Turning Ideas into a Business

We all have ideas for new products or services however it’s not easy to take these ideas and convert them into a business. The path is not clear and sometimes you can spend a lot of time working hard at it but not moving forward. Sometimes you need assistance in getting the clarity that you need.

Nui Esser from BeeGlorious did just that. Here is her story.

If you are watching this and you can relate, then sign up for the Lead To Win program, it will be the catalyst for taking your idea into a profitable business.
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First Business Failed? So What?! Five Tips for Getting Back in the Game

Many first-time business owners fail on the first go-around, and many of them who are persistent go on to found wildly successful businesses after their first business venture fails. The European Commission, in fact, notes that one of the problems of a second business start-up is the stigma that comes from having failed the first time around, but the Commission asserts that it’s vital for entrepreneurs to pick themselves up and try again. After all, your mistakes can be valuable when you learn from them!  If you’re struggling to get back on your feet after a business failure, don’t let it keep you down for long. Instead, use these five tips to get back in the game as soon as you can: 1. Analyze your past mistakes and problems One of the key things that sets second-time business owners apart from first- time entrepreneurs is that they’ve been around the block a time or two. Even if your last business only held on for a year or two, chances are that you’ve learned valuable lessons – especially from your mistakes. Before you launch a new business, take time to analyze and learn from the mistakes you’ve made and the problems you’ve had with your last business. The key here is not to beat yourself up about the issues – especially since they probably weren’t all under your direct control – but to learn what you can and apply those lessons to your new business. Whether you had issues with funding, marketing, employees, or products, you have something to learn that will help you build a better business the next time around. 2. Come up with a new game plan You may decide to open a business in the same general area as your last one, or you might give something completely new a try. Either way, you’ll obviously need to research your options and come up with a game plan. The great part about coming up with a new plan is that you’ve already written one business plan, and knowing what information you need and how to put it together is half the battle. This time while you’re writing your business plan, you may want to consider adding in a section that talks about the issues you had with your last business and what you learned from those issues, especially if you’re concerned with finding funding for your business because of your last failure. Showing potential investors what you’ve learned and how you intend to apply it could be beneficial for your new business in the long run. 3. Be good to yourself As you’re getting ready to start a second business, it will probably be easy to let the what-ifs and if-onlys run through your mind constantly. It’s important that you learn to shut this down, or you’ll never find the courage to strike out into business ownership again. If you need to, seek counseling from your local Small Business Administration office, or spend some time talking with an entrepreneur friend to work up your courage once again. Starting a business is a big deal the first time around, but it can be even scarier after a failure. As you’re working on creating your business plan, be sure that you spend some time listening to your own self-talk so that you can see areas where you might be holding back or doubting yourself, and then work on fixing that problem as you work on putting together your new business. 4. Look carefully at your funding options Funding can be a major problem for second-time-around entrepreneurs. According to the European Commission, about 15% of businesses in Europe close, and the United States Small Business Administration notes that only about 50% of new businesses in the US are still open after five years. Those statistics can be a little scary for investors. But, the Small Business Administration also notes that by mid-2010, venture capital investments were on the rise after a few years of being on the decline. The funding you need is out there; you just have to learn where to get it.

  • Bank Loans: If your last business filed for bankruptcy, you may have a difficult time getting a traditional installment startup loan from a bank. However, it’s worth looking into, for sure. The Small Business Administration says that about 50% of the funding for most small business startups comes from such loans, and they can be a steady way to get money for your new startup.
  • Business Credit Cards: Credit cards for small businesses can be slightly more flexible and also a bit easier to get if your credit isn’t perfect. The best business credit cards have good rates and rewards tailored for business customers. These are definitely worth checking out, especially if you need money for day-to-day cash flow and don’t need a huge influx of start-up cash right at the beginning.
  • Crowdfunding: This type of funding is popular for businesses that are eco-friendly or that have a social component. Basically, you can get small donations from a variety of business investors – sometimes they’re investments that you pay back if your business succeeds, and sometimes they’re simply donations. There are tons of crowdfunding websites online that can help you gather start-up funds, and these can be a good option for many businesses.
  • Personal Funds: Many business start-ups begin with an entrepreneur’s personal funds. If you don’t have any money right now, you might want to consider using your entrepreneurial skills for other businesses for a time while you save up money for starting your own business. At the very least, it’s a good idea to have some money in savings before beginning your next business venture.

