Thursday, September 25, 2014

Charlotte entrepreneur's granola becomes part of news Emmys

DeeDee Navarro with her packaged granola

It would make DeeDee Navarro's day if Diane Sawyer took a bite out of her granola.

There's a chance the former ABC "World News" anchor will next Tuesday.

Navarro, founder of Charlotte's Bungalow Picnic Company, was selected among a pool of more than 1,000 businesses nationwide to provide products that will be stuffed inside gift bags distributed to news media executives, reporters and filmmakers at the 35th annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards Sept. 30.

For the past six years, Off the Wall Gifts, a New Hampshire advertising and product placement company, has given small businesses nationwide the opportunity to submit products for the Emmy gift bags, company founder Val Wilson said. This year, products from 32 businesses will be distributed in 800 gift bags.

A research team examine each business' website, social media efforts and consider how recipients will react to the products. Wilson said she liked the look of Bungalow's website and felt the granola was nicely packaged and Navarro's brand not too gender-specific.

Navarro, mother to two college-aged daughters, said she dreamed of starting a healthy grab-and-go or snack food company for years, but she didn't know "exactly what that was going to entail."

As she brainstormed on what her niche could be, she made granola for her children and their friends. It was a hit. The owner of a local bakery agreed to help her make and package her own granola treats.

She began with basic ingredients --oats, bran and flaxseed-- but decided to also add coconut oil, an ingredient she didn't see used in most granola products. She mixed together a combination she grew up with --peanut butter and banana-- and created her first flavored granola product, which also includes almonds, walnuts, dried cranberries and banana chips.

She has since added sunflower seed butter granola to her flavor repertoire.

Navarro negotiates with store owners to get her granola on their shelves. Bungalow Picnic granola can be found in Whole Foods markets throughout the region, Reid's Fine Foods, EarthFare and the Fresh Market. She wants to continue marketing to specialty food stores, she said, before eventually moving to big retailers.

She hopes the added exposure will bolster business. It wouldn't hurt if some of her favorite TV reporters savored her products, either.

CNN's Anderson Cooper would be awesome, but Christiane Amanpour would be "just amazing," she said.

"It would be just amazing if I thought she was eating granola as she's reporting live from Syria," Navarro said. "She'd take a break to eat my granola."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Pilot's advice to business owners: 'Lead from where you are, then you will fly'

Elizabeth McCormick ran just as many miles, did just as many push-ups and hovered in a helicopter just as horribly as any male pilot when she enrolled in a U.S. Army flight school in 1993.

The difference: She was the only female in her class.

So, what does her experience have to do with running a business?

When someone tells you no, say, 'why not?'" McCormick said to a conference room full of female veterans, businesswomen, spouses and active military personnel. "You've got to be your own cheerleader in life."

McCormick on Tuesday was the keynote speaker at a Central Piedmont Community College conference focusing on women veterans becoming business entrepreneurs.

She encouraged attendees to dispel negative thoughts. If you don't feel smart enough to run a business, figure out what it takes to feel smart, she said: Take a class. Hire a coach. Find a mentor.

Her other tips included:

  • While brushing your teeth in the morning, speak five positive words to yourself that represent what you aspire to be while you look at yourself in the bathroom mirror.
  • Practice makes permanent. Practice, she said, determines how you perform in your life and your business, and how you'll find gumption to show up everyday. 
  • Rest. Peak performance, McCormick said, "doesn't get the job done." Optimal performance does. "You deserve your best. It's up to you to make 'you' a priority. You have gifts that the world needs. What you have has value."
  • Take a risk: She dared attendees to do something different
  • Your 'flight plan' is your business: "You've got to own it," she said. "It's yours. You decide where it determine your determine your goals."
An unhappy wife, McCormick caught what she calls a case of the "if he can do it, I can do it too" bug and enlisted in a U.S. Army flight school program. There, she had eight weeks to learn the ins and outs of operating a Huey helicopter.

Elizabeth McCormick
She faced a misogynistic flight instructor who often belittled her, calling her stupid and telling her each day that a monkey could fly better than her because she --and nearly every male student-- had trouble mastering helicopter hovering. Her requests for a new instructor were denied.

"Every place I went, opposition," she said. "Every place I went, it was 'no.'"

She finally met an instructor who taught her the right way to hover. She learned not to give up. The reason why, she said on Tuesday, rests with her "belief zone" -- the things she needed to tell and believe about herself to overcome her obstacles.

"I knew I was meant to be more than just a wife," she told ShopTalk after the conference. "I wasn't willing to settle."

Brenda Robinson

Much of McCormick's speech resonated with Brenda Robinson, the first female African American pilot in the Navy.

In 1978, she graduated from flight school and went into the Navy. She didn't make a fuss about her pioneer status, she said, choosing instead to focus 100 percent on her career. 

"Nobody knows me because I did not want the attention" from the public or her co-workers, she said. In the early 1990s, she began flying commercial airlines but retired after 35 years of flight experience.

Like McCormick, Robinson speaks across the country, encouraging students and seniors to identify and then achieve their goals. 

"Lead from where you are," McCormick said. "When you see a need, you must choose to lead. And then, you will fly."

Her next goal: Become the first female in the top 10 ranking of motivational speakers in the nation.

McCormick's BBFD acronym for business owners:

  • Can I do it Bigger than everybody else?
  • Can I do it Better than everybody else?
  • Can I do it Faster than everybody else?
  • Can I do it differently than everybody else?

CAN method for business leadership:

Communicate: Questions to ask yourself, she said, include: "Is (what I'm saying) clear? Is it concise? Do (employees) know they're understood?

Aviate: Take action, McCormick implored before relaying details of her harrowing flight amid a 1998 ice storm in New York. "You can't stop when there's a crisis. When things get really hard, that's when you show up."

Navigate: "Do you know where you're going?" she asked. Business owners, she said, should be comfortable with saying "No" to some opportunities so they can make room for the ones that help them move closer to their goals.

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.