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Embrace Technology and Innovation

Successful entrepreneurs are innovators. They embrace technology and they think “outside the box” for new and unusual ways to grow their businesses and bring new products to market. Lucky for you, many of the tools, processes and programs used by innovative entrepreneurs to launch and nurture businesses worldwide are readily available in Florida.

 

Technology Tools

If you want to be a player in today’s fast-paced business environment, you can’t neglect technology, but you can avoid becoming a slave to it. The latest digital devices may well position your firm on the cutting edge, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just know how easily that edge becomes a slippery slope when you neglect basic business economics in favor of bells and whistles. By all means, adopt technologies that will help you connect easily and more effectively with customers/clients; just don’t let those technologies take the place of old-fashioned intuition and firsthand experience.

Software options in the following business management categories can streamline your day-to-day business operations:

Even if you employ an in-house bookkeeper or accountant on retainer, you should be able to easily create and access financial records for your firm. A computerized business bookkeeping system such as QuickBooks Online or Wave allows you to design and maintain a budget, view profits and losses at a glance and regularly monitor cash flow.

You can’t do business without a calendar. Many online planning systems are available to help you keep track of important dates and events. Find a system that meets your particular needs, then stick with it.

A time tracking program can help you increase efficiency and profits by determining which tasks are cost effective and eliminating or outsourcing those that are not.

If you are currently using several email accounts to manage various aspects of your company, consider email management software that will allow you to merge separate accounts into one.

Web-based project management tools such as Basecamp, Asana and Zoho can help you and your entire team — employees and independent contractors alike — stay on top of projects and meet deadlines.

If you haven’t yet linked your mobile device to the internet, why not? Doing so will ensure that you are readily accessible and can easily respond to emails when you are away from your desk.

 

Business Incubators

The International Business Innovation Association defines business incubators as entities that nurture the development of entrepreneurial companies, helping them survive and grow during the startup period when new businesses are most vulnerable. Incubators may offer office or manufacturing space at below-market rates and staffs to provide mentoring and expertise in developing business and marketing plans. Some incubators offer assistance with funding, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

Most incubators are attached to universities, but they also may be sponsored by economic development organizations or government entities; only about 4% of incubators in North America are operated as for-profit enterprises. Companies typically spend two years in a business incubator where they share telephone, secretarial services and production equipment expenses with other startup companies.

The process for joining an incubator varies. Most require a formal application and an appearance before a selection committee.

Not all business incubators are alike, so try to find one that best matches your firm’s special requirements. A list of Florida-based incubators and their web addresses can be found here. To search more widely, visit the International Business Innovation Association’s website at www.inbia.org.

Beyond Incubators

Startup companies looking to share space in a venue other than an incubator should consider these options:

share the same goal as incubators — improving a fledgling business’s odds of success — but use a different method and take less time. Accelerators focus on small teams, a single project and a deadline that’s usually within three months. Most end their programs with a “demo day” in which participants present to potential investors in hopes of securing a seed investment in exchange for equity.

is an office or other type of workspace shared by people who are self-employed or working for different employers with the goal of creating an environment to foster connections and creativity. Participants pay monthly rent for shared space and equipment.

are property-based ventures consisting of R&D facilities for technology- and science-based companies. Sometimes called science or technology parks, these larger-scale projects generally do not offer comprehensive programs of business assistance; their focus is more toward economic development and technology transfer.

 

Is a business incubator right for you?

Joining a business incubator doesn’t guarantee financial success. You can, however, anticipate these benefits:

  • Successful incubators offer strong leadership and staff with solid business and investment credentials; look for one that is more than simply a place to park your laptop.
  • At startup incubators, you’ll be working alongside peers who can provide both emotional support and expertise in areas you may be unfamiliar with.
  • Ready access to affordable office and meeting space, administrative services and advanced technology is a huge plus for struggling entrepreneurs; don’t be willing to settle for simply vacant space and cheap rent.
  • There’s no teacher quite like experience. In an incubator, you can test ideas in the real world within an atmosphere of structure and discipline without spending significant amounts of time or money.
  • Affiliating your firm with an incubator doesn’t guarantee you will receive funding. But, like an MBA from the “right” school, this experience could open doors, providing connections to influential people and easier access to venture capital.

