Entrepreneurship

Apr22

Define Success

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Business Plans, Marketing, Small Business Owners

Search the web for the literal definition of success and you will find a familiar definition: “achievement of intention: the achievement of something planned or attempted.” Determining your own success is a huge first step, which may even require some soul searching. Don't be afraid to rely on insight from those who have been there. This is an elegant aspect of success, the opportunity to define what it personally means o you. Think about a specific project, strategy or business you are working on. What are you and your teams intentions? How have you defined success?

Apr11

What is Marketing?

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Business Plans, Marketing, Small Business Owners

“The purpose of business is innovation and marketing,” said Peter Druker, corporate guru and wildly successful executive. Drucker wrote several best-selling business books and is famous for a lot of quotes. He is one of the best and displays the essence of business. Recognizing an opportunity and acting upon it with innovation is key but being able to raise awareness and purchase of the innovation is critical. And that, is marketing.

Marketing Made Lean incorporates the best practices from decades of professionals working with start-up entrepreneurs and established small business owners to develop effective marketing strategies and tactics. Lean in business, means most simply, to operate the business as efficiently as possible. When applied to marketing a micro or small business the concept of lean makes a lot of sense and there are some great tools used in lean processes that are easily applied and effective in micro and small businesses.

What are some key things you need to be an effective marketer? Are you selling as much of your product/service as you can? Do you need to develop and effective marketing plan?

Discover more about Marketing Made Lean and apply for grant opportunities today at www.fvtc.edu/MarketingMadeLean

Feb19

FVTC E-Seed entrepreneurship program gains national attention

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Business Plans, News & Announcements, Success Stories

Fox Valley Technical College’s Venture Center has taken a bit of its own advice when it comes to helping entrepreneurs get started.

The Venture Center’s E-Seed course has helped entrepreneurs like Josh Beck get the business training and support they needed to turn their ideas into viable, growing enterprises.

Beck, who founded his 3-D printing business Beck Prototypes in May, said E-Seed’s 12-week entrepreneurship course has already helped him plan for slow, measured growth and careful planning as he gets started.

“I’m starting nice and slow, I’m getting some customers now and I’m going through the motions. Now, it’s about time to start some marketing and start trying to generate more revenue,” Beck said. “I wouldn’t have done this without E-Seed. E-Seed gives you the tools and shows you the door, but you have to learn from what they show you and walk through those doors when the opportunity arises.”

In the 13-plus years since it was founded, the Venture Center’s entrepreneur-education programs like E-Seed and, its bigger sister, the Pro-Seed business-model development program for established businesses, have helped entrepreneurs start 320 businesses that presently employ between 1,500 and 2,000 people throughout Northeast Wisconsin.

The success of courses like E-Seed and Pro-Seed have also earned the Venture Center one of seven $20,000 grants from Sam’s Club and the National Association of Community College Entrepreneurship to help small, Main Street businesses reach the next level of sales.

Now, E-Seed itself has become the brand with an opportunity to grow and the Venture Center is the entrepreneur.

Amy Pietsch, the center’s director, said it has started to license the E-Seed curriculum and program to other community colleges, technical colleges and economic development agencies around the country as a way to foster more entrepreneurship and generate revenue for the center, which does not receive taxpayer dollars from FVTC.

Organizations can buy a license to offer the 12-week course to local business owners and entrepreneurs, but Pietsch said those groups are encouraged to share anuy improvements and innovations they make so as to improve the product.

“The one thing we knew about the entrepreneurship environment was we would be the little player in a big space. We had to be open to a lot of people coming back to us with ideas to make it better,” Pietsch said. “We do apply what we learn and teach here. We’re not making it up.”

The early response has been good. To date, FVTC spokesman Chris Jossart said, three community colleges in the Midwest and one entrepreneurial hub have already bought licenses to use E-Seed.

“It’s developed into such a proven product that’s simple yet personal,” Jossart said. “It’s always fresh, it’s always real and it makes very complex issues very simple.”

In addition, FVTC has reduced the cost of E-Seed by almost 50 percent, to $750, to make it more affordable for entrepreneurs to enroll.

