Enlightenment to Entertainment

The first full day of sessions at the 2016 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit exceeded all expectations.

Attendees were inspired by a one-on-one conversation with the Founder and CEO of Operation Hope, John Hope Bryant; they learned how to fast track a tech startup with founders and CEOs who have first-account experiences; and the financial habits of successful entrepreneurs who have been there and done that.

Attendees spent the day asking experts probing questions while receiving the most informative answers—and they wouldn’t have expected anything less. They learned to protect and profit from ideas, and how we can go about supporting black business without compromising the integrity of products or services.

New and seasoned entrepreneurs learned the importance of using social media to drive sales and how to develop their business to the point of being “investment worthy.”

[Related: ES Day 2: Big Winners and Real Talk at Entrepreneurs Summit]

Small business owners were rewarded for their accomplishments at the Small Business Awards Luncheon and eager entrepreneurs pitched their way to $10,000 at the Elevator Pitch Competition.

Established entrepreneurs offered their peers insight on how to become suppliers for big companies while operating as a small business; and ideas, information, and tips were exchanged throughout a full day of networking and meetups. Needless to say, this event served the intended purpose of merging innovation and capital.

The first full day of events ended with a hilarious set by comedian Chris Cherry before topping off with the sultry sounds of R&B heartthrob, Raheem DeVaughn performing his new and old hits, followed by a jam session featuring none other than Big Tigger.

Again, Day 2 exceeded all that was expected. Eager to see how we’ll top this with Day 3. Standby.

Fast Track Your Tech Startup

You don’t have to do it alone.  

There are myriad ways to build a community, get funding, and even technical help to launch your online product. Accelerators, tech hubs, and co- working spaces are popping up everywhere and actively connecting and inspiring founders.

These venues often act as recruiting grounds for venture capitalists and angel investors looking for compelling new startups. However, many founders get overwhelmed with doubt wondering if they are ready for these types of hubs. At this week’s Entrepreneurs Summit, Jesica Averhart of American Underground, Brian Brackeen of Kairos.com, and Rodney Williams, of LISNR shared insider tips on how to put your startup on the fast track now.

Here are some facts to help dispel any trepidation:

Pitching to a VC 

Rodney Williams

He read all the right books and watched other people pitch to get ready. He noted that the book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change helped him talk to venture capitalists and other decision makers—the right way. Rapport and relationships are the crux of everything.

Brian Brackeen

Brackeen emphasized that learning how to speak the language of different cultures and constituencies helps to speed up connection. For example, some cultures don’t like to start business right away and enjoy breaking the ice with small talk about the weather or family, and other groups are more straightforward. Learn to adapt.

Launching A Tech Startup With No Tech Background

Brian Brackeen

Brackeen also emphasized that empathy is the most important quality a startup founder can have. A nontech person may understand the problem in a different way and have a solution that’s not technical. Understanding the user matters most. Get to the “why.” It makes it all easier.

Rodney Williams

Williams urges founders to talk about their product in a nontechnical way. This helps connect you to others. He says, even as a builder, you still need someone to build the product so you can lead the team and be the visionary.

What Technology is Getting Funded

Jesica Averhart

Averhart revealed that life sciences and fintech startups are the sweet spot for investors, as well as, B2B enterprise software. She strongly believes in creating opportunities for black women in tech to merge and become a tribe.

The gist? Get off the computer. Put down the phone. Join programs to build your community through as many cups of coffee, tea, or even tequila dates, as possible. And just in case you’re weary about using existing technology, such as Squarespace or other cloud-based platforms to build yours, focus on user design and interface to make the difference.

For Small Business Owners Who Dream Big

Are you a small business owner with big dreams? One of this morning’s most informative sessions—titled “Operate Small, Supply Big” and hosted by American Express OPEN— provided practical, actionable advice to entrepreneurs eager to land contracts with large corporations and the government.

