Preparation for the 14th Annual Business Plan Competition began in January with a six-week “resource nights” series hosted by the WSU Center for Entrepreneurship. Director Marie Mayes brought in industry experts who offered student entrepreneurs or aspiring business owners guidance on writing and presenting a strong business plan.
Tom Simpson, co-founder and chairman of etailz, and Andy Barrett (’90), executive director, Berg Companies presented their top keys to business success. Life-long friends, the pair cofounded Toolbox NW, a center for manufacturing and product-based startups and entrepreneurs. Both spoke from their own experiences of pursing a passion for innovation and idea development. Simpson encouraged participants to consider how quickly their company would become profitable with a modest amount of capital. He said to consider the assumptions behind financial projections and do the necessary research. Barrett advised technology entrepreneurs to look at vulnerable industry niches and products to figure out how to enter the industry. Both suggested culture and team work are key to a company’s success.
Visit go.wsu.edu/simpsonbarrett to learn more.
Carol Anne Ebert Sears, vice president of financial development (retired), Washington Mutual, presented on developing financial plans for business success. Sears prompted participants to consider their business plans from an investor’s point of view. A successful proposal should be well written, professional, and state up front how much funding is needed. Funding needs to be sufficiently ahead of sales to meet operating cash flow requirements. She stressed the importance of accurate financial statements that reflect milestones and assumptions. To provide a competitive edge, she advised participants to consider unique pricing models and sales strategies, such as a loyalty programs. “Keep your financial plans simple, accurately follow accounting conventions, and make sure you’ve selected a chief financial officer who is a responsible gate keeper,” she said.
Visit go.wsu.edu/ebertsears to learn more.
Rebecca L. Cooney, MSC, clinical assistant professor of strategic communication for the WSU Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, offered tips on making an online impact through optimization and driving web traffic. Before implementing a campaign, she emphasized the importance of following a specific process to achieve a strong digital presence. It begins with establishing a campaign vision, brand message platform, content strategy, and metrics infrastructure before moving into specifics around logistics, tactics, implementation, monitoring, and reporting. “Without this foundation you will have disconnect, inaccurate metrics, and inconsistencies across mediums,” she said. She also touched on strategies to optimize both organic and paid search engine efforts and recommended engaging with audiences via digital channels with an emphasis on social media.
Visit go.wsu.edu/cooney to learn more.
Dave Divine and Dan Wadkins, attorneys for Lee & Hayes PLLC, a law firm that delivers strategic legal advice to companies worldwide, presented a two-part discussion about legal issues for startups, focusing on the importance of intellectual property (IP), entity/partnership agreements, and securities laws. Divine spoke about the value of intangible assets and the four different types of IP protection available: patents, trade secrets, copyrights, and trademarks. He explained that all IP and work product should be assigned to an entity, such as the IP created by a company’s founders, employees, or independent contractors. Wadkins said entity/partnership agreements are necessary to define ownership interest, track contributions, and outline authority and responsibilities among parties involved in a business. He stressed the importance of setting up a limited-liability entity for a startup company. “You want limited liability; period!” Wadkins said. He also warned that soliciting money for equity in a company is illegal unless certain requirements are met or certain exemptions apply. He suggested consulting with an attorney before seeking outside investment. “We are big fans of Kickstarter; you can sell your product to investors without giving up your company.”
Visit go.wsu.edu/devinewadkins to learn more.
Dale Miller, senior vice president and corporate client group director, Pacific Wealth Management Group at Morgan Stanley, presented tips on developing sources of capital. To avoid striking out when pitching a business venture to potential investors, he advised having “cruelly honest” friends critique it beforehand. He listed several funding sources appropriate for launching a business, including lending websites, revenue and royalty-based funding, crowd funding, angels, and community entrepreneurial events and organizations, such as the Palouse Knowledge Corridor, GeekWire, business plan competitions, and tech cafes. With some exceptions, for early-stage companies, he warned against accelerators that want operational control of a company and “patent trolls” who own intellectual property but don’t want to operate the business. “Don’t pursue venture capital firms until you have a strong executive team and are ready to change the world,” he said. He said the hottest industries to break into include privacy, cyber security, private nets, agricultural technology, big data, and disruptive infrastructure. He encouraged students to take risks now while they have a lot of energy but few commitments.
Visit go.wsu.edu/miller to learn more.
Dan Castles (’78), founder and chief executive officer of Telestream, a digital media company specializing in video software products, shared several examples of the importance of company culture and effective CEO leadership. He said it begins with developing a company character, which stems from following a code of ethics and moral principles, all traits of a good CEO. “Life is 90 percent how you react to something that happens to you, and attitude is everything,” he said. While building Telestream, he initially handwrote his thoughts on culture, which turned into the company’s core values: company first, respect, opportunity, and humility, among others. Someone who is a team player, able to take direction, and remain humble is a winning candidate, he said. He recommended being selective about picking the right employees at the startup stage rather than compromising principles to fill even one slot.
Visit go.wsu.edu/castles to learn more.