Tina Schuelke said E-Seed has remained a key component in her small-business support network since she founded Change Management Communications Center last year. The training she got through E-Seed and the support of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Small Business Development Center recently helped her win a $5,000 prize in the Northeast Wisconsin Business Plan Competition.

“Once I got started with E-Seed, I realized all my attempts at business plans — and I thought I had a good one going into it — were weak. This gave me a really strong start,” Schuelke said. “This is my first business launch. Now that I have those courses as a foundation, I’m already thinking about other businesses I want to start or become a part of.”

Feb10

The Best Tools for Entrepreneurs

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Small Business Owners

As an entrepreneur, you’re always looking for tools that will make you more efficient, and more effective. You know, the saying, “work smarter, not harder.” Whether it be a digital tool, or a non-digital tool, entrepreneurs seem to be the early adopters for many of the tools that become essential to our daily toolbox. 

Here is a breakdown of some the best tools for entrepreneurs, compiled by entrepreneurs.

1. Evernote. Where would entrepreneurs store all their crazy ideas, notes, and thoughts if they didn’t have Evernote? Evernote is the 21st century digital brain. Evernote allows you to create notes for whatever pops into your mind. You can use their digital products, or their non-digital products. My personal favorite is pairing both their digital product line, with their traditional Moleskine notebook. It’s the best way to keep all my thoughts in one place. 

2. IdeaPaint. If you love whiteboards, then you will love IdeaPaint. IdeaPaint allows you to transform a wall, a table top, a window into your own personal brainstorming space. IdeaPaint can be easily painted onto most walls, and will allow you to sketch out your thoughts, ideas, diagrams, or graphs. 

3. Expensify. Expensify is the best way to keep all your receipts together, and boy is it simple. You can use Expensify for business, or for personal use. It’s a free tool, which can be used on your mobile device, your tablet, or your laptop computer. 

4. Posted notes. You can never go wrong with the use of posted notes to compile your thoughts, your to-do list, or anything else that needs to be written down for your day. Posted notes are still a favorite amongst entrepreneurs. 

5. Buffer app. Entrepreneurs are busy people, and social media is now more important than ever. But to find time to establish a strong tribe of loyal followers on many different social networks takes time, energy, and great content. Let Buffer help you out. Buffer app allows you to schedule and post specific updates, at specific times. Need to post something to Facebook at 12:00am, but you are already sleeping, no problem. Buffer app allows you to schedule updates, tweets, posts, pictures, articles, whenever you would like. It’s a free software, but they do offer a paid version as well. 

6. Wunderlist. If you want a great task management application. This is the one. Wunderlist is simple, easy to use, and packs a lot of great features into a free platform. I use Wunderlist to track my to-do list, reminders, and anything else I need to get done each day. 

7. Basecamp. If you work with a team, and need to be in the know with everything that’s going on, basecamp is the best collaborative tool on the internet. Basecamp helps you manage specific projects and breaks down each task, or to-do in a very simple, easy to understand way. Pricing starts at $20.00 a month, but you can receive a free 60-day trial. 

8. Headphones. Chances are that you spend a few hours each week working in a coffee shop, a library, or in a co-working space, all of which are somewhat nosey. One of the best investments you can make as an entrepreneur is to get a pair of noise-canceling headphones. I recommend Bose, but there are many other great headphones that cancel out the noise of the world. 

9. Chair. Most working professionals spend 5-6 hours a day with their butt’s in a chair. Many of which are uncomfortable, don’t fit to their body, and are plain bad for their health. Do yourself a favor, and spend a little money investing in a comfortable chair. I recently switched chairs from a cheap IKEA chair (nothing against IKEA), to a very comfortable executive leather chair. 

10. Rescue Time. Do you know where you’re spending your time on your computer? Rescue Time is an app that helps display where your time is going, whether it be productive, or non-productive, Rescue Time tracks it all and sends you a weekly report, detailing where you spent your time, as well as your productivity percentage for the week. It’s a great way to track how you’re spending your time, what you’re doing online, and ways to get more productive. 

I hope you enjoyed this list of tools that can help you become more efficient, and effective. If you have a tool that you love, but didn’t see it on this list, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. us.  

