Mar 9, 2014
Does anybody want your cupcakes?
Feedback is important. Jamie Coughlin CEO of the abi Innovation Hub, said it’s important to get your product out in front of people. If you created a Web company, get it on the Web to see how many people click on it. If you’re opening a cupcake business, before you spend money on a location and on equipment, hand out cupcakes and ask people for feedback.
“If people hate the stuff, then why invest the money?” Coughlin said. “We encourage people to get some market validation.”
Suzy Butler, who opened Butler Business Advisors about a year ago, had three test cases in downtown Manchester where she helped businesses with expense reduction, marketing and time management. That way, she could get a firsthand look at the challenges she might run into, she said.
“How many times did I need to communicate with people?” Butler said. “What were they looking for? That was really, really helpful. … It was amazing how much I learned.”
Cost is obviously a key component to any small business endeavor. Depending on the industry, the cost to build businesses has dropped dramatically in recent years, particularly for Web companies or companies operating in the technology world.
For prospective business owners in need of funding, the move is to find mentors to talk to openly and honestly, but not people you plan to ask for capital. Use their guidance to perfect your pitch and your business plan. Mentors can help entrepreneurs shape their ideas, Coughlin said.
From there, identify potential sources of capital. That could be your own savings or your house. “I’m not saying use those, but plenty of businesses have been built around those stacks,” Coughlin said. Lean on the “three Fs”: family, friends and fools. As you go up the ladder, there are angel investors, successful entrepreneurs who have had a windfall and not only can provide capital, but also mentorship. Then there are institutional investors, commonly known as venture capitalists, which are individuals who invest on behalf of an institution.
Don’t forget startup competitions, of which the abi is affiliated with three. You might not win, but the competition would be exposure to potential investors, Coughlin said.
“Go where the action is,” Coughlin said. “You can learn pretty quickly how much people are willing to help.”
The regs Food businesses have a lot of rules
By Angel Roy
If you have never opened a food-related business, it may seem effortless, Tom Boucher said.
“It’s how it’s supposed to look from a customer standpoint,” said Boucher, owner of Great NH Restaurants. “When you walk into a restaurant, it’s supposed to be relaxing, enjoyable, inviting and warm ― all of the things people love about restaurants ― but on the inside, the business aspect of it, it’s a very different process.”
As with any other business, the first step in opening a food-related business is to come up with a business plan, said Aaron Krycki, senior public health specialist at the Manchester Department of Health.
In Manchester,four copies of the floor plan of the establishment, complete with the layout of all equipment, must be submitted to the local health department (or state department of health and human services food safety division, depending on the town) for approval.
“We do an assessment and help them not only meet the minimum requirements but also lend a little bit of expertise in how the flow of food can be affected by the actual layout,” Krycki said.
The health department can also help identify where in the space hot water is needed. “There is nothing like running out of hot water when you’re in the food industry,” he said. If a private well is being used for a food-related business, the water must be tested and all results submitted to the state department of health and human services.
One copy of the floor plan is given to the fire department, which will award the business its permit of assembly. The building department later issues the certificate of occupancy.
Menus do not need to be submitted to the health department, but the business owner must report what kind of products he intends to offer.
Markets selling only prepackaged foods (food packaged professionally, not prepared on the premises) require only a restroom and mop sink, Krycki said. When food preparation becomes part of the equation, the layout must include sanitization equipment, a three-compartment sink and a hand-washing station. Methods of food storage are also assessed.
Home food business regulations
The state offers two levels of homestead licensing for those looking to produce and sell food from their own kitchens.
The first license level is geared primarily toward baked goods and foods that are not potentially hazardous, Krycki said.
“Dairy, meat, cheese and chicken can harbor the growth of harmful bacteria,” he said. “They’re not allowed in a Level 1 homestead operation.”
The Level 2 license is for those with a better control of their environmental factors, such as a commercial kitchen conducting complex food preparation, Krycki said.
Tammy Fahey, owner of Suss Sweets in Nashua, uses a commercial kitchen to produce handmade caramels. She was required to submit her labels (complete with product name, address, phone number, the address where manufactured and the product’s net weight) for state approval.
