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Despite government shutdown, SCORE’s Straight Talk event goes on

The timing couldn’t have been worse. Hours before Buffalo Niagara SCORE was to hold its annual convention for local entrepreneurs, a day filled with speakers and seminars in conjunction with Buffalo’s U.S. Small Business Administration bureau, the federal government announced a shutdown, threatening the entire event.

SCORE, which partners closely with the SBA in mentoring and advising entrepreneurs, was ready. And with a few frantic, final adjustments, the event took place without a hitch.

“I was on the phone all day Friday and watching the TV, too,” SCORE Buffalo Niagara Chair John Vitale said about the federal government’s last-minute attempts to pass legislation which would fund government operations and agencies. “I realized around 10 p.m. it wasn’t going to happen.”

The shutdown lasted from midnight on Saturday, Jan. 20, until a short-term compromise was reached Monday, Jan. 22. Just long enough to pull the SBA’s involvement entirely from the convention.

The annual “Straight Talk” event was to be held at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, and more than 350 people were registered to attend. U.S. SBA administrator Linda McMahon was in town to give the keynote address, but could not attend the event, and the Buffalo SBA bureau, which leads many of the seminars during the day, could not participate due to the three-day shutdown.

That left SCORE to fill in the gaps. And Vitale said the organization was prepared, with minimal disruption to the planned schedule. Mayor Byron Brown was in attendance, as were other city and county representatives. Vitale added that despite some concern, enthusiasm remained the same for the high-energy event, and feedback has been positive.

“We had some contingency plans,” Vitale said. “SCORE stepped up and took the lead in the areas the SBA was slated to do.”

It was President Donald Trump-appointee McMahon’s second attempt at a speaking appearance in Buffalo after a previous engagement was postponed this fall. Vitale said he was not sure if she would make a third try.

The SBA’s Straight Talk event, co-sponsored by SCORE and now in its 22nd year, is the launch of an eight-part series that began Tuesday, Jan. 30, at Medaille College.

Focused toward entrepreneurs, seminar topics include how to build business and financial plans, risk management and insurance and tax instruction. Classes typically begin at 5:45 and cost $5 for participants.

Vitale said they expect about 100 people at each event, and in total approximately 1,000 will attend at least one class. Interested entrepreneurs can visit https://buffaloniagara.score.org/buffaloworkshops for more information.

SCORE’s Buffalo Niagara chapter works with about 1,200 clients a year, from entrepreneurs looking to start a restaurant to consultants needing business plan assistance. The organization provides mentorship, one-on-one advising, and networking to prospective business owners.

“Our mission really is to help build an environment for successful businesses in two ways: mentorship and education,” Vitale said.


Filling the finance gap

Do you need financing to start or grow your business? Are you looking to network with other small business owners? Join Excelsior Growth Fund, PathStone Enterprise Center, Westminster Economic Development Initiative, and the Erie County IDA for a lively discussion on financing options for your business! We will talk about the loan application and review process, and what lenders look for in a good application. Don’t miss your chance to meet with local small business lenders, learn what small business loans are available to you, and ask questions specific to your business needs.

Event Dates:
February 21
March 24
April 23

For more information, click here.


Girl Develop It opens doors to tech jobs for women

With a degree in computational physics, Olga Nelioubov was used to studying in a field traditionally dominated by men.

The 2016 University at Buffalo graduate might’ve grown accustomed to a male-centric classroom and professional setting, but she felt like, for better or for worse, she was sometimes treated differently. And when it came to asserting herself, it was difficult to build confidence or earn recognition.

After college, Nelioubov received a job offer as an administrator for a local company and needed to focus on her computer programming skills. Girl Develop It, a national nonprofit that provides programs and networking opportunities for women interested in web and software development, not only helped Nelioubov land a software engineer position, but the Florida native is now a Buffalo chapter leader, helping other women interested in growing their programming skills.

Girl Develop It was founded in 2010 in New York City and has 57 chapters across North America, including three in New York state. Led by Lena Levine, Buffalo’s GDI chapter was the 12th in the country, and currently has almost 800 members.

The organization’s mission is to provide affordable programs for women of all races, income levels, and education levels in a judgement-free setting. Today, it has more than 55,000 members nationally.

Levine has her own web development studio, where she builds websites and applications for companies locally, from Valu Home Center to UB. She launched the Buffalo chapter of GDI in 2013 to give women an environment where they can learn programming languages, network, and ask questions in an effort to break down the barrier of entry that still exists in the computer programming field.

“We started at the brink of the whole Buffalo resurgence,” said Levine, a native of Russia who moved here in 2009. “I’m excited that we were able to contribute to that movement forward as well.”