Jan27

Make 2014 Your Best Year Yet

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Small Business Owners

2014 is here. And January is almost complete. Like every New Year, New Year’s resolutions seem to be the topic of discussion, on social media, on the news, and throughout every magazine. Many American’s (45%) make New Year’s resolutions. But few Americans are able to commit to their resolutions past January. 

A study completed by the University of Scranton displayed the top 10 New Year’s resolutions for 2014. The list includes, spending more time with family (10), help others in their dreams (8), staying fit and healthy (5), and spending less, and saving more (3). 

Just like every year, New Year’s resolutions are easier said than done. By now, the last week of January, only 64% of Americans that set a New Year’s resolution are still sticking to it. And after six months, only 46% of Americans are still sticking to their 2014 New Year’s resolutions. 

At the Venture Center we want you to have your best year ever! We want 2014 to be your break-out year, the year that you finally launch your business, or the year that you hire your first team member, whatever it is, we hope we can be a part of your success in 2014! 

Here are a few ways to help you keep your 2014 New Year’s resolutions. 

1.Make changes to your behavior. You have to change your habits, if you’re going to see a different outcome. 

2.Track your 2014 resolutions and goals. Use one of the hundreds of apps that help you track your resolutions. Use a notebook, or spreadsheet to track your resolutions.

3.Celebrate small wins. If you lose some weight, celebrate it. If you take another step forward towards launching your business, celebrate it! Celebrating small achievements, and small progress will help you stay motivated to achieve the overall goal(s). 

4.Make it public. Let your significant other know your resolutions for 2014. If you have a blog, post your resolutions on your blog. Post them on Facebook for all your friends to see. The more people that know about your plans, or resolutions, the more they will be able to help see you through completion of each goal(s). 

5.Find an accountability partner. Similar to making your resolutions public, find someone to hold you accountable. It could be your best friend, boss, or mentor. This person will keep you accountable as you continue to move forward on your goals and resolutions. 

We hope you can make 2014 your best year ever! 

 

Jun26

Joining The Venture Center Team

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Youth Entrepreneurship, Success Stories

I am very excited to announce that I have joined the Venture Center team as the Young Entrepreneur in Residence within the Venture Center

I have worked with and for the Venture Center on and off for the past four years. It all started when I attended an Exploring Starting a Business session where I heard Amy Pietsch speak about entrepreneurship and how to go about starting a business. 

I was hooked, my mom and I had been working on putting together a teen-friendly protein bar and I knew I had to ask Amy’s opinion on what our next steps would need to be. Amy loved the idea, but she saw something within me that I didn’t see. She saw an entrepreneurial spirit that had just started to burn, it wasn’t white hot yet, but she saw that I had the ability to become a successful entrepreneur. 

So after ditching the protein bar idea because of the initial startup costs, I was back to square one and didn’t know where to begin. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur for the rest of my life, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t have an invention, I wasn’t much of a technology guru to write code or design apps, I simply didn’t know what to do. 

But then I discovered a love for communication and speaking in front of my classes in high school. I started focusing on my presentation skills, I learned more and more about effective communication and found real joy in getting up in front of 30-40 classmates and presenting my findings. 

And so I guess you could say the rest is history. I launched my company, Marc Busko Speaking LLC. after I completed the Venture Center’s e-seed series. I have spoken to over 5,500 students since 2011 and am having more fun than I could have ever imagined. I want to speak to and impact youth for the rest of my life. 

This summer I will be the Young Entrepreneur in Residence at the Venture Center, helping out Amy and Jill whenever needed. I will also be guest blogging once a week. 

If you would like to connect, chat, grab coffee, please feel free to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

I have included the link to my website and my LinkedIn profile. I look forward to hearing from you!

Guest Blogger: Marc Busko

 

Jun17

Menu on the roll

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Business Plans, Small Business Owners, News & Announcements

Kangaroostaurant Cookery serves up meals from kitchen on wheels

The Business News
June 17, 2014

For Jay and Kelly Barnes, their restaurant is more than a business. It’s a commitment to community.

The Kaukauna couple own and operate Kangaroostaurant Cookery on Wheels and Kangaroost, a restaurant at 313 Dodge St., Kaukauna. They look for the best ingredients for their ever-changing menu, buy from local growers and businesses and believe in paying their employees a little more than the going rate. “Our profit may be a little less,” Jay said, but they feel it is worth it.

