Friday, September 19, 2014

First female Black Hawk pilot among guests at women veterans business conference

The first woman to pilot a Black Hawk helicopter will tell women veterans in Charlotte next week how they can use skills they learned on the front lines to boost their bottom lines.

More than 100 female veterans and active-duty military personnel are expected to spend about six hours with Elizabeth McCormick, a panel of four female business owners and vendors at Central Piedmont Community College on Tuesday as part of "A New Mission: How Military Women Become Entrepreneurs" conference.

Elizabeth McCormick
The event, a joint effort by CPCC's Sm
all Business Center and the Women's Business Center of North Carolina, starts at 8:30 a.m. in the Harris Conference Center, 3216 CPCC Harris Campus Drive. It's expected to end at 2:30 p.m.

Also on tap: an expo featuring vendors from the city of Charlotte, economic development officials and Charlotte SCORE (Service Corps. of Retired Executives), and sessions offering tools to help veterans start businesses.

All women, including female military veterans, active-duty women service members, veteran spouses and active-duty service members, are invited to attend the event. The event is free, but registration is required.

The rising number of female-owned businesses and an influx of military personnel in the area motivated organizers to focus the conference around women, said Renee Hode, executive director of CPCC's Small Business Center.

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that more than 770,000 veterans live in North Carolina. A recent OPEN State of Women-Owned Business report shows that an estimated 1,200 new American businesses a day were started by women over the past year, up from 740 a day a year earlier.

Veterans also have several skills that are transferable to business ownership, Hode said, such as resourcefulness, strong leadership skills and adaptability to change.

"They work with things on the fly," she said. "Things that happen in a business everyday are not routine."

McCormick, an author and inspirational speaker, will deliver a keynote address during lunch. She has spoken at women's retreats, religious conventions, seminars, youth groups and Girl Scouts troops, according to her website.

On Tuesday, she will draw from her own challenging experiences and explain how she used them to start her own business.

The four panelists, all military veterans who own businesses that vary from product innovation to providing services to the community, will talk about the challenges they faced starting their business post-military service. Some of them have owned businesses for more than five years, while at least one is still at the two-year startup level, Hode said.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Charlotte bus shopping tour offers 'swag bag,' discounts for $30

For $30, shoppers can go home with a "swag bag," peruse tons of discounted merchandise and be chauffeured to about 10 Charlotte boutiques and a dozen pop-up stores.

Fifi's of Lake Norman, a fine resale and consignment shop in Cornelius, will host on Sept. 27 its second annual Shop Charlotte Bus Tour. The tour, in a limousine bus, starts at 9 a.m., ending at 4 p.m.

Guests who purchase the $30 tickets will be bused to 13 area boutiques, including Fifi's, Avalilly's in Cornelius, the Cheeky Bean in SouthPark and The Boulevard at SouthEnd.

The tour is the brainchild of Julia Austin, owner of Fifi's Fine Resale, as a way of drawing business to local boutiques. Jennifer Malone and Jessica Horton of J. Leigh Events are the event's organizers.

Julia Austin
This year, each guest will receive a "swag bag," according to a news release, and discounts at each stop along the way.
There's lunch, too.

As they feast, shoppers will also have the opportunity to peruse about a dozen pop-up stores, shops that owners set up at a location temporarily and then leave, said Jennifer Harrison, a store manager at Fifi's of Lake Norman.

A Fifi's sales associate doubling as a stylist will join the bus ride, offering tips and help to shoppers.Tickets can be purchased here. The sale ends Sept. 26.

By Tuesday morning, 15 seats were left on the bus. If the tickets sell out, event organizers are willing to get a larger bus, Harrison said.

The Charlotte pick-up location is at the Cheeky Bean boutique at 720 Governor Morrison St., Suite 160, and the Lake Norman pick-up is at Fifi's, 20601 Torrence Chapel Road in Cornelius.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Charlotte entrepreneur launches app verifying signatures with audio, video, photos

While developing a "robust" tool for entertainers and athletes that would allow them to snap pictures while signing documents, business owner Kyle Taylor grew tired of printing paper and emailing agreements.

He searched for programs that would help him sign documents digitally and deliver them to the right people with a simple touch.

