U.S. program helps African entrepreneurs

Ronald Mutebi can now do in three months what might have taken him a year. With his $100,000 share of a grant to benefit Africa, the entrepreneur will soon be sending solar ovens to his native Uganda.

Mutebi obtained exclusive Ugandan rights to market the units from Illinois-based maker Sun Ovens International. His goal is to reduce the country’s dependence on wood and agricultural waste products for cooking fuel.

Mutebi was one of 14 African American entrepreneurs, selected from a group of 58 finalists and more than 700 applicants, awarded just under $1.4 million in total grants at last week’s inaugural African Diaspora Marketplace (ADM) in Washington, DC. The ADM is a joint public-private initiative on behalf of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Western Union, aimed at boosting employment in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to USAID data, there are more than 1.4 million African immigrants in the United States, many of whom are entrepreneurs who operate small businesses in their native countries and send money back to their homelands. In 2008 an estimated $10 billion in remittance flowed back to sub-Saharan Africa from U.S.-based African diaspora members, according to USAID.

Anne McCarthy, Western Union’s Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs, said the process was started 18 months ago after a conversation between her company and USAID. McCarthy said ADM was inspired by Western Union’s involvement in another collaboration – the “4 + 1″ program – with the Mexican government and U.S.-based Mexican migrant associations that provided joint funding to businesses that had “the best chance to create employment and economic growth in key areas.” McCarthy said it created a couple thousand jobs.

Small Talk: Saluting veteran entrepreneurs

In honor of Veterans Day, today’s post looks at the entrepreneurial activity of our veterans.

We start with a program offered by Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management called the “Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities“, that just announced it is expanding to include a sixth school, the University of Connecticut’s School of Business. The program, which teaches disabled veterans how to become small business owners, was started by Mike Haynie three years ago and has a current enrollment of 125. To date 225 veterans have gone through the program since 2006.

Haynie, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Whitman, told The Post-Standard that he gets 400 applications annually and hates to turn veterans away. “It kills me to have to write a letter to a vet saying, sorry, we can’t help you,” Haynie told the Post-Standard about the program, which has been funded by donations from SU alumni and entrepreneurs. Haynie said the latest expansion will boost enrollment to 150, but he has plans to take the program nationwide. To help facilitate that goal the U.S. government’s Small Business Administration is giving Haynie $450,000 over the next three years.

Twitter-based shopping website seeks retailers

imshoppingBuying something online can be a frustrating process. The shear numbers of websites offering the same product can lead to endless hours of surfing to try to find the right deal. Consumers often become overwhelmed and end up not buying anything at all.

Prashant Nedungadi (see Nedungadi’s personal five-day entrepreneur journal, exclusively for Reuters.com) has been one of those people and decided to use that frustration to launch IMshopping.com, a website that utilizes a combination of software and sales experts to direct buyers to the precise product they’re looking for. What Nedungadi has dubbed “human-assisted shopping” is a network of retail experts, or guides, and the broader community of IMshopping’s more than 30,000 registered users.

IMshopping leverages Twitter to help allow consumers to pose shopping-related questions around the clock.

Summer camp, with a twist


We’ve all heard of summer camp, boot camp, even fat camp. But how about a camp for young women with a knack for business?

That’s the idea behind Girls Inc. Corporate Camp for Entrepreneurs, a week-long workshop held earlier this month in New York City for 20 girls between the ages of 15 and 18.

Now in its fourth year, the camp hand-picked its attendees from a pool of 70 applicants across the U.S. who competed in teams with like-minded young women to come up with an original business product or service, complete with a viable business plan. (Think: The Apprentice, minus Donald Trump and the TV crew.)

The down side of raised wages


Millions of minimum wage earners across the United States have circled July 24th on their calendars, marking the day a mandated pay hike will bump up their hourly wages to $7.25 from $6.55.

The move is the latest in a three-part pay increase approved by Congress in 2007 in a bid to fatten up the paychecks of the country’s lowest earners and “improve the lives of working families across the nation,” the Department of Labor said.

But many small business owners are left asking, “What improvement?”

“For the business owner who hires a lot of people, I see prices going up and doors closing,” a sandwich franchise owner told the Indiana’s Journal and Courier newspaper.

Introducing Reuters Small Business

Today marks the launch of Reuters Small Business, designed to provide entrepreneurs with the knowledge they need to innovate and grow their businesses.

We’ve got a dedicated editorial team looking at the stories that matter most to the small business sector, and content from partners like Entrepreneur, BNET, IDG, GreenBiz.com, and Wired. Editor Jon Cook will also be reporting live from the Small Business Week conference in Washington, DC.

Here’s some of what is available this week:

Are you a small business owner or a multimedia entrepreneur? We are looking to build a community of small business owners, and we want to hear from you!

Free financing tool to help startups get legal ball rolling

MILKEN/Leave it to a savvy law firm headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley to develop an online tool that actually generates draft financing term sheets for startups using the simplicity of a web-based questionnaire.

The so-called “Term Sheet Generator” comes courtesy of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a Palo Alto-based firm that’s played legal adviser to the likes of Apple and Sun Micro. It works with the responses and information provided by users to build fully formatted term sheet documents that can help entrepreneurs seeking outside capital get the ball rolling.

As Startup CFO blogger Mark Macleod astutely points out, the tool is no replacement for the advice of a skilled lawyer but can help cut costs when pondering early round funding. This is a sentiment shared by WSGR, which notes in the user terms and conditions that the service is “for general informational purposes only” and does “not constitute advertising, a solicitation or legal advice.”

Not just a bunch of fresh faces

Small businessThe belief that most startups are run by young entrepreneurs pining to build Google-sized companies before the age of 30 seems fairly widespread these days. And while that’s not surprising given the wealth of entrepreneurial talent spawned by younger upstarts in recent times (particularly in the tech arena), it’s also something of a myth.

New figures seem to suggest that older people are leading the entrepreneurial charge as of late. In 2008, the number of new businesses created in the U.S. by individuals between the ages of 55 and 64 topped all other age brackets and made a sizeable leap from the previous year, a new survey by the Kauffman Foundation shows.

In the world of franchising, for instance, more late-blooming entrepreneurs are jumping into the mix after years of clocking hours in a corporate setting.

Green shoots — where!?

Small business owners in the U.S. may be pleased to hear that some of their brethren are feeling a bit more optimistic about the future. The fresh sliver of positive news arrived in inboxes across the country Monday and shows confidence among small business owners in the U.S. appears to be headed up, albeit not entirely out of the gutter.

The Discover Financial Services survey, part of its Small Business Watch program, shows the number of small business owners who see the broader U.S. economy improving jumped to 31 percent in April, up from 16 percent in March. That’s the highest level for that measure in two years.

While the survey showed some small business owners growing more optimistic, 51 percent still see worse economic times ahead. And the pessimism doesn’t stop there. A whopping 91 percent of small business owners rated the current U.S. economy as “poor” or “fair,” and that’s the measure that’s stayed constant for the last eight months.