Girl Develop It works with a spectrum of women, from college-aged seeking a skill set that isn’t offered in a traditional classroom setting, to accomplished professionals being asked to update their company’s WordPress page. Buffalo’s GDI chapter offers “office hour” meetups for coffee and networking, courses in Python programming language, and Saturday morning brunch, with times and locations rotated to accommodate as many people as possible.

Nelioubov leads some of GDI’s local programs and said the mentorship and networking opportunities are as important as reinforcing skillsets.

“Some of the meetups I went to helped more than the classes themselves,” Nelioubov said. “There were chapter leaders there offering clear advice and providing motivation.

“I was timid. I didn’t think I had what it takes to become a software engineer. But [GDI] leaders spoke with me, they coached me, they helped me along, and because of that, I have the job that I have now,” she added.

Nelioubov found confidence through the GDI networking opportunities, where she was encouraged to take chances on her career. “The worst thing they can do is say no,” she said. But for Nelioubov, companies said yes, and relatively quickly.

In addition to courses and meetups, GDI offers bootcamp courses and hackathons, both of which present challenging, supportive environments not always accessible to women in traditional settings. Levine does monthly talks on different technologies and trends and newsletters keep members engaged.

Levine said with more opportunities available outside the traditional classroom setting, programming is becoming more accessible to both men and women. But GDI provides something more: a valuable professional network for women in Buffalo to lean on.

“It’s about getting women excited, and creating a network of women to get more women into the field,” Levine said. “It’s great to see our members get in those great tech jobs and advance their careers. And we are here for them.”

Both Levine and Nelioubov said they see GDI members across Buffalo’s professional landscape in every sector. Liazon has hired other GDI members, Nelioubov said, and Levine has hired GDI members for her studio.

In the university setting, programming languages that are taught often become quickly outdated, or the cost for a semester-long course is prohibitive. GDI members are encouraged to bring their professional projects where program leaders can offer advice and answer questions to push them forward.

“It’s comfortable, it’s welcoming, and it’s really nice to be around other women in the tech field,” Nelioubov said.


New dog boutique in Lewiston offers healthy options for treating pets

Have you ever looked at the ingredients that make up the foods and snacks you feed your beloved animal?

Longtime dog owner Paul Jeffs said he grew up trusting dog food manufacturers, just as his dogs trusted they would be fed every day. That is, until one day he and his wife, Michelle, looked at the label on the back of the products they were purchasing for their dog, Libby (short for Liberty Bell), a black lab and Australian cattle herder mix.

“Some of the ingredients, you cannot pronounce what they are,” Jeffs said. “You Google them and find out they are things that are not allowed for human consumption. We love our pets, we treat them like members of our family, but then we willingly buy them stuff that cannot be consumed by humans. We got to a point where some of the dog food manufacturers lost sight of the fact that dogs and animals are human companions and are considered family members.”

Appalled by their findings, Jeffs, a British Canadian who became an entrepreneur and spent about 15 years working as a food and beverage manager at four- and five-star hotels in Asia, and his wife, Michelle, who worked in the baking industry, decided to combine their backgrounds and start their own premium dog boutique in Michelle’s hometown of Lewiston, N.Y.

“There is a really big emphasis and a big shift on the importance of human-grade dog food and treats. We decided to make something that is 100 percent natural, made of plant-based ingredients,” Jeffs said during a phone interview. “There is also an emphasis on ‘Made in America.’ There is a larger accountability factor with American and Canadian suppliers, so we are trying to keep to our epicenter as much as possible.”

With “Made in America” in mind, the pair searched for merchants from which to obtain their ingredients, as well as to assist with packaging and labeling. Their all-natural dog biscuits are made of hemp seeds and seaweed (from the Bay of Fundy in Canada) and are available in six flavors: original, cranberry, mango, carrot, apple, and pumpkin. They also sell tick and flea spray made with pure essential oils, and a 100 percent plant-based healing hemp balm for dogs’ paws. Hemp has amazing health benefits for animals, Jeffs said, adding that the oil is a natural preservative.

The product line was ready to go, but the couple needed to find a name for their business. The Cheeky Wolf Company seemed to fit the bill, because it combined a British term, cheeky, with the wild counterpart of the canines they serve.

The Cheeky Wolf Company officially began selling its products on Dec. 1, 2017, through its website and select “top-shelf” retailers and per-service outlets. The couple is looking to expand their business and are open to suggestions for new products and improvements to existing ones--except when it comes to their recipes. “There, we are perfect!”

