SBEC Pitch Night (August 2016)

SBEC Pitch Night was another fun, inspiring and interactive meeting of entrepreneurial minds. After a brief introduction from Executive Director Gary Polk and Lead Mentor Mike Manahan, the pitches began. All three companies showcased are currently working within the SBEC cohort program. First, Alina Ugas, co-founder of The Final Step, shared her vision for their program called The Needs Based Method. Next up, Annie Vonheim, the Chief Juicer at Smart Pressed Juice, dazzled the audience with the company’s plan for dominating the juice and cleanse market. And closing the evening was the charismatic Lonnie Wade, who explained how Eat Better Today can bring healthier, affordable meals to EBT cardholders.

Pitch Night is a friendly environment for companies wanting to improve their presentation skills and potentially raise capital (you never know who is sitting in the audience!). Those in attendance offer feedback on the presenters and presentation – and on this evening, the three pitches were outstanding.

Student Entrepreneurs to Compete in SBEC Tiger Tank

Last week, four teams of high school entrepreneurs, two from the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS) in Carson and two from the Port of Los Angeles High School in San Pedro competed along with four college teams from California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) to have their chance to step into the Tiger Tank and pitch their future business ideas to a panel of successful local entrepreneur judges. Two teams from the high school competition and two teams from the college level competition were chosen by a panel of judges from the South Bay Entrepreneurial Center to move on to the upcoming final round at the Innovation Matters Entrepreneur Expo and Tiger Tank Competition on Thursday, November 19, 2015 at the Toyota Meeting Hall near the Torrance Civic Center in Torrance. This event is part of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) happening in over 140 countries the week of November 16-22, 2015.

BQE Software in Torrance hosted the teams for the semi-finals. From CAMS competing was Jock Sporting Goods and Prosthe Kicks. From the Port of Los Angeles High School there was Fun Foam and Petscort. The winning teams were Prosthe Kicks and Petscort. The CSUDH teams competing in the semi-final competition were Fast Foodie, Prestige Business Consultants, Sensor This and On the Go. The two college teams advancing to the Tiger Tank competition are Fast Foodie and Prestige Business Consultants.

Come hear this next generation of entrepreneurs in the South Bay make their pitch and compete for two slots in the SBEC incubator (each a $4000 value.) Prizes will be awarded to the top high school team and the top college team pitching their business.

Join local innovative South Bay companies BQE, Inc., The Strand Brewery, Sage Goddess, The Sports Studio and Systems Technology, Inc. as they share how they founded their companies and followed their dreams. The Innovation Matters Expo will take place from noon until 4pm on Thursday, November 19, 2015 at the Toyota Meeting Hall at 3330 Civic Center Drive in Torrance, California.

The success of each of these new companies contributes to the growth of the South Bay’s economy, creating jobs and strengthening infrastructure for economic development. Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators, who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.

During one week each November, GEW inspires people everywhere through local, national and global activities designed to help them explore their potential as self-starters and innovators. These activities, from large-scale competitions and events to intimate networking gatherings, connect participants to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors—introducing them to new possibilities and exciting opportunities.

The cost to attend is $30 per person in advance and $40 at the door. Lunch is included. The price for students with Student ID or Senior Citizens with valid driver’s license or state ID is $15 at the door (no pre-sale tickets.)

This event is supported by BQE Software and the City of Torrance. Additional sponsors for the event are CSUDH, and the South Bay Workforce Development Board.

Joe Platnick: The Angel Funding Process – What Every Entrepreneur Should Know

SBEC: Ask the Angel Investors

[This article originally appeared in 2013 – Mr. Platnick has updated to reflect recent marketplace changes.]

Recently a company founder asked me about what kinds of things entrepreneurs have done (and should do) to increase the odds of getting funded. A few years ago John Isaacson, past Chairman of the Pasadena Angels, did a presentation on “How to impress an Angel and get your company funded.” This presentation provided a comprehensive overview of the common denominators (both good and bad) we’ve seen from companies pitching the Pasadena Angels over the past 14 years. For John’s talk, he divided the presentation into the following topics:

  • What Every Entrepreneur Should Know
  • What We Look For
  • Investment Criteria and Cheat Sheet
  • Getting Inside the Mind of the Angel
  • Top Deal Killers

For this post I’ll talk about what every entrepreneur should know and provide some additional granularity to John’s main points on this topic:

1. Having a good idea is not enough

Every so often we come across an entrepreneur who believes they’re investment worthy based on how bright they are or because they came up with a good idea that was well articulated in a 2-page summary. Along with the funding criteria on the Pasadena Angels website, there are two other things we look for in companies: (1) a prototype or proof-of-concept that validates the company really can deliver on its idea; (2) ‘real’ market validation to confirm that a viable market exists; (3) the “plan” behind the plan, which I’ll address in a later post and covers how you’ll execute once you’re funded.

