Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Small-business owners expectations in 2014

Worries about the economy and how their businesses will fare are dampening small-business owners expectations in 2014, according to a Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index released on Monday.

Of the 605 small-business owners interviewed, 28 percent say they are less optimistic about the future of their business going into 2014 than they were going into 2013. Twenty-three percent say they are more optimistic.

Twenty-five percent expect a worse operating environment for their business compared to 2013.

And the biggest challenge owners expect to face is the economy (12 percent), followed by healthcare/Obamacare and government (both 11 percent).

See the full survey here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

New year brings new careers for these small-business owners

In the New Year's Day edition of ShopTalk publishing on Wednesday, Caroline McMillan Portillo tells the story of a couple undergoing a complete career reinvention.

Amy and Danny Leon both had high-profile jobs as television producers in the New York-New Jersey area when they decided to become small-business owners.

Now they're new North Carolina residents -- and co-owners of a CKO Kickboxing franchise, located off Prosperity Church Road in northeast Charlotte. CKO opens Jan. 11.

(Photos by Jeff Wilhelm/Charlote Observer)

Check out this video by Observer photographer Jeff Willhelm showing the Leons in their new careers as owners and trainers:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A year of challenges for small businesses

In a look back at the year, Joyce M. Rosenberg of the Associated Press writes that small-business owners will likely be relieved to close the books on 2013.

It's been a year of challenges for small companies and entrepreneurs - from questions over the federal healthcare law, to worries over how the government shutdown would affect business.

But Rosenberg writes that 2014 could hold some bright spots, including an uptick in hiring.

Read more here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

In Wednesday's ShopTalk: Nonprofit branches out to the business side

Take a look at what's coming up in Wednesday's ShopTalk:

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Do It Up in December' at HF Financial

How is your small business getting into the holiday spirit this season? Share your stories for a profile in a future blog post. Contact me at cesmith@charlotteobserver.com.

Hear Tim Flanagan from HF Financial in SouthPark talk about how the company celebrates staff and advisors this month with a 'Do It Up in December' program.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

National VC partners with Packard Place incubator

Early-stage venture fund Sierra Maya Ventures announced Tuesday a partnership and investment with RevTech Labs, a startup incubator at uptown startup hub Packard Place.

RevTech Labs is a 12-week program focused on early-stage mobile, software and web companies. The incubation program provides free work space, mentorship and programming geared toward revolutionary technology startups. The program guides startups as they focus on building their products and defining their business models.

RevTech Labs is preparing to begin its third class, which will culminate with a launch day where startups can connect with local and regional investors and customers.

“We are leveraging our relationships to get top venture capital firms and investors to take a closer look at RevTech Labs' graduates," said Amish Shah said, who founded Sierra Maya Ventures with Boston resident Eric Kagan in April 2013. The pair have since invested in promising startups from around the globe.

Shah says he's committed to helping promising RevTech Labs startups connect with their Silicon Valley contacts, for mentoring and potentially investment.

RevTech Labs is currently accepting applications for their spring class, and will be releasing more information about the program in the coming weeks. For more details and applications, visit revtechlabs.com. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hey, Today Show, it's a Southern thing

A shout-out for a hometown small business making it big: Huntersville- based Southern Nest, an online retailer selling wooden monograms, was part of NBC's Today Show holiday gift guide Wednesday morning. (Watch it here.)

Courtney Ronay
Owner and Statesville native Courtney Ronay, 30, started the business in 2011 by opening an Etsy store, selling the monograms for $12 to $225 depending on the size. And when the orders flooded in – as many as 90 a week – Ronay decided to work at her business full time, using other bloggers’ communities helped spread word of her products around the world.

As a native Charlottean, I've long been a fan of monograms, whether on pillows, purses, key rings, curtains, or family heirlooms. One of my best friends even has the same initials as her younger sister -- a move her parents made so they could share monogrammed gear. Crazy? Nah. It's a southern thing. (See: Southern Nest.)

That why I chuckled a bit when the Today Show introduced the product by saying: "In old-time Europe everybody had a monogram. Now you can have one, too." 

Yes, that's true. And yes, you can have one, too. By perusing the Southern Nest Facebook page, you'll see they're a beautiful addition to a bedroom, nursery, front door, wreath, desk or Christmas tree (yes, people are doing this!).  

But monograms are not just alive and well in old-world families across the Atlantic Ocean. They're wildly popular here in the U.S., as evidenced by Ronay's nationwide success. Retailers from around the nation sell her goods, and she gets online orders from around the world, as far as Australia. 

Ronay's website, however, gets at the essence of her products: "So step in, look around and enjoy yourself," she says. "Don't be a stranger. When you bring a Southern Nest creation into your home, you are welcoming in a bit of the South."

That's the piece the Today Show missed. 

