Small business seen emerging from “foxhole”

An improved economic outlook has many small business owners looking to grow now to gain a leg up on their competition.

Nearly half (47 percent) of the owners polled in a recent survey by office equipment maker Brother International Corp said they were willing to spend rather than stockpile cash reserves – an increase of 11 percent over 2010, when they were still facing recessionary pressures.

“They know they can’t stand pat, they can’t stay in the foxhole,” said John Wandishin, vice president of marketing for Brother. “When the clouds start moving and the sun starts coming out, how are they going to be positioned?”

At the same time, small business owners are experiencing stress levels relatively unchanged from a year ago, with more than half indicating their worry is higher than usual, according to the survey, which included 501 interviews.

“There is still uncertainty out there,” said Wandishin, noting troubling headlines about unrest in the Middle East and higher gas prices.

Is it time for do-gooder to cash out?

TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie created his Santa Monica, California-based company as a vehicle for giving away shoes to needy children, but should the Texas entrepreneur be looking ahead to selling the company and using the money to pursue other philanthropic goals?

TOMS, an abbreviation of “Tomorrow’s Shoes,” is based on a simple concept: for each pair of shoes sold, a pair is donated. Mycoskie, 33, conceived his “One-for-One” business model on a trip to Argentina, when as a volunteer on a shoe drive, he witnessed how a simple pair of shoes could change a child’s life (read original story here).

“Many of the kids’ feet I saw were really badly cut up and infected and just really gross, for lack of a better word,” said Mycoskie, who also noticed how much trouble the non-profit organization he was helping had in getting the right size shoes for the kids, as they were completely reliant on donations. “It dawned on me that instead of looking at this as a charity thing, which is what they were doing, why not look at it from a business perspective and create a business where you sell a pair of shoes and give a pair.”

The only real way out: Entrepreneurship

Robert Wolcott (left) and Michael Lippitz

– Robert C. Wolcott is the founder and executive director of the Kellogg Innovation Network at Northwestern University. Michael J. Lippitz is the senior research fellow at the Center for Research in Technology & Innovation at Kellogg and a consultant to the federal government. Their book, “Grow From Within: Mastering Corporate Entrepreneurship and Innovation” launched in October. The views expressed are their own. –

The news the U.S. economy grew at a 5.6 percent pace in the fourth quarter – the best showing in years – is tempered by the fact it was fueled by government-supported spending and revving of depleted inventories.

How can America again create quality growth? Though growth appears around the corner, many fear it’s based on governments worldwide flooding markets with liquidity and public spending. To address a crisis born partly of excessive private debt, we’re writing public IOUs to the future. But public largess only buys us time. Eventually, the future will come calling.

Does size really matter to women entrepreneurs?

The results of a new survey show that nearly 90 percent of women business owners want to grow their companies, but few of them see hiring as a way to do it.

Nell Merlino, the founder and president of Count Me In, a not-for-profit organization that includes 70,000 online members, commissioned the report that polled 250 women small business owners and another 700 non-business owners nationwide. Merlino said the survey shines a light on why women-owned businesses don’t grow at a similar rate to those run by men and why broader societal misconceptions are preventing many women from expanding their businesses.

“There is a perception on the part of the public in general that women are in business to bring in a little money, as opposed to women are in business because they are supporting their families and they want to grow a business,” said Merlino, quoting the study’s findings that just 38 percent of Americans believe women entrepreneurs care about making a lot of money, compared to 63 percent who said male entrepreneurs care about the same.