 

 

 


The Book Fairy brings the magic of reading alive for children

According to Management Top 250, a list of the best-run companies in America as ranked by The Wall Street Journal and the Drucker Institute, non-tech businesses are beginning to take their place among the most innovative companies for the ways they are incorporating technological advances into their business models.

Here in Buffalo, that trend is also apparent. One such company is Fairy Bunch LLC, which brings the magic of reading alive for children.

For Melanie Bunch, owner and creator of Fairy Bunch LLC, the approaching release of her first book, titled “The Book Fairy,” is something that holds personal significance on multiple levels.

The 32-page book, and its tooth fairy-esque lead, draws inspiration from Bunch’s late cousin, who lost her life in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and Bunch’s background working in higher education at the University at Buffalo.

“The idea for the Book Fairy was really two colliding worlds. In 2013, I took some time off from the university and was working with a national fundraising managing company,” Bunch says. “I had the opportunity to work with nearly 500 schools, primarily in the South. As I was traveling between the University of Alabama and Mississippi State, there was a program on talk radio that talked about the high illiteracy rate in the United States, and the number they quoted was 93 million people.

“That kind of stopped me in my tracks, because I do have a graduate degree in education, and I thought that was about a third of our country’s population, that can’t be right. It went on to say that about half of those 93 million are illiterate, and the other half are functionally illiterate, meaning they can only read at a fourth grade level.

“At the same time that I was listening to that program, I thought back to my cousin (Dawn Hochsprung) who was the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School and used to dress up as the Sandy Hook Book Fairy. I thought everyone could use a book fairy, and that’s how the idea was born.”

That night, at a hotel in Columbus, Miss., Bunch began doing research to make sure the facts and figures were correct, and quickly realized a book would be the perfect way to honor a family member and do her part to stop the growing problem of illiteracy.

“The whole point is to make the magic of reading come alive,” Bunch says. “There’s so much competition for children’s attention with phones, tablets, and video games, that the importance of reading may take a back seat. There are multiple studies that talk about how learning to read at a younger age, or just being read to when they’re two or three years old, can prepare them for success later on.”

Bunch began to look for something that would compete for children’s attention while encouraging them to pick up a book. That’s when the idea for “Lily,” a doll that would bring the character in “The Book Fairy” to life, was born. With the push of a remote control button, the doll’s dress will light up (just as Dawn’s did) signaling that there is a book waiting to be read and instilling curiosity in young readers.

Bunch worked with an illustrator to create the Lily she envisioned, using 3D animation technology. “Once you have that 3D model, you can send it to the factory as a prototype and be on your way to a finished product,” she says.

“My Book Fairy is not some amazing piece of technology that is going to change the world, it’s just a way that we can actually make reading a little bit exciting and magical for children,” Bunch adds.

The first book and doll are slated to be released during the summer of 2018, and Bunch eventually hopes to create an entire series to help end illiteracy.

“I have this vision to have the Book Fairy and her team of reading crusaders,” Bunch notes. “I have another book written with another character called ‘Storyteller Sam.’ I had the first book written and a lot of people mentioned that they wanted a boy doll to encourage their sons to read. I also have four other books outlined that I will hopefully be rolling out over the next few years.”

Although Bunch has already found success with preorders and has deals with several local book stores, she admits there have been challenges along the way.

“At the beginning, I had no idea what I was getting into,” Bunch says, noting that starting a business is not an easy endeavor. “I didn’t really know how to go about everything, so I was very grateful to have the help of companies like Launch NY and the Blackstone Launchpad at the University at Buffalo.”

But even with the help of these organizations, Bunch found bringing the product to market was a challenge and more expensive than she anticipated, but she is grateful to have gone through her journey here in Western New York.

“I was encouraged by a stranger I met on an airplane, who is an entrepreneur in the Buffalo area, to actually go through with this,” Bunch notes. “I told him about my idea, and he said get off the plane, talk to a lawyer, and see if the trademark is available.

“I’ve enjoyed the ride; it’s been an amazing experience,” she continues. “I have friends now that will be my friends for the rest of my life. I think that’s one of the best things about Western New York--not one person I’ve reached out to has said ‘No, I’m not willing to help you.’ We have this amazing ecosystem of people who truly want people to succeed. With their help, I hope to be a small part in ending the illiteracy problem in the United States and reinvigorating children’s relationship with books.”


Buffalo’s entrepreneurial community fostered success for CoachMePlus

Relationships are key in any business, and Kevin Dawidowicz had built a good one.

The co-founder and president of CoachMePlus, a digital fitness- and health-tracking platform, was working with Doug McKenney, the longtime strength coach for the Buffalo Sabres, in 2002, building a CD-ROM program to track the players’ workouts.

When Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the team in 2010, Dawidowicz pitched moving the program to an online platform, where fitness and diet goals can be monitored remotely in real time by coaches and trainers. Today, the program, and ones similar to it, are used across high school, college, and professional teams. And the Buffalo-based company was a pioneer, with CoachMePlus launched in 2014.

It almost didn’t happen, at least not here.

In 2007, Dawidowicz was vulnerable, so to speak, searching for funding, seeking financial backing from out of state and reaching out to investors. He wanted the product to succeed here, but the network of support was thin. He was considering moving to California or New York City, greener pastures for tech and high-growth startups in the mid-2000s.

He’s glad he didn’t.

With the help of Z80 Labs, CoachMePlus became one of its earliest investments. Buffalo Angels, through the Western New York Venture Association, came in and soon Dawidowicz, with his brother Mike, had found financial backing and solid footing for the company.

“I am extremely excited that we have the startup community that we have now,” Dawidowicz said recently. “When we first started, there were very few startups. My brother and I, serial entrepreneurs, we keep trying new things. A lot of times it felt like you were out there on your own doing it.”

Dawidowicz played some high school hockey and football, and when he found time he would work out in a gym. He noticed a problem that athletes across the spectrum were having: bringing a notebook and pencil to the gym to track their fitness. Trainers, too, were using hand-written charts when they worked with clients.

CoachMePlus addresses that problem through a platform that can be used by strength and fitness coaches and specialists to track their athlete’s progress. Dawidowicz and his team market the product to both large and small gyms and teams at every level, and packages can be expanded or scaled back to meet the users’ needs.

We’re at a place where we’re finally hitting all markets in the place we want to hit. In pro sports, everybody knows who we are. We don’t have to educate the market. They understand the value of product,” Dawidowicz said.

With support from Z80 Labs, 43North, and Buffalo Angels, among others, Dawidowicz compared Buffalo’s startup community to hitting a trampoline, where everything is bouncing up.

And CoachMePlus pulls its talent almost exclusively from local colleges when hiring programmers, marketers, and tech professionals. The company currently has 17 employees, 15 of them full time. The team includes co-founders Liz Young and Stephen Ostrow, and CEO Teo Balbach.

Business is cyclical for a company like CoachMePlus. At the start of 2018, there might be a surge of business from personal trainers and fitness coaches as gyms become busier and athletes look for new fitness plans. Then baseball and softball will gear up. Through the summer, it’s football, hockey, and basketball in preparation for the fall. CoachMePlus covers them all.

The biggest development for CoachMePlus may be just on the horizon. A new contract with the U.S. Navy, Dawidowicz said, has moved through its first phase. “It’s opened a whole new door for us,” he added.


Workforce coalition makes headway in identifying needs of employers

When it comes to addressing workforce development for Buffalo’s business community, collaboration is the best approach.

That’s the strategy being implemented by a regional coalition of business, government, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations to identify job opportunities, benefitting both Buffalo’s workforce and employers.

Employ Buffalo Niagara, led by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, is an employer-led collaboration of entities seeking to streamline policies, skills training, and workforce funding to better connect all people in the community to careers with local employers from small entrepreneurs to large regional companies.

“Systems change in workforce development does not occur overnight, and it will take a while to make high-level changes,” Laura Smith, vice president of economic development for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said. “But I think we’ve made great progress so far. This is a new approach to workforce development, and we have a strong coalition across private and public sectors.”

The program works to more efficiently tap the potential talent pool in a range of sectors, from tourism to healthcare to manufacturing. When employers do a better job of honing in on what skills and competencies are truly required for open positions and communicate them in aggregate more clearly, agencies and training entities that help individuals into positions will be able to better respond. Smith stressed the importance of workforce development for the incumbent worker, too. This is a “push-pull” strategy that, to be truly effective, will help employers “upskill” individuals to move from entry-level into a higher-skill position, opening up opportunities at the lower-rung for the underemployed in the community seeking higher-paying, career-tracked jobs. That leads to healthier communities across Western New York.

Smith said the program’s development has been evolving for about four years, which involved research analysis, background work, and observation of trends both locally and nationally. Employ Buffalo Niagara is based on models used successfully in other communities, including Houston, Texas. The U.S. Dept. of Commerce has recognized Employ as a model program at the federal level.

“The process is totally scalable,” Smith said. “It’s pretty exciting. There’s an appetite for it in the community and in New York state as well. It’s something our region is piloting.”
 

A major component of Employ is growing opportunities for the region’s working poor and minority populations, which face barriers in transportation and training in earning livable wages in career-tracked positions. If a segment of the population is working multiple jobs to make ends meet, how can they find time to participate in additional training without a significant loss in wages? These are some of the overarching issues Employ seeks to address.

