Wednesday, February 25, 2015

We've moved!

We've moved! You can now find this ShopTalk blog at

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Time to take control of your business

If you're looking for ways to run your small business more efficiently, you may want to read our four-week “Small-business solutions” series starting in Wednesday's ShopTalk.

You'll hear from Tom Frenier and Rex Ferguson, who make their living helping small- and mid-sized businesses succeed. They are partners with Hickory-based Lion Consulting Group, a business the former CEOs launched about 7 years ago.

In their work, they'll go into a company and advise their clients how to work through an issue - from how to improve profits, to how to streamline office paperwork.

Frenier explains how they got started: “Rex and I were both running our own businesses as presidents and CEOs. We were personal friends…I was always amazed at how insightful Rex could be about my business,” even though he wasn't running it. And Rex thought Tom was smart to see things in his business, too.

Rex Ferguson

Tom Frenier

They realized that the hustle and bustle of running a business may keep owners from stepping back and taking an unbiased look at their companies. And they thought: “Some day, we ought to do this professionally,” Frenier says.

Both their backgrounds include working for corporations. Ferguson launched an Internet business and an industrial automation company. Frenier was in the furniture industry, which included running a curved plywood manufacturing plant.

In their current business, they've advised a range of different companies, including a credit card processing business, a restaurant, medical offices and a dance studio. They’ll share some of that advice in upcoming weeks.

Frenier and Ferguson, both in their early 60s, say they aren't smarter than the people they work with, just more experienced. "We fill the gaps where they don't have any experience," Ferguson says.

"We love to see our customers succeed," says Frenier. "We sat in their chairs. Both Rex and I have wondered on a Wednesday if we'd be able to make payroll on Friday. If you sat in that chair and had the same nightmares you'd understand."

"To help them avoid making a mistake, or (take) advantage of an opportunity, is what we're all about."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Coming up in Wednesday's ShopTalk

Check out this video preview of the next edition of ShopTalk, your small business help center:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Facebook cancels small-business boost plans for Concord

As the region braces for more icy weather, Facebook has decided to cancel its plans for a small-business workshop in Concord on Wednesday.

The social media company was planning to host a Small Business Boost in which an expert from their camp would give small-business owners tips, tools and tricks on how to achieve success and reach customers on Facebook.

A panel of four local small-business owners who have done well on Facebook was scheduled to offer advice, as well. A similar event in Lincolnton on Tuesday was also canceled.

While no dates have been set in stone yet, the company said it looks forward to returning to the Charlotte-metro area.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How is entrepreneurship doing in the U.S., and how does Charlotte fare?

Wendy Guillies
You're likely accustomed to the stories of business successes and triumphs -- the tales of entrepreneurs who carve a niche, solve a problem or make a huge business turnaround. 

All those things do happen. But, is that the full picture?

Apparently not.

Last Wednesday, the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship research institute based in Kansas City, attempted to give the lowdown on the state of entrepreneurship in the U.S.

The economy is on a rebound, but has yet to reach full health. The key to that complete economic renewal is a boom in entrepreneurship — which will bring new jobs and bundles of innovation, said Kauffman Foundation CEO Wendy Guillies.
Terry Cox, CEO of Charlotte's BIG

Easier said than done.

"The headline numbers may look good, but something isn't right when you dig a little deeper," Guillies said in a speech.

New business creation dropped by 31 percent in 2008 and is still trying to make headway post-recession, she said. Young companies still struggle getting capital and credit. And, the National Federation of Independent Business, this week released survey results showing that optimism among small-business owners dipped by 2.5 points — with most of the decline blamed on business owners' uncertainty about the economic recovery.

So what about the state of entrepreneurship in Charlotte? I asked a few local entrepreneurship advocates to weigh in:

Terry Cox, Business Innovation Growth Council: More government regulation and challenges associated with the Affordable Care Act have hindered U.S. entrepreneurial growth, Cox said. 

Charlotte does well economically, she said, is still in the early stages of building an "entrepreneurial ecosystem."

It "has not reached a critical mass or maturity to rapidly produce successful startups or attract the early stage capital we need for them to thrive," she said.

Steve ChapmanSmall Business Learning Center: "Main Street" entrepreneurship, Chapman said, is the "heart and soul" of microbusiness and the true mechanism that drives the economy. While he doubts the Kauffman Foundation's report is aimed at microbusinesses, he does agree that investment money for small businesses is scarce. 

Charlotte, he said, has the potential as a financial center to champion "microbusiness investment."

"But, I don't see that happening," he said. "Everyone talks about helping microbusiness owners access capital, but there is little effort behind the lip-service."

Jim Van Fleet
Jim Van Fleet, It's Bspoke: Van Fleet appreciates the Kauffman Foundation's efforts to spur entrepreneurship, but questions their gathering of "researchers and policy experts" -- two groups of people who, he said, are rarely considered entrepreneurs -- to help focus on "what is needed to renew entrepreneurial capitalism."