2. Raising capital requires both time and money

Periodically we’re impressed by an entrepreneur that has left a well paying job so they could devote all of their time to their startup. To financially support their new venture, they will often take a second mortgage on their house and max out all their credit cards. The net impression when we see this is that he/she really believes in themselves and their business, are completely committed and has some serious skin in the game. At the other extreme we’ve seen people who keep their day jobs, devote a few hours per week to their fledgling business and have invested only a few hundred dollars of their own money. Although you don’t have to follow the first scenario to secure funding, you should make sure that at a minimum you’re at least half-way between the two.

The two key points on this topic are you’ll need to invest sufficient time and money into your business to get to the point where a prospective investor will be interested. Secondly, the process of raising money will invariably be the hardest part in a startup—which also translates into time and $$$$$.

3. You can save time and money if you understand the investment process

Although this is stating the obvious, you’d be amazed at how many companies don’t take the time to do this.

4. Identify and contact prospective investors whose investment criteria match your situation

Once again, it’s pretty intuitive. One added benefit of doing this is that this research may also help you discover things about the investor that you can use to get your company noticed.

5. It’s like college…you’ll be graded on a curve

Back when I was in college I was surrounded by a lot of very bright people. As if the situation wasn’t challenging enough, my class grades were often determined by how I did relative to them and the class average, and not on an absolute scale. Raising money is somewhat like that, because investors make only a limited number of investments. For the Pasadena Angels, it’s typically 12-15 per year. Although your company may be great on an absolute scale, the chances of getting funded will go down if an investor is simultaneously considering more investment worthy (i.e., stage, market, team, exit opportunity, etc.) companies. Historically, there have been many good, potentially fundable companies we’ve had to forego because of this.

6. Don’t stop till it’s done

At times we’ve watched entrepreneurs reduce the amount of time and energy they invest in the fundraising process after hitting a milestone along the way—but before actually having the money in the bank. The most common time that we’ve seen them ease up has been after receiving the term sheet and investment agreements. The amount of time and enthusiasm that you expend during the latter stages should be the same as when you’re first pitching. Remember, don’t stop until all of the money has closed and it’s in the bank.

Martha Spelman: Always Be Marketing

If anybody knows anything about marketing, it is Martha Spelman. As a successful marketing consultant, author and entrepreneur, Martha knows exactly what she is talking about. Here are her words on marketing for businesses to keep in mind:

For any business, it is imperative to ALWAYS BE MARKETING. Market when you’re not busy but especially when you are…because inevitably, the calm comes after the storm.

We’ve all heard the line: “I really don’t market – my work comes from referrals.”
Three times in the last week, I’ve had meetings in which the business owner said, “My company used to survive on ‘word-of-mouth’ and now, that’s not happening.” Friends of friends, client referrals or industry colleagues — used to fuel their work pipeline. The business owners I spoke with weren’t executing an active marketing strategy but still the phone rang; somebody always knocked on their door.
Apparently that is no longer the case. The referrals have stopped. And with no other marketing plan in place, the well is running dry.
There are several reasons that your referrals might have slowed down or stopped (aside from your work or product quality heading severely downhill…which is doubtful):
1) The economy is down and your previous referral sources aren’t getting work or coming in contact with potential clients to send your way

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Martha Spelman: SBEC Mentor

Martha Spelman
Marketing Consultant
Co-Founder Newzful -subscription-based site that provides useful facts, stats and data for content marketing
Author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Create, Publish and Promote Your Business Blog

Philip de Souza: Scalability

Scalability is no doubt one of the most important aspects that a business should always keep in mind. Who better to ask than Philip de Souza? Experienced in the areas of corporate strategy and go-to-market strategy, Philip has some key insights that any company dealing with scalability can learn from.