Trouble is, those programs weren't cheap. He told himself: "I'm not going to pay $30 to $50 a month to sign documents." More, financing his first product --which became so convoluted it was like a "Swiss Army knife"-- and getting it to market didn't work out the way he hoped.

So, Taylor, 30, did what became second-nature in the years he worked through college, paid his bills and lived on his own in New York City and then Philadelphia.

He "refocused, regrouped...brainstormed and focused on what the other competitors in the industry are not offering," he said. "You have to be able to shift focus, have to be able to pivot."

After researching what other companies in the E-signature industry offered, Taylor spent 12 to 16 months developing the Agreed App, an easy-to-use application allowing users to sign documents on a mobile device and then verify who or what is being signed with audio, pictures and video.

The app is different from other E-signature devices he said, because users can add audio clips for verbal contract commitments; take pictures and upload them as proof of identity; and enable real-estate agents to embed pictures and video of a property for-sale into a document before a potential buyer signs the dotted line.

It eliminates the occasional trouble with faxing and emailing documents, he said, and cuts down on paper-use.

The app is marketed to real-estate agents, independent contractors, lawyers and other professionals requiring signed time-sensitive documents. It's available on the Apple App Store, where users can download the app to access storage and verification services for three full documents per month. For users who want more access, they can pay $9.99 per month or $89.99 a year.

He funded the app's development by cashing out stocks and blending the money with funds from his 401(k) savings at previous jobs, spending between $30,000 to $40,000 to take the app to market.

Taylor found a developer for the product at Packard Place, the city's incubator for start ups. After months of testing the product, he submitted his code work to Apple, which reviewed the app and placed it on the market.

Last month, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise capital for testing and developing the app for Android devices.

Staying focused

Taylor's journey to launching his own business and app started in a single-parent household in New Jersey. Raised by a mother who stressed education, Taylor said he focused on staying out of trouble and investing in his future.

He attended St. John's University in New York City, but left three years later as tuition costs kept increasing. He enrolled at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he worked 40 hours a week and attended classes at night, during the summer and on weekends.

Having always had a keen interest in money, he began conversing with his mother's stock broker and reading books on the stock market. He invested refund money from his student loans into shares of FedEx and Synaptics, Inc.

He worked at Comcast in Philadelphia before moving to Charlotte at his mother's suggestion. Here, he hired a development team and started The Redkomodo, LLC --a name he chose because red is an aggressive color and the Komodo dragon is strategic, watching its prey until it notices a weakness and strikes.

"That's what we did," he said. "We (take) our time to figure out the market, see what the competitors were doing or not doing and then we can approach with an attack with what we can offer to the table."

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sports marketing veterans start specialized firm

Lending their clients a listening ear helped Greg Busch and Mike Boykin find a gap in the sports entertainment marketplace and make a move out of what they call the "big agency world."

An executive at a global sports marketing agency, Busch said clients wanted to see senior executives work "hand-in-hand" with brand clients versus the more "organizational-chart approach."

Earlier this year, Boykin and Busch stepped away from jobs as top executives at GMR Marketing, based in Milwaukee with offices in Charlotte, and created Bespoke Sports & Entertainment, a marketing solutions agency aiming to offer its clients consulting and marketing services tailored to their
specific needs.

Bespoke's offices on West Morehead Street, just west to the Bank of America Stadium, opened last week.

"It's not about a right or wrong model," said Busch, Bespoke president. "The large agency model certainly works for some brands that are looking for scale or global reach. It was really more about giving (clients) options. It's really a customized approach."

Busch, who worked at GMR Marketing for 15 years, left as the company's executive vice president for global sports and entertainment consulting. Boykin departed as the executive vice president of sports marketing. Together, they blend more than 50 years of sports and entertainment marketing experience.

"Through our big agency experience, we identified an opportunity in the marketplace to provide brands a personalized service offering," Bespoke CEO Mike Boykin said in a news release. "Our goal is to provide senior-level counsel to create customized brand solutions that drive tangible business results."

The firm will help clients market products, such as signs or advertisements specifically associated with a sports brand, as well as allow spectators at sporting events to interact with the brand via vendors and brand ambassadors, Busch said.