The kitchen she uses has already been licensed by the state, but Fahey is gearing up to apply for permits of her own, as she is building a new commercial kitchen above her garage. She has already had to obtain permits to sell her products at farmers markets in some towns.
“It’s very rewarding, once you kind of figure out all of the logistics and requirements,” Fahey said. “There has been such huge movement toward artisan and handmade foods that I think [local food businesses] are only going to increase in popularity.”
Residential kitchens are not held to the same standards as commercial kitchens, but all surfaces must be clean, smooth and non-porous, said Debbie Currier, of the state department of health and human services. Home kitchens must also have a two-bay sink or a one-bay sink and a dishwasher. Children and pets must be kept out of the area during manufacture.
Homestead licenses are not available in Bedford, Manchester or Nashua. “We don’t have the resources to go into people’s homes and make sure they keep the cat off the counter while they’re making meals,” Krycki said.
The state requires self-inspecting towns to conduct inspections of their licensed food businesses every six months, but Manchester will often run them on a more frequent basis, Krycki said. “With supermarkets, we try to do them four times a year,” he said. “It gives us a greater opportunity to assess food safety practices.”
There are no fees charged by the health department to review business layout plans or do pre-license inspections. The costs are instead rolled into that of the annual permit. A nonprofit not holding a liquor permit will not be charged for its annual permit, whereas a supermarket will be charged an annual fee of $1,000. Markets selling prepackaged foods, mobile concession trucks and restaurants with a capacity of less than 25 guests will be charged $200; the fee is $330 for restaurants or bakeries with seating for 25 to 100, and $550 for larger dining establishments.
How to open a successful food-related business
Location. Location. Location. Boucher, who opened his newest restaurant, The Copper Door, in Bedford last December, said he can’t emphasize it enough.
“If you don’t have the right location, you’re going to have to have an incredible, special and unique product that will travel through word of mouth,” Boucher said.
Boucher said the opening of any food-related business is predicated on the certificate of occupancy, which can’t be awarded until everything is in place structurally. “All of the permits kind of domino on each other,” he said. The process doesn’t take very long but one must be ready to encounter “hiccups,” he said; Boucher advises communicating with the health and fire departments throughout the process.
“That’s what they’re there for,” he said. “They’re experts. They’re there to help you make sure you meet all codes and requirements.”
Obtaining a food permit or license is something that should be done with a “fair amount of forethought,” Krycki said. “I’m not trying to scare anyone off, but there are resources available to ask questions before you buy a restaurant.”
Krycki said the most common misconception is that the permits awarded to a pre-established restaurant can be transferred if the space is sold ― they can’t be. “You need to go through the process,” he said.
“Our goal is to have people have the best business they could possibly have, not necessarily over-regulate them or install some barrier in getting their business going,” Krycki said.
Helpful resources for opening a food-related business
• NH Department of Agriculture, 271-3551, agriculture.nh.gov
• NH Department of Health and Human Services, Food Protection Unit, Food Sanitation Inspection and Licensing, 271-4589, dhhs.nh.gov
• NH Small Business Development Center, nhsbdc.org
To talk with some folks from abi Innovation Hub, check out its startup group during your lunch break. It’s a group for entrepreneurs and professionals to gather for lunch, free wi-fi and to chat about what’s new. Entrepreneurial, innovative and creative communities around greater Manchester are welcome to join Wednesdays at noon in the lobby of abi. Contact Jamie Coughlin at email@example.com.
Or check out its Founders Series event as abi Innovation Hub presents Dyn, a successful NH startup company, on Tuesday, Aug. 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Dyn, Inc. (150 Dow St., Tower 2, Manchester). Visitors can learn how to start, innovate and grow business by listening to advice from some of the most successful founders in New England. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For some one-on-one advice, there are Free SBA Consultations at the New Hampshire Corporate Division (25 Capitol St., 3rd floor, Concord) on Thursdays, Aug. 9, 16 and 23, 1:30-2:30 p.m. Meet one-on-one with the NH district office for one-on-one business assistance. Call 225-1601 or email email@example.com.