 

Incubator Helps Vets Leverage Entrepreneurial Skills

The University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program (BIP) has a long tradition of helping military veterans become entrepreneurs. And thanks to a grant from Veterans Florida, BIP was able to offer an intensive, 15-week curriculum specifically aimed at turning the dreams of owning a business into reality for 40 former warriors in spring 2017.

“Veterans bring a powerful set of skills,” says Ricardo Garcia, program manager for the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program at UCF and a U.S. Air Force veteran himself, “such as leadership, attention to detail, striving for excellence and teamwork. Our mission is to help them leverage those skills to an entrepreneurial advantage.”

Using a combination of online and classroom training, participants in the Veterans Florida program at UCF practice the application of lean strategies as they design, pivot and build their businesses. “The goal,” says Garcia, “is for them to have a solid business model and pitch ready for launch at the conclusion of 15 weeks.”

Following successful completion of the program’s educational phase, participants receive ongoing mentorship from Florida SBDC consultants, faculty and local business leaders and develop an actual business plan for delivery to potential investors.

Training opportunity also is available to vets at Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Hillsborough Community College, University of North Florida and University of West Florida.

Licensing

Inventors who want to make money from their inventions have two choices: either manufacture and market the invention themselves or license it (sell the right to commercially develop or use the invention to someone else). Your decision in this matter is largely determined by the invention itself and your personality. Some innovations, because of their complexity or exorbitant production costs, automatically lend themselves to licensing. However, if your invention is relatively straightforward and you have the motivation to produce and sell it yourself, then becoming an entrepreneur makes sense. There are pros and cons on either side:

simply means you have agreed to let someone else commercially use or develop your invention for a period of time; in return, you receive either a one-time payment or royalties. The advantage of licensing is that someone other than you assumes all the business risks, from manufacturing to marketing to preventing patent infringement. The disadvantage is that you lose control and your odds of overwhelming financial success are more limited; royalties typically range from 2% to 10% of net revenues.

allows you to completely control the production and marketing of your invention. The financial rewards are potentially greater, but so are the risks. If you thrive on challenges, uncertainty and multi-tasking, then go for it. Just be prepared for many sleepless nights and intrusions into your personal life.

In either case you will need money early on to create a prototype. Beyond that, your personal investment depends on the option you choose and may include budget allocations for soliciting/negotiating with potential licensees, creating tools or molds, marketing your invention, mass-producing your product, investigating distribution channels and advertising.

 

Technology Transfer

Researchers at universities, hospitals, nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies continually generate groundbreaking technologies that have the potential for improving the way we live, work and play. The organizations or individuals that invent these technologies are free to “commercialize” them by creating their own products that they sell directly to consumers.

Universities, which typically do not have the resources or expertise to produce and market products from their technologies, may hand off their intellectual property rights to the for-profit sector for commercialization in a process known as “technology transfer.” A government mandate requires them to do so if the technology in question was developed using federal funds.

The industrial and business sectors have long practiced technology transfer, but universities are relatively new to this process. Prior to 1980, any invention discovered or created with federal funds belonged solely to the U.S. government. Passage of the Bayh-Dole Act gave nonprofit institutions and small businesses the right to develop and profit from inventions sponsored by federal funds.

Technology transfer is today big business on university campuses, and Florida’s public universities provide some of its most fertile environments. In fact, three of them — University of Florida, University of South Florida and University of Central Florida — were among the world’s top 41 academic patent producers in 2015.

 

Move Your Scientific Discoveries to Market

Companies engaged in scientific R&D may qualify for federal grants under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

SBIR grants are designed to stimulate technological innovation and help small businesses profit from its commercialization. Currently, 11 federal agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Energy and Homeland Security, as well as NASA and the EPA, participate in the SBIR program.

STTR grants also fund R&D, but with a twist: recipients of this grant must formally collaborate with a nonprofit research institution in Phases I and II (concept development and prototype development). Five federal agencies currently participate in the STTR program.

If you decide to apply for a government grant, keep in mind that the application process is time-consuming; experts recommend that you begin at least three months ahead of the due date to allow time to gather supporting documents and work on revisions. First-time applicants will need to allow additional time for completion of the registration process, which can take up to six weeks.

To search for available grants and to begin the application process, visit www.grants.gov.