They also believe in giving young people a chance. Many of their cooks come from Fox Valley Technical College’s culinary program.

Both Jay and Kelly left corporate jobs to move into this new line of work. “Neither of us were really happy in our jobs,” Jay said. “Kelly wanted to do a restaurant and one day she googled ‘low-cost restaurant.’ Food trucks came up.”

They did their research and went through the E-Seed program at Fox Valley Technical College, a program that helps people start their own businesses. At the end of the program, they had a business plan.

Using their savings, they funded a truck, which became Kangaroostaurant, and travel around the Fox Valley, serving lunches and sometimes dinner at various spots. They began in July 2011.

“We ran the truck through the winter,” Jay said. “We only closed two days during the winter because it was a mild winter.” This past winter was more of a challenge. “One Sunday night, we had a discussion about knocking off the truck and getting jobs,” he said.

They continued a catering business through all of this and that’s how they me Dave Klister, who owns the building that houses their restaurant. He was closing his Plum Hill Restaurant in Kaukauna. This enabled the Barnes to open Kangaroost on Feb. 19, 2013. They made some adjustments to the kitchen, hired more people and hung some picture before opening.

Both eateries are committed to serving freshly prepared items from burger and sandwiches to pastas. Their menus change frequently to make the best use of local resources. They buy locally-grown or produced ingredients. Most of them come from within 40 miles of Kaukauna, Jay said.

There are gluten-free and vegetarian options, as well. They even make their own veggie burgers. The gluten-free products come from Rustic Kitchens. The Barnes work with Great Harvest for their breads, and they partner with Riverview Gardens for greens and other garden products. (Riverview Gardens is a non-profit venture in Appleton, dedicated to fighting the root causes of poverty, homelessness and unemployment.)

Other suppliers include Olden Produce CSA, Good Grief Market Gardens, Sun Brothers Naturals, Trust Local Foods, Venneford Farm Country Meats, Golden Bear Farms, Red Barn Family Farms.

Their menu won a Golden Fork award for the best hamburger last year.

Naming the restaurant was an adventure in itself, according to the story on their Website (kangaroostaurant.com).  They wanted something unique and memorable. “An important aspect of food trucking is social media,” they wrote, and social media marketing. As we threw around different possibilities, we kept running into copyright and domain name issues.”

After weeks of discussion, Jay “walked past a picture (his daughter Emma) painted in 7th grade art class and aid ‘we should call it the Kangaroostaurant.”

Since nothing came to them, they researched kangaroos on the Internet to see if it would fit their business model. They decide that kangaroos move around a lot and are flexible herbivores. “They will eat most any plant they can find. Much like us, they eat what’s available.”

So, Kangaroostaurant was born. Even though the truck-food business is self-contained and everything is cooked on the truck, they needed a base kitchen. They have a contract with Riverview Gardens until the end of June, when they will transfer it to their own restaurant.

The truck moves daily, so the easiest way to find it is I to follow it on Facebook or Twitter. They also post a weekly schedule on Mondays on the website. The truck is primarily at Fox Valley or Oshkosh sites. They have gone as far as Delavan and Wauwatosa, and their goal is to get up to Green Bay more often. Businesses can invite them to come to their parking lots, or the truck finds a spot in an Appleton park or College Avenue.

“Appleton is our most common spot right now,” Jay said. They have a license to park on College Avenue or Franklin Street. “We follow all the parking rules. We need two parking spots to accommodate the truck. We park at least 50 feet from any restaurant. We don’t want to promote any bad blood.”

Kangaroost, the stationary restaurant, is a CSR (community-share restaurant). Kelly invited people to buy shares in the restaurant as a way to get new capital for their move into the Kaukauna building.

The Barnes have 23 employees in the two businesses. Five are full-time. They also are helped by their children, Emma and Loudon.

The restaurant includes an outside eating area, surrounded by planters with edible flowers and herbs that are used in some of their menu items.

Both Jay and Kelly are excited about their new venture and the possibilities the future may hold.

“My favorite part is the interaction with the customers,” said Jay, who has a background in retail and insurance. His strength is customer service; Kelly handles the menu and food preparations. “I like working with people, he said.