Try the Economic Opportunity Programs at Millyard Technology Park, Pine Street ext., Nashua. For info about starting a small business and self-employment, call Sara Varela, 800-769-3482.
The Business and Professional Women group (bpwnashua.com) meets on the third Thursday of the month at 11:15 a.m., at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua. The luncheon meeting includes a keynote speaker and networking. Everyone is welcome to attend. RSVP is not necessary. There is a small charge for the meeting.
Who hasn’t thought of turning their “world-famous” brownies (or pizza or homemade tote bags) into their full-time job?
But taking your idea ― for a burger stand or a custom furniture shop or a gadget that you think will rival Yogatoes or the Snuggie ― can seem like a daunting prospect. Where to start?
We asked the experts ― people who started their own businesses and people who helped others start businesses. Jeff Mucciarone looks at the climate for starting at business in New Hampshire: Are we really a small business-friendly state? Kelly Sennott considers the invention and how to turn your idea into something that sells. Amy Diaz gets advice from a former Hippo columnist who is in his first year of serving up truffles and hot chocolate from his downtown Manchester chocolate shop. And Angel Roy takes a closer look at the fine print of starting a food-related business.
Have a million-dollar idea? Here are some tips for making the dream of dollars a reality.
The small business state
NH’s real advantage? Advice for entrepreneurs
By Jeff Mucciarone
Word on the street is that the small business climate is as welcoming as ever in New Hampshire.
That’s because of the many resources here, places like the abi Innovation Hub in Manchester, the Small Business Development Center and area chambers of commerce. Prospective business owners will also find a welcoming state government, officials say.
“We’re in the Live Free or Die state, and so we do pretty well,” said Jamie Coughlin, CEO and entrepreneur in residence at the abi. “It’s pretty easy. We have great resources.”
That doesn’t mean being successful is going to be easy, though.
“So much of the process is the emotional human side,” Coughlin said. “People come [into the abi all] gung ho because they’ve made the leap to start a business, and then a month later they’ve hit their first obstacle and they’re shutting down. … These are human elements of wherewithal and sticking with it and focus.”
Because it is a grueling process, entrepreneurs need to be passionate about their business.
“It’s a roller coaster,” Coughlin said.
The very small business
There are 133,052 small businesses in New Hampshire, of which 38,820 have employees. The rest have no employees, according to Gaebler.com, an entrepreneurial resource website.
Suzy Butler previously worked for Intown Manchester and most recently as executive director of Great American Downtown in Nashua. Where she used to focus her efforts on an entire downtown, her new business, Butler Business Advisors (www.butlerbusinessadvisors.com), allows her to zero in on individual businesses to help them ― mainly with marketing, as well as time management and expense reduction.
At Great American Downtown, Butler was the executive director, essentially running the show. But she was answering to a number of entities: residents, downtown businesses, city officials and the organization’s board.
“Here, I answer to myself,” she said. “I’ve never been happier than I am right now having my own business.”
Butler said she had always wanted her own business although she wasn’t sure which direction to go in. Her work with downtown organizations helped her narrow down her ideas and get some experience with small business stories.
“What was neat for me was that I got to see the successes and failures and struggles,” Butler said.
Coughlin said it’s important to research what is out there. That just takes some time searching the Internet. It doesn’t cost anything and it isn’t difficult, but Coughlin said it is surprising how many people don’t do it. Even if you discover a business with the same idea, you might just have to tweak it to make it work. Consider doing a domain name search as well. That also doesn’t take long, Coughlin said.
Butler met with the Department of Resources and Economic Development, as well as the Small Business Development Center.
“Each group had different advice,” Butler said. “Different people they suggested I talk to. Ways to enhance my business plan...”
If it’s just a one-person operation, people can create an entity in a single day. Go to the Statehouse, file the appropriate paperwork with the Secretary of State, pay a roughly $30 processing fee and your business is open, Coughlin said.
The state offers a variety of programs to help small business owners get up and running. There are loan opportunities, as well as incentives for hiring people who have been unemployed. Devine Millimet, a law firm in Manchester, has a small business program that helps people set up their small businesses more or less free of charge. It helps people get their organizational documents in place, Coughlin said.
