Bring 30 innovative thinkers of different ages, skills and backgrounds together in one room, and something interesting is bound to happen. Such was the case this past weekend at the second annual  Panama City Startup Weekend, hosted by the Business Innovation Center (BIC) located at FSU-Panama City. College students, active duty military, veterans, and regular folks met Friday evening at Gulf Coast State College’s Advance Technology Center to see if any of their ideas for a business or product could inspire others to help them take it from mere concept to a minimum viable prototype or business plan.

This is the BIC’s second year to help organize Startup Weekend (SUW) in Panama City, but this event is by no means confined to Bay County. In fact, the non-profit Startup Weekend organization conducted over 1800 events in 120 countries around the world in 2014. BIC Executive Director Pamela Kidwell embraces her organization’s role in arranging this event with broad community support. “The BIC’s mission is fostering entrepreneurship in our community. We are proud to be a part of such a unique event.”

Friday evening’s guest speaker Travis Perry, creator of the Chord Buddyand Shark Tank here, mixed homespun humor with solid business experience to opened attendees’  eyes to the opportunities and challenges surrounding innovation and entrepreneurship. Participants then had one minute each to explain their idea. The audience voted to select six ideas they thought had real potential: MASTERMIND GROUP, a web-based support  group to help entrepreneurs better stay their course through mutual accountability; FIND MY ART, a smartphone app to help organize art scavenger hunts; CRUZEN, a waterproof bicycle seat cover; CHECK MY REP, another smart phone app and website geared to engage and help the “smartphone generation” understand and track legislation as well as  their representatives’ voting records; THE BOX, a kiosk that allows consumers to design or customize objects to have 3-D printed; and a non-stick shoe sole, which morphed over the weekend into THE BEER BUDDY, a disposable device to help drinkers more safely “shotgun” canned beverages. By collaborating with other SUW participants and help from local community coaches from a variety of business backgrounds and industry expertise, entrepreneurs can determine whether an idea is feasible or can be profitable enough to take it to the next step or not.

Watching total strangers embrace this concept was fascinating in itself. Each team worked through the weekend, fleshing out their idea with market research, business processes and financial modeling. Some devised and field-tested a working prototype.  Sunday evening, each team gave it their best shot with well-crafted 4-minute presentations to a panel of three judges: local attorney Andrew Levy; Chipola College School of Business & Technology Dean Dr. James  Froh; and Jellyfish Health COO Patrick Leonpacher. After careful deliberation, the judges awarded First Place for Innovation & Design and a $1200 certificate for consultation services to the Business Innovation Center (BIC) to the BEER BUDDY team. Second place for a winning Business Model and a $500 BIC certificate went to CRUZEN to help formalize a working plan and production models for a low-cost, American-made waterproof bicycle seat cover. Third place and a $250 BIC certificate fell to FIND MY ART to help move forward with an app to give better organization and greater accessibility to art scavenger hunts that are already taking place across the globe.

All six projects, however, have potential. They are totally different products reaching different markets, all beginning with an idea some 54 hours beforehand, now ready to move forward with a better understanding of the promise and pitfalls of turning a concept into a business reality.

Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

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During the performance of my duties as a Certified Business Analyst for the Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) and Small Business Development Center (SBDC) some of the same issues are raised by clients on a frequent basis.  The issues and the facts are outlined in the following narrative.

MYTH:  There is federal Grant money available for Small businesses.

FACT:   The federal government does NOT provide grants for starting and      expanding a business.

Government grants are funded by your tax dollars and therefore require very stringent compliance and reporting measures to ensure the money is well spent.  As you can imagine, grants are not given away indiscriminately.

Grants from the federal government are only available to non-commercial organizations, such as non-profits and educational institutions in areas such as, medicine, education, scientific research and technology development. The federal government also provides grants to state and local governments to assist them with economic development.

MYTH:  The Small Business Administration (SBA)  make’s loans to small Businesses.

FACT:   SBA does not make direct loans to small businesses. Rather, SBA sets the guidelines for loans, which are then made by its partners (lenders, community development organizations, and micro-lending institutions). The SBA guarantees that these loans will be repaid, thus eliminating some of the risk to the lending partners. So when a business applies for an SBA loan, it is actually applying for a commercial loan, structured according to SBA requirements with an SBA guaranty. SBA-guaranteed loans may not be made to a small business if the borrower has access to other financing on reasonable terms.


URBAN LEGEND:  When dealing with the federal government procurement process you should first establish a working relationship with the government contracting officer.

          FACT:  Every Federal government activity has Small Business representative’s assigned.  Their job is to help you in dealing with the federal government and to be your advocate.  The contracting officer’s job is to oversee the process and ensure compliance with federal procurement regulations.  Contacts prior to the posting/release of a solicitation should be through the Small Business representative.  Contacts after posting/release should be through the Contract Specialist/Contracting Officer.

URBAN LEGEND:  Women and Disabled Veterans are eligible for the SBA 8a program.

FACT:  Being a Woman or a Disabled Veteran is not a basis to establish social disadvantage. Before SBA can approve an 8(a) Business Develop program application, the disadvantaged individual(s) must show that he or she is socially disadvantaged.

Under federal law, socially disadvantaged individuals are those who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identification as members of groups without regard to their individual qualities.

For purposes of the 8(a) Business Development program, the following individuals are presumed socially disadvantaged (called “presumed groups”):

  • Black Americans
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Native Americans
  • Asian Pacific Americans
  • Subcontinent Asian American

Other individuals may similarly be found socially disadvantaged and eligible for the program on a case-by-case basis.

