Columnist (51)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014 21:28

John Myers: A letter to startups

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Dear entrepreneur,


Entrepreneurial support in Northeast Ohio has come a long way since I first got involved with the Akron Regional CHange Angel in 2005. Back then, the term entrepreneur, and all its variations, was just beginning to be used to describe startup companies and their drivers, long before reaching the nauseating overuse of the word we experience today. Since then, we have seen the support and funding networks for startups grow exponentially, which is mostly for the good.

The $2.1 billion Ohio Third Frontier program, with all its subsets, has actually provided the platform for much of what you might take for granted today. There are so many support organizations out there spawned from this program, such as JumpStart Inc., BioEnterprise, the Small Business Association, Small Business Development Center, Urban League of Greater Cleveland, Edison Technology Incubators, Council of Smaller Enterprises, Akron SCORE, and local and regional chambers of commerce. And while they’re all here to help, the chorus of advice coming from them can be overwhelming.

It's hard for you, as the risk taker, to not become overwhelmed by all these options. I’ve heard it thousands of times from startup entrepreneurs: There’s so much advice coming at them, much of it conflicting, some of it good, some of it way off base. As someone involved in startups, I’m here to tell you we all mean well. We sincerely want you to be successful, and to create jobs and wealth in Northeast Ohio.

But sometimes, as advisers, counselors and mentors, we don’t recognize the confusion and information overload we’re causing you. How can you possibly sort thru all of it, find and apply the best and most relevant information to help you find funding, get traction and grow your business?

After doing this for nine years and talking to thousands of businesses in many industries, from high-tech to low-tech to no tech, by advice boils down to this: Use your gut.

Yep, it's hard. But then it's been hard since you started. It was hard when you told your parents or significant other that you were forgoing a traditional job to start your own business. It was hard when you fired your best friend. It was hard when you pulled three all-nighters in a row. It was hard to take that leap of faith and start your own business, and harder still to stick with it until it became successful.

Deciding who to listen to is hard, especially when someone tells you that following their advice is the only way to get their support or money.

But you know that's not the right way to go. You have tested the beta, gone out and talked to potential customers, gotten feedback from the market and pivoted. Your team is behind you, they believe in you, and are dependent on you making the right decision. This is when you have to suffer through the anxiety, when you have to reach down inside and make that potentially game-ending decision and go with your only true best friend, your gut.

It really does come down to the old axioms: If it doesn't feel right don't do it. But if it does feel right, just do it. Hey, that last one worked for Phil Knight. It will work for you.


John Myers


John Myers works with the University of Akron Research Foundation as executive-in-residence and president of the Akron Innovation Campus, and is a founding member of the Akron ARCHAngels Investment Network. John serves on the review committee for the LCCC Innovation Fund, co-chairs the Supplier Diversity Committee at UA, and founded and mentors the Northeast Ohio Student Venture Fund. He provides entrepreneur support for the Greater Akron Chamber and serves on the Board of Advisors for Athena/Powerlink - Akron. Reach him at (330) 972-2144 or

The field of marketing is changing rapidly. Customers can engage with businesses anytime and have higher expectations than ever. Free next-day shipping, 24-hour support and social media have created the need to improve service without necessarily creating additional revenue opportunities. As a business owner, how do you allocate your resources?

Here are two startling statistics when listed together: It costs six to seven times more to acquire a new customer than retain a current one, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs. A study conducted by Bain & Co. cited that increasing customer retention rates by 5 percent increases profits by 25 to 95 percent.

So why invest such a large portion of your budget in customer acquisition when customer retention drives profitability?

Sales and marketing audit

Here’s a simple way to audit your current sales and marketing plan to ensure you maximize investment. Evaluate your total investment based on the intent of each message. For each activity, ask if the goal is to:

  • Acquire new customers.

  • Retain current customers.

  • Appreciate your customers for a recent action.

  • Convert current customers to a different or additional product or service.

  • Re-activate lapsed customers.

  • Educate customers on new enhancements or industry information that strengthens your relationship.