Kelly likes “the chance to be creating new stuff and working with young people, who are always teaching me new things. And, our customers are nice.”

 

Jun04

Artist Spotlight

Categories // Entrepreneurship, News & Announcements

Fox Cities Magazine
June/July 2013

In his home studio, between walls adorned with wicked winged monkeys and incredibly detailed natural wonders, Scott Alberts, owner of Alberts Illustration and Design, pens life into a sketched frog. “I like to start with the eye,” Alberts says. “Once you have the eye, boom! It’s alive. Once there is life, it just goes because you know what it’s going to become.”

As a self-employed illustrator, Alberts has been livening up local businesses and events with his drawings for six years. Working on commission to create custom icons, logos and characters, Alberts constantly delivers a wide range of unique and imaginative images not found in a clip art folder. “I draw things that don’t exist, that’s what an illustrator does,” Alberts says. Working with simple pen and paper is always his first step in creating something distinctive, preferring the freedom of a blank page to the confines of a computer screen. “The computer has no soul,” Alberts says. “It only does what you tell it to and less.”

In a diverse portfolio that includes everything from wildlife to abstraction, the common theme is attention to detail. Texture and pattern are elements that both challenge and entice Alberts. “Looking good is quality, more so than message. I’m fascinated by detail, close-ups of bark and moss for instance,” Alberts says. Creatively portraying the veins on a leaf or the glitter on a gown provides a new dimension of interest and value to each new project.

In addition to his commissioned work, Alberts illustrates children’s books. His current project is a book titled “A Different Little Doggy,” the story of a pup overcoming injury and blindness. Shaping the emotion and message of the narrative through his illustrations has been a project two years in the making, yet there remains joy and meaning in the work that’s impossible to conceal.

Hearing that whole classrooms of children have been artistically inspired by his drawings, Alberts modestly responds, “Other people are taking what I’ve done and making something more of it.” The real value is in doing what he was made to do, the effect of his calling is a bonus. 

—By Matt De Stasio 

Click here to view article

Jun25

Beyond Ideas: Local inventors carry their creations from concept out to the marketplace

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Small Business Owners, News & Announcements

New North B2B
June 2012

In this book, “Why Have Americans Stopped Inventing?” author and patent attorney Darin Gibby says Americans are coming up with less than half the inventions our ancestors did 150 years ago. He blames the U.S. patent system and the huge costs associated with getting a patent, which pretty much boot the average garage-bred inventor out of the running. From the sounds of the media drumbeat, homegrown innovation is inert as a rodent in the proverbial mouse trap. Which means maybe we don’t need to build a better one after all.

But in northeast Wisconsin, imply that innovation is extinct and you’re likely to get yourself decked with a Friendly Bed, a Parti-Bowl or a vanishing television screen.

“Our philosophy is to be good at what you do, stay ahead of the curve, and develop a network of people that allows you to trust them,” said Gretchen Gilbertson, who with her husband Tim founded the now 9-year-old Suera (pronounced seera) in Green Bay, a company that makes televisions that transform into mirrors, luxury waterproof TVs for showers and yards, and backlit mirrors. “Sales are a testament for doing things very well,” Gilbertson said.

Last year, Wisconsin inventors contributed, 1,784 patents to the nation’s 108,626. It’s a lot higher than Alaska, with only 27 patents, but eons behind California, with 28,148/

We are behind our neighbors Illinois and Minnesota, which each more than doubled our number, producing more than 3,800 patents last year. But the good news is our numbers have increased over the last decade or so: in 2011, Wisconsin put out 217 more patents than 1998.

Art is in the eye of the beholder

Less than a decade ago, the Gilbertsons’ lives looked completely different. Both worked in product development and consumer research for large companies, Gretchen for the Huggies line of diapers at Kimberly-Clark Corp. and Time with developing custom refrigeration products for the hospitality industry. Then the magic light bulb of inventor went on.

They had seen a showcase home in Madison that had a bathroom with bulky combination mirror/television that sat in a 5-foot home in the bathroom wall. “Visitors were crowded in the bathroom marveling at this thing,” Gretchen Gilbertson said.

The Gilbertsons brainstormed how to make a better one and planned the company they’d form soon thereafter.