The last piece for Butler was to get out there and meet with vendors to begin creating partnerships and a referral base. Marketing is the main component of Butler’s business, but ultimately, when she’s working with business owners, she ends up talking to them about time management and expense reduction as well. Her primary focus is helping businesses get the most out of their marketing dollars. She helps them create simple marketing plans that they, hopefully, can ultimately carry out themselves.
Sure, there are big marketing companies. Butler doesn’t see her business as competing with those.
“What they provide is different and wonderful and I’m not trying to be them,” Butler said. “I’m targeting a different kind of customer.”
Starting off public
Ken Tassey and Dr. David Platt went a different route with their pharmaceutical company. They opened it as a publicly traded company right off the bat. Tassey and Platt opened Boston Therapeutics in 2009. The Manchester company is the third pharmaceutical company, and the third publicly traded company, that Platt has opened. With Platt’s experience with the two other companies, he had a long list of potential investors from which to draw.
“It keeps everybody honest,” Platt said of the public investment strategy.
Opting for Manchester provided the company with a close handle on the operation, as well as access to a variety of manufacturing facilities. Boston Therapeutics (www.bostonti.com) did not seek any state services or resources, but it is a graduate of the abi Innovation Hub. Utilizing the abi allowed the company to have a corporate address.
“It also gave us a bit more elbow room than we would have had, as well as access to resources,” Tassey said.
So far, things are going well, Tassey said. The company is in the process of selling a product called Sugardown, which is a chewable tablet that helps diabetics and pre-diabetics manage blood glucose.
The company has dual revenue streams ― a near-term stream stemming from Sugardown, and a longer-term stream centered on drugs that are in development and testing. That allows the company to be developing drugs, while obtaining revenue now, Tassey said.
They know they have an interested consumer base. The company has a market size of about 100 million people nationally: 79 million people who are pre-diabetic and 20 million diabetics.
A capital-rich state
Robert Wilkins’s company Freepricealerts.com produces a downloadable tool for Web browsers that identifies the best prices for a product. If you are looking at a product on Amazon.com, the browser tool will tell you if it’s the best price, and if it isn’t, it will tell you where the best price is.
Wilkins initially started MyVBO, which produces centralized management systems for small businesses. Freepricealerts.com grew from that, he said.
Wilkins said capital is easier to come by in New Hampshire than perhaps people might think.
“We raised our first million in 90 days in 2008,” Wilkins said. “That was just before the market crashed. We got very lucky. … We got some Boston money, but the majority of the capital is from New Hampshire investors.”
The state has a strong network. Even if people can’t contribute capital, they can usually provide suggestions on who to network with, Wilkins said.
“There is a lot of smart technology money in the general southern New Hampshire area upwards to the Lakes Region,” Wilkins said. “It’s a good pocket.”
The company began as a virtual company in 2008, with programmers working out of Massachusetts, New York and Florida. Wilkins said it operated that way for about two and a half years, before it moved into the abi. The company, which recently raised $2.5 million in capital, moved into a building in Milford two weeks ago.
“Things are moving pretty fast,” Wilkins said. “We’re adding about a thousand new customers per day.”
Wilkins has owned several startup companies during his career, which began in Seattle. He also ran PC Connection for 11 years, before leaving in 2006. After taking a couple years off, he decided to get back into things, he said.
“Our first goal is to get to one million users, which I think we’ll make by the end of the year,” Wilkins said. “Once we hit that, if the volume stays at a consistent rate ... we’ll be looking to going to Europe. We already have some connections there. We want to be the default price engine. Just like Google started as a website... We want to be the price engine that is in every Web browser.”
Coughlin said prospective business owners should have a vision for what they are trying to do with their business. Is the plan to create a business so that you and your wife can have some supplementary income each month? Is the plan to grow to hundreds of people and ultimately become a public company? So many people think owning a business is the greatest job on Earth and that business owners are destined to make millions. That’s hardly the case.
For Coughlin, who has started a number of small businesses, the goal is to give him the flexibility and the potential future payback to do the things he really loves. It’s the feeling of creating something from nothing that drives him.