Acquisition efforts are being over-valued. Dedicating a fraction of those dollars to appreciation and retention would significantly increase your bottom line.

Making the shift

While the trend is to move online where there is less personal customer engagement, customers need a personal touch to reinforce their importance. Differentiate yourself by shifting dollars from low-performing acquisition expenses to personalized appreciation and retention investments.   

Once you have completed your audit, move the lowest-performing 5 percent of your current acquisition expenses to new retention and appreciation activities.

For example:

  • Send a handwritten thank-you card to every new customer within 24 hours of their purchase.

  • Send a gift to recognize the anniversary of when you started doing business with your top 20 customers.

  • Have your CEO personally call and thank the buyer of each new customer you gain this year.

  • Send a thank-you gift to customers who provide you with complaints, allowing you to improve your product.

  • Provide a bonus for internal employees who receive customer compliments.

The Gartner Group reports that 80 percent of your future revenue will come from 20 percent of your current customers. By investing directly in those relationships, you can ensure you are maximizing the lifetime value of each customer. Often you also receive great anecdotal feedback on how to improve your product/service offering to meet their needs.

Sam Falletta is president and CEO of Incept Corp. Sam has developed successful customer acquisition and retention strategies for some of the largest brands in the world, including Microsoft, Ford, Honda and the American Red Cross. Reach him at (330) 994-1322 or More is available at

Learn more at:

No matter what your life’s background might be — professional, technical, service-oriented or otherwise — one thing we all share is the customer experience. We have all had the experience of buying something, whether it is an object, a service or something more subjective, like advice. One thing is for sure: With each experience, we know when we’ve been treated well, and we know when we’ve been treated badly.   

More and more people who have a need for something are taking into account their previous customer experience and relying on it to make purchase decisions. Years ago, the mantra in retail was “the customer is always right.” This has become the new normal in health care as people are now, more than ever before, using their retail shopping skills when making medical choices that, because of health care reform, have multiplied and become more complex.  

A retail-minded approach

For health care providers, a retail-minded approach means that patient access systems need to become more intuitive and customer friendly. Care providers have to meet potential patients on their terms, where they live and work.

The provision of care needs to exceed the patient’s expectations. This is especially important now as care providers are being financially reimbursed based on both their clinical outcomes data and patient experience survey scores.

Akron General is meeting the challenges posed by this dramatic transformation in the national health care landscape. To provide care when and where it is most convenient for the patient, Akron General has developed two major initiatives.

First, it is opening four urgent care centers throughout the region. Urgent care centers provide urgent, not emergent care for minor health concerns and are open evenings and weekends in response to the customer’s desire for convenience and lower costs. Akron General’s first urgent care center opened in Tallmadge in February.

In addition, Akron General has taken this concept of convenience and cost savings even further by acquiring a full-sized mobile unit, the Health & Wellness Express, to service patients’ medical needs in their own neighborhoods. It’s outfitted with clinical treatment bays and will allow clinicians to offer health screenings and other medical services at churches, schools, neighborhood centers and business throughout Northeast Ohio.

Health systems everywhere also are enhancing their patient access touch points by using Internet and mobile portals for physician appointments and medical record access. Akron General offers this service through its website and new features will be coming soon.  

Change is the only constant

Americans are experts in knowing what we want and expecting the best when it comes to the retail experience. People today are applying these shopping skills to their health care experiences. Those who deliver care must adapt.   
How organizations respond to change is the difference between whether they are successful or challenged. Today, that response requires speed in assessing and acting, forward thinking and close attention to the customer, because the customer is always right.

Dr. Thomas “Tim” L. Stover, MBA, is president and CEO of Akron General Health System, which is a health system trying to keep people out of the hospital. Reach him at More is available at

Learn more about Akron General at:
Twitter: @MyAkronGeneral

“In Cleveland’s heyday … proximity to water or rail mattered a lot. Today, proximity to a university campus matters a lot.”

