on each of the key 7 challenges and LEADERPRENEUR commitments necessary for the Atlantic LEADERPRENEUR journey. Until then, keep growing your leadership and business.


Bonni Carson DiMatteo, founder of Atlantic Consultants in Wellesley has been helping entrepreneurs grow their businesses for more than 30 years. Through coaching, LEADERPRNEURSM roundtables, leadership training and strategic planning, she helps entrepreneurs work ON the business, not just IN the business. Call 781-235-7555

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Overcome these 3 common business struggles

By GREG STOLLER

TV shows and movies love to portray entrepreneurs who stay true to their principles, are determined and soldier on, and ultimately succeed in the face of immense struggles. Think you can do the same or are these stories only possible on Hollywood sound stages?

Hire with confidence

Let’s begin with hiring. How secure are you in your company? Conventional wisdom dictates that hiring smarter people beneath you propels an organization forward and improves the perception of your work group. This is vital in all businesses, and especially in startups, where time is of the essence. But can you do this? Can you consistently pull that personnel trigger without fearing you’ll be left behind?

One of my European clients had a problem with this on a companywide level. Given the level of unemployment, everyone was worried about externally protecting their jobs and internally their home turf, so they hired progressively weaker performers down to the front line. Eventually, the volume of customer complaints simply became unbearable. Executives didn’t alter their practices, even when the positions were so far down the food chain that their scope of influence wouldn’t affect the new recruits. Regardless of hiring practices, sometimes employees making the lowest hourly wages and having the least political capital will be the ones servicing customers, but it’s quite another matter to intentionally stack the deck.

Survive and advance

Although your hiring process might be secure, can you go it alone as an executive in your firm, even when your corporate cheerleader, protector or advocate decides to leave? Not only are you losing your mentor, but also one who ardently represented you with the company’s top decision-makers. Do you immediately try to form a new alliance before the dust settles or maintain a low profile, and adopt a wait-and-see approach?

One of my former students (and a Boston executive I mentor) figured she had it made with 15 years of a stellar track record at her firm, a wonderful work ethic and a rock-solid company reputation. “Beloved” didn’t do justice to her impresario. But suddenly, her boss made an unexpected, and shall we say, involuntary departure. Everyone assured her that of all of the people in her group, nothing would change for her, especially given her impressive tenure and rainmaking ability. So, she did nothing … until fewer than four months passed and she, too, was let go. The CEO simply chose to support a different set of lieutenants, even though her group was the most profitable in the entire company.

Stand up for customers

Companies do well when they live by the principle that the customer is always right. Can you abide by that even when it’s not “cool” internally? One of my Asian clients traveling in a large U.S. city was stranded in the middle of the night with engine problems. Despite his organization’s 24-hour auto service contract, the tow company left him marooned due to what they described as a lack of “available evening equipment.” Although the executive finally reached his hotel, the company’s consistent replies the following day still singing the party line made a bad situation even worse. When the secretary to the CEO ultimately fielded the customer’s irate phone call, she used her direct access, cut across the corporate silos and spoke up using plain logic. The customer received a full refund, and more importantly, a proper apology.

Let’s resolve ourselves to consistently making our actions count, checking personality insecurity and fear of retribution at the door. Always do the right thing, even if unpopular or unconventional, as correct actions will ultimately be rewarded … even if not on our timeline, a Hollywood stage or following the exact lessons from an entrepreneurship textbook. Life isn’t fair, and neither is corporate politics, but in the end, crème should continue to rise to the top of the food chain.


Greg Stoller is a Senior Lecturer, and is actively involved in building entrepreneurship, experiential learning and international business programs at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business.

 

Happy Leap Day

Risk. It’s one of the most talked-about concepts in entrepreneurship. What you’re willing to risk. Skin in the game. Investors wanting to de-risk your venture.

We know developing FoundersWire was a big risk. We’re disrupting a media culture that is entrenched, and focused on specific sectors of coverage–and we did it because we know there’s so much more out there that has been overlooked.

We’re doing it because telling these stories–more stories, different stories–of the  under-served and under-reported is the difference between Boston claiming the prize of pride in its innovative spirit or spiraling so far down into the “Why aren’t we as good as Silicon Valley or New York, that our community can’t recover from it. We have to tell these stories in order for them to become a part of the larger consciousness.

We want to make Boston business stronger. No startup culture became what it is without strategic media support. So we’re asking that you make FoundersWire a must-read, so no one can ignore the depth and importance of what our city is building. Boston was early to the entrepreneurship party–and somehow a false reputation has gotten more play than what we actually build.

If you want something different, you have to create something different. FoundersWire, with its mobile-first approach and focus on the small to mid-sector growth companies that haven’t gotten the buzz they’ve earned, is that something.

So here’s our risk and our reward will be a healthier, faster-growing economy full of businesses that define Boston as the city where problems are solved.

We’re leaping. We hope you will, too.