Small Business Saturday draws 40+ Lehigh Valley participants. Here are their deals. -

Small Business Saturday draws 40+ Lehigh Valley participants. Here are their deals. - lehighvalleylive.comSmall Business Saturday draws 40+ Lehigh Valley participants. Here are their deals. - lehighvalleylive.comPosted: 30 May 2020 05:22 AM PDT More than 40 Lehigh Valley small business owners Saturday will be offering virtual deals on what they say will be one of their biggest shopping sales annually.Small Business Saturday typically is timed for following Black Friday in November. The nationwide effort for the past decade encourages communities to shop local as it kicks off the busiest shopping season of the year.The chamber is moving this year to hold the event twice -- this time with social distancing -- as many businesses struggle to survive financially during the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close their doors on March 19. Restaurants were then forced to offer menu items by takeout only with curbside pickup or delivery.Lehigh Val…

6 Signs You've Identified A Game-Changing Business Idea - Forbes

6 Signs You've Identified A Game-Changing Business Idea - Forbes

6 Signs You've Identified A Game-Changing Business Idea - Forbes

Posted: 17 Jun 2019 02:39 PM PDT

Coming up with a good business idea is one thing, but acting on it is something else entirely.

Fachy MarĂ­n on Unsplash

Have you ever seen a pitch for a product on a show like Shark Tank and thought to yourself, "I had that idea years ago," only to be left wondering why you didn't take it to market yourself?

The truth is, great business opportunities are all around us, but in the moment it can be difficult to differentiate a good idea from the bad. It can be tough to figure out whether you should jump on that opportunity you discovered, or write it off as fool's gold.

Even coming up with a good business idea is one thing, but acting on it is something else entirely. There are plenty of people who, whether because of motivation or inclination, will never take advantage of the business opportunities lying around them.

Roughly 10% of all Americans own their own business—and of those, only a fraction are successful. Many don't know how to seize the opportunities that come their way.

As I was thinking about this landscape of missed opportunities and failed business ventures, I tapped into the expertise of a few entrepreneurs that know a thing or two about opportunity and how to identify it.

David Trainavicius, founder and CEO of PVcase, is the first guest I spoke to, and I also was able to sit down with serial entrepreneurs Brad Feld and Dr. Sean Wise, co-authors of Startup Opportunities for an interview. The advice they all had to share was extremely helpful for anyone looking to identify and capitalize on the opportunities they come upon.

1. You're Doing Something You Love

"The biggest mistake that people (who don't know what they want to work on) do is they sit quietly and try to come up with a lot of different ideas," shares Feld.

He continues, "Instead, you need to let your brain have the ideas, and just grab one that's interesting to you. You shouldn't spend time working on something that you're not excited about. So dismiss the ones that you can't imagine doing ten years from now."

If you find an idea that you love, you're more likely to actually devote the time and effort to following through. Opportunity often comes from obsession, and finding an idea you're willing to invest yourself in, will get you much further even if the opportunity isn't as promising at first.

2. You're Solving Your Own Problems

"I started my company because I was frustrated with the lack of tools that did what I needed," explains Trainavicius. "The solar industry needed a product like PVcase that saved time and gave them the precision they needed to design better solar parks. My experience directly impacted the product that we finally offered. It was something that I knew personally would have made my job easier before, and it's something we offer to people who have similar frustrations."

Especially if you've worked in a particular industry for a while, you're going to be one of the best possible test audiences for an idea. Strive to answer questions like:

  • What are your pain points?
  • What do you wish ran more smoothly?
  • How could your job be done easier, better, faster or more efficiently?

Build your idea around crucial gaps you can identify in the marketplace today.

3. You Have An Unrefined Idea

Sometimes an opportunity isn't an idea that's completely new to the world.

Most often, it's in making something that already exists better, more convenient or more efficient. Wiivv is a great example of a company that did that. Its founder saw the orthotics industry and realized that he could create better wearables for cheaper than they were already being made by existing players in the market.

What's their secret? 3D printing, which hadn't yet impacted the wearable market. They were able to offer custom orthotics for people at a fraction of the cost of regular custom insoles.

One of the best ways to build a strong business is by finding an idea that already exists, has proven demand and then make it meaningfully better. That's the foundation for many successful businesses, from Uber to Facebook.

4. You Occupy A Niche Market

Is there a niche market that hasn't been serviced the way it should be? You might not have the same size of audience, but your penetration is guaranteed to be strong if your product or service is sound.