SBEC: What would you say to an entrepreneur who is about to experience company growth due to an increased success in their company?
Philip: It is harder to manage growth than a slowdown. Entrepreneurs naturally gravitate to the issue that demands their attention the most, and during periods of rapid growth that could be everything from HR, to manufacturing and inventory.
Entrepreneurs must learn to delegate so they can keep their 30,000 foot vision, ensuring scalability, repetitive process and focus. That’s the short answer. Every entrepreneur should read “The E Myth” to learn more about this.

SBEC: How should they prepare to adjust their company?
Philip: This is industry and company specific, what adjustments are needed? With some ground word, proper staffing and good processes, the only issue left to deal with is scale.
The question of adjustment is a hard one to answer without know more about the business. There is a thin line between “If it ain’t broke….” Frequent adjusts blowing things!

Overall Philip is a firm believer in the following:

1. Implement processes and create a “Franchise model” in all functional areas of your business
2. Measure, measure measure – this goes for budgets, goals, growth, etc
3. Stay aligned – focus on your core business, know what it is, have the entire team know what it is, have a SMAC
– Read Good to Great Jim Collins

Hope that everyone found this helpful! As always, please feel free to leave any comments below!

Patrick Stacy: I’ve Got a Great Idea!

When Patrick Stacy, SBEC financial & business mentor, was asked what advice he would give entrepreneurs, he had some very helpful insights. Read to find out more!

First off…the disclaimer. I am NOT an entrepreneur. But during my career as a CFO for middle-market businesses, I have helped entrepreneurs with great ideas turn those ideas into business success. However…here’s the conundrum. Most successful entrepreneurs undoubtedly start with a “great idea”. But not all great ideas become successful businesses. And why is that? There is no one answer to that question. Whether a great idea becomes a successful business or not depends on so many different factors that MAYBE I could address them in a book…but certainly NOT in a blog!

The biggest quandary is that every great idea is going to encounter its own unique set of factors that will determine its success. Will someone buy what you are selling? Can you manufacture it? Will you run out of money? How can I find good help? These are just a few common issues that different entrepreneurs have encountered in the past. And there are a myriad of others. Some of these factors are show stoppers…if you can’t sell what your great idea produces, sorry, but you don’t have a business model…you have a hobby.

So, how can an entrepreneur determine which issues could potentially derail her or his great idea on the way to Success Station? Again, no one answer fits all situations. But one simple method of attacking the question is to ask someone who knows more than you. If you have a critical patent question, you need to find a legal expert familiar with your product and get advice. If you’re not sure about how to market your product or service, find someone who knows a lot about that field and question them.

Ultimately, as an entrepreneur, the decision to move forward on your great idea is yours alone (or yours and your partners). And you may find that factors you believed were show stoppers are really not that crucial to your success or can be overcome with relative ease. But failing to get advice from experts in a number of different disciplines related to your great idea may be the ultimate factor in whether it succeeds or fails.

Most entrepreneurs don’t lack for belief in their idea, not do they lack the will or effort to make it happen. But if you don’t know what obstacles you will encounter on your journey, it’s hard to know if you’re tackling a difficult hill or Mt. Everest. There is not any one road map, but ask people who have taken similar treks and you may just reach your destination.

And one more thing…enjoy the journey!

Patrick Stacy: SBEC Mentor

Patrick Stacy

Does a Formal Education Help Young Entrepreneurs?

As a co-founder, Mike Grimshaw has been with the SBEC since the beginning. He is a huge supporter of entrepreneurship and carries that vision over to the college where he teaches. Continue to find out about Mike’s thoughts on formal education and entrepreneurship!

Most of what you hear about entrepreneurship is all wrong. It’s not magic; it’s not mysterious; and it has nothing to do with genes. It’s a discipline and, like any discipline, it can be learned –Peter F. Drucker
As a college teacher I am constantly challenged by my students about the value of a college education versus the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial dreams. They cite examples like famous billionaire entrepreneurs: Bill Gates (Microsoft), Larry Page (Google), Michael Dell (Dell), David Geffen (Geffen Records), Steve Jobs (Apple), Richard Branson (Virgin), Ralph Lauren (Ralph Lauren), Jerry Yang (Yahoo) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). Most on this list received a modicum of post-secondary education before bailing and pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams.

