The Mobile Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Small Business Week was an unqualified success. According to Vice President of Small Business Development Darrell Randle, roughly 350 people attended the four-day event. Furthermore, 2014 marks the start of an annual event.
For fans of “Shark Tank” or “Apprentice,” here are highlights from Lagniappe that may motivate budding entrepreneurs in the area to fine tune their business plans for next year’s workshops.
Best workshop — Where is the Money?: Approximately 70 people attended this workshop. The event was put on by the Melton Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Regions Bank hosted the event. Founders Investments in Birmingham was the reception sponsor.
“We had 16 organizations presenting what they do and don’t fund. This year, we think this was the largest number of assorted information sources for small and growing companies that have ever been collected at one place in the state,” said Mark Weaver, Director of the USA Melton Center.
Speakers from Mobile, Huntsville, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Florida and Montgomery discussed their methodology for sourcing capital. Funders who attended were willing to offer from $500 to more than $5 million in capital.
Crowdsourcing, micro loans, asset financing, angel investors, and multiple loan sources were presented. Mobile-Works was also present, promoting cash payments to firms for training costs incurred. City and state funding options not known by many in attendance were covered.
“Two members of the audience spoke up to say they came last year and found initial funding. Now they were back for additional growth capital. If they had not attended the year prior, they might’ve been out of business today,” Weaver said.
“The plan is to do a November and May version of this program with even more sources of funding for small- and medium-sized companies. The more people who commit to attend, the more attractive it is facilitators from throughout the region to speak,” Weaver said.
Best entrepreneur — Centralite’s Jim Busby: He was awarded the “Outstanding Entrepreneur” award at the Mobile Chamber’s inaugural event. Lagniappe caught up with Busby after the ceremony to get his thoughts on this accolade.
Q: Has Centralite been a more difficult company to grow than QMS?
Busby: Oftentimes it seemed that QMS was more lucky than good. We hit the market at exactly the right time when home office computers (needing printers) were proliferating. We started making money from Q1 and basically didn’t stop. Centralite grew to a $5MM company in eight years and then the housing market crashed. We were challenged to become more innovative to survive and now are on the right track to possibly eventually perform even better than QMS.
Q: There have been numerous former employees of QMS who start their own local businesses. What was it about your culture that has spawned so many local entrepreneurs?
Busby: Most entrepreneurs are motivated to make money. That’s only part of it. At QMS we also had high energy, passion and a family atmosphere. I think that many of the people working there — who went off to future success — picked up on our methodology perhaps without realizing it. That said, they were undoubtedly somewhat lucky, had a good idea, were willing to work 70 plus hours weekly for years to succeed and had something that obviously had market potential to work.
As a final note of interest, Busby identified 18 former QMS employees who started successful fledgling new companies that grew and contributed to the Mobile area economy via jobs and community reinvestment. Among those are/were:
Televox — Neil Armentrout; Xante — Robert Ross; Grand Slam USA — Phil Cahoon; Nostalgic Needleworks — Sharon McNider; N-Tron/Nfina — Warren Nicholson; Alto Imaging — Don Parker; Fusionpoint Media — Brian Jordan; Conde Systems — David Gross; Mobile PC Services — Don Phillips; Rivers Photography — Ronnie Rivers; Elder Home Inspection LLC — Porter Elder; Money’s Worth Lawn Maintenance — Jesse Jordan; Kennedy Agency — Marty Kennedy; Jewels by Helen — Helen Huppertz; Carolyn Miller Design — Carolyn Miller; Progressive Technologies — Ron Hartman; Compumetrics — Wayne Hubbell.
Local real estate website earns award and nationwide adoption
According to Leighton Dees, Chairman and CEO of Better Homes and Gardens Generations, www.joinbetterhomes.com was good for two big things: winning the 2013 technology award nationally for the brand and also as a platform for launching his new GENLIFE Real Estate Training website.
“The BHG corporate real estate brand liked it so much they wanted to adopt the design for themselves nationally,” Dees said. “It has numerous tools for people looking to get into real estate to utilize in order to get a better understanding of what to expect. For example, it has a real estate simulator, a business plan creator, and a personality assessment.”
The site was created as standalone instead of a section included in a company’s typical website. This allows consumers easier access to information about careers in real estate instead of having to dig through online links to gather information.
“The whole strategy was built around the user experience. I didn’t want to put together a site that just had a ‘contact me’ button, but rather one that interacted with people so they could make a connection with the company. The toolbox section was created for visitors to find out information in a more interactive way versus just reading pages,” Dees said.
The site was intentionally designed to target the local Mobile and Baldwin audience but has attracted national recognition. Requests for training from as far away as Texas, Massachusetts and South Florida have been sent to his Mobile office, according to Dees.
“We believe to build a company you don’t do it by just trying to get people to come work for you, but rather educating and building their talents and skills while supporting them along the way,” Dees said.
Commercial real estate moves
According to Fred Rendfrey, DMA’s Downtown Economic Development Director, the former Bank Trust operations center (owned by Trustmark Bank post-merger) located on 150 N. Royal St. was bought by Mobile Federated as a GSA investment.
Southern Blueprint and ARC, located at 3230 International Drive in Mobile and located on 1.4 acres (near I-65 and Cottage Hill Rd intersection), has been sold to JJT Properties LLC. for $390,000. Allen Cameron and David Dexter of NAI-Mobile managed the transaction. Plans are for the 12,000-square-foot production and showroom area to be converted into office space.
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