An individual who is not a member of one of the presumed groups can be admitted into the 8(a) Business Development program.  To do so, the business must prove to SBA that the individual(s) meeting SBA’s ownership and control requirements is socially disadvantaged. This process includes showing personal experiences where applicable in education, employment, and business history.

The individual must provide evidence to SBA proving one’s individual social disadvantage. Evidence of individual social disadvantage must include:

  • At least one objective distinguishing feature such as race, ethnic origin, gender, physical handicap, long-term residence in an environment isolated from the mainstream of American society, or other similar causes not common to individuals who are not socially disadvantaged.
  • Personal experiences of substantial and chronic social disadvantage in American society, not in other countries.
  • Negative impact on the individual’s entrance into the business world or advancement in the business world because of the stated disadvantage(s).

SCAMS: There are numerous unscrupulous, dishonest individuals that prey on small businesses in a variety of ways.  Some examples of this are:  Promising to look for a grant for you for a fee, while knowing that there are not any grants available.  They cash your check right away, and send you a so sorry letter months later, stating that they looked but didn’t find a grant for you.  The same tactic is used when preparing and submitting applications for getting you on a government General Services Agency Schedule (GSA).  They take your check and cash it right away, knowing that you don’t meet the requirements to get on a GSA schedule; however they do prepare and submit the required paperwork.  Several months later you receive the disapproval from GSA.  The same scams are used for Business Plans, Marketing Plans, and Feasibility studies.  To avoid these pitfalls Small Businesses must research the track records for companies/individuals they hire to do these types of tasks.

                    GOVERNMENT AGENCIES: With the exception of a nominal fee for workshops, Government sponsored activities such as Small Business Development Centers (SBDC’s), Veteran Business Outreach Centers (VBOC’s),  Women’s Business Centers (WBC’s), Procurement Te
chnical Assistance Center’s (PTAC’s)  and US Export Assistance Centers, offer no-cost consulting services by experienced consultants.  In addition to those listed there are numerous local resources to assist Small Businesses.  Small Business is the spark plug of the American economy and your success is our success.


Learning To Love the IRS


NO WAY, you say! The Internal Revenue Service is the federal agency almost everyone loves to hate. However, the IRS is also a surprisingly useful source of the information you will need to determine when and how much you’ll have to pay. Whether you relish the challenge of filing your own taxes at the very last minute with desktop software or if you rely on a tax preparation professional, it’s a good idea to update your functional knowledge of the free tax resources your tax dollars have helped pay for. Federal funding cutbacks may have the IRS a little short-handed but it has been incentivized to become much more accessible and user-friendly online:

Case in point is the recent Tax Tip 2015-11, “Ten Great Reasons to visit”. This info-packed publication is well worth the few minutes of your time.

  1. Notably, the Feds have figured out that online filing makes getting the money out of your pocket and into theirs easier and faster. They are quick to tout that individuals making under $60,000 can use Free File software – yes, there’s an app for that:  If your bottom line exceeds $60K, there are free fillable forms at the ready. Admittedly, there’s a plethora of tax prep software packages out there with more facility in working with your accounting programs, but it’s nice to know that the IRS does not discriminate just because you are more financially successful this year.

  2. The Interactive Tax Assistant deals with basic tax topics more applicable to individuals.  For business-related questions, use the Tax Map feature. Click through, then type in your topic to find answers and links to publications specific to your issue.

  3. If you are just getting started on tax preparations, downloadable forms and publications are a click away. The forms make it easier to organize all those receipts and papers you have amassed. Maybe you need a better system…that’s a topic for another time.

  4. One big difference for 2014 tax reporting is the impact of the Affordable Care Act. should be your first stop for more information. Healthcare Tax Tip 2015-6  offers an easy IF-THEN table to get you started.

  5. Charitable donations are a common business expense. Did you give business gift certificates to your kid’s Scout Troop or used office furniture to a local non-profit? Take that deduction! If you are unsure about a group’s tax status, the IRS lets you easily verify their qualification as a tax exempt organization. In the years ahead, do this before you give something away. There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there. If the group is legit, it’s because the IRS has approved their 501C3 status.

  6. Of course, if you owe them money, the IRS offers you the means to pay online directly from your checking or savings account. You did set money aside in anticipation of this, didn’t you? Well, if not, begin now! Don’t pay them a penny in penalities when you can pay them quarterly or at least put extra cash into a simple savings account for that purpose.

  7. If you owe more than you can pay on April 15th, the IRS will help you give them your money in the months ahead in installments. Yes, there’s a fee but it beats having them beat down your door. Reference Point #6 about socking away some cash for your 2015 taxes.

  8. On the flip side, perhaps the pleasure of awaiting that refund check has revived your spirits. You can check the status of that check in the mail online too.

  9. As good as it is to get money back, ask yourself why you paid too much in the first place.This applies equally to why you owed more than you thought. Start by checking your tax withholding. Readjusting your status may help keep a little more money in your pocket or keep you out of late tax payment hot water in 2015.

  10. Lastly, you can order transcripts of past returns online too. Don’t waste time and aggravate your allergies digging through those boxes in the attic when you apply for a loan or your child’s student financial aid. The online form puts this basic information at your fingertips.

OK, so you’re not looking forward with joy to tax season. But you can be better prepared for it with a little online help from the IRS.


Jamie Shepard
Consultant, Business Innovation Center

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