Bespoke will also offer clients strategy and consulting services, brand and sponsorship activation, creative solutions and digital engagement services reaching into social media.

When looking for a company name, Busch said he and Boykin wanted a moniker that emphasized what the firm would strive to do. They settled on "bespoke," an adjective referring to something made-to-order or customized to fit a particular person or thing, such as a "bespoke suit" or "bespoke medicine," he said.

Partners in the company include John Compton, former president of PepsiCo. and current operating advisor to Clayton, Dubilier and Rice, a New York private equity firm, and Gordon Whitener, former president at Host Communications and CEO at Action Sports Media, and current primary member of The Whitener Company, LLC.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Charlotte small-biz incubators win $50K in national competition

Two Charlotte small-business incubators are among 50 accelerators in the U.S. to receive a $50,000 prize rewarding programs that help develop start-ups and entrepreneurs.

City Startup Labs, a 15-week entrepreneurship school geared toward young African-American men, and RevTech Labs, a three-month program that gives free mentoring, work space and programming to new technology start-ups, will both receive the cash prize from the federal Small Business Administration.

The winners were chosen from a pool of 800 applicants as part of the first Growth Aceelerator Fund competition. Recipients come from 31 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico according to a SBA news release.

 The competition aimed to draw attention and funding to parts of the country where there are gaps in the "entrepreneurial ecosystem," the release states.

Charlotte resident Henry Rock founded City Startup Labs last year, taking cues from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative, an effort to close the achievement gap between young black and Latino males and their counterparts.

 Hoping to help black males embrace entrepreneurship, Rock sought help from the Urban League of Central Carolinas, and received a $100,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

A launching pad for startups, the RevTech Labs give hopeful business owners and startups 4,000 square feet of shared work space without charge. The lab offers financing help, programs focusing on growth and connections with local and regional investors.

 Both City Startup Labs and RevTech Labs are based in Packard Place, uptown's startup hub.
As part of accepting the Growth Accelerator funds, City Startup Labs and RevTech Labs will have to report to the SBA several metrics, such as the number of jobs created, money raised, startups launched and corporate sponsors obtained. The SBA will use the information to create a database that evaluates each incubator's impact.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Close-out sale continues for Matthews holiday shop going out of business

There's still time to grab baby's first Christmas ornament at the same Matthews shop where customers can buy a rabbit cookie cutter for Easter and an American red gingham beverage napkin for the Fourth of July.

Connie Kleinberg told the Observer in July she will be closing Matthews Holiday Haus gift shop on North Trade Street after a recent hospitalization.
A close-out sale, touting bargains that cut prices on some merchandise by 30 to 70 percent, continues with no clear end in sight, but Kleinberg said this week she hopes all the store's inventory is out of her store by the beginning of December.

Talking about the shop's closing is difficult for Kleinberg, who kept it going for 17 years. She and her husband, Al, started the business together when they retired to North Carolina from New York.

After a year of "watching the lawn grow," Kleinberg said she sought something to do. "A New York City girl" at heart who "always liked Christmas...and always liked pretty things," Kleinberg decided to open a shop selling Christmastime decor, along with trinkets from every other holiday. 

"It became a very unique place to shop," she said. "It just grew."

Once all the merchandise is off the shelves, Kleinberg plans to sell the building, which still has its original cabinetry, ceilings, floors and walls. 

Decorations for St. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Christmas and everyday home decor are still available. 

--Jonathan McFadden

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Charlotte's JJ's Red Hots to hit college campuses

JJ's Red Hots, with locations in Dilworth and Ballantyne, announced on Tuesday a new business partnership that will bring the hotdogs to college campuses.

JJ's is partnering with Chartwells Higher Education, a division of Compass Group North America, to get its food served at higher education institutions. Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton will be the first spot to get the hotdogs, as well as a customized menu and a special FAU DOG designed for the university.

“The high energy of a university setting is right in our sweet spot, because we like to have fun with our brand and we don’t take ourselves too seriously," JJ's owner Jonathan Luther said in a statement.

JJ’s Red Hots was honored in May for making Fast Casual’s list of the year’s top 50 restaurants, the only Charlotte-area brand to receive recognition. It finished 43rd on the publication’s annual “Top 100 Movers & Shakers” list.