News + Resources

A STRONG START

L. Brian Jenkins, MA - Monday, January 09, 2017


Business ownership is both a privilege and an opportunity. 


As we enter 2017, a year that will undoubtedly be filled with both challenges and opportunities, are you prepared for the growth, setbacks and disruptions business owners face daily? 


Will your business crumble at the slightest challenge, negative review or comment on social media? 


Will a dispute with a business partner lead to a shutdown? Will an unexpected set back cause you to call it quits? 


As I am privileged to work with new entrepreneurs, I often stress to them that it's not just knowledge of their business that leads to marketplace success, but also strength of character. 


This past weekend my family and I went to the movie theatre to see “Hidden Figures.” The movie focused on the lives of three extraordinary African-American women who worked at NASA—Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson. Each of these women played a pivotal role in one of America’s greatest moments—the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. This was a HUGE and PIVOTAL event in 1962 that revamped America’s confidence in the Space Race with our rival, the former Soviet Union. Their brilliance was astonishing, as was their resolve to persevere against the intentional sexism, racism and Jim Crow legislation used to oppress so many bright, creative African-Americans. They had the support of their families and churches and solidarity with others in similar circumstances. They were highly skilled in their field. They also had the strength of character that serves as a model for business owners and entrepreneurs in the coming year—they didn't quit in the face of obstacles, doubt or discouragement, but perseveredTheir legacy and contribution provides a model and foundation to build on, despite being ignored by history for more than fifty years.


How can you improve your knowledge of your own business in 2017? How can you learn more about your target market? What can you do to improve your skills or the skills of your team to better serve your customers? These are all important questions to ask in the coming year. Starting strong requires an honest assessment of where your business is at and how your business can be improved.

 

But starting strong, staying strong and finishing strong requires more. It requires strength of character. What are you doing to pursue excellence at all levels? Are you modeling excellence for your team? If there are those on your team that do not share or value your commitments, it may be best to help them depart. Sideways energy is often wasted energy; it doesn’t move you towards improving.  


The brilliant skill and strength of character of three remarkable African-American women working at NASA may have been hidden from public recognition for much of fifty years, but their impact was profound. Just as a business leader's strength of character will  have a profound impact on the business, whether publicly recognized or not. 

Industry Profile: Green Technology

Rebekah Bishop - Tuesday, November 27, 2012
What is Green Technology, and how can it improve your business strategy?

Green technology has become a buzzword over the last few years, referring to a variety of innovative products and techniques designed to promote sustainable living. As both our need and awareness increases for alternative methods of protecting the Earth's resources, green business strategies have become valuable tools for increasing efficiency as well as attracting a growing market of eco-minded consumers. Many business owners still believe that green technology can benefit only those businesses involved in energy or food production, however, with the advances being made in areas such as heating systems and recycling methods, every business can find ways to employ earth-friendly alternatives to their existing processes.

Developing and providing green technology has been the platform for many new businesses to find their niche in a competitive world, businesses such as Wolbrink Architects Chartered, a Chicago architectural firm that designs and constructs eco-sensitive, energy efficient buildings. Their ongoing project, Green Dream, is creating ENERGY STAR-rated condos in Chicago. Impressively, each unit is between 46.5-57.5 % more energy efficient than ENERGY STAR's baseline standards. In response to this incredible innovation, Wolbrink Architects received the 2006, Mayor Daley's Greenworks Award for market transformation. http://www.wolbrinkarchitects.com/

Directly capitalizing on green technology, is the dry cleaning service, Greener Cleaner. Using a liquid silicone solution, the non-toxic alternative to the commonly used perchloroethylene, Greener Cleaner is able to say that their product is safer to use and non-hazardous to the environment to make or dispose; it also cleans more effectively and is gentler on fabrics, giving clothing longer life cycles and reducing waste. http://www.greenercleaner.net/

Even fashion can be green, as proved by Mountains of the Moon, an eco-friendly clothing line that focuses on sustainability and responsibility. They are committed to using only low-impact dyes and long lasting fabrics such as cotton and hemp, grown without the use of pesticides and manufactured in US, sweatshop-free facilities. Designer, Melissa Baldwell intentionally creates “designs that are stylish but that can also be worn for multiple seasons and that surpass short-lived fads and trends . . . less likely to end up in landfills.” http://www.mountainsofthemoon.com/

Innovative businesses like these are receiving encouraging responses for their contributions to the green movement. Not only do a growing number of consumers prefer green products, but some states and influential corporations have begun to offer incentives to green businesses. Several grant funds are available in Illinois, including assistance for installing efficiency technologies to incentives for green building projects. 

http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/index.cfm?State=IL 

In the corporate world, the investment firm, Goldman Sachs, announced this year a “$40 billion target for financing and investing in clean technology companies over the next decade.” http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/focus-on/clean-technology-and-renewables/index.html

Other opportunities available to green-minded entrepreneurs include franchising schemes which allow you to operate your own business from an established platform. One such opportunity is being offered by EASI Energy Automation Systems Inc. which creates products designed to improve efficiency in existing electrical systems. EASI provides the needed training, tools and support to entering affiliates, and start up costs are minimal as inventory is kept by the corporation, and affiliates may work from home and at their own pace.

http://www.energysavingbusiness.com//energy-automation-systems-opportunity.php

Another valuable resource for Chicago entrepreneurs is the recent establishment of the Green Exchange building housing a wide range of tenants each operating a sustainable business within the localized community. Renovated from a factory built in 1913, the five story building now features state-of-the-art green technology including a green roof with 8,000 SF organic sky garden, high efficiency heating and cooling system, a 41,329 gallon rain cistern, and an escalator with occupancy sensors. Tenants benefit from increased exposure, synergy opportunities with like-minded businesses, and reduced overhead as a result of building efficiency and by sharing common spaces and amenities. http://www.greenexchange.com/

Opportunities like these make eco-awareness a valuable and even necessary consideration for forward thinking entrepreneurs. To learn more about how you can green your business or start a green business, visit these additional resources.