Consider the nuts and bolts, Coughlin said. What is your product? Do you have the skills to build it? Do you need to outsource those skills to build it? Who within your network could help? How much is it going to cost?
“It’s a very grueling process,” Coughlin said. “It takes a lot of luck and hard work, and good execution.”
From passion to profession
A chocolatier offers his recipe for success
By Amy Diaz
Rich Tango-Lowy never dreamed of owning a chocolate shop.
His interest in chocolate began nearly 20 years ago, when he tried to make truffles for the first time and used the available chocolate ― chocolate chips. The endeavor was, he says now, a complete failure but it sent him to do research about chocolate (He found out, for example, that those chocolate chips are not, by any means, real chocolate.) He learned how to find the good stuff, how to work with it and how to perfect truffles. And that passion for chocolate has resulted in Dancing Lion Chocolate, his high end chocolate shop at 917 Elm St. in Manchester where, on a recent Thursday, he was in his kitchen testing out a fudge recipe. So, if doing a chocolate shop wasn’t the dream, what was?
“I wanted to do a good company,” he said, via a phone interview while sizing up the results of a test batch of fudge. (Dropping the temperature too low made it too grainy, he ultimately decided.)
Tango-Lowy, a former Hippo food columnist who had a background in analyzing organizations’ quality and performance, wanted to show that you could grow a company from the ground up that treated its employees well, treated its customers and business partners well, and produced an excellent product.
“I had that dream for a very long time,” he said. And through the years since those first gloppy truffles, he did things ― learned more about chocolate, produced truffles under a label first just as gifts for friends and later to sell in small batches, took classes about chocolate and eventually traveled to France for top-tier chocolate instruction and tours of Parisian chocolate shops ― that helped create the opportunity for him open Dancing Lion Chocolate, which opened last fall. In addition to serving up carefully crafted chocolates and items such as a lunch croissant bread pudding that mixes chocolate and savory ingredients (a recent addition to the shop’s offerings), the business has let him put those performance excellence beliefs into practice.
“What’s cool is that it’s working,” he said.
As someone who has started a food business and who appreciates restaurants, markets and bakeries that do it right, Tango-Lowy seemed like a good source for advice for people looking to turn a passion for something into a full time business:
1. “Do your homework.”
When he started thinking seriously about setting up a new space that would include a retail shop as well as a kitchen, Tango-Lowy went to talk to a few people. He talked to the Economic Development office in Manchester. He asked for their thoughts on the kind of shop he planned to set up and talked about other businesses in the city’s downtown. (“Your competition is almost never who you think it is,” he said. Put another way: Think not just about the other guy making cupcakes, if your would-be business is a cupcake shop, but think also about the other types of things your customer might buy. One other cupcake shop could potentially be less competition than if your location was near a coffee shop serving scones, a sandwich place that sold cookies and an ice cream shop.)
And he talked to New Hampshire Small Business Development Center in Nashua. It’s a great resource and it’s free, he said. Sometimes, he talked with an adviser there on a weekly basis. They asked him the hard questions, including about money, he said, which was helpful when he went to talk to banks for a loan. It can be hard for a microbusiness ― a small business with only a handful of employees and annual revenues in the tens or few hundreds of thousands of dollars ― to get help (or even much attention) from a bank, even the local guys, Tango-Lowy said. In the end, he credits the work he had done with the Small Business Development Center with helping him prepare for the loan process.
2. Find a really good contractor.
When asked what the hardest part of taking the chocolate shop from idea to reality was, Tango-Lowy talked about the build-out. As is not uncommon when starting a food business (particularly in a space that didn’t previously have a restaurant or café), Tango-Lowy had to essentially gut the space his shop is in now. He wanted a kitchen specifically designed for temperature-sensitive chocolate, and a small store-front and seating area that had just the right atmosphere. And, after taking over the space in mid-summer from Lee’s Spot bookstore, Tango-Lowy wanted to open in time to take advantage of the holidays. He said a good contractor is key to getting what you want in a space, by the time you need it. “Every contractor looks fantastic at first glance, but do your homework,” he wrote later in an email. “Things to look for: professionalism, a solid contract, examples of relevant past work, excellent references.” (Side note for those who dream of owning a coffee shop: The other hardest part? Learning to make espresso, he says. It took him and the staff three months to learn to pull an espresso he felt good about serving.)