Charlotte startup needs your votes in national competition

You've got until 2 p.m. Wednesday to vote for Charlotte-based International ThermoDyne in a national radio competition called Dream Big America, which pits startup business ventures against one another.

The contestants broadcast their pitches live on nationally syndicated Stephan's Good Day Show at 9:10 a.m Tuesday.

International ThermoDyne, presented on air by co-founder and Charlotte native Tim Risser, aims to revolutionize the way we create and use power. Their lead product, PowerFelt, is a cloth that provides portable, inexpensive, renewable electricity, extending battery life by 15 to 20 percent.

Last week's winner, MANA Nutrition, also is from the Charlotte area. MANA produces ready-to-use therapeutic food derived from peanuts for children suffering from severe acute malnutrition. MANA's win last week secured it a spot in the December 31 finals.

Want to vote?
Visit: DreamBigAmerica.us or text DBA to 612-22-DREAM (612-223-7326).

Deadline is 2 p.m.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Giving Tree Realty helps military families this holiday season

How is your small business getting into the holiday spirit this season? Share your stories for a profile in a future blog post. Contact me at cesmith@charlotteobserver.com.

Giving back to the community has been Giving Tree Realty's priority since the Charlotte real estate firm opened in 2010, according to Broker-in-Charge Bruce Bleiman. There's a sign in the East Boulevard office with the firm's tree logo and the tagline, "REALTORS with roots in community causes."

This holiday season, the firm has launched a "Toys For Our Troops" effort to help children in military families facing hardships this season.

It started off last Wednesday with the realty's team hosting 230 military children at Discovery Place for a showing of "The Polar Express."

(Photos by Gene Lazo and William Culp.)

The children met Sir Purr of the Panthers, Rufus of the Bobcats, and the jolly big guy himself.

Next up is Christmas Eve, when the company team will deliver gifts and a holiday meal to the children of three military families who lost a parent in Afghanistan or Iraq.

And continuing through Dec. 31 is a toy drive being held on behalf of Operation Homefront of the Carolinas. Bleiman said the firm is asking the public for donations of gently used or new, unwrapped toys for boys and girls of all ages. Gifts received after Christmas will be saved for next year's event. Drop off gifts during business hours at the Giving Tree Realty office at 1819 East Blvd. Find more information at http://www.givingtreerealty.com/ToysForOurTroops.

Giving Tree Realty credits Military Family Lifestyle Charitable Foundation, The Patriot Charities, Hendrick Automotive Group, HendrickCars.Com, Edifice, First Choice Loan Services and Ameritrust for helping and/or donating to its holiday efforts.

Bleiman said all types of gifts are welcome for the toy drive -- tricycles, box games, crayons, books, There's a storage space on the office property that's designated for toys, and he hopes public donations fill the space "from top to bottom."

Watch this video to hear Bleiman talk more about the program:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Video - In Wednesday's ShopTalk: Entrepreneurship class, monogram maker

Here's a video preview of what's coming up in this week's ShopTalk:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So, when is the next one?

Many customers shopping at the Micro Local pop-up store in South End last weekend suggested to organizers they should do this more often.

("They're) hoping that we would do this every quarter or at least every celebrated Small Business Saturday," according to Olive Stewart, one of the organizers behind the first-time, one-day event.

The pop-up was designed to give entrepreneurs without storefronts the chance to promote their products during the national "Shop Small" promotion day. Offerings included food products, pet treats, candles, handmade items, and more. CPCC Small Business Center, Charlotte Center City Partners, and Whiteside Industrial Commercial Properties assisted in the event.

Stewart called the day a "total success."

"People came from the surrounding areas...It was profitable not just monetarily but in building a customer base for all the vendors. Customers found many of the items to be unique, quality and affordable."

Vendors even shopped from each other for gifts, Stewart said.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Small businesses participate in #GivingTuesday

Fresh off of Small Business Saturday comes #GivingTuesday, a day designed to promote charitable giving to nonprofits.

Harrisburg-based JHE Production Group, which produces events, sent out a press release on the company's year-round  "Giving for Good" commitment, where company employees employees select one cause each month to support. This year, according to JHE, the company has donated 788 hours to 11 organizations, including Metrolina Food Bank, Levine & Dickson Hospice House, Wings of Eagles Ranch, American Red Cross  and the company’s signature charitable event, Golfing 4 Good.

“#GivingTuesday is a wonderful way to remind people to get out and donate their time to a cause close to their hearts,” said JHE executive vice president and chief marketing officer Michael Verlatti.

One entrepreneurial venture is asking for #GivingTuesday-themed donations. Queen City Mobile Market, a food truck concept, tweeted for donations to help "purchase a trailer for our truck to roll out our mobile farmers market on wheels which will serve food deserts and build healthier communities."

Also, the Better Business Bureau in Charlotte is offering tips for wise giving.

Is your small business participating in #GivingTuesday? Tell us how in the comments below.