Tim Ferguson of Forbes said that, not at a recent high-tech conference, but 15 years ago and in the context of manufacturing. What was true at the close of the last century is even more important in the opening decades of the present one.

There’s no question that today’s economy is a global knowledge- and technology-intensive one, as the National Science Board’s 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators suggest. Research discoveries that beget new technologies and further innovations through human capital are as critical to manufacturing today as electricity and petroleum were last century.

And just as 20th century manufacturers in Northeast Ohio benefited from ready access to shipping, highways and rail, their 21st century counterparts will benefit from the region’s abundance of intellectual assets.

Northeast Ohio is home to more than 30 universities and colleges. Yet few businesses, particularly among small- to medium-size enterprises, value these institutions beyond their talent-supply-chain benefits. Most seemingly ignore the innovation and research capacities. That is akin to our region drawing upon Lake Erie only as a source for potable water, and ignoring its vast potential for shipping, fishing and recreation.

Forging partnerships

Fortunately for all, universities and colleges are actively seeking to provide regional SMEs greater access to university-generated research and innovation.

In 2012, The University of Akron, Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University and Lorain County Community College joined with the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network to facilitate university support of SMEs.

That same year James Griffith, president and CEO of The Timken Co., and I promoted a greater linkage of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership program with universities as sources of innovation, the mission of which is spelled out in the National Research Council’s book, “21st Century Manufacturing: The Role of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program.”

In addition, a collaboration of seven research universities that includes Akron, Case Western and Youngstown State University led to the establishment of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, now known as America Makes, which has garnered about $70 million in federal and corporate funding.

The Youngstown-based institute is the nation’s leading partnership in additive manufacturing and 3-D printing technology research, discovery, development and commercialization. America Makes is accelerating the transformation of American manufacturers as they collectively seek to lead the world in advanced manufacturing productivity.

More to come

Last year, Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers, and I were appointed by President Barack Obama to the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee “2.0.” With this, Northeast Ohio is again prominently involved in the ongoing development of new technological resources to support American manufacturing.

Earlier this month, The University of Akron and the United Steelworkers hosted an AMP 2.0 regional meeting in Akron that showcased our region’s advanced manufacturing activities, and added our region’s input into a national manufacturing policy initiative in development by the White House.

Today, more than ever, universities and colleges partner with manufacturers to identify areas where their assets and expertise can be accessed and utilized to develop and commercialize technology. Today, universities mean business!

Luis M. Proenza is president of The University of Akron. Luis serves on the Executive Committee of the Council on Competitiveness, the Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy at the National Academies, as well as its Council of the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable. More is available at

Learn more about the University of Akron at:
Twitter: @uakron

Monday, 31 March 2014 12:08

Mission: Akron: Making your worldwide debut

Written by

You have invented the next big thing, a breakthrough in the medical device, polymer, energy or tech industries. Now what? How will you reach customers? How will you manufacture it? How will you recruit talent? To whom will you go to get the funding you need to develop the business in its pre-revenue stages?

The Akron Global Business Accelerator has been answering those questions for 30 years. The Accelerator provides entrepreneurial support to technology-based startups in diverse fields, including biomedical, energy, advanced materials, IT, instruments, controls and electronics.

The Accelerator is not just a place; it is a program with a value proposition second to none for entrepreneurs. Upon joining the program, entrepreneurs can attain an immediate professional presence. The Accelerator has high-quality lab, office and manufacturing suites at favorable pricing.

But more importantly, clients receive free guidance from staff entrepreneurs-in-residence on business challenges, strategic relationships and securing investments. Through the Accelerator’s Technology Company Acceleration program, all Accelerator clients have an entrepreneur-in-residence assigned to their company as an extension of its management team.

The Accelerator’s entrepreneurs-in-residence have more than 125 years of experience taking technology-based startups to successful outcomes. The Technology Company Acceleration program initiative, as directed by the entrepreneurs-in-residence, assists clients in mapping their path to success, setting up milestones and accessing the resources to reach those goals.

