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.. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Charlotte marketing pros talk handling clients, breaking bad news

(from left) Jim Bailey, Tamera Green, Jaime Cardenas and Jon Show,
who moderated the panel, at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.
Photo courtesy of Brooke Faw. 
When Tamera Green has to deliver bad news to a client, she does it while wearing "velvet gloves."

Preparing for the difficult conversations is key, especially if your client's wife has "sketchy" photos on the Internet, Green said early on Tuesday to a crowd of business owners and sport
s professionals at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte.

Such was one experience for Green, president of Viridian Marketing, who joined two other marketing entrepreneurs on a panel to discuss their business journeys, fears and struggles during a Charlotte Sports & Business networking event.

"Don't knock them over the head with a hammer," Green said of clients. "Be prepared...if it's a tough conversation."

Jim Bailey, CEO of Red Moon
Green, along with Jim Bailey, president and CEO of Red Moon Marketing, and Jaime Cardenas, CEO and founder of AC&M Cultural Marketing, shared tips on how they maintain good client relations:

When you're right, you're right: The old adage goes, "the customer is always right."

Bailey agrees: "At the end of the day, the client is always right."

That doesn't mean you're always wrong. Find a way to respectfully get your point across, even if it contradicts your client's opinion, he said.

Disagreements are inevitable but the important thing, Bailey said, is finding a way to get the client back in your good graces.

Tamera Green, president of
Viridian Marketing
"If you're a collector of relationships...good things will come your way," he said.

Rehearse the tough talks: Clients are "the everything" to your business, Green said. Business owners, she said, should wake up each morning thinking about how they can add value to their client's experience.

Yes, there are tough conversations to be had, but they get easier with a little homework beforehand.

One difficult experience Green recalled was dealing with a client whose wife had "sketchy photos" on the Internet. Green spent days brainstorming on how to broach the topic. Finally, she did. The client already had an answer for Green, assuring her that his wife was not involved in any illicit activities.

Hire wisely: Hiring the right people to take care of your clients the same way you do is critical, Cardenas said. Hire carefully and deliberately, making sure to clearly explain your company's standards and your clients' expectations.

Other advice they offered:
Jaime Cardenas, CEO of AC&M
Cultural Marketing
  • Understand the commitment to the business and help your family understand they'll need to be equally committed to your success. As Cardenas said, "everything depends on whether we get this client or implement this project."
  • Establish core values and a company persona and communicate them to employees. Bailey's team has developed four key strategies for 2015. Employees are held accountable for exemplifying those values each day. 
  • Take on the work you're not comfortable with and find people to help you understand it.
  • Pick up the phone and call people. You might hear information or ideas you never would have gotten in electronic communication. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

"The Woz" to speak at Charlotte startup conference

The guest list for what's been touted as the largest showing of promising startups and eager venture capitalists to hit Charlotte now includes the man who co-founded Apple.

Steve Wozniak, who with Steve Jobs founded Apple Computer Inc. in 1976, will be one of the featured speakers at this year's Southeast Venture Conference, an assembly of top venture capitalists and private investors waiting for a chance to pour their money into hopeful tech companies.

Often called "The Woz," Wozniak is a Silicon Valley tycoon and electrical engineer who is credited with inventing the first personal computer, and recently revealed that Apple did not actually start in a garage.

We first blogged about the Southeast Venture Conference last month, but apparently organizers didn't confirm Wozniak as a featured speaker until late last week.

The conference, in its ninth year, will be held at the Le Meridien hotel Mar. 31 to April 1. It coincides with the Charlotte Venture Challenge, a startup pitch competition that has drawn more than 200 early-stage companies in the past.

This year, finalists will be able to pitch to investors attending the Southeast Venture Conference, putting them in contact with more than 600 top-tier investors, some of whom belong to Fortune 500 companies.

"The combination of SEVC and the Charlotte Venture Challenge offers the region's most promising entrepreneurs an opportunity for great a great chance to learn from knowledgeable panelists and iconic speakers, such as Steve Wozniak," said Paul Wetenhall of Ventureprise, UNC Charlotte's incubator which hosts the venture challenge. "

Friday, February 6, 2015

Next in ShopTalk: Puppy love at work

Check out this video preview of the next edition of ShopTalk:

Monday, February 2, 2015

Charlotte touchscreen maker's tech featured on CBS This Morning

Charlotte-based touchscreen maker T1Visions made its way in front of a national audience last Friday when its tech was featured on "CBS This Morning." (watch the segment here)

Marco Ventura, T1V's vice president of
business development, poses with the
interactive retail tables, currently in
three flagship Neiman Marcus stores.
In a story about how mega-retailer Neiman Marcus is using technology to innovate and draw more customers, company execs showed off interactive retail tables in the shoe salon that allows customers to peruse the store's in-store and out-of-store inventory and add items to their favorites wishlist.

At the 2 minutes 31 seconds mark, CBS reporter Ben Tracy describes the tables as "interactive tables that work like a giant iPad."

