Category Archives: Entrepreneur

Piedmont Triad Entrepreneurial Network Shutting Down

According to this article in TechJournal South the Piedmont Triad Entrepreneurial Network is shutting down because the entities that funded it have decided to go in a different direction.

CEO Jon Obermeyer tells TechJournal South that the foundations backing
PTEN, the Winston Salem Alliance, Action Greensboro, and High Point
Partners, all economic development organizations, declined to continue
supporting it.

The foundations invested $2.75 million in the organization, which was founded in 2004.

"They decided we were not a priority," Obermeyer notes. "It had nothing to do with our results."

He admits the early stage companies PTEN backed are slow on job creation. Many are still in proof of concept…

The companies it backed have raised an additional $8.8 million.

PTEN also distributed $635,000 in prizes to 35 companies through
its annual PTEN GAP business plan competition and did it a unique way
intended to train the companies to deal with investors.

"We gave them the money in tranches and they had to meet
milestones," explains Obermeyer. If they won $30,000, we gave them
three tranches of $10,000 each. If someone was working on a patent, we
would want to see a patent filing."

PTEN also launched the first nanotechnology conference in North
Carolina and ran it for three years. It received national press
coverage in the industry publication, "Smalltimes."

It held an investor conference in August. It had companies from
Memphis, Charlottesville, the Research Triangle and elsewhere present
in additon to Triad firms…

"We worked with other organizations such as the NC Council for
Entrepreneurial Development and the Piedmont Angel Networks. We were
doing all the right things," says Obermeyer.

"My question now, is who's going to do this work?"

This is definitely a negative development for the Triad.  While groups like PTEN may not create lots of jobs in the short term they tend to foster the development of the kinds of companies that attract dynamic people who in turn accelerate innovation that seeps into the surrounding business community.  In other words they create energy that attracts innovators and builders and those are exactly the kind of people we need in the Triad right now.  I think we have plenty of bankers and lawyers, but we're hurting for true entrepreneurs.

BTW, anyone else see opportunity to fill the gap here?

SCORE Podcasts

My friend Ruth sent over an item announcing the launch of SCORE podcasts.  From the news item:

SCORE “Counselors to America’s Small Business” announces the new
“Small Business Success Podcast Series” for start-up entrepreneurs and
small business owners. Each month, two new podcasts will be added, one
for http://www.score.org and one for http://www.score.org/women.

Each podcast is available as an audio broadcast online. A SCORE
expert or guest expert will offer tips and advice about a business
issue for approximately seven minutes. Past podcasts will be available
on archive pages at each Web site.

SCORE has released its first two podcasts:

*  Julie Brander, marketing expert with New Haven SCORE, shares ideas on “Marketing Your Biz in a Weak Economy” at www.score.org

*  Peggy Duncan, SCORE blogger and productivity expert with Atlanta
SCORE, talks about how to “Get More Done in Less Time” at
http://www.score.org/women

SCORE is a great program that hooks up entrepreneurs with counselors who are retired business people.  In other words young bucks get to learn from business veterans who have been there and done that.

Oh, and check out Ruth’s company Quantum Events.  If you need someone to create and manage compelling events then Ruth and company are the people you need to speak with.

Share Your Creativity

I received an email today that tickled me pink because it included me in a group the author described as the "Creative Cluster".  Very cool!  Anyway, the email was a forward of a call for submissions for an event titled Creativity: Worlds in the Making that is being put on by the Wake Forest University Office of Entrepreneurship and Liberal Arts and the Program for Creativity and Innovation.  Here’s the overview from the submission page:

This interactive symposium is designed to position creative engagement
as a core literacy in today’s global environment and to model fresh,
critical perspectives for creative research, collaboration and
outcomes, between and among diverse disciplines and communities. The
objective of the symposium is to stimulate new thinking about what
creativity is, how it is practiced across cultural domains and what its
potential applications can be, especially in relation to humane and
sustainable outcomes and impact. Diverse perspectives from the arts,
humanities, sciences and entrepreneurship will pose questions and
challenges about the role that creativity plays in higher education and
in society through its capacity to shape dynamic and interdependent
future ‘worlds’. The interactive format of “Creativity: Worlds in the
Making” combines keynote speakers, traditional panel presentations,
innovative performance and exhibitions with participatory working
sessions.