3. Outrageous customer service.
High-end chocolate comes with a higher price tag the the candy bar you’d find at the corner market. (The chocolate is brought in “from small plantations and artisan chocolate makers around the world, and it’s often made from rare and unusual heirloom cacao varietals,” he wrote later in an email, explaining why his chocolate prices are higher.) Some of Tango-Lowy’s customers splurge on just one or two pieces, spending a few dollars per piece, and he wants them to have the same experience as the person who spends $80. “To that person, that two or three dollars [for one bonbon or tasting bar] is worth a lot. I have an obligation to make sure that they are getting their value for that money because it is precious to them,” he said. Tango-Lowy talks a lot about making customers feel welcome in his shop and taking care of them ― whether it’s explaining the chocolate offerings to someone new to the shop or going the extra mile to make sure that a customer ordering many bars of expensive chocolate gets his order in one, non-melted piece. Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers, who will take care of your bottom line ― this is a piece of business advice that Tango-Lowy takes to heart. And speaking of which...
4. Take care of your employees.
Tango-Lowy has an idea board, where employees can make suggestions for new products, ways of doing things or events, like the shop’s recent Fondue Friday. He has them constantly thinking about how they can improve ― make better products, offer better customer service. He says he tries to pay well and offer perks when he can (including chocolatey perks, as one would expect at a chocolate shop). Managing employees (knowing when to say “no” as well as getting them invested in what the business does) is an important part of the shop’s success. And, from Tango-Lowy’s perspective, it’s an important part of keeping the owner from getting overwhelmed. If the business owner can trust employees to run the shop for a day, he or she can get away. (He recommends extending this “treat people well” ethos to business partners as well ― from vendors to health inspectors.)
5. Take days off.
The 24/7 mentality of always being at the business, even in the start-up days, is overrated, Tango-Lowy says. He thinks it can get in the way of thinking strategically about how to grow and improve a business and it can stress you out. (How do you take a day off from running your brand new restaurant/hair salon/cheese store? See #4.)
6. Do the thing you do well.
When setting the standards, aim high. Pick a hard-to-reach target and shoot for that. Tango-Lowy’s is the chocolatiers of France and Italy. With that as his standard, he is constantly working to improve what he does ― doing SWOT analysis (a business tool that looks at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) ― and he doesn’t ignore the details. For example: to get just the right butter to make croissants, he has the butter made especially for him by a farm in Concord. The corollary to this, he says, is to be humble. There is always more to learn. He meets with peers in the food world (locally and internationally) to talk about issues they may also be having, to learn from each other. “Talk to people who aren’t you,” he said.
7. Be flexible but take the time to think things through.
Tango-Lowy uses the word “Zen” a lot to describe his approach to the growth of Dancing Lion. He says he did things that allowed him to take advantage of opportunities, as opposed to making a rigid plan and following it. Now, as he looks for ways to grow, he takes the time to consider how he’s going to add new aspects to the business or open new shops. (He hopes to have a Dancing Lion Chocolate in Paris in five years.) And, when he tries something new, he gives it time to see how it works. For example, the recent addition of the lunch bread pudding. He added it a few weeks ago and in a few months, he plans to look at how it’s gone, see if the lunch idea needs any tweaking. It’s the “plan, do, check, act” approach, he says. And he recommends having a bigger-picture approach to money. A business owner who looks at the daily or weekly revenues can give himself a constant stress headache, he says. He looks at the quarter, which will allow you to see the big picture and not obsess over good days or bad days.
Testing the waters
Knowing the market is important in inventions
By Kelly Sennott
Snuggies, Yogatoes, Spanx and Segways ― years ago, they’d have been considered strange, even silly, but these inventions came from people looking to fill a void in consumer products. Today, people want to be thin, they don’t want to walk, they wanted strong toes, and, as the Snuggie inventor discovered, they enjoy wearing blankets.