These are the same tables we blogged about last month, and they're the same tables that will be the centerpiece in this week's ShopTalk, both in print and online.

While T1Visions wasn't mentioned by name, the company did tweet its five seconds of morning news show fame.

To learn more about how T1Visions landed the deal with Neiman Marcus, read ShopTalk online on Tuesday or in Wednesday's Observer.

CBS This Morning segment on Neiman Marcus:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pitch season births CLT startup competition with $250K offering

Jeff Brokaw
The season doth approach for startup kickoffs, pitches and competitions.

The late winter/early spring brings a flurry of opportunities for promising startups to secure funding and make nice with eager venture capitalists looking to invest.

We've already told you about new developments with the Charlotte Venture Challenge & Southeast Venture Conference in March. Well, there's another one you might consider.

Next month, Startup Grind Charlotte, the local chapter of the global startup organization of the same name, will host a contest offering entrepreneurs the chance to pitch to the partners of SierraMaya360, an early-stage investment firm looking to connect promising startups with top-tier investors in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

You may remember our past coverage of SierraMaya360, a re-brand of a venture capitalist firm started by local entrepreneur Amish Shah and his partner, tech pioneer Eric Kagan. They've now added Silicon Valley's Glen Howard and Tony Potts, formerly of Access Hollywood, to the roster.

From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 10, they'll converge at Enventys, 520 Elliot St., where the PBS TV show "Everyday Edisons" is filmed.

As part of the competition, th
ey're offering $250,000 in funding and four hours of advisory services from Shah himself. Those services are typically worth $5,000, said Jeff Brokaw, director of Startup Grind Charlotte.

Brokaw, 31, started his first web venture at age 14. He is the pioneer behind AppVested, a platform for connecting investors with carefully-vetted entrepreneurs launching mobile applications.

Before the contest begins, Shah and Brokaw will share with attendees stories of successful startups and how they overcame their biggest challenges. They'll take questions, too, Brokaw said.

"You can't do it by yourself," Brokaw said. "I tried building companies by myself. You have to surround yourself with people who know more than you do."

It is a competition, so there are stipulations:
  • Pitching teams or individuals will be entered into a two-round elimination. 
  • The first round will be a 60-second pitch. 
  • The field will be narrowed down to the top five teams or individuals who will then have an extra two to three minutes to expand their initial pitch.
  • During the second round, participants can use videos, props, or gadgets for their pitch.
  • After that, there's a five-minute Q&A session with the judging panel and audience, and a winner will be announced.
  •  The winner will then have the opportunity to pitch to SierraMaya360. If the company likes the idea, the winner could earn $250,000 in funding.
  • One prize guaranteed for the winner are four hours of advisory time with Shah, Kagan, Howard, Potts and others who can help their business.
Interested in competing? Email Brokaw with your pitch, company and contact information at The deadline for entries is 8 p.m. Feb. 8. Just want to go? RSVP and purchase tickets at Startup Grind Charlotte's Meetup page.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Calling all startups: Here's what's new with the Charlotte Venture Challenge this year

Stephen Howard, a UNC Charlotte graduate, won $5,000 last
year at the Charlotte Venture Challenge for his $3,000 MechBlocks, a
series of modular blocks and bearings for assembling devices. 
It's been tradition for the last 14 years: Founders of the Southeast's most promising startups swarm the Queen City and pitch their ideas to angel investors, venture capitalists and top executives for a chance at funding as part of the Charlotte Venture Challenge.

But 2015 throws something new into the mix.

Finalists in the competition, which in the past has attracted more than 200 early-stage companies, will make their pitches during the opening day of the Southeast Venture Conference, an assembly of top venture capitalists and private investors waiting for a chance to pour their money into hopeful tech companies.

Touting the tagline "where smart money meets smart people," the venture conference, entering its ninth year, was last in Charlotte in 2013. It was held in Atlanta last year, and has also been hosted in Tysons Corner, Va.,

More than 600 investors, tech scouts and Fortune 500 executives are expected to attend the conference, from Mar. 31 to April 2, at the Le Meridien hotel.

The opportunity to compete and pitch to hundreds of top-tier investors is big for aspiring startups. So, if you want to get in on the action, submit an application by noon Mar. 3.

The challenge is organized by Ventureprise, UNC Charlotte's nonprofit startup incubator.

Find applications for the Charlotte Venture Challenge here, and a chance to attend the Southeast Venture Conference on its website.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Charlotte small businesses keep changing hands at record levels

Dina Beam, regional director of Pet Paradise,
plays with dogs checked into the resort. Pet Paradise 
bought Bed & Biscuits in Lake Norman last August from 
original owners Susan and Dennis Meadows.
What do a coffee shop in uptown Charlotte, a Mecklenburg County motorcycle repair shop and a York County liquor store have in common?

None of them have their original owners anymore.

In fact, they were among the 13 Charlotte-area private businesses sold during the fourth quarter of 2014, bringing the number of Queen City enterprises to change hands last year to at least 67, according to numbers released Wednesday by, an online marketplace for small-business sales.