5. Give yourself some breathing room As mentioned above, if you don’t already have an emergency fund in place, now is the time to get one. Going into a new business start-up with no financial breathing room can be a huge mistake because it lays too much pressure on you to succeed from the start. Spend some time saving up three to six months’ worth of expenses before you launch into your new business start-up. Even if this means putting off your new business venture for a year or more, it will be worthwhile in the long run! These five tips can help you get back on your feet again after a first business failure. Ashyia Hill from CreditDonkey says, everyone makes mistakes, and the best inventors and entrepreneurs of our time have gotten where they are by making loads of mistakes on the way there. Instead of letting your first failure get you down, get back on your feet again. You never know. Next time around, you could have the success of a lifetime.

Sell Your Innovation to the Canadian Government!

Make Your FRIST Customer a Government Contract:
The Canadian Innovation Commercialisation Program Explained

Imagine if the Canadian government was your very first customer for your innovative product or service…what would that mean for your future? Money to fund production, customer feedback, proof of commercial success, which would all help to gain you more orders and more success down the road. Well, a unique Government procurement opportunity is coming soon so read on to find out what you need to know!

Lead to Win Women hosted their January 26th expert speaker series at the new OCRI offices at 80 Aberdeen in Little Italy where Peter Bown gave an overview of the Canadian Innovation Commercialisation Program at PWGSC. CICP is a pilot program of the Federal Government whose objectives, Peter explained, are to help “evaluate new products or services, bridge the pre-commercialization gap for Canadian innovators, support Canadian business and improve Government operations.”

The program itself is a $40M venture by the Federal Government that calls for a two-year pilot program offering three different opportunities for Canadian companies to pitch their innovative offerings.

In the first two launches, CICP drew more than 300 proposals. Your company, your plan, your team and your offering are evaluated closely on several areas and every proposal is ranked by a point system. Companies are ranked in order and procurement contracts are issued down the line until the money runs out. After contracts are issued, your offering is matched with government departments that could use your product or service. They are more likely to follow through on the purchase because the technology has been pre-qualified, taking care of one of the most time consuming stages of a normal procurement process.

CICP will create a Call for Proposals, posted on the MERX website likely this winter, for innovative products or services. This proposal stage is generally open for 6-8 weeks.

The Basic Rules

  • Your product must be at least 80% Canadian content.
  • You must be a Canadian company.
  • You can not have sold the product or service to anyone else.
  • You must show IP ownership or rights.
  • Your product or service must fall into one of four categories: Health, Environment, Safety and Security or Enabling Technologies.
  • Your offering must be an advance on current state-of-the-art products or services available today.
  • You must be market-ready, but not have any sales at the time of submitting your proposal.

Each proposal is compared on its own merits, not compared to other proposals of possibly similar offerings (it is conceivable that two or more products that are very similar could be purchased through this program).  Each procurement will be a maximum of $500K (taxes and shipping/handling extra), and must be able to be provided within 1 year.

Advice on your proposal:

  1. Follow the process carefully. Peter stresses that the Call for Proposals has been carefully designed to find out who has the best innovative product or service, not which company can write the best proposal.
  2. If you can provide a list of government departments – even contacts within those departments – who would be very interested in your offering, it strengthens your proposal. If you’ve spoken with these departments ahead of time – letting them know about the proposal and asking for their input, it can only help your final submission. If there are barriers to you speaking to a specific department – security reasons for example – winning a CICP proposal can help you get your product in front of that audience.
  3. Make sure your offering is something governments would be interested in buying. Peter discussed an example of a company that had designed an upgrade for a generator that improved efficiencies. “It was easy to sell a new generator,” explained Peter, “Parks Canada uses lots of those just to name one department. But to sell just the upgrade piece would have proven more complicated.”
  4. Pay close attention to your objectives and test plan that are required in the proposal. These should be very clearly described, and Peter stressed that spending time on this part of the proposal would be very valuable. “You should assess the attractiveness and feasibility of the test plan on departments and end users.”
  5. Clearly showing your company’s capacity for production, for implementation and follow-through is critical. Your management team, engineering team and your ability to implement are examined closely – bench strength is important!