If you can get your head around that then I encourage you to submit.  Deadline for submissions is October 15, 2008 and the actual event is scheduled for March 18-20, 2009.

Fried Router and Google Desktop on Today’s Menu

There are lots of pluses to self employment and/or working from home.  Not having to shave for days on end, wearing sweats and a t-shirt on a daily basis, showers-optional, etc.  On the other hand there are some definite negatives like bad-smell-syndrome and anything related to technology.

This morning my router was fried (me thinks it had something to do with the crackling I heard emanating from my power strip) so without the convenience of tech support it was off to the store to buy a new router.  The router that was fried was a Linksys Wireless G router that I purchased when the G standard had just been produced, I think around four years ago, and this morning as I was driving to Circuit City I had a vivid recall of the decidedly non-automated set up procedure for the old router.  In other words I remembered how painful an experience it was for your average non-tech-geek to install a wireless network.

I bought the next version Wireless G router (with speed and signal booster!) and ran back home.  I popped open the box and saw these magic words on a big red sticker: "RUN CD FIRST: Do not unplug any existing PC or Networking Equipment".  For once I followed instructions and two minutes later the router was up and running, the security settings were set up automatically without me having to re-learn all that crazy lingo (WEP, WAP, whatever) and my computer, which is the only one cabled to the router, had a nice internet connection. 

Next I was asked by the install program if I wanted to install other computers on the network.  When I clicked yes it asked if it was wired or wireless.  I clicked wireless and then it asked me if I could temporarily attach it by cable to the router for the install.  I said no and it then asked me if I had a USB flash drive.  I said yes and it prompted me to plug in the drive and then it installed a setup program and said all I needed to do was plug the drive into any other computer I wanted to install on the network and the program would automatically configure the computers for the network (assuming they’re all running Windows XP).  SWEET!

I went downstairs to Celeste’s office and kicked her off her computer so I could get it back on the network.  I plugged the flash drive into her USB port and then waited, and waited, and waited.  What the hell? So I pulled up Task Manager and saw her CPU at 100% usage.  I looked at what was running and noticed a butt-load of memory being chewed by Google Desktop and other Google Pack goodies.  I shut them off and she instantly went to 23% usage.  Hmm.

As soon as I turned off Google the Linksys install program launched and we had her online in about 60 seconds. When it was done loading and I’d confirmed her connection was good, and that she had a much stronger connection than she’d ever had with our old router, I uninstalled all of her Google stuff. 

All told my tech support job cost me about an 1 1/2 today, but the result is we seem to have a much stronger wireless network and I’m coming to believe that Google really wants to be like Microsoft.

Blue Cross Could Have Sent Some Vaseline Too

Remember the truism that nothing is certain but death and taxes?  I think that needs to be revised to state "nothing is certain but death, taxes and massive annual rate hikes from your health insurer".  Actually that last could probably be better stated as an "annual screwing from your health insurer".

We recieved a letter from our health insurer, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina (BCBSNC), that begins as follows:

Dear Valued Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Member:

Thank you for choosing Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) for your health insurance needs. We value your continued membership and want to let you know about some upcoming changes to your Blue Advantage premiums and benefits.

Most Blue Advantage subscribers will have a premium adjustment in 2007.   This will be your guaranteed premium until January 1, 2008, unless you switch plans, add dependents or purchase additional coverage.

Blue Advantage is the most popular individual insurance plan in North Carolina and currently serves more than 315,000 members. Your Blue Advantage premium adjustment is based on the health care costs of all Blue Advantage members and is impacted by factors such as where you live, your benefit design, your gender and your age. For example, if you had a birthday in the past year that put you in a new age-bracket category, it may have had an effect on your January 1, 2007 premium adjustment.  Your individual claims do not have an impact on your annual premium changes.

Here’s the thing: our premiums were about $595 a month this year, which was up about 10% over the year before.  This is a 35% increase from ’06 to ’07!  Celeste and I both turned 40 this year and so I went to the BCBSNC rate quote website and found that if I compared rates for us at the age of 38 and 40, the quote for age 40 was about 8% higher.  So where in the heck did the rest of the increase come from?

What kills me is that there are NO factors that say anything about our personal health choices.  Why can’t we get credit for exercise?  Why can’t we get credit for a healthy diet?  Why can’t we get credit for our general health?  They can lump us in with the rest of the people who are individually insured, essentially treating us as a group health plan, but they give us no control over how we might control costs.  This is BS!