“We were like, ‘We love the concept; there’s nothing at all like it on the market that most people have heard or. Is there any opportunity for us to expand it and create a product that can be sold to the mass market?’” Gilbertson said. “On the way home we were already starting to draw up plans, and we were beginning to establish relationships with people in the electronic field.’

What’s out there?

One of the first things a prospective inventor needs to do is market research. Gilbertson and her husband were researching and finding focus groups to bounce their ideas off within a month of the showcase of homes that sealed their fate.

“Find out who is selling it, how much is it selling for, who is buying it and what are they paying for,” said Mark Payne, mechanical engineering associate with Fox Valley Technical College’s Fab Lab, an inventor resource center for the region. That will give you A – an idea on whether to proceed and B – it’s important to have if you are entering into licensing negotiations.”

Fab Lab is short for ‘fabrication laboratory,’ and it offers help to inventors with design, prototyping and general direction of their idea. It’s located at FVTC in Appleton and is a collaborative effort with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They can help take an idea all the way through the concept development process to commercialization, which is ultimately the goal of any invention.

“No product is worth anything unless it goes somewhere, which means if you have an idea, you owe it to yourself to go network and see what resources are out there to help you.” Said Joe Vosters, president of Bill-Ray Home Mobility in Appleton and the inventor of Friendly Beds, a heavy-duty system of components that fits over any size bed to improve independence for the elderly and those with physical challenges.

“You can’t be shy about going to different groups to make the connections and meet people, because sometimes when you are networking, it make take five layers of connections before you get to the person with the answers you need,” Vosters said

Bringing inventors together

Inventor Jeff Hitzler of Green Bay founded the Inventors Network in Wisconsin in 1999 to provide support and savvy to those bitten by the invention bug. It meets six times yearly at the DJ Bordini Business & Industry Center in Appleton. Past speaker topics have included marketing, product liability, focus groups, web development and other business-oriented topics.

“We try to steer people in the right direction,” Hitzler said. “We’re an education-based group – we don’t push products or inventors, we push inventors to have as much knowledge about the process as we can.”

Many people with good ideas don’t know where to start. “They immediately think they have to knock on the door of one of those ‘invention help’ places, Hitzler said. “There are a lot of steps an inventor has to do in order to do it right. You need to determine if there is a sizable market out there – just because your mom and you like it doesn’t mean it’s going to sell.”

The inventor’s journey

Regardless of whether an idea is for a gizmo, foodstuff or widget, it generally will take a similar path from conception to construction. It needs to be evaluated from a market perspective, business and investment-opportunity angles, intellectual property issues, and cost and logistics of manufacturing.

That’s where a project profile comes in handy. It’s a way of clarifying goals, expectations, areas where help is needed, and progress already made, Payne said.

Ideas also usually need a prototype. Fab Lab helps with the designing and creating physical or virtual prototypes of potential products. A prototype can be taken to investors to show how it would work and to parts manufacturers show what it should look like once made and get a ball part estimate of production costs.

Cost to develop an idea through Fab Lab are far less than what and “invention help” company would charge, said Herb Goetz, inventor services program manager at Fab Lab.

Fremont inventor Louis Woods, who came up with the idea for a fishing –rod called Enjoy the Fight for those with grip or hand problems such as arthritis, made a homemade prototype that he brought to Fab Lab, according to Payne.

“We were able to leverage our abilities to address all those features that make it a successful product versus just an idea,” Payne said.

Some products can be taken to market relatively inexpensively if your able to position yourself to be in a licensing negotiation early on, according to Goetz. “That’s the way most inventors want to go – license the idea to a company that manufactures and markets the products, and split the royalties from sales. If you want to take the product to market yourself, it gets expensive.”

A patent can take three to five years to obtain, and cost can run up to $30,000, according to Gibby’s book.

With licensing, it’s like a company rets your idea from you. Say you have an idea for a new McDonald’s burger package. “You can go into business yourself and make (the package) but it will be a huge investment for machinery and materials and a huge commitment of time, or you can go to McDonald’s and say ‘Here, this is patented so it’s protected; here is the idea and I will sell it to you and I want one center for every one sold,” said Payne.