That's the highest number of sales recorded for any year since BizBuySell started keeping records in 2007.

The Observer wrote about small-business owners selling their enterprises earlier this month, when it seemed likely the Charlotte-area would outpace its previous record.

Third-quarter numbers for 2014 showed that at least 54 private businesses had been sold -- a 42-percent hike from the same period a year earlier.

The last time numbers were that high was in 2008 when 52 small businesses had been sold. The numbers started to dip in subsequent years, but picked up again in 2013 with 47 private business sales.

In the backdrop of the Queen City's small business deals is a spate of national merger and acquisition activity, which also reached record highs in 2014.

Nationwide, at least 7,494 small businesses were sold last year, a 6-percent increase from 7,056 in 2013, BizBuySell reported.

Experts attribute the surge to favorable interest rates, cheaper borrowing options and increasing confidence in a recovering economy.

Read mor

Here are some other highlights about the Charlotte-area this year:
  • Some of the businesses sold in Q4 were: a York Co. liquor store that sold for $150,000; a Cabarrus County child care center that sold for $1 million; and the uptown coffee shop, which sold for $237,500. 
  • The median asking price for businesses in Charlotte is $250,000. At the same time in 2013, the asking price was $226,000.
  • Businesses listed for-sale in Q4 generated median revenues of $500,000. In 2013, they generated $402,667.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

LockerDome names 10 Charlotte hubs jolting startup flurry

A new ranking praises Charlotte's "unstoppable" startup ecosystem, and names the top 10 incubators and venture capital firms helping to make it happen.

LockerDome, a St. Louis-based social networking site that catalogs users' interests and allows them to share articles and factoids with like-minded enthusiasts, has listed Packard Place, SierraMaya360, Ventureprise and RevTech Labs as some of the front-burner groups helping spur the city's startup scene.

Heading the list is SierraMaya360, an early-stage venture capital firm seeking to connecting promising startups with top-tier investors and notable celebrities.

Amish Shah

The firm is a re-brand of local entrepreneur Amish Shah and longtime investor Eric Kagan's original firm, Sierra Maya Ventures, that now includes two new partners, offices in Charlotte, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and an enhanced mission to promote a client's startup in media and in front of tech-savvy investors.

Other Charlotte firms that made LockerDome's list include:

Read more about these incubators and hubs at LockerDome.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Charlotte's T1Visions plants high-def touchscreen tables in Neiman Marcus

T1Visions, a Charlotte-based maker of interactive touchscreens, has landed its latest creation in a chain of deluxe department stores.

Interactive 32-inch high-definition retail tables now adorn the shoe salons of three Neiman Marcus stores in Austin, Chicago and Topanga, Calif. They allow customers to scroll through in-store and out-of-store inventory and add items to their 'My Favorites for Wishlist' at the touch of a finger, according to a news release.

The tables give store associates access to the most current inventory information, including what isn't in the store and what is "coming soon."

All the tables are touchscreen and built with a single continuous pane of glass that is customized in color.

T1Visions, founded by Mike Feldman in 2008 after a career in electrical engineering and micro-optics, worked with Neiman Marcus' Innovation Lab (iLab) to develop the tables.

OneShop, T1's proprietary retail software, powers the tables, giving them the infrastructure for customers to browse and filter through the store's inventory. It also supports a recommendation engine based on customers' browsing habits.

More updates to the tables are expected later this year. Makers hope the tables will one day be able to conduct transactions, functioning as a stand-alone point of sale in the store.

Last summer, T1 Visions was ranked at No. 456 on the Inc. 500, a list of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. The company generated $2.4 million in revenue last year, up from $212,000 in 2010.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Co-op opens studio space to Charlotte writers

Kathie Collins
Self-employed Charlotte writers no longer have to put pen to paper in isolation.

Kathie Collins, a local author and academic writer, is giving them studio space and friendship.

Collins, 49, recently started the August Moon Creative Co-Op and is renting out studio space in Plaza Midwood to creative professional and recreational writers tired of working alone. She wants them to congregate, she said, and tap into the "the power of group synergy."

The studio is a classroom in the Midwood International and Cultural Center on Central Avenue, near Zada Jane's Corner Cafe and Lulu, a French bistro. It comes furnished with a couch, throw pillows, WiFi, bookshelves and a dry erase board.

She's charging co-op members a monthly $125 fee to help pay the costs of renting the room, which is $750 per month.

"It's really a beautiful space," she said. "It's this feeling of being in a school."

The studio space at the Midwood International and Cultural Center
Writers who can take advantage of the room include professional, recreational or freelance writers who might find it hard to focus on their craft at home. She's also offering to rent to artists or anyone with "good creative energy...interested in spending time with other people doing similar work."

The room will be available night and day, she said.

Collins, a UNC Chapel Hill graduate and mother of five, is a published poet who has written Biblical reflections for the Educational Center in Charlotte.

Anyone interested in renting studio space can contact Kathie Collins at 704-458-3293 or The co-op meets at the Midwood International and Cultural Center, Suite 302 at 1817 Central Ave.