Global impacts

Among the Accelerator success stories are Echogen Power, which has developed a 10 megawatt waste heat to electricity engine. Vadxx Energy is building a commercial scale plant in Akron converting 20,000 tons per year of waste plastics into high-quality petroleum products.

Knotice is recognized by Forrester Research as having one of the best Data Management Platforms in the world. My1HR is developing one the most broadly accepted health care insurance exchange software tools. Garden Art Innovations is launching the first BodySafe™ line of cosmetics in the U.S. and Europe.

7Signal is introducing a revolutionary WiFi Performance Assurance and Optimization tool, and Summit Data has become the market leader in producing WiFi radios for demanding environments.

Global reach

The City of Akron has been working to build its “Technology Bridge” program in Israel, Finland, Lithuania, Slovenia, Germany and other countries. This brings some of the world’s most innovative technologies to the “soft landing spot” we have created in Akron, and opens the doors to export opportunities for our clients.

The Accelerator is nationally recognized for its innovation and has assisted client companies in securing $86 million in investments, generating 639 new high-paying jobs, $181 million in sales and $104.5 million in payroll since 2008. The Accelerator has won the National Business Incubation Association’s Innovation Award and has been the longest running and top-performing incubator in Ohio based upon investment, client revenues and job creation.

For all technology innovators who are asking, “Now what?,” I invite you to take advantage of Akron’s transformational Accelerator program.

Don Plusquellic is Mayor of Akron, Ohio. First sworn in as mayor in 1987, Don’s career in public service now spans five decades. The mayor’s most important mission, along with improving education, has been securing and fortifying Akron’s economic future. Learn more at

Engage with the City of Akron at:
Twitter @CityofAkronOhio

For many folks, there’s something about Northeast Ohio that can’t be replicated by any other place in the U.S. Northeast Ohio is home. That makes the area unique to so many who have left to explore opportunities elsewhere only to return, and for those who go to great lengths to make their hometown a wonderful place to work and live.

Para M. Jones, president of Stark State College and the subject of this month’s cover story, is a boomerang resident. She was born in Canton and spent 22 years at Stark State, working her way up to vice president before leaving to become president of Spartanburg Community College in South Carolina.

But something brought her back. As she told me in our interview, “I had a wonderful opportunity, wonderful college, wonderful students, wonderful team, but when this presidency (at Stark State) opened, I was very drawn to come back to Northeast Ohio, and of course the college where I had spent so much time and invested so much and where I really believed in the mission, understood the students and really wanted to be leading in workforce and economic development.”

Dave Michelson, president and CEO of the Richfield-based National Interstate Corp., is also looking to build up the region’s workforce. He was audibly excited about what Northeast Ohio has to offer job candidates when we talked in preparation for this month’s feature.

Michelson divulged how he actively promotes his company and the region, saying, “Northeast Ohio, in my view, is a great place to have a company. It’s a great place to raise a family. Between having access to wonderful public school systems, an abundance of private schools, lots of upper level education here in Northeast Ohio and throughout Ohio, the park system, the arts, the sports teams …

“If you can get by the cloudy weather that exists here, this is a great place to have home offices and raise a family.”

Building on the idea of growth in the region, one of this month’s columnists, Akron’s Mayor Don Plusquellic, highlights the achievements and proliferation of the Akron Global Business Accelerator, noting that it has been the longest running and top-performing incubator in Ohio based upon investment, client revenues and job creation.

Both Jones and another one of this month’s columnists, Luis M. Proenza, president of the University of Akron, talk about how institutions of higher learning are fostering growth in the region by partnering with local businesses to help them succeed in the market.

Outside of the realm of business, this month’s issue also highlights the Kent State University Museum and the Tuesday Musical Association. Both organizations hint at the diverse interest of our communities and how the region has much to offer its residents beyond economic opportunities.

The message is clear from those living and working in the region I’ve talked with this month — Northeast Ohio is a great place to stay, or even come back to.

