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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…
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…
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…
“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…
Monday, 31 March 2014 12:08

Mission: Akron: Making your worldwide debut

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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…
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…
The Tuesday Musical Association has been providing classical music concerts to the Akron community for more than 125 years. Its mantra, “Presenting the Finest,” is exactly what it does, according to Jarrod Hartzler, executive director of the association.“Most of the world’s most successful and acclaimed musicians have appeared on our concert stage. Annually, musical legends such as Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Renée Fleming and ensembles such as The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, and the Vienna Boys Choir comprise our concert season,” he says.In addition to its six-concert main-stage series, the TMA offers a broad range of education…
Describing what has stayed the same during National Interstate’s first 25 years is easier than listing everything that’s changed, according to Dave Michelson, the company’s president and CEO.Today, National Interstate Corp. remains an underwriter of passenger transportation operators across the country. “But really almost everything else to some degree has changed,” Michelson says. National Interstate has gone from a private company to a publicly traded one, has expanded beyond passenger transportation into half a dozen wheels-type niches and has gone from a target of acquisition to an acquirer. Back when Michelson was hired, he was the company’s 20th employee, now…
Stark State College is focused on preparing students and graduates for the jobs that exist in its environment, says Para M. Jones, the college’s president. In order to adapt to the ever-changing needs of the community, however, the college must be able to pivot itself and its 500-plus employees to meet the needs of today’s businesses.“We’re continuously scanning the environment, talking to businesses,” Jones says. “We’ve got an ongoing dialogue about what are the needs of business, and then our job, our mission, is to develop programs and develop the workforce to respond to those needs.” Jones, the college’s first…
Some 45 percent of executives are on the move these days, actively looking for new job opportunities, a trend that should concern employers, says Joe Crea, president of Benefits Resource Group.“Often an executive is just not engaged, he or she has decided there’s more money to be made elsewhere, or they’re dissatisfied with the company,” Crea says.Smaller companies that lose a key executive are the most affected. “On average, it costs companies 2.5 times the salary of the executive lost in order to find and hire their replacement,” Crea says. However, there are strategies employers can use to keep key…
“Mezzanine financing is a creative option that can help companies transition or expand their businesses,” says Kevin Vonderau, Executive Vice President and Chief Lending Officer at Westfield Bank. “It’s a good choice for companies with positive cash flow that lack the collateral to cover their expansion.” Suppose a business with $18 million in sales, $2 million in bank debt earning $550,000 in pre-tax income is owned by two equal partners. One partner decides to leave the business and offers to sell 50 percent to the remaining partner. The business is worth $3.5 million plus assumption of bank debt. To establish…
When switching to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems, a business will need to incorporate new equipment and technology. Though it may seem daunting, the transition and subsequent result leads to more manageable communications, a shallow learning curve and support during the process. “One of the biggest differences between using a traditional phone system and going to a VoIP platform is the huge reduction in equipment that is needed, and you’d be getting better features and advantages out of it,” says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director at Ohio.net. “When you’re moving from a traditional world to a VoIP…
Figuring out how much liability coverage to buy isn’t easy, but it’s very important.General liability covers an entity for bodily injury, property damage, personal and advertising injury, and medical payments to a third party because of negligence of the insured. So, adequately selecting the appropriate limits provides defense costs and indemnification to that third party, which will properly indemnify that claimant.“As an organization, ask yourself, ‘If my limits are not enough to cover the injury, what happens?’” says Andrew Rowles, vice president at SeibertKeck Insurance Agency. “You hope the insurance company will offer a settlement at your policy limits or…
Monday, 31 March 2014 05:09