[Related: ES Day 2: Big Winners and Real Talk at Entrepreneurs Summit]

Three speakers served on the panel: Phillip Ashley Rix, founder and designer chocolatier, Phillip Ashley Chocolates (a FedEx supplier); Frantz Tiffeau, director of Supplier Diversity and Development at Nationwide, chief sponsor of the Entrepreneurs Summit; and Michelle Thompson-Dolberry, American Express OPEN adviser on Small Business Growth.

The most repeated word of the session? Relationships. Planning ahead and being strategic were among other themes that emerged.

Let’s examine these themes within the context of the session, which was expertly moderated by Derek Dingle, senior vice president and chief content officer of Black Enterprise.

The primacy of relationships.

All the panelists emphasized that business comes out of relationships. Thompson-Dolberry says a company that’s trying you out will spend $50,000 or $100,000 in business with you. “It’s OK to start small,” she says. “Businesses can grow within the relationship.”

Rix is so committed to managing relationships with clients, he has a designated relationship manager on his team, as well as customized CRM software (short for customer relationship management). Rix previously worked in corporate sales, so he brought that knowledge and experience into play for his own company. Although he didn’t start small, developing relationships even to the point of being kept on retainer has been key to his success.

He says that even payment schedules can hinge on relationships. “Developing relationships with people in accounts payable can help you negotiate how you get paid,” Rix says.

Planning ahead to succeed.

Tiffeau stressed the need for businesses to invest in relationships by planning ahead—by 12 to 18 months—and learning about the culture and needs of the company they’re trying to woo. This is time well spent, he says.

“The more you know about a company, the more you can value their culture and target your business to meet their needs,” Tiffeau says.

Thompson-Dolberry agreed. “If you’re looking for $500,000 to $1 million in business, you’re looking at 18 months down the road. If you’re thinking tomorrow, you’re looking at $5,000.”

Rather an incentive for planning ahead, I’d say.

Be strategic.

Strategy goes hand-in-hand with planning, but takes it further. “You need to know about compliance issues, and other requirements of the federal government,” says Tiffeau, “if you’re going to be doing business with financial services companies.”

Does the government require your business to have a recovery program? How do you fill the government’s requirement for past performance? “Work as a subcontractor to another business that won the contract,” says Thompson-Dolberry.

For more, log on to the Entrepreneurs Summit homepage.

Top 5 Ways To Protect and Profit from Your Idea

Are you full of great ideas but don’t know how to turn them into sales? Or are you afraid your golden ideas will be stolen by copycats? Here are five tips for protecting your intellectual property from the session “It’s Your Thing! How to Protect and Profit From Your Idea” at the 2016 Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit.

[Related: ES Day 2: 5 Takeaways from Driving Sales Using Social Media]

Make sure your idea stays yours. “The first thing I do is have my clients sign a non-disclosure agreement,” says Lisa Ascolese, founder of Inventing A-Z. “You’re making that person promise that they’re not going to tell anyone about your product.” Michelle Fisher, Founder and CEO of Blaze Mobile, also suggests “progressive disclosure”—limiting what you share up front, whether you’re talking to investors or interviewing potential employees.

Keep up with the law. “It’s not sufficient just to innovate, you really have to protect your ideas via a trademark or a patent,” Fisher says. With recent changes to the law that recognize the first to file, not the first to invent, “it’s even more important not to share your idea with someone until you’ve patented it.”

Know the types of protection. There are three different types of patents. There is also a trademark, which can be a word, phrase, symbol, or design. A service mark is similar but for services. “Trademarks help to distinguish your product, in terms of branding,” says Justin G. Tanner, associate director of the Minority Business Development Agency’s Office of Legislation, Education and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Take advantage of the resources: “There are programs and dollars out there,” says Tanner, pointing specifically to the Pro Se Assistance Program of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, which helps you file patent applications without an attorney, and the Small Business Innovation Research program, which incentivizes small businesses to engage in research and development.  Fisher also recommends USPTO’s Patent Pro Bono Program

Get it to market. “Don’t be an over-inventor,” Ascolese says, meaning don’t waste time putting bells and whistles on a good base idea. Take it to market quickly, or someone else will. Fisher also has a term for the tendency to delay products as you add to the features: “feature creep.”