Here’s something else that just pisses me off about this: BCBSNC is a non-profit that has been accused in the past of making too much profit and in fact they made a concerted PR push last year to point out that they were reducing their profits.  They were sensitive enough about it that they sued an advocacy group called ProCare over the group’s disclosure of what BCBSNC said were confidential business sources.  Of course that doesn’t mean that ProCare was wrong and one of the documents in dispute detailed how BCBSNC spent $478,000 to sponsor the US Open.  And my old employer, Atlantic Information Services, had a piece in ’05 about how states, including North Carolina, are going after the "Blues" for reserves that are too high.  The point is that non-profits have reasons for existing that go beyond profits which is why they get their special status and treatment from our friends in government, and I can tell you that if the non-profits I worked with spent money the way BCBSNC seems to they’d be in a heap of trouble.

We can change our coverage options (higher premium, higher co-pays, etc.) to bring down our monthly premiums, and we might end up doing that, but we’re also going to seriously consider a Medical Savings Account.  We’ve been looking at MSAs for a while, but we were kind of scared off by the "newness" of them.  I also remember reading about UnitedHealthcare getting ready to offer individual health coverage in NC (right now BCBSNC has a monopoly in the state) and we’re going to check them out as well. BCBSNC has given us a lot of motivation to look at ALL of our alternatives. 

Here’s my final observation about these jokers and another truism in the realm of business communications: any letter that begins with "we value your continued membership" is the setup for a royal screwing and out of kindness should be accompanied by a small package of personal lubricant.

By the way, this experience just gives me further evidence that Dr. Feld is right about the need for true competition and free market reforms in the healthcare marketplace.

Forget PTI. Let’s Talk About Smith-Reynolds Airport

There’s a lot of teeth-gnashing in these parts about the struggling Piedmont Triad International Airport  (PTI), which is losing passengers and flights to Charlotte and Raleigh airports.  Flying out of PTI has gotten bad enough that I’d rather drive the 5 hours to DC and I’m fine driving to Charlotte for flights to more distant destinations, whereas just a year ago I was ecstatic with the cost and convenience of flying out of PTI.

When I was a kid the Smith-Reynolds Airport here in Winston-Salem was still a functioning commercial airport, but now it’s used for general aviation and an air show.  Still it’s runways are large enough to handle any but the largest jets and it is very close to downtown Winston-Salem which is why I think it would be the perfect candidate for an air taxi service.  The FAA just gave the first provisional approval for a VLJ or "very light jet" and there are entrepreneurs getting ready to take receipt of the first VLJs and start their business-oriented air taxi services.  Interestingly two of these companies are based in not-too-far-away Greenville, SC.

Because the VLJs are less than half the cost of the cheapest business jets currently available they are apparently going to allow entrepreneurs to provide air taxi services that are slightly costlier (one company is estimating $1,000 for a 500 mile round trip) than flying commercial but with greater convenience.  Here’s a good article that provides an overview of the likely challenges that the air-taxis will face and how they can overcome them.

If these air taxi services do indeed come to fruition this could be a boon for Smith-Reynolds.  The terminal facilities already exist but there are no commercial airlines to compete with so it wouldn’t take a whole lot to turn the airport into the premier business travel gateway for the Triad.  Add that to the growing bio-tech sector here and I think you have two rather nice spices to add to Winston-Salem’s business development stew.

Profit vs. Non-Profit

David Boyd has this from Walter Williams:

One of the wonderful things about free markets is that the path to
greater wealth comes not from looting, plundering and enslaving one’s
fellow man, as it has throughout most of human history, but by serving
and pleasing him. Many of the wonderful achievements of the 20th
century were the result of the pursuit of profits. Unfortunately,
demagoguery has led to profits becoming a dirty word. Nonprofit is seen
as more righteous, particularly when people pompously stand before us
and declare, “We’re a nonprofit organization.”




Profit is cast in a poor light because people don’t understand the role
of profits. Profit is a payment to entrepreneurs just as wages are
payments to labor, interest to capital and rent to land. In order to
earn profits in free markets, entrepreneurs must identify and satisfy
human wants in a way that economizes on society’s scarce resources.