Beyond that, Employ works to improve communication and marketing of these programs to high school and technical school students, to put young people on track for high-growth careers.

Its work is done in tandem with the Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable, and workforce training for minority populations has been a priority of Buffalo City Mayor Byron Brown. “To get folks out of poverty, they’re going to need jobs,” Smith added. "That’s really where coming up with creative solutions is important.”

Employ Buffalo Niagara looks to build efficiency through the interactions of a wide spectrum of agencies, Smith said. Other workforce programs, like the Northland Corridor workforce program, focus on specific sectors in a specific neighborhood. That is part of the flow and is complementary to Employ’s goals, Smith said.

With agencies collaborating, specific skills and needs can more readily be identified. “It really is about identifying what are the job openings, who else shares that, and how do we leverage that,” Smith said.

Approximately 82 individuals sit on the Employ Coalition, which meets again in February. Entrepreneurs and startups play an important role on that board, Smith said. If they need to fill staff, from coders to administrative assistants, Employ is building an infrastructure from which startup leaders can draw.


Online startup accelerator program now accepting applications

Do you have an idea for a business, but don’t know how to get started? Or do you have a business you are working on, but need assistance with building a team, or finding customers or ideas for growth? Braathe Enterprises’ startup accelerator program, BE Your Start, will help you turn your ideas into a reality. Students can apply to the program and pitch their idea for a startup. If accepted into the program, they will have the opportunity to get their startup idea off the ground.

This program, which is free of charge, runs from Feb. 1 - April 30. Application deadline is Jan. 25. Click here to apply: https://beyourstart.com/apply/.


Entrepreneur Shawn Riester, DPT, offers advice for meeting 2018 fitness goals

It took more than a background in medicine for Dr. Shawn Riester’s physical therapy practice in Williamsville to be successful. The University at Buffalo graduate needed an eye for business, leadership, and an entrepreneurial spirit to launch his own PT startup.

That was seven years ago. And now as Riester Physical Therapy Services sets to add its ninth therapist to the practice in 2018, Riester is taking his experience in medicine and combining it with business skills gained in the UB Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership course to build a growing business specializing in individualized rehabilitation and physical therapy services.

January and February, Riester says, are the company’s busiest months. Why? Think dozens of runners, weight lifters, spinners, and novice yogis who have spent one too many months on the couch in the fall, all ready to make a health push as part of their New Year’s resolution.

Day one and two of a new exercise plan feel great, Riester says. But it’s important to give the body time to recover and adapt to a new regiment to avoid getting hurt.

“It’s important to start off understanding that you need to have a plan for how you want to do things," Riester advises. "That plan has to incorporate periods of rest and recovery. It’s a common mistake. Two days of running, strength work, yoga. Well, what if running four days would be better? It's not. You’re taking up rest and recovery. All good things that happen to us, happen during rest period.”

Riester took on a monumental challenge when he started his practice in 2010. Buffalo, he says, has some of the lowest reimbursement rates for physical therapists in the country, which forces them to see a high volume of patients per hour. It means juggling multiple clients with different needs at once, and Riester wanted to find a different business model that allows for more personalized care.

At Riester PT Services, the focus is on patient care. Using efficiencies in a strong team setting and relying on data science for treatment, Riester physical therapists are less likely to face burnout while producing better results, he says.

“I was told early on this would never work. We’ve created a model that works really well. Patients get way more attention, but we haven't done a good job of marketing it,” he says.

And with a highlighted awareness of the risk of opioids in pain management, Riester adds, doctors are finding that physical therapy is often safer and more effective. This means it’s as important as ever for those who are hurt to have access to quality PT care.

Riester built his company through “bootstrap” business practices. He didn’t borrow money. Instead, he worked nights, taught classes at UB, and found ways to save by sharing studio space with a friend or working per diem with other practices.

As clients begin to flood Riester Physical Therapy Services this winter, Dr. Riester says many of the injuries will come from overuse, frequently by people in the 30s age range trying to work out the same way they did when they were in their 20s.

Within the first few weeks of a new workout plan, muscles will thicken and adapt. It’s the joints and ligaments that take longer to strengthen. An overreliance on weight machines, Riester cautions, won’t work stability muscles, which can lead to injury, as well.

He also warns against looking at a routine or diet that worked for someone else and expecting the exact same result. The best, most sustainable success stories, Riester says, are the ones where individuals reach their own goals at their own pace.

“The recommendation is, doing something to start is a great move. We would rather have people exercising. Even a little is better than sitting on couch,” Riester says. “Being strong is a good defense against being injured, no matter what age." But he emphasizes that people should be smart about how much they move at first.