How courts are deciding issues about ownership

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Ohio’s shale gas region has slated capital projects valued at more than $12 billion, with the industry expected to add 66,000 jobs and $5 billion annually to the state economy starting this year, according to economists at Cleveland State University.More than 3 million acres have been leased for drilling, with gas and oil companies pouring nearly $7.5 billion in bank accounts for the right to drill. The oil and gas industry, and the legal issues surrounding it, are going to have a profound economic impact on Ohio.That activity has led to disputes about ownership of oil, gas, and mineral interests.“There’s…
More midsize companies are seeking to do something extra for a select group of employees, usually executive-level staff. Nonqualified deferred compensation plans, which are not subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, have no discrimination restrictions, so employers can choose to whom they offer the plan. The plans also have no restrictions on deferral amounts, unlike qualified retirement plans. “The economy has been getting a little better, and top talent is very valuable,” says John Carey, CPA, J.D., associate director of tax at SS&G. “Companies want to take that extra step to keep people and offer them…
When Gordy Opitz talks about ComDoc Inc., he starts at the beginning, explaining matter-of-factly that Walter G. Griffith founded the business equipment sales and service company in Akron in 1955. He traces its financial growth into the millions of dollars and outlines its industry’s evolution. But the part of the story that elicits the most enthusiasm from Opitz involves the ComDoc employee stock ownership plan, which took 21 years to make its 615 employees 100 percent owners. “We took an unbelievable amount of pride in being able to say to people that when you are working with ComDoc, you are…
Richard Carpenter, professional surveyor and president of Accurate Technologies Inc., can’t understand why 3-D laser scanner technology, used in industrial surveying to create accurate 3-D models of objects or environments, isn’t more prevalent in the U.S. — but he has a few ideas.“We don’t jump on new technology,” he says. “Some of the people who come out of college in mechanical engineering are lucky if they even took one 3-D CAD class. Some of the architects coming out of school haven’t had a full semester of 3-D CAD. So we’re a little bit slow to get on this, but it’s…
Having a job or a career can be central to a person’s self-confidence. Coleman Professional Services Inc., a nonprofit provider of behavioral health and rehabilitation programs, works to find jobs for those who may have more trouble finding a job than most — those who are mentally challenged or physically disabled.CPS offers job placement, training and temporary work for those with barriers to employment while helping employers connect to this segment of the workforce through recruiting and outplacement. When successful, it means getting people off entitlements and helping them become more productive members of the community.Smart Business spoke with CPS’s…
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…
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…
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…
Overseas sales and exports can really help business owners grow their companies. But, when the company gets its first international inquiry, an owner might say, “I always deal cash in advance. Send me a check. I’ll send you the product.”That’s not how the world works, says Art Rice, vice president and manager of International Operations and Product Management at FirstMerit Bank.“The world rarely operates on cash in advance anymore. So, it may be days, weeks or months between the actual sale of the merchandise or service and the resolution of the accounts receivable,” he says.This extended sales cycle can strain…
Thursday, 27 February 2014 22:03

How to take your VoIP conversion at your own pace

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Overhauling an office phone system is often a necessary part of growing, improving and updating an organization’s technology. Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a common upgrade that offers a variety of options to fit a business’ needs, whether it has a small, medium or large employee base. Each VoIP system can be custom built to fit the specific requirements of a company, says Alex Desberg, sales and marketing director of Ohio.net. A specific VoIP product is chosen based on the company’s specific needs, and its implementation is ramped up in a way that’s manageable. “When you’re talking about your…
The JOBS Act, passed in 2012, changed rules to make it easier for small businesses to secure funding from investors.“The Securities and Exchange Commission actually has three initiatives related to the JOBS Act. Crowdfunding has received most of the attention, but the SEC also amended Regulation D to allow small businesses to use general advertising and offers the Regulation A option, which is sort of a mini registration,” says James S. Hogg, a partner at Brouse McDowell.Smart Business spoke with Hogg about how these JOBS Act options work and what they offer small businesses looking to raise funds.What has changed…
Thursday, 27 February 2014 21:15

How GOJO has made sustainability a business imperative

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GOJO Industries Inc. was one of five 2013 Summit of Sustainability Award (SOSA) winners, an award that recognizes companies for their sustainability efforts. The awards acknowledge organizations that are helping to fulfill the SOSA mission of introducing green best practices to Summit County’s business community, showing the value of the triple bottom line: People-Planet-Prosperity through Recognition-Education-Engagement-Networking.Smart Business spoke with Nicole Koharik, Global Sustainability Marketing Director at GOJO, about what the company has done in the category of sustainability.What is key to moving an organization toward sustainability?Imbedding sustainability into the culture for long-term results is critical.At GOJO we used an approach…
Friday, 28 February 2014 02:06

Are you and your employees ready for retirement?

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Employers are trying to encourage their employees to save more for retirement, but the numbers aren’t in plan sponsors’ favor. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 census, 73 percent of our population will struggle financially during retirement. Why are employers so interested in employee plan participation? Discrimination testing plan sponsors must go through has encouraged the drive to make sure participation is adequate for non-highly compensated employees. If participation and deferral percentages are low for non-highly compensated employees, highly compensated employees can’t defer the maximum contribution amount, which leads to refunds at the end of the year. “To make…
Many people join a nonprofit board of directors because they are passionate about the organization’s mission. What they really want to do is to help the organization accomplish it, but there is a host of governance responsibilities that go along with that.Marie Brilmyer, CPA, M.Acc., a director of assurance services at SS&G, says nonprofit boards need to think about strategy, monitoring, oversight, compliance and financial health like a corporate board.“A board needs to think ahead,” she says. “It needs to be sure that the organization can fulfill the mission today and tomorrow. It can’t be uncomfortable with profit because a…
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