Here’s How To Perfect Your Elevator Pitch

Many have watched the show Shark Tank, where contestants pitch products and businesses in hopes of garnering big bucks. But more need to know about the Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch Competition, sponsored by AT&T, taking place at BE’s 2016 Entrepreneur’s Summit. When pitching your idea or business, you should be the subject matter expert for your industry. Think about it like this, the judges should not know more about your industry than you! Understand how big your market is. Is it a multimillion- or even billion-dollar market? Who are the major players in your space?  What is your competitive advantage? No one likes to hear an elevator pitch that is confusing and hard to follow. Your 60-second elevator pitch should always tell a good story. Your story should include:

[Related: Entrepreneur Summit Elevator Pitch Winner Shares Overnight Success Story]

  1. An introduction: Who are you and who are your team members?
  2. Information about your market
  3. The problem or pain you are solving, your solution—what product, service, or technology you are offering
  4. Your business model: How will you make money?
  5. Customer acquisition: How are you going to acquire customers?
  6. How much money do you need, or what will you use the money for?

And the big winner of this year’s Elevator Pitch Competition was Blendoor, a mobile job-matching app that incorporates a blind-recruiting strategy to mitigate unconscious bias and to increase diversity at top tech companies. Think ‘anti-Tinder’ for job search, connecting qualified women, minorities, veterans, LGBTQ, and disabled candidates, says founder and CEO Stephanie Lampkin, who walked away with the grand prize of $10,000 and coaching sessions with entrepreneur, author, and tech guru Ramon Ray.

Her story: It was after a 12-year career in tech that Lampkin, 31, decided to create Blendoor to address unconscious bias. “I had interviewed at Google in New York and was told I only qualified for a marketing role; I was deemed not technical enough,” explains the Stanford engineer, who started coding at age 13, holds an M.B.A. from MIT, and spent five years at Microsoft.

In addition to making matches, Blendoor leverages big data to equip candidates with career development opportunities that better aligns them to land their dream job.

ES Day 2: 5 Takeaways from Driving Sales Using Social Media

Social media is an absolute must as a business tool. An amazing panel session during Day 2 of Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Summit provided key ways to drive sales and help your business grow using social media.

[Related: ES Day 2: Dr. Jamal Bryant Gets Real on Black Entrepreneurship]

The session panelists included Lamar Tyler, founder and CEO of Lamar Tyler New Media; Reuben Canada, founder and CEO of Canada Enterprises L.L.C; and Manny Ruiz, founder of Hispanicize.

The session, “Driving Sales Using Social Media,” was moderated by Black Enterprise’s SVP and Executive Editor-at-Large, Alfred Edmond Jr. Entrepreneurs “have to turn fans and followers into dollars,” said Edmond, kicking off the discussion.

Tyler spoke of the importance of social media and digital content saying, you have to keep, “feeding the fire with fuel…communicate with people who want to see (your content).”

Tyler also said that social media was a great way for a small businesses to seem big and have significant presence.

Five of the most important takeaways for entrepreneurs on how to leverage social media for their business and to drive engagement were:

  • Use social media to share the journey of your business. People want to see it.
  • Social media gives small businesses an equal playing field with large enterprises.
  • Entrepreneurs need to create original content. You cannot rely only on social media and especially on one platform. Even if your business has 500,000 followers, that social media-generated content never belongs to you. You must have a website or a blog. Think of your site or blog as the movie and your social media content as your movie’s trailers.
  • E-mail lists are critical. Studies show people spend more time on social media than on e-mail. Social media is how you drive engagement, but e-mail is your moneymaker. You have to find ways to bridge e-mail and social media. Some suggestions include boosting a Tweet that does really well or using Facebook’s e-mail list integration tools for business.
  • Keep your business social media content sophisticated. As Hispanicize founder Ruiz, put it, “As a very small business, it’s very easy to be cheesy.” Even your graphic art should have a level of sophistication and professionalism.

Social media is a fantastic tool for small businesses. It’s vital that you understand your customers. Social media does that market research for you.

“Social media makes this a beautiful time to be an entrepreneur,” said Tyler.