Pivot Points May Lead to the Right Direction for Entrepreneurs

Identifying “Pivot points” for an entrepreneur is often a strategy that comes out of necessity.  When the first business model doesn’t work, the team pivots to plan B or C.  Randy Shepard has had to make several pivots in his entrepreneurial journey as the founder and CEO of RSAE Labs.

During the November Speaker Series, Randy discussed that pivots could change nine different things in the business model:  customer segment, channel, revenue model, pricing, resources, activities, costs, partners, and customer acquisition.   “There are always unpredictable, and uncontrollable factors affecting market conditions,” and such factors has impacted his career in monitoring and tracking innovations.

It does not have to be a risky decision, but rather a calculated change that can foster growth.  Randy emphasized that it is best to make one pivot at a time rather than make several at once.  So when the first plan fails, consider that as an opportunity that can pivot the direction of the business and possibly result in positive gains.  

Practice makes school microsociety business pitch perfect

Learning how to communicate clearly to your market is one of the most important goals of an entrepreneur.  Rising Leaders Academy (RLA) students have started their training early in life by learning how to deliver a solid pitch for their business. The experience is part of a collaborative curriculum that the BIC is developing along with RLA.  Students at the school have been refining their business plan in preparation for a school-wide marketplace in which they can spend crew cash that they have earned throughout the year.  The students practiced how to introduce themselves, their business, the problem they are solving, and the cost of their product or service costs. To complete the task took less than a minute.  

Entrepreneurial students learn strategies from local business leader

Gulf Coast State College students and local entrepreneurs had an opportunity to hear firsthand from Patrick Leonpacher, Chief Operating Officer of Jellyfish Health.

Leonpacher served as the featured speaker for the BIC’s Coffee and Conversation held in late October and in November’s Enlightened Entrepreneur series.  He shared lessons learned about how decisions to hire, diversify and expand are a part of a very sensible business strategy.

When hiring, a key question Jellyfish asks themselves is, not only does this person have the talent needed, but does this person fit the culture of the company? For many organizations, the decision to hire a new person is a commitment that involves onboarding time, training and additional monetary expenses.  Hiring is considered an investment and it is important for a company to understand how it helps grow the business.       

Diversifying and expanding are also decisions that businesses continue to face. Companies struggle with whether it is best to increase spending to support a new market or direct resources into growing the existing market.  Leonpacher discussed how Jellyfish Health understands how important it is to focus limited resources where sustainability and profitability are most attainable.   

The roadmap to success starts with knowing how to structure your business and the will to succeed

One of the first steps in establishing a business is deciding the legal structure. Kevin D. Obos, a partner from Harrison Sale McCloy, gave an informative session during our October Speaker Series about the differences between legal structures including a sole proprietorship, general partnership, limited partnership, corporation, Limited Liability Company (LLC) and a Series LLC.  

Some major factors to think about when making such a decision is the long-term vision for the business, tax implications, personal and financial involvement in the company, the amount of business and personal liability incurred, and the type of business. 

Rob Moran, CEO, and Co-Founder of Mine Survival, Inc. followed with his journey of developing a closed-circuit escape vest and the company. “The pathway to success is thought to look like a straight arrow, but what it looks like is an arrow drawn with many curved lines,”  reported Moran. He emphasized the importance of hiring a good team, always being in a learning mode, being prepared for setbacks, and grasping what investors will want to know.  The company incorporated in 2014 and continues to work toward long-term success. 

Unmanned Vehicle Systems, Charting New Territories in Business

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Jose “Tony” Lopez-Baquero, Unmanned Vehicle Systems (UVS) Program Manager at Gulf Coast State College set the tone at the first Coffee & Conversation hosted by the Business Innovation Center this year in the Millaway Institute for Entrepreneurship.

UVS is considered a “disruptive” technology that is changing the way companies from a variety of sectors are doing business.  For now, these applications are in the areas of agriculture, search and rescue, surveying, construction, mapping and entertainment.  There continues to be exponential growth for the use resulting in a tremendous opportunity for Northwest Florida. “This technology will experience job growth as operators, pilots, maintenance & repair, software developers, and programmers,” according to Lopez-Baquero, “and out of necessity, the usage of such devices will add to growth in the insurance and legal sectors.” 

Gulf Coast State College (GCSC) embraced the predictions from a 2013 Economic report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International which stated that over 100,000 new jobs using unmanned aerial vehicle technology will be created by 2025. 

GCSC has established the first UVS Operations A.S. program among Florida’s 28 colleges. According to Lopez-Baquero, “The program is a launching pad for a career in an emerging field.  Students in the course track will be able to earn industry-recognized certificates that will prepare them for a position in the field.”  Graduates can also continue their academic pathway at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.


The presentation also emphasized that because the industry is changing rapidly, so are the regulations. As of August 29, the FAA issued new comprehensive regulations for routine non-recreational use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).  In preparation for the UAS remote pilot certificate, the program at Gulf Coast not only prepares students to understand the regulations but also offers hands-on projects applied in the industry.