Adam Burroughs is assistant managing editor & digital managing editor at Smart Business. He writes for Smart Business Akron/Canton and is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in the Akron/Canton area. Reach him at (440) 250-7062 or

Engage with us:
Twitter: @SmartBiz_NEOH

On a daily basis, I see how the work of the private sector and the work of the nonprofit sector are inextricably intertwined — all a part of the same big picture. The more we understand that fact as a community, the more we can align our investments and leverage our strengths.

The GAR Foundation is a private foundation created in the late 1960s by Galen Roush, the co-founder of Roadway Express Inc. Roush was a standout leader in the industry who had grown the small local trucking firm he launched during the Great Depression into a national powerhouse.

When he and his wife Ruth set up the GAR Foundation to fund nonprofit organizations, they did so with the understanding that a high-functioning nonprofit sector supports the success of a business like Roadway.

Working together

As businesses grow and innovate, they need a well-educated workforce. The nonprofit sector’s many investments in education help to ensure that Greater Akron’s businesses have a ready supply of world-class, “homegrown” talent.

As businesses work to attract great talent to their teams from other places, they need the kind of cultural vibrancy that makes Akron a distinctive, quality place. The nonprofit sector’s investments in arts and culture support community vibrancy and quality of life. Businesses seek to locate and grow in high-functioning, healthy communities where citizens’ basic needs are met and all people have an opportunity to have a productive life.

The nonprofit sector supports the basic needs of Akron’s citizenry, helping to make this a community we can all be proud to call home.

One hand washes the other

We can see some ways in which a high-functioning nonprofit sector supports a healthy private sector. And yet the benefits run at least as strongly in the other direction — from business to nonprofits.

Businesses provide leadership talent to nonprofits through board service and volunteer hours. Every successful business person in Greater Akron can support the well-being of the community by volunteering his or her time and talents to nonprofits.

Moreover, as funding for nonprofit work contracts and its needs expand, cutting edge business practices become increasingly important to the operation of successful nonprofit enterprises. Practices long favored in the private sector — from the strategic use of data for performance management to rigorous outcome-based budgeting — are becoming commonplace in nonprofits.  

So while many see the private sector and the nonprofit sector as “two different worlds,” they in fact have a close, symbiotic relationship. Nonprofits help to support the community conditions in which businesses can thrive and grow; thriving businesses in turn create prosperity and opportunity for the entire community.

Christine Amer Mayer is president of the GAR Foundation, which awards grants to 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Summit and adjacent counties in the areas of education, arts and arts education, health and social services, and civic and nonprofit enhancement. She can be reached at (330) 576-2911 or For more information, visit

Twitter: @GARFoundation

Have you ever wondered why simple projects often fail during execution? It could be because project planning strategies were not implemented. You might not think this is important, but many organizations have found that adhering to basic project management principles saves time and energy.

To create a strong project plan, start with the end in mind by defining the deliverables that will be provided to the customer. Once this has been established, the project manager can determine and outline the steps needed to attain the deliverables.

While these steps might initially be easy to identify, assigning a realistic timeline and the associated tasks can be difficult for the project manager alone, so he or she must depend on stakeholders to help assess these tasks.

Making key assignments

It is important to identify the appropriate stakeholders to fill these roles. The project manager, along with the stakeholders, should be able to identify hurdles and potential problems before the project starts. These should be factored into the project plan as well as potential ways to manage these problems on the front end.  

The role of the stakeholders does not stop with the development of the project plan and input related to timelines. Both are dynamic documents and changes are expected as the plan is implemented.  

When problems arise

A detailed project plan developed by a project manager and key team members can help identify potential problem areas. It can also aid the project manager and sponsor in making quick, confident decisions. To facilitate project plan implementation and processes:

  • Identify hurdles early, consider what to assess and when further assessments should occur.
  • Begin parallel activity (key team members working on activities within their area of expertise at the same time).

  • Implement a method that applies advanced work, utilizing templates to complete as much pre-work as possible that will be integrated into the final product.

  • Determine what the critical activities are, which if delayed will delay the entire project.

  • Maintain the project plan in a highly visible area to serve as a road map for the project manager and all key team members.