"If you’re injured, all that will do is it will slow you down from reaching your goals.”


Give your startup a fighting chance

So you’re ready to start a business, or maybe you already did. Buffalo has a supportive environment for startups, and entrepreneurs can connect with numerous organizations to get practical advice and make valuable contacts.

Business advice

Knowledge is power, at least when it comes to success in business. The following organizations help entrepreneurs with advice and guidance:

  • SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors. The Buffalo-Niagara area has its own chapter, which offers free mentoring, low-cost workshops, resources, templates, and tools to assist entrepreneurs in developing their business.
  • The Niagara Small Business Development Center, administered by the State University of New York, provides management and technical assistance to help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Director Lynn Oswald notes that the most used services include one-on-one counseling to help guide business owners and clarify their plans; tracking industry trends, stats, and competition through the SBDC’s research database; and coordinating with federal and state agencies through its statewide network.

Completing your team

Local SCORE adviser Greg Straus notes that lawyers and accountants are vital members of a startup team. If your business is web-based, a coder may also be necessary. The best way to find the right professionals for your specific team is through referrals from your network. Ask founders, investors, and advisors whom they’ve worked with in the past to get a good idea about reputation and rates. They may even be able to provide an introduction or two.

Next, seek out the advice of the local startup community by going to events and meetups. Start-Up Grind, Beakers and Beer, First Thursday, and WNY Venture Association host these kinds of events. Law firms also frequently host startup-centric events, which are advertised on platforms like Eventbrite and Meetup, and you can meet coders at coding meetups or hackathons.

  • Lawyers: Lawyers can assist entrepreneurs who want to protect their intellectual property, need assistance with investor negotiations, or want advice regarding the regulations that apply to their industry. They also can assist with company formation, corporate structure, and succession planning; employment and contractor agreements; and service contracts.
    • Cost: Expect to pay $150 to $350 per hour, but annual cost varies greatly based on business needs.
    • Alternatives to hiring a lawyer: Consider placing a lawyer on your board, seeking out alternative legal service providers, or using an online service like LegalZoom.
 
  • Accountants: An accountant can help you file taxes, complete government paperwork, conduct required audits, and apply for business loans.
    • Cost: Routine work can be sourced for $20 to $50 per hour, and some services can cost as much as $150 to $300 per hour, but most startups will need to hire an accountant for only about 10 to 20 hours per year.
    • Alternatives to hiring an accountant: Cloud-based bookkeeping and invoicing software like Quickbooks and Freshbooks, or a shared service like 1800Accountant, can help you handle simple accounting tasks yourself.
 
  • Coders: Finding a coder with the right expertise and communication skills, who works in a compatible time zone, can help move your project forward quickly. Having a technical co-founder on staff will facilitate recruiting, hiring, and managing these valuable team members, but startups without one can turn to platforms like Upwork, Toptal, Codementor, and Gigster to outsource their technical projects to coders from all over the world. Keep in mind that using these platforms may present challenges in terms of time zones, language barriers, and team management.
    • Cost: Coders typically charge $40 to $70 per hour. According to a Codementor.io research study of 5,300 coders, North America and Australia are most expensive, while the most affordable are in Pakistan, India, and Ukraine.
    • Alternatives to hiring a coder: You can purchase a domain and business email, and build a landing page or Wordpress site for a few hundred dollars to get started. However, most coding tasks require the skills of an expert in this area.

The Wrap Up

In life and business, success is not only what you know, but who you know. If you want to hire the best, network with small business owners, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists to learn who’s who in your industry and get their referrals for lawyers, accountants, and coders. Take advantage of the services offered by SCORE, SBDC, and similar organizations. Surround yourself with people who can guide you to success.


City of Buffalo officials tout success of pre-apprentice training program

A substantial state and city investment in a Buffalo East Side neighborhood is beginning to bear fruit this fall, as a pre-apprentice training program saw its first graduating class in October.

Five students have completed the first eight-week Pre-Apprentice Training Program, which focuses on the manufacturing and energy sectors, and another five are set to graduate before the end of the year. The program is part of the Northland Project Labor Agreement between the Buffalo Urban Development Corp. and the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, which was created to revitalize the high-poverty Northland Corridor neighborhood. The agreement, which was signed in June, also includes a community workforce plan.

"Our goal is to build a very strong, integrated, diverse community," Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown says. "In construction trades, there is some lack of diversity. We've been able to partner with Buffalo's building trades to create this apprenticeship program."