Knowing your Cash Flow. What Bankers Expect.

In business, there is always more to understand about the relationship between the P&L and the Balance Statement, Cash Flow & Outflows, and what bankers expect if a business is seeking out a loan.    On Wednesday, September 14, Stephen Taylor from Gulf Coast CFO and Jeremy Bennett from Centennial Bank covered these issues with the BIC community.

Some highlights:  
Even though your business is busy and is earning income, it may always seem like money runs out. Unfortunately, profit does not equal cash.  Stephen discussed GAAP – Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.  It is important to understand what is (for accounting purposes) considered assets, liabilities and equity.  Assets are cash, inventories, buildings, land, equipment, accounts receivable and marketable securities. Liabilities are accounts payable, wages payable, taxes payable, notes payable and the mortgage loan.  Equity is common stock, membership interests, retained earnings, and distributions.  He asserts that it is necessary to understand what falls under debits (assets and expenses) and what is considered credits (liabilities, equity, and revenue).    Companies such as Gulf Coast CFO can assist a business in analyzing your business’ financial situation and forecast scenarios that you need to consider.  “Businesses fail because they simply run out of cash or they do not have access to it when they need it most,” he said.

There is a strong connection between your financial statements and what bankers want and need to consider you for a business loan.  Jeremy shared his insight about what Centennial Bank looks for to be considered for a loan.  He emphasized that to obtain a loan, the individual/business inquiring must have good credit, collateral and past years of financial and tax statements.  An already established relationship with the bank is also a good standard practice before attempting to apply for a loan.  He explained that there are a variety of loans that are available including SBA loans.  However, there are fundamental differences in the requirements for each type of loan.

The most valuable takeaway from this session is that keeping solid financial records are central to the success of business operations.  It pays to seek out help in getting the financials in order.  It may be the difference in seeing the writing on the wall, forecasting potential growth and accessing additional funding for the future.

 

Our Future Entrepreneurs in the Making

The Eraser Bracelet, Soap It, creating avatars, or rock art may be the next big craze among youth at Rising Leaders Academy, a Bay County public charter school, committed to developing young entrepreneurs. This year the school is developing a micro society in which students can earn “Crew Cash” for the goods and services they provide.  The BIC was invited as a partner to engage the 3rd – 8th graders in a Business Start-up workshop on September 9, 2016.

Pam Kidwell, BIC Director lead the students in developing an “elevator pitch” and their first SWOT analysis for their business plan.  Students shared their perspective on what are the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of their business concept.

Fall Speaker Series Begins with session on Human Resources: Legal Pitfalls and Regulation Changes

The Business Innovation Center launched its first Speaker Series event as a part of Gulf Coast State College Workforce Development on August 24, 2016.  Kim Pilcher, Board President for the Bay County Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) and Director of Human Resources, City of Panama City set the tone for HR professionals and business owners in attendance by sharing her passion and strategies for improving team performance.
Businesses face many challenges regarding the legalities in the Human Resources arena.

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Robert Jackson, Partner from Harrison Sale McCloy Attorneys at Law gave an informative talk on the many reasons why businesses have gotten into legal trouble.  His presentation highlighted the top three legal pitfalls in Human Resources facing businesses today: emails, complaints and terminations.   


Are You Ready for the Overtime Regulation Changes? 
​Vanessa Daniele, Management Consultant from Paychex presented the implications of employee vs. independent contractor in business as well as discussed the impact of the new overtime rules that will make millions more employees eligible for overtime pay by December 1, 2016.

Tax Breaks for Hiring New Employees

If you’re thinking about hiring new employees this year, you won’t want to miss out on these tax breaks.

1. Work Opportunity Credit

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit for employers that hire employees from the following targeted groups of individuals:

  • A member of a family that is a Qualified Food Stamp Recipient
  • A member of a family that is a Qualified Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) Recipient
  • Qualified Veterans
  • Qualified Ex-Felons, Pardoned, Paroled or ork Release Individuals
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Referrals
  • Qualified Summer Youths
  • Qualified Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Recipients
  • Qualified Individuals living within an Empowerment Zone or Rural Renewal Community
  • Long Term Family Assistance Recipient (TANF) (formerly known as Welfare to Work)

The tax credit (a maximum of $9,600) is taken as a general business credit on Form 3800 and is applied against tax liability on business income. It is limited to the amount of the business income tax liability or social security tax owed. Normal carry-back and carry-forward rules apply.
For qualified tax-exempt organizations, the credit is limited to the amount of employer social security tax owed on wages paid to all employees for the period the credit is claimed.
Also, an employer must obtain certification that an individual is a member of the targeted group before the employer may claim the credit.

Note: The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (the PATH Act) retroactively allows eligible employers to claim the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) for all targeted group employee categories that were in effect prior to the enactment of the PATH Act, if the individual began or begins work for the employer after December 31, 2014 and before January 1, 2020.
For tax-exempt employers, the PATH Act retroactively allows them to claim the WOTC for qualified veterans who begin work for the employer after December 31, 2014, and before January 1, 2020.