Marketer and author Seth Godin expands on this point on his blog, "When you seek to engage with everyone, you rarely delight anyone. And if you're not the irreplaceable, essential, one-of-a-kind change-maker, you never get a chance to engage with the market. The solution is simple but counterintuitive—stake out the smallest market you can imagine. Your quality, your story and your impact will all get better."

Trainavicius agrees. "If you go for too large of a market when you start, you'll probably shoot yourself in the foot. What we did was go after a small market that we knew would love our product. Once we had a few on board, they talked to other people—and since they already loved it, we started generating a lot of positive word of mouth. In small niches, if your idea is good, there's incredible opportunity in word of mouth."

5. You've Found A Transferrable Idea

One of the best ways to solve a problem in a given industry, is to strip it down to its most basic elements and present it to other experts from analogous fields.

One Harvard Business Review piece collated examples of this, and the list is wide-ranging—everything from inline skaters who designed construction safety equipment, to stage makeup artists coming up with ways to minimize facial surgery infections.

If you're looking for a good idea, try cross-pollinating with people from different fields. You may be surprised at the insights you uncover.

6. You've Got An Unfair Advantage

No matter your industry, you're going to need to develop an unfair advantage—a strong competitive edge—at some point if you want your idea to stand the test of time.

Is your advantage in your knowledge? Your expertise and experience? What about your network? Maybe you've developed technology other people can't get their hands on, or understand how to replicate. Or perhaps you just have more funding to outspend the competitors.

Even a fairly mundane business can grow into becoming a big opportunity if you have an unfair advantage.

If you have the right mindset, game-changing business ideas are lying all around you, waiting to be discovered.

It takes an open mind, willingness to experiment and dedication to problem-solving. Then, all that's left is throwing your effort into bringing that idea to life.

5 Ways to Start a Business with Cheap or Free Money - Entrepreneur

Posted: 11 Jun 2019 08:39 AM PDT

Crowdfunding, universities and government programs can be attractive options for people who want to start a business without giving up too much equity.

8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You've got the next billion-dollar idea. Or million dollar, or whatever it is. The point is it's good, and you want to prove its value. This is the stage where most startups die -- which is to say before they even get started. Because the most daunting obstacle to seeding the next big idea is capital.

Most first-time entrepreneurs have heard of venture capitalist firms and angel investors. That's how Facebook got started, right? So why shouldn't it be you? The truth is it's extremely difficult and rare for first timers to receive funding this way. In fact, by some estimates, less than one percent of startups are funded by angel investors and a fraction of one percent by VCs.

Problems finding funding to start a business

When looking for outside funding, many entrepreneurs look to friends and family. But do you really have friends and family that are able and willing to shell out $50,000, $100,000 or more to see if your idea is worthwhile? And getting a loan from the bank is a tedious prospect where you may have to put your house or other personal assets at risk. Not to mention there's the other problem even if you do get funding: giving up too much of your company too early.  You see a big check, give up 50 percent of the company, and end up regretting it for the rest of your life.

Related: The Complete, 12-Step Guide to Starting a Business

These are problems that are unfortunately preventing many good, innovative ideas from ever sprouting beyond the back of a napkin. But what many entrepreneurs don't know, especially if it's their first time around, is that there is capital to be had without any strings attached. Here are five ways you can seed your company on the cheap, or even for free:

1. Government grants

Did you know that you can find grant money to fund your startup on the federal, state, regional and even city government level? And they won't even ask for equity. While what's offered will vary by geographic location, investing in startups has become an emerging model of how government is enacting economic development. Invest in the next unicorn in the region, and it will create jobs and attract talent to the area.

For example, manufacturing is important to the state of Ohio, wich is why it established the Advanced Manufacturing Program, offering grants of up to $500,000 to promote innovation in manufacturing. Louisiana, a state with a major international port and shipping center, provides grants to small businesses to help increase exports.

These types of focused grants exist in individual states and across industrial sectors, and at both the state and Federal levels. The National Science Foundation, for example, funds about 11,000 proposals a year spanning everything from biosciences to climate-related ventures.

And Louisiana Economic Development's STEP export program offers reimbursement for small businesses that are either new to exporting or primed for market expansion. Eligible businesses can receive over $6,000 for things like exhibition booth fees, travel, and even business-related meals.

Related: How to Start a Business With (Almost) No Money

Finally, Connecticut's Manufacturing Innovation Fund Voucher Program offers grants of up to $50,000 to help pay for new technology, expertise, and prototype development.