In conjunction with the New York Power Authority, the city recruits low-income, minority adults into the training program, which Brown said will benefit city government, trades programs, and local businesses. But most importantly, residents in Northland Corridor zip codes who are at high-risk for recidivism or incarceration and are seeing unemployment or underemployment can now earn wages for their family and neighborhood.

"This really required incredible buy-in by all parties for us to get to this point," Brown says.

Crystal Rodriguez has played a key role in recruiting the trainees for the 20 paid, pre-apprenticeship training slots that are available for each eight-week session.

"We're going into the community," Rodriguez says. "We go to them. Talking to the people who are prospective candidates. Really getting a sense of where they are. It allows them to feel comfortable with us."

Brandon Corchado from Buffalo's East Side is an early success story, Rodriguez says. A graduate of the Northland Project's first class, the formerly incarcerated citizen is working in a carpenters' union.

"He's expressed to me a sense of confidence that he would be able to finish out, work, and not being able to worry about recidivism," Rodriguez says.

Currently, trainees are taking courses primarily at City Hall, and one of the graduates' earliest projects is building a new locker room and break room for City Hall security in the basement. However, the $60 million Northland Belt Line Corridor project, part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's Buffalo Billion Upstate New York investment plan, includes building a workforce training center on Northland Avenue at the former Clearing Niagara headquarters. The governor announced $44 million in funding for the training center, which is expected to be finished in July 2018. In total, the project will see $70 million in investment.

Buffalo businesses are optimistic about local business climate

A survey recently released by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership is showing that the majority of its member businesses have a favorable impression of the Buffalo Niagara business climate, while still holding concerns about the state’s perceived lack of friendliness toward businesses.

Other positives from the 2018 Annual Advocacy and Member survey include 75 percent of respondees saying their current facility meets the needs of the company. But the report, which the Partnership uses to communicate with government and economic development agencies, also highlighted several pain points for businesses both small and large.

The survey, for the first time, focused on sentimental questions addressing how company leaders feel about the current business climate, Buffalo Niagara Partnership CEO Dottie Gallagher-Cohen says. The Partnership uses the results to inform the organization’s Advocacy Agenda, which outlines policy priorities.

“The results came back and we said, ‘Wow, this is helpful,’” Gallagher-Cohen says.

“I think for folks living here, there’s no disputing, you look around the visible business landscape and things are changing here … There are cranes in the sky, the medical school downtown. But you can’t divorce it from continued challenges to do business here,” she adds.

Those challenges include concerns with state, county, and federal regulations, worries about market conditions, and difficulty in finding talent.

Gallagher-Cohen says that minimum wage legislation, paid family leave, and employer-funded health care costs are challenges that need to be addressed in Albany.

But the Partnership can take that information to policymakers and point to it as the voice of small and large businesses in Western New York.

“Our role is to keep pushing and pushing on these things, which may be well-intentioned, but really might have negative consequences.”

According to the survey, 64 percent of respondees hired additional employees in 2017, and 70 percent saw sales or revenue increase. In addition, 66 percent said they plan to add new employees in 2018 and 64 percent plan to expand products and services.

Also of note, the survey showed 44 percent of respondees struggle to achieve a diverse workforce.

That’s why, Gallagher-Cohen says, programs like the Northland Avenue Corridor Project and Employ Buffalo Niagara, a regional, employer-led workforce development initiative powered by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, are so important for Buffalo.

“We’re extremely excited about what’s happening at Northland,” Gallagher-Cohen says, calling community workforce initiatives like Employ the ‘backbone’ of industries ranging from tourism to healthcare.

The Partnership CEO adds that Employ Buffalo Niagara, is a collaborative effort among business, government, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations. It is working to put working poor populations that might otherwise be on the sidelines for Buffalo’s growth into sectors like entertainment and tourism jobs.

By coordinating and streamlining the efforts of employers, government agencies, educational institutions and community organizations, Employ Buffalo Niagara is improving the system to provide employers with the qualified workers they need and
connect job seekers to career opportunities in the region.

“Employ will be focused on several industries including healthcare and tourism. Our initial focus is manufacturing, and Northland is a key partner in these efforts,” Grant Loomis, Buffalo Niagara Partnership vice president of government affairs adds.


Using data to grow a customer base

With the advent of Search Engine Optimization, Google Analytics, and programs like Facebook Business Manager, entrepreneurs now have the ability to spot trends, improve products, and “read minds” like never before. With this information, entrepreneurs are given tangible evidence that can be used as a blueprint to improve their product and grow their customer base.

Although there are many products or services offered online for a fee, most of the pertinent information and products are free and can be found rather easily.