Once the selection process is complete, CICP matches you to government departments who would likely want and need your product or service. Generally, this selection process can take up to one month or more. If you’ve got matches pre-identified, obviously this saves a lot of time at this stage. If a match can’t be made, the contract expires – so it pays well to talk to likely government purchasers before your proposal is completed.
The final stage is testing, where your end customers start using your product or service and you can start billing! Feedback from your customers will help you improve your offering, and can be used in marketing to new customers.

For more information and to be added to the CICP mailing list, visit the website buyandsell.gc.ca/innovation. You may also contact Peter Bown directly at innovation@pwgsc.gc.ca.

The next Lead to Win Women Expert Speaker Series will be on February 29th and will address insurance issues for new business.  Register Now

Interview with Nui Esser from Bee Glorious

Our entrepreneur profile is of a Lead To Win company, Nui Esser from Bee Glorious. Here is her story.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m the founder of Bee Glorious. We are an importer and wholesaler of natural and eco-friendly products, which come mainly from small artisan villages in Thailand. I am originally from there and have travelled extensively throughout the country. I’ve met many creative villagers and learnt that life is so hard in many remote areas. So, I had a dream to help them out whenever I had a chance. That is why Bee Glorious exists. We want to give these small producers a better life by bringing their products to the world while introducing a new way of green living to North America at the same time.

We chose the bee as our symbol, because we all can learn from the bees how to work together to create a wonderful world, just like bee queen, workers and drones together create their amazing beehive societies. Yes, I wanna be that bee queen!

On the personal side, I live as green as possible. I use only food grade skincare on my body, which I can sometimes grab from the kitchen. I read the labels before buying any single thing to make sure that it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals. I avoid processed food, and eat mainly organic fresh fruit and vegetable. I also grow my own food. I love to travel, camp, hike, cook, bake, read and eat! I’m also a passionate scuba diver, hobby photographer and crazy about puzzles of all kinds.

What is the most fun aspect about your business?

I would say, it is traveling to find new products from small villages in remote areas. We have had a few interesting journeys to these villages. Once, when we visited a village where they make products from banana leaves, we ended up staying overnight and sleeping on one of the villager’s floor, because they were too remote to get away to our originally planned accommodation. Part of the fun is when you don’t know what is going to happen next. Everywhere we go, we learn so much from the villagers about their way of living and how they come up with such beautiful yet eco-friendly products.

What is the easiest aspect about your business?

Dreaming! I have a dream to give a better life to small communities. I’m dreaming of growing my company to a well-known, eco-friendly lifestyle brand for everyone. It is easy to dream of this and that, but reality is different. Once it comes to the execution, many more aspects show up that you couldn’t dream of in advance. Sometimes they make your life difficult, sometimes they make you al most giving up. However, something keeps us going. I’ll do my best to make my dreams come true and I keep dreaming.

What are some of the challenges you encountered?

Being new to the country, I’ve found loads of challenges and continue to find more along the way. Starting from getting to know Canadian ways of doing things, so I have a basic understanding how to reach customers best. I need to know when and how to say things the Canadian way. It isn’t easy for somebody as direct as I am, to communicate well with polite and subtle Canadians! There were times when I didn’t know whether feedback was “positive” or “negative”, as it was wrapped up in fancy words.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?

First of all it was joining Lead to Win program! It helps me a lot as a new business owner, and another most important thing is the networking!

What systems have you used to automate your business to give you more time for business planning and development?

As a startup company we need to survive and be able to keep going without spending so much money. We are still bootstrapping, but one cannot just do everything oneself. I hire people on the internet, e.g. a virtual assistant helps me with correspondence, a handful of graphic designers help me with my brochures and business cards. Since we promote our company and give away green living tips through social media, Facebook and Twitter sometimes have taken too much of our time. We use tools to schedule broadcasts.

Do you have tips on how you stay organized for your business? Do you have tips on how you stay organized at home?