2. Disabled Access Credit and the Barrier Removal Tax Deduction

Employers that hire disabled workers might also be able to take advantage of two additional tax credits in addition to the WOTC.
The Disabled Access Credit is a non-refundable credit for small businesses that incur expenditures for the purpose of providing access to persons with disabilities. An eligible small business is one that earned $1 million or less or had no more than 30 full-time employees in the previous year; they may take the credit each and every year they incur access expenditures. Eligible expenditures include amounts paid or incurred to:
1. Remove barriers that prevent a business from being accessible to or usable by individuals with disabilities;
2. Provide qualified interpreters or other methods of making audio materials available to hearing-impaired individuals;
3. Provide qualified readers, taped texts, and other methods of making visual materials available to individuals with visual impairments; or
4. Acquire or modify equipment or devices for individuals with disabilities.
The Architectural Barrier Removal Tax Deduction encourages businesses of any size to remove architectural and transportation barriers to the mobility of persons with disabilities and the elderly. Businesses may claim a deduction of up to $15,000 a year for qualified expenses for items that normally must be capitalized. Businesses claim the deduction by listing it as a separate expense on their income tax return.
Businesses may use the Disabled Tax Credit and the architectural/transportation tax deduction together in the same tax year if the expenses meet the requirements of both sections. To use both, the deduction is equal to the difference between the total expenditures and the amount of the credit claimed.

3. Indian Employment Credit

The Indian Employment Credit provides businesses with an incentive to hire certain individuals (enrolled members of an Indian tribe or the spouse of an enrolled member) who live on or near an Indian reservation. The business does not have to be in an empowerment zone or enterprise community to qualify for the credit, which offsets the business’s federal tax liability.
The credit is 20 percent of the excess of the current qualified wages and qualified employee health insurance costs (not to exceed $20,000) over the sum of the corresponding amounts that were paid or incurred during the calendar year of 1993 (not a typo).

Wondering if your business qualifies for tax breaks?
Help is just a phone call away!!

Familiar With Ransomware?

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Ransomware is now considered a fact of life in today’s cybersecurity landscape, but that doesn’t mean small and medium businesses (SMBs) are protecting themselves from a potential ransomware attack or even consider it a possibility.

Often, users recognize a ransomware threat after it’s too late. According to the Verizon 2015 Data Breach Investigations Report, 23 percent of SMBs that receive phishing emails open them, and 11 percent click on the attachment. 

And those types of mistakes can be costly. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, ransomware victims reported more than $18 million in losses between April 2014 and June 2015, with ransoms ranging from $200 to $10,000.

SMBs need to start protecting themselves from the growing threat of ransomware. Educating your employees about the threat of ransomware and sharing these important tips is an important first step.

1. Put technical safeguards in place
As a best practice, have an intrusion-prevention system and security software running on your computers. This should include antivirus software, malware scanners, firewalls, and spam filters. Then, make sure all security patches are up to date, and deploy new patches on a regularly scheduled basis.

It’s also critical to have a backup solution in place and frequently test the backups running on your systems to make sure they’re working properly. If you’re hit with ransomware, you’ll want to restore operations as quickly as possible, and having a recent backup to recover from will save you both time and money.

2. Train employees
Even with technical safeguards in place, it’s employees who ultimately risk exposing a business to ransomware. User error, such as clicking on an infected online advertisement, pop-up window, or attachment in a spam email, is often to blame for inviting ransomware into a computer. So, users are the most important line of defense.

Talk with your employees about ransomware, educating them on what it is and how they can help defend the business. Try getting the whole staff together for a training session and bring lunch to make it a Lunch and Learn event.

As a best practice, you should require all new employees to complete the training and offer it on an ongoing basis to avoid information being missed. If you don’t have the resources to put this type of training together, talk to your Cybersecurity services provider who could run a program like this for you or provide educational materials.

3. Provide examples to end users
The most effective way to educate your employees on ransomware is to show them examples of what it looks like  (https://www.pcrisk.com/common-types-of-computer-infections#ransomware) so they’ll know the warning signs and be able to identify a suspicious message or attachment before they click on anything. For example, you can share the Dell Security phishing quiz (http://www.sonicwall.com/phishing/phishing-quiz-question.aspx), which includes examples of infected and legitimate emails and provides explanation of how to tell the difference.

Once ransomware has infected a computer, a message is displayed on the screen letting the user know their machine has been compromised. Check out some examples of these types of message by clicking here. It’s helpful to share this type of information with employees as well so that, even if it’s too late, they’ll know to alert management and ask for help.


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Contributor:
Mr. Tomas Santos-Alejandro is President of Advent Services, a locally-owned Cybersecurity and Managed Security Services company. He can be reached at solutions@adventsvcsllc.com or (850) 441-2915. For more information about Advent’s services visit www.adventsvcsllc.com.