Hitzler has licensed two of his inventions’ an adjustable-angle paintbrush and the Parti-Bowl, a snack bowl with an adjustable divider that enables Cheetos, Chex Mix and chip dip to coexist in peace, unlike Packers and Vikings fans.

Necessity: The mother of invention

Four years ago, Vosters the Friendly Bed guy, lived a different life than the one he’s living now as the president of Bill-Ray Home Mobility in Appleton.

He was designing and selling equipment for the paper industry, with nearly 30 years of experience behinds him. He knew his industry by rote. But he knew zero, silch, nada about the health care.

Then his 50-year-old brother-in-law, Bill had a stroke, and Vosters quickly learned the marketplace for bed-area assistance had some serious holes. He was appalled at some of the home medical equipment he saw” flimsy guard rails, chintzy grab-bars and poles intended to help a patient balance but were inherently unstable, he said. Vosters cared for Bill a few days a week and saw what a gargantuan task it was for him to get in and out of bed. The Vosters’ own father, Ray, in his ninth decade, began needing help from Vosters’ mom getting in and out of bed.

“He was living at home but hanging on by his fingernails, “Vosters said. “No one wants to leave their home and their independence, and the need was there for better-quality assistive aids to help in the bed area where mobility needs are the greatest.”

So Vosters came up with his Friendly Bed, a strong steel system of grab bars and poles that fits over any size bed. It doesn’t wobble like some cheaper home health products that are covered by Medicaid (which Friendly Bed isn’t at this point), he said.

“There was nothing like it out on the market, and I knew there wouldn’t be until I brought all the (components) together into one package,” Vosters said. “When you put all of these items together, you get a lot more over all benefit than you would with what you could do with a wobbly bed rail here and a flimsy trapeze bar there and a balance pole from somewhere else. A lot of the benefits only become possible because of tying together all of the elements into one heavy-duty product.”

Vosters is marketing the Friendly Bed across the country, via Internet and trade shows, and he has a showroom in Appleton where people can take a test drive.

His patent is pending, but meanwhile it’s protected from theft. Vosters had his own prototype made thorough contracts in the equipment-manufacturing community. He’s a good example of the self-venturing inventor, having launched Bill-Ray Home Mobility to market the Friendly Bed.

“If it all works out well, you get a bigger share of the pie,” Vosters said. “You are doing absolutely everything – engineering, purchasing, accounting, marketing, packing up boxes answering phones – and doing every aspect of the business yourself, “ Vosters said. “Your head starts spinning with the many hats you wear.”

Apr12

"You're the Boss" and Other Myths about Starting a Business

Categories // Entrepreneurship, Business Plans, Small Business Owners

During lunch with a local, serial, small business owner I posed the question, “What was something you thought you knew about owning a small business, that since you have launched and been in business for almost 8 years, have realized was a myth?” After a few moments, the reply was “Being your own boss. Being your own boss is a myth. Customers become your boss and your employees have expectations of you, you have many bosses, not just one.”

Indeed, the pull to claim and control your own destiny and be the “Boss” is a common myth that propels many people to launch their own business. There are other myths about business ownership, Starting a Businessincluding those that stop people from pursuing launching and operating a business; myths like: it takes a lot of business experience to start a business or you have to have a lot of money to start a business and starting a business is too risky. Yes, some businesses are more difficult to launch than others and attracting capital and talent is key however, most of what people hear about what they need to do to successfully launch and grow their own businesses is not true. Today, the average person, with modest experience and access to technology can learn what they need to and dispel the myths associated with stopping them from pursuing their own business. This I know to be true. I've seen it happen hundreds of times. The key phrase being, learn what they need to.

Would-be and soon-to-be entrepreneurs and small business owners who choose to learn what they don’t know and gain the skills and knowledge they need, to pursue their passion, are successful. There are many ways to learn what you don’t know. You can access formal or informal knowledge sharing experiences and move forward with confidence because you are taking action to improve your ability to be a successful business owner. At the FVTC Venture Center we try to create a variety of learning and knowledge sharing experiences designed to help people successfully launch and grow their businesses. One of the most popular is the E-Seed™ Innovative Entrepreneurship Training Series. The next 10-week session launches May 1st. What did you do to dispel the myths; you thought were real, when you launched your own business?

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