One way to stay organized either at home or business is to live paperless. I know it isn’t easy living with bureaucracy, but once you have that goal, you will see that you can save time and space, and also reduce waste! It is also a lot easier to manage whatever you deal with. For example, in a world of networking, we receive lots of business cards. We can scan them using mobile phone apps (there are many of them out there). People don’t have to waste cards, and we just have all the contacts handy and searchable. No more forgetting where you put it, no storage space is needed, etc. The same way with receipts and invoices. We are not yet 100% paperless but we are working on it.

P2 + Emancipation = Entrepreneur

What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Why does someone choose such a calling? Some might say it’s not something you choose, but rather it’s something you just are. It’s natural. It’s something that just makes sense, like there’s no other possible option but to be independent and strike out on your own. Others might think that being an entrepreneur means wanting to accumulate material wealth. Some might do it because it’s trendy, or because they think it differentiates them from the crowd, or just because they like the idea of being an entrepreneur. When it comes down to it, a true entrepreneur does it for one reason: Emancipation. They seek an improvement over their current circumstances. Something drives them to desire to change their less than satisfying present to a promising future, and they are willing to bet their family, house…everything…on the pursuit of a better future.

The Coin
One of my favourite Tony Bailetti quotes (and there were many) from this recent Lead to Win session was “It’s easy. If you don’t have P2, you’re not an entrepreneur”. What is P2? That’s easy too. It’s money. What Tony was telling us was, if you don’t have money coming in from the sale of your product or service, you’re not an entrepreneur. It’s that simple. When it comes down to it, anyone can call themselves whatever they wish, but for those of us who truly desire to emancipate ourselves from our current circumstances you cannot do so without P2.

My business is Nia Kaia: A line of eco-friendly jewelry made from recycled materials. I was asked by Tony to create a token for the LTW participants as a graduation gift that would be memorable and representative of what it means to be an entrepreneur, and of our experience in the Lead To Win sessions. He wanted something that unified us as a group of like-minded individuals with big dreams. He asked for a gold coin made from recycled cardboard that had P2 on one side and the word “emancipation” on the other. I thought, no problem. I had just ordered a machine that would help automate some of my manufacturing process, so this project seemed less than daunting. Then, I really experienced what it means to be an entrepreneur…

The Start of a Startup
I received the machine a week and a half late (because they forgot to ship it). When it arrived, it was defective (instead of producing circles, it produced ovals). Since I had been busy working on getting P2 I was looking at really only one full day on Monday to produce 60 coins by hand since the next LTW phase was due to start on Tuesday. I knew during that time I would need to prepare my pitch for Thursday as well. So, what do you do? I’m a one-woman show. No staff. No one at this point that I really trust to do the job as well as I can (maybe that’s a woman thing?) so I said to myself, “I’m just going to make it happen. All of it. And I’m going to make it happen beautifully. With very little sleep.” I started working on the coins Sunday afternoon and by Wednesday night at 9:00pm I was just starting my pitch for the next day while I waited for the first batch of coins to dry.

As I worked on the coins that I had cut, painted, stamped and glazed, each one (60 in total) by hand, exhausted and incoherent, I realized that what I was doing was very important just as much as what I was making. Each coin was different, which is the nature of products that are made by hand, but this time it wasn’t about aesthetics. Not all of the coins were perfect circles, some of the ink was slightly smudged, the word “emancipation” was sometimes off to the left or to the right with some letters squished together and others placed higher in the word than others. There was a method to my madness. Each coin was going to mean something different to each person who received one just as each entrepreneur’s path to emancipation will be different, and just as what emancipation means from one entrepreneur to another will be different. Businesses are created by people. They are created by hand; moulded, touched up, re-done, cast away, re-born. They are not perfect, and they’re not supposed to be. The key is to enjoy the journey, the process of creating, as much as you anticipate the enjoyment of arriving at the destination.

Finally, at 4:00 am, I went to bed, and got up at 6:00 am to go to LTW.

I gave my pitch. I presented the coins. I pulled everything off, on my own, with two hours sleep. I said to myself, “And now you have a startup my dear. Congratulations.”

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds…” – Bob Marley, Redemption Song