However much money you need, and whichever sector you're in, there's likely a grant out there that could provide seed money to move your idea forward. And while there will sometimes be certain stipulations you'll have to meet (for example, extensive reporting and forms to submit), you'll never have to give up equity or pay back the grant.

2. Crowdfunding

You've probably heard of Kickstarter or GoFundMe, but maybe they just seemed like cute platforms for artists. Turns out, Kickstarter has seen over $4.3 billion in pledges. If you need seed money, let's say $20,000 to develop your app, crowdsourcing could be the answer. In exchange, you offer products or services, but you don't have to give up equity, you don't have to pay interest and you've already developed a community of potential customers.

Some crowdfunding platforms have taken the step of specifically funding startups, while others are simply open to raising money for any purpose. Fundable, founded by former entrepreneurs and focused on raising crowdsourced capital for startups, generated over $80 million in funding commitments in just its first year. And Indiegogo, another platform with entrepreneurs specifically in mind, has raised over $1 billion in funding for over 650,000 projects.

Hey, if crowdfunding was good enough for Oculus, the virtual reality headset maker that was eventually acquired by Facebook, it might work for you, too.

3. Accelerators

While you might think that accelerators only accept you if you give them equity, that's not actually true. There are many programs that offer the same intensive coaching and resources that equity-play accelerators do, but minus the whole equity part.

The reSET Impact Accelerator, out of Hartford, Conn., offers a 4-month, intensive program designed to equip entrepreneurs with the skills and resources needed to scale their startups. There is no cost, and no equity is taken. The only catch is you have to live in Hartford.

Related: Jeff Bezos Shares His Best Advice for Anyone Starting a Business

MassChallenge out of Boston, is a zero-equity, zero-cost accelerator for early-stage companies across multiple sectors. And not only does it cost participants nothing, but MassChallenge also hands out $1 million in cash prizes. Alumni of the program have been able to verify their products, learn critical skills, build important networks, and have gone on to raise over $2.5 billion in funding.

Take a look in your own backyard and you might be surprised at the programs out there that will help you take your idea to proof of concept at little to no cost.

4. Pitch competitions

Since Shark Tank debuted, pitch competitions have sprung up throughout the country with different prize opportunities. And unlike on Shark Tank, many of them don't result with entrepreneurs having to give up equity or paying back the so-called Mr. Wonderful a bunch of interest. Take the Urban Future Prize Competition out of New York City. Two winners receive a $50,000 cash prize each year, plus automatic entry into an incubator program. While this competition is focused on cleantech, there's likely one in your sector, too, with prizes ranging from $10,000 up to $1 million in some cases.

On the other side of the country, San Diego Startup Week offers multiple pitch competitions for companies at an idea or seed stages, with cash prizes starting at $1,000. San Diego's premier startup event also offers pitch workshops so entrepreneurs can hone their chops before taking the stage. Entrepreneur magazine's Elevator Pitch show offers a wide variety of deal structures for winning pitches.

Related: 6 Tips for Starting a Business That's an Instant Hit With Locals

5. Universities

Universities offer grants and awards for students, faculty, and alumni, as well as offer up resources that startups could otherwise only dream of. It doesn't matter if you're a freshman or a tenured professor if you have a connection to a university that could be your ticket to raising the capital you need without the usual drawbacks.

Life sciences have an extremely expensive barrier to entry for startups, but universities offer the research facilities and can match entrepreneurs with researchers to push their ideas forward. The University of South Carolina even offers its own pitch competition, The Proving Ground, where students and alumni can receive up to $17,500 in cash to fund their idea.

In fact, it seems almost every school in the country these days has its own pitch competition -- from big names like Harvard and MIT to state schools like the University of Georgia.

But universities are doing more than just giving out prizes for pitches -- many of them offer full-fledged startup support. The University of Virginia's iLab, for example, provides direct grants, mentorship, an incubator, and even co-working spaces. And Yale University's Office of Cooperative Research has given 18 startups grants of $100,000 each to bridge the gap from early-stage research to the creation of successful biomedical products (which enabled them to leverage an additional $103 million from other funding sources).

Entrepreneurs aren't wired to think about the government seeding their startup, or to consider receiving no-strings-attached money. Their first instinct is to seek out VCs or angel investors, and when that doesn't work, to take on debt with big interest payments attached. These economic development tools can be the key to bringing to life that idea you've been sitting on for a while. After all, with free money, what is there to lose?


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