He looks to Charlotte's entrepreneurial alliance as an example of people working with city leaders to set policy and create "real foundations to benefit entrepreneurs here."

He said: "Our community isn't as vibrant as Durham and Raleigh...but if and when we're able to leverage our strength in community banking to feel more assured making bets on entrepreneurs...we in the Carolinas have the ingredients to change the face of the Southeast and the country."

Want to read the Kauffman Foundation speech yourself? Click here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

UPDATE: Facebook to share tips at small biz workshops in Concord

UPDATE: An earlier version of this blog post included plans for a Facebook event Tuesday in Lincolnton. That event has been canceled due to inclement weather. 

Facebook's coming to town to give small-business owners in the Charlotte-metro area tips on making the most of the colossal social network.

The social media company's Small Business Boost will hit Concord on Wednesday, and feature a presentation from a Facebook small business expert and a panel of local entrepreneurs who have found success on Facebook.

There are more than 2 billion connections between local businesses and people who use Facebook, the social network says. More than 30 million small businesses use Facebook to connect with their customers.

The Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce will host the event, and Rep. Richard Hudson will kick it off.

An event scheduled for Tuesday in Lincolnton was cancelled due to inclement weather.

The boost begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Cabarrus Arena & Events Center on 4571 N.C. 49 North.

Local businesses participating in the panels include:

Want to go?

To register for the Concord event, go to

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Investors up prize to $1.5 million for 6 companies in CLT Startup Grind

After listening to four hours of pitches and presentations, three top-tier investors upped the prize in a Charlotte startup competition Tuesday night to $1.5 million for six early-stage companies that made it hard to choose one winner.

Robert Grajewski and Kenneth Paulus, both of Edison Medical, and Amish Shah, founding partner of venture capitalist firm SierraMaya360, were supposed to crown one company as the champion of Startup Grind Charlotte, a two-round pitch contest that put $250,000 in possible funding on the table for the last startup standing.

But after whittling down the contenders to six finalists, the investors decided to offer their six favorite startups a potential $250,000 each in funding, which totals a $1.5 million total investment.

"We were impressed with the companies," Shah said.

"...I was floored," said Startup Grind Charlotte's director Jeff Brokaw about the six winners. "I can't say enough about how great this is for the local startup community."

Each company will meet with partners at SierraMaya360, Edison Medical or Enventys to help refine their business models, brainstorm their needs and benefit from referrals and advisory services. Grajewski also agreed to help two additional startups specializing in medical technology.

Twenty-two startups were set to pitch at the competition, held at Enventys' Ellis Street office where the PBS show "Everyday Edisons" is filmed. They had 60 seconds to pitch their innovative ideas, which ran the gamut -- from technology to aid the visually impaired to a mother of nine specializing in brand consulting.

Some used gadgets and props, while others relied on clever phrases, punchy cliches and interaction with the audience to make an impression.

The judges grilled them with questions about their expansion plans, exit strategies, revenue models, sales numbers and their "secret sauce."

It was standing room only for much of the night, at least until the first round ended and the beer and pizza started to run low.

The six companies named winners in the competition include:

  • Evolution Ortho: A company that makes and sells specialized and stylized orthopedic shoes for children and young adults. Founder Rahsaan Kearney, a former professional football player and past Charlotte Chamber of Commerce Power Up winner, says the company already uses a manufacturer in China and has generated a $320,000 net profit. He started the business when he realized the reason his father, diagnosed with cerebral palsy, was reluctant to get out of bed was because he did not like his orthopedic shoes.
  • Cathedral Leasing: An online platform that helps companies find and compare offerings for leasing manufacturing equipment. It's the fourth startup for founder Doug Speight, who described the company as the "Lending Tree" for the equipment leasing industry.
  • Nimbus: A digital loyalty software that integrates credit card payment systems with gift rewards programs, allowing retailers to process Bitcoin and coupons and track a customer's shopping habits. Founder Raymond Fosdick told judges he's invested more than $1 million of his own money into the company and was on the prowl for venture capitalist funding. 
  • BrewPublik: A customized subscription craft-beer service in which its founders lead customers to their website, allow them to indicate their craft beer tastes and preferences and then deliver that beer to customers right at their doorstep. Founders Charlie Mulligan and Zach Jamison said they've created a database of 700 craft beers for customers to choose from, and generated about $15,000 in revenue since starting several months ago.
  • Collar Perfect: A company that has created a portable device meant to mitigate the tedium of ironing. The travel-size gadget irons out wrinkles in historically hard-to-reach places, such as collars, creases, between buttons and pockets. Founder Brandon Dierker expects to generate about $250,000 in revenue in Collar Perfect's first year, but sought additional funding to hire a sales staff and support his inventory. 
  • Clinician Reports: A peer-approved directory of medical products that acts as a search engine to help healthcare professionals find specific tools for their work. Right now, owner Michael Lower sends the directory to doctors, nurses and physician's assistants as an e-newsletter..