Like Zuckerberg, Gates also went to Harvard. Page and Yang both attended Stanford. Jobs only completed one semester at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Dell left the University of Texas at 19. Geffen dropped out of three universities before launching his record label. Lauren went to little-known Baruch College in New York State, but left after two years. Branson, a mild dyslexic, never made it out of high school.

They have been successful mainly because they have ample talents combined with both the luck and skill of exceptional timing. Research indicates that a far greater percentage of self-made billionaires have a master’s degree than no formal college education. In life and in business there are no shortcuts. I have never heard of a college graduate expressing regrets about obtaining a college degree. I have heard many non-college graduates express their regrets of not starting or completing college. It is possible to be a successful entrepreneur without graduating college. But the chances of becoming a Zuckerberg, Gates, or Jobs by not attending college must be similar to having your house hit by a meteorite while you watch TV.

Unless you have a successful entrepreneurial track record or can get the attention of seed capital to fund your innovation, just try and get someone to put their money on the table unless you have an education. Education may not be necessary, but statistics have shown that there are many more examples of success with education than without it. As an educator teaching Business and Entrepreneurship in a private college, I bring industry into the classroom so students get hands-on experience solving business problems. I can tell you that most of my students (not all but most) do not have the skill sets or vision to innovate an industry. However, by the time they leave college they have an idea of what it takes and some skill sets to build on.

Oh… and a degree to help get a job as they build their entrepreneurial dream.”

Mike Grimshaw: SBEC Mentor

Mike Grimshaw
The South Bay Entrepreneurial Center

Martha Spelman: 5 Tips to Being a Successful Entrepreneur

1. Coming up with an idea is the most fun — executing it… not so much. The idea is about 1% of the overall business; execution is about 99%. In other words, the day to day work is where success lies.

2. Most people just think about how great their idea is. They don’t think about how they will let people know about their great idea. Figure out how you’re going to market your business, and to whom (your audience), before you spend too much time or money on your idea.

3. Take criticism. Talk to people about your idea, show them what it does or how it works. Listen to what they have to say. You will not like everything you hear, or incorporate all of the suggested changes, additions, deletions or comments, but it’s all valuable.

4. Being an entrepreneur is not a get-rich-quick-scheme. Most businesses are not overnight successes. The best way to be successful, and make money, is to work the business, everyday, for a long time. Even if your business is viable, you may not break even for three or four years. You might not show a profit for even longer.

5. You will be most successful operating a business that you like (or love). Determine where your interests lie and what your passions are. Figure out a business that combines some or all of those. Making a lot of money is not one of those things. Do something you can’t wait to do, and the money will come.

Martha Spelman: SBEC Mentor

Martha Spelman
Marketing Consultant
Co-Founder Newzful -subscription-based site that provides useful facts, stats and data for content marketing
Author of The Cure for Blogophobia: How to Create, Publish and Promote Your Business Blog

Christopher Braun: My Advice for Entrepreneurs

SBEC recently asked a few of our mentors to share insights with everyone about growing businesses. SBEC’s Chairman of the Board, Christopher Braun, shared some valuable ideas. Enjoy!

What is your best advice to start-ups and entrepreneurs?

Several things come to mind:

  • Develop a group of advisors/ mentors as soon as possible…they can help you avoid mistakes.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions.
  • You are not an expert in all fields and recognize and accept that you will need professionals to help you.
  • Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you.
  • Define your market succinctly.
  • Define your value proposition succinctly.
  • Articulate what your target customer looks like.
  • Become customer-centric

What are a few things you wish you knew when you first started your business?

  • Cashflow is key. You will need to be able to operate your business for months without receiving payment for your services.
  • Plan for cash flow to be a problem on start-up and during rapid growth phases.
  • Define what success looks like for you and your company.
  • Develop a Plan for the best and worst case scenarios for your business.
  • Be willing to adapt to many changes… all the time.
  • Continually strive to be the “go to” person for your industry. Be an expert.
  • Your clients, vendors, and employees can last a lifetime.
  • Be willing to accept there may be a better way to do something even though it may mean that your idea is not

What is the best decision you made for your business or professional career?

It’s great if you can join groups of unfamiliar people, be open to listen, and feel comfortable to ask for help from them.


Chris Braun: SBEC Mentor

Christopher Braun

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