There seems to be an endless amount of free SEO information published online, which even a raw entrepreneur can use to his or her advantage. The SEO information is designed to give companies the best chance of being seen through a Google search, and using the proper techniques, have the information seeker stay on your page for an extended period of time.

Many sites will give step-by-step instruction on how to improve SEO practices, giving users the ability to master the tactics and use the data to their advantage. It can be anything from link building, to using thorough content, to adding keywords and subheadings to the articles on the website.

Tools such as Google Analytics can allow entrepreneurs to track how improvements are working and allow them to change or modify their tactics as they move forward. The analytics can show how many people visit a site on a given day, the ratio of new to returning visitors to a site, bounce rate/average session duration, and even how people are coming across the site (organically, through social media, etc.).

If you are an entrepreneur looking to beef up your social media footprint, Facebook Business Manager is another great tool that offers features such as “like” campaigns and customizable marketing tools. Although there is a fee for advertising with this product, it is a great way to have your company seen by a large number of consumers.


Finding inspiration for innovation

For many fledgling entrepreneurs, coming up with an innovative business idea can be a daunting task. Even in today’s technological age, with so many possibilities, it may seem that every idea you come up with has already been turned into a business by a competitor.

Although it may not be an ideal business plan, many entrepreneurs choose to follow their counterparts’ lead and look to make innovations to an idea that may already be successful.

This is something that should not be seen as a negative or dirty business practice, but as something that can advance technology and give the very best product to consumers.

Chris McGoff, author of the recently published book, ‘'Match in the Root Cellar: How You Can Spark a Peak Performance Culture” notes, “I tell (businesses) that trying to create a culture of innovation doesn't work. It's a fool's errand. Innovation is the wrong thing to chase. And if you do chase it, you certainly will not achieve it.”

McGoff lays out a plan advocating that businesses look to achieve certain advancements in their field within a set time frame rather than chasing innovation.

As an example, a local web design company may want to increase its efficiency in dealing with customer complaints, whether online or via phone. Instead of looking for a creative new idea to communicate with clients, an entrepreneur may tell his employees to come up with a useful solution to the problem and give them an end-of-the-week deadline. With this method, the workers can look for the best solutions available that they are not currently using, whether it's an automated phone system or a 24/7 customer service chatroom. Neither are new concepts, but both would provide innovative remedies to the problem.


Support from local investors and university has led to success for Vader Systems

Just returned from the world’s largest 3D printing trade show in Dusseldorf, Germany, Vader Systems CEO Scott Vader is realizing just how well his innovative machines are being received.

Located in the Crosspoint Business Park in Getzville, the father-son duo of Scott and Zach Vader have revolutionized the growing 3D printing sector, securing two major contracts, with another soon on the horizon.

That puts three 3D printing machines in Vader’s arsenal, which use wire-fed spools of liquid metal, fed at higher speeds and at much lower cost than traditional powdered metal printing technologies. And Scott Vader says there are five more planned for 2018.

The Vaders have found a sprawling, 17,000-square-foot plant in which to operate and a talented labor force out of the University at Buffalo’s engineering department. But none of this would have been possible, Vader says, without the support of early investors like OneTen Capital and the Buffalo angel community.

“They looked at a couple crazy guys working out of their basement and they said, ‘that makes sense to us,’” Vader recalls. “And we’re grateful that they did … We still have folks coming back to us who remember us from OneTen.”

Vader recently announced the sale of their machines to two major customers: Becker Cad-Cam-Cast in Germany, operated out of Detroit, which manufactures aluminum automotive components; and the AMPrint Center at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The third machine is used in-house for contracted projects.

And Vader hints at a third, unannounced contract coming in early 2018. It’s all part of the Vaders’ goal to diversify their machines in a range of sectors, from automotive to sporting goods to agriculture.

“Four years into the business, and our basic strategy is still the right now,” Vader says. “And we’re still following it.”

Vader now employs 10 people full time and four part time, including three students from UB’s engineering school. He is quick to list the numerous supporters of his company’s machines early in the process, including the local angel community and Jenae Pitts, Jonathan Amoia, and Larry Stolzenberg at OneTen Capital. 

“We, naively maybe, figured we could bootstrap the business,” Vader says. “We used some family savings to build a proof of concept, but it was local investors, the local angel community, and UB that helped when we were thinking beyond our technological and financial capabilities.

“They were the difference between an idea fizzling and moving forward, getting that business service and support,” Vader adds.

Vader called the contract with an automotive company their “dream sector.” The company had the advantage of being far ahead of the technological curve as companies moved away from powdered metals, which are less structurally sound, to Vader’s liquid metal ink jets.

This means there will be more hiring, higher wages, and further opportunity as the company maintains its foothold in Western New York.

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