Knowing the msarket is almost as important as the idea itself, said Hollis McGuire, the Nashua area regional director at the Small Business Development Center.
“Inventions are challenging ― most inventions don’t commercialize successfully, and it can be a humbling process. The question is, how do you invent and make money? You need to know what the market needs, where the market is growing. It becomes as much an understanding of markets as it does the invention itself. Often, those qualities aren’t always in the same person,” McGuire said.
Let’s start with the idea. The first step is to find out if it’s any good.
Eyal Levy got the idea for his Nashua-based business, Yogibo, overseas. He’s created a thriving business from selling the ultimate bean bag chair (and pillows) ― soft, squishy and molding perfectly to the sitter’s body. He got the idea from a product in Israel, where he’s from. But he altered it. He developed a different inner fabric, different beads, a different outer fabric that’s stronger and fire-resistant. Then he tested it.
“We started out small, out of my basement, to get a feeling for them. We did a few small shows, some online work,” Levy said. Back in 2009, when the adventure began, Levy brought Yogibo to local craft shows and outdoor events, too. The people loved the squishy, cotton-lycra fabric-covered seat that moves and stretches with the sitter.
“We just kept talking with a lot of people. We did a lot of craft shows and festivals, and we have a very strong base with the customers,” Levy said. Craft fairs and festivals can be helpful for people looking to start out a new product. “It’s a great venue to see and talk with a lot of people,” he said.
Levy opened his first retail location at the Natick Mall in May 2010.
Obtaining feedback and constructive criticism is incredibly important, but inventors, dreamers, doers need to follow their gut.
“I believe that it’s important to get as much feedback as you can ― you need to be open-minded, and if it [the product] needs to be changed, then you modify it.... But you also have to find the right balance. You must be determined but open to constructive feedback,” Levy said. In other words, ignore the haters ― follow your gut, but find ways your product can be improved through initial tests in order to get it right.
Now, Levy and his team are working on a number of different products, from hammocks to dog beds, and they’re working on opening their eighth location.
Jean Rubin found a small business venture through local craft fairs, as well ― it started with just fooling around with some bicycle spokes in the bike shop she worked at. It wasn’t until her boss commented on her new bicycle-part-constructed bracelet that she even considered that others might be interested in purchasing. Her work can be found in many craft and bicycling shops, including WonderMade (19 Warren St., Concord), a local shop that sells crafts, jewelry, art and innovative items.
Also key in making an invention come to life: learning how to market, manage and create a business from it. Having a business background, as Levy did, is extremely helpful, but less business-savvy inventers can learn through some local business consultation offices, classes and workshops.
The Small Business Development Center can be helpful — the site itself features a resource library on evaluating your business idea, a forms-of-organization chart and an IRS virtual tax workshop — as can SBA counseling. The New Hampshire District Office offers small business consultations Thursdays, Aug. 9 through Aug. 23; visit sba.gov or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Local colleges and universities may also offer counseling.
McGuire recommends utilizing Inventinglife.com, a site devoted to helping the inventor go through this long, complicated process in commercializing ideas. This professional site offers several categories of innovation-related support for companies and individuals, from presentations and workshops to consulting and education materials.
That location thing again
Just as important as being confident about your product is knowing about the space in which you’re inventing.
For example, “New Hampshire has had so many successes in software and electronics ― when you cluster with others in the same area in talent, success will go up,” McGuire said. Find advocates, test the ideas and the market, and move forward, McGuire said.
Green Launching Pad, for instance, connects entrepreneurs and private industry with technical, scientific and business faculty and students to launch new green businesses. Partnered with the University of New Hampshire (which was named a “college sustainability leader” in its 2011 College Sustainability “Green Report Card”), the organization aims to bolster green initiatives among businesses.
“It’s about clustering with those who understand your technology and ideas, about finding advocates, testing these ideas and the market, and then moving forward,” McGuire said.
“There are some breakthrough ideas that are ahead of the market ― there always will be, but that’s the wonderful thing about being on the cutting edge of invention ― you can move the market, as well. The changes of doing that are small, but really powerful,” McGuire said.
|®2014 Hippo Press.