Green Certification and Industry Partnerships: http://www.sba.gov/content/starting-green-business

Find Green Business Grants: http://www.brightgreentalent.com/green-business/green-business-grants/

Green Franchise Opportunities:

http://www.franchisedirect.com/greenfranchises/?gclid=COnypqjA4LMCFexAMgod1VUAGw

5 Green Businesses You Can Start From Home: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/199952




Teaching Entrepreneurship - Fostering Opportunity

Rebekah Bishop - Monday, October 15, 2012

Cornerstone Academy students selling their mosaic picture frames at Chicago Business Opportunity Fair

Cornerstone Academy students selling mosaic picture frames at Chicago Business Opportunity Fair, April 2012 

At StartingUp Now, we teach that entrepreneurship is more than a tool for profit. It is a lifestyle which embraces hard work and ingenuity as a means of growing strong economic markets, self-sustained communities, and flourishing individuals. These and other principles of entrepreneurship are vital, not only to the health of our own struggling economy, but even more so to that of our future generations. Educators who recognize this need within the lives our youth, are exploring ways in which we can introduce the concept and skills of self-employment at the student level.

One such fore-thinker is Mr. William Seitz, co-founder of Cornerstone Academy in Chicago, IL and Director of the school's core curriculum of economic principles. Cornerstone Academy is an alternative high school for students who have dropped out of public schools, and Mr. Seitz believes that preparing these students for a bright future, involves giving them the tools to see their potential and imagine the possibilities.

At Cornerstone Academy, traditional disciplines such as math and science are supported by school-wide lessons in the fundamentals of economics such as: “all choices have consequences.” Every month  a new principle is introduced and highlighted by teachers within the context of each class. Students also participate in a school economy based on a credit system which records their attendance and adherence to codes of conduct. Credits are translated into positive and negative dollar amounts, giving students the opportunity to earn a small income to be used for school events such as attending a Shakespeare play or going ice skating in Millennium Park. In monthly meetings with their “banker” (Seitz), students review their credits and are given the option to retrieve their funds, or save them in the bank. However, in keeping with the principle “all choices have consequences,” those students who use their money right away often face the difficulty of paying for events which other students have set aside money for. Seitz says these experiences teach students that their choices are their own. He cannot make wise choices for them, but he shows them the consequences of the choices they make.

Another choice Cornerstone students are offered is to participate in the student business, Artistic Expressions. Students design, make, and sell mosaic picture frames and mirrors, at craft fairs and expos, earning money and valuable experience interacting with consumers. The program started in 2006, when Entrenuity (not for profit founded by SU's founder, Brian Jenkins) lead an entrepreneurship course at Cornerstone in which students created the business model for Artistic Expressions. Their goal was to design a business that would function according to the economic principles they had learned in class. As a result, their design became the foundation which has for 6 years continued to support students in their business experience.

Like any well organized business, Artistic Expressions is formed of separate teams: the designers, the manufacturers, and the sellers. Profits are divided evenly between the teams and then amongst team members, according to the amount they contribute. Because participation is voluntary, each student is responsible for his or her own choices and level of commitment, and they each get to see the direct results of those choices as they earn their income.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Jerry, a Cornerstone student who was part of last school year's selling team. He told me about his experience selling the mosaics at the 45th Annual Chicago Business Opportunity Fair at Navy Pier in April, 2012, and what he learned from being in the role of a businessman.
    
    “The environment was totally new; it was a new experience because I couldn't look around at everything myself, because I had to sell. Speaking to so many strangers was hard at first, but once I sold one, I wanted to sell another," says Jerry.
    Overcoming his natural shyness, Jerry worked hard to discover effective sales techniques of approaching the difficult crowd.
    “If I talked to them about our school and how we made the frames ourselves, I might sell a few. But if I mentioned that Mother's Day was coming up, and I asked them if their mom might like one of these picture frames, then I would sell a lot."
    Other lessons Jerry said he learned that day included patience and recognizing that hard work only paid off after more hard work. He is also excited about this next year's opportunities. “I want to make and sell this year,” he told me excitedly. “If you sell what other people make, you only make part of the profit, so it is better to sell your own product if you can.”

    The opportunity of a hands-on business experience is one that has broadened the possibilities for many of Cornerstone's students. Jerry reports that he would never have thought that starting his own business could be an option before; he always expected to work for someone else. Now he thinks it might be something he could do one day. “Not arts and crafts.” he told me emphatically. Computers and software design are what interest Jerry. He plans on attending college to study computer science and social work to discover ways in which he can serve people using his skills in technology.

Other Cornerstone students have been inspired by their experience with Artistic Expressions to start their own business, such as Mark, who, during his senior year, began a fitness training service and earned money for his college tuition.

Beyond making a small profit now, students of Cornerstone Academy are adopting a vital mindset for their future. Whether they follow the path of entrepreneurship, or choose to work for existing businesses, they have the faith in themselves to make ambitious decisions and apply their skills towards attaining their goals.



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