As you may know I do most of my work with non-profits and here is what I can tell you about them: the good ones behave just like well-run, for-profit companies.  If they think of themselves as existing for a “higher purpose” and justify their existence in that light then they are doomed.  If, on the other hand, they view their members or constituents as customers and view their existence as serving those customers then they are most likely going to succeed.

Reading List October 25, 2005

  • You’re Pre-Approved = A Real Family Application (The Post Money Value) – Rick Segal points out something I’ve been saying for a long time: while there are services out there that people can use for sharing family information (shared blog, shared photo, etc.) there isn’t one that is really non-techie, geared to people who have just gotten used to email.  He smells opportunity and so do I.
  • What Did Cheney Know? And When? (Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire) – Did the VP lie when he said he went on Meet the Press two years ago and said "I don’t know Joe Wilson. I’ve never met Joe Wilson…. And Joe Wilson
    — I don’t know who sent Joe Wilson. He never submitted a report that I
    ever saw when he came back." Three months earlier his chief-of-staff had documented a conversation with the VP about Mr. Wilson and his wife.  Hmmm.
  • The Earthquakes Changed Kashmiri Politics (StrategyPage.com) – The US has the opportunity to make strong inroads into Pakistan and the region in general via its relief efforts in response to the earthquakes in the Kashmir region.
  • Innovation is Bursting Out Again (Don Dodge) – Microsoft’s emerging tech guy looks at some of the areas that are seeing a burst of innovation, and highlights some of the companies providing said innovation.
  • White House Insisting on Torture (Bayosphere) – Links to a piece in the New York Times about the Bush administration’s stance on a pending bill before congress, and an amendment proposed by John McCain in particular.  "Stepping up a confrontation with the Senate over the handling of
    detainees, the White House is insisting that the Central Intelligence
    Agency be exempted from a proposed ban on abusive treatment of
    suspected Qaeda militants and other terrorists." 
    Make sure you read the comments.
  • Dickless: W Without Cheney (Davenetics) – Not a particularly revealing post, but I kind of like the headline.

New Wiki by/for Entrepreneurs

There’s a new Wiki for entrepreneurs that you can find here.  Most sources for entrepreneurs are crap: get-rich schemes, dumb-ass advice from some guy with an envelope-stuffing business, etc.  This one is notable for the people who are involved in the early stages, most of whom seem to have some deeper, richer information to share.

For a definition of wikis go here, or read this:
"online collaboration model and tool that allows any user to edit some content of webpages through a simple browser. mobileman.projects.supsi.ch/glossary.html

Reading List October 5, 2005

  • Napster: The Inside Story and Lessons for Entrepreneurs (The Next Big Thing) – Don Dodge was a VP at Napster (he now runs Microsofts emerging business unit) and he gives a brief inside look at what happened to Napster in 2000 and lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from that experience.
  • Medical Data Wants to Be Free (Business 2.0) – Business 2.0 points to Fred Wilson’s blog (A VC) where he states that "[I am] convinced that we are on the cusp of a revolution in the way
    medical information is collected, shared, and used…We
    need control of our data so we can secure it, put it in a place where
    it will be available in a crisis like Katrina, so that we can continue
    to get the care we need. The public doesn’t understand this yet. But
    some people do. . . . So my bet is that medical data is about to start
    moving out of the hospitals, doctors offices, and health care plans,
    into the hands of consumer and the intermediaries they authorize to
    handle their data for them. This is a big opportunity."
  • The Economics of Peer Production (Business 2.0) – Erick Schonfeld writes a very interesting "Future Boy" column about the emergence of peer production as a replacement (complement?) for companies and markets as an organizing structure in the information realm.  Example of peer production: Wikipedia.
  • Yahoo! Print (Business 2.0) – Yahoo1 is taking a different tack than Google when it comes to indexing and searching books.  For one thing they’re concentrating on books already in the public realm.
  • Networking (New York Times) – This piece ties in nicely with the "Economics of Peer Production" piece.  Basically it says that the next wave of productivity improvements in business will come from the collaborative information environments (distributed networks) that businesses are investing in.
  • Folksonomy’ Carries Classifieds Beyond ‘SWF’ and ‘For Sale’ (New York Times) – This article focuses on three web services that allow people to self-organize based on their interests.
  • The Long Tail of Social Software (The Long Tail) – New services like Ning and JotSpot offer opportunities to expand the web’s application explosion.