  • Use previous project plans and timelines to identify inefficiencies, wasted time and poorly matched tasks.

Tips for project managers:

  • Trust in your team and respect its members.

  • Ensure that there is evidence of constant management and participation without being restrictive.

  • Go into the project identifying the objectives and deliverables and be able to communicate these to the team.

  • Maintain a highly visible project plan.

  • Clearly define expectations and relevant work processes.

  • When problems arise, meet briefly with key team members, identify problems and potential bottlenecks and deliver customer solutions.

  • Facilitate team member/customer communication.

  • Remove obstacles and manage conflict constructively.

  • Understand that not all teams are created equal.

  • Understand that adding more manpower does not always solve the problem.

  • Recognize and reward achievement.

To be effective, a project manager must be able to assess the project needs and respond with an effective plan. When everyone moves in the same direction, decisions are made quickly and with confidence, ensuring quality deliverables.

Victoria Tifft is founder and CEO of Clinical Research Management Inc., a full-service contract research organization that offers early to late-stage clinical research services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. She can be reached at For more information, visit


Still fresh in our minds is Paula Deen’s fall from grace, Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction (whether intentional or accidental), News Corp.’s O.J. Simpson book deal, KFC’s Oprah Winfrey chicken coupon debacle, and of course, the Carnival Cruise disasters. All were major crises in the past decade that prompted a “we better be prepared” attitude among industries, businesses and institutions.

Before a disaster strikes, your survival strategy and blueprint for crisis communications must already exist.

The same is true for a mom-and-pop store as well as a Fortune 500 company. Every business is vulnerable; in these uncertain times, we are probably more vulnerable than we thought for a variety of reasons. The important concept to grasp is that a crisis can happen to any of us.

Planning ahead

The current economic climate is enough reason to develop a crisis-management plan (and we won’t make you nervous by mentioning strikes, layoffs, closings, tainted products, activist threats, sexual harassment and workplace injuries). Are you ready to handle media queries when your back is against the wall? Failure to comply with legalities and industry regulations also poses potential predicaments.

Here are several suggestions to prepare for various scenarios:

1. Assess your assets and obstacles. Where are your company’s vulnerabilities? Who would be affected if a crisis occurred? Staff? Customers? How would those affected be informed and reassured?

2. Assemble a crisis team — the fewer members, the better. Clearly define each member’s responsibilities in advance so the team is “at the ready.”

3. Put a plan in writing. Keep it simple, well organized and easy to understand.

4. Prepare background data. Include company and facility information, product lists, fact sheets and applicable data.

5. Set up an internal notification procedure. Designate a single spokesperson and an alternate. Decide who does what and when.

6. Establish external contacts. Compile (and update) lists of emergency response teams, media contacts, key customers and suppliers, major investors, elected officials and industry experts. Make certain the lists are updated as addresses/contacts/phone numbers/emails change.

7. Practice your PR plan. Train spokespeople how to communicate with assertive reporters, concerned investors, frightened employees, nervous clients and others who may be affected by a crisis.

8. Establish a command center. Determine where the crisis team will convene and operate from during a crisis. The space must be centralized and secure, with adequate computer and telecommunications capabilities.

9. Test the plan. Initially — and periodically — rehearse the procedure, discuss the possible scenarios and identify any weaknesses the crisis communications plan may have. Make appropriate tweaks.

Ride out the storm

Remember, time heals. Accidents and mistakes can be forgiven, even forgotten over time, if handled properly and with integrity. The way your company handles the crisis will dictate the shape of your reputation once you emerge. Your goal should be to manage crises from a point of strength and resolve. That’s probably the bottom line.

Your company will do much better in keeping your good reputation and business relationships if it has a good PR program in place before any issue happens. If your firm already has established credibility, it will serve as a foundation to weather the storm.

Rod A. Covey is president of Covey-Odell Advertising Ltd. of North Canton. He launched Covey-Odell Advertising in 2008, and the North Canton Area Chamber of Commerce named the company the 2009 business of the year. For more information, visit


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