Entrepreneurial

Tech Tonic checks in at Foursquare

Have you used Foursquare to promote your small business? Anthony De Rosa and Tech Tonic recently visited Foursquare HQ to see how the newest version of the location-based app could change the way users find new restaurants, businesses and things to do.

Image: Co-founder of Foursquare Dennis Crowley presents an award during the 15th annual Webby Awards in New York, June 13, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In Berlin, a startup hub emerges

All the elements of a thriving tech/startup scene are coming together in Berlin. The engineers are there. The VCs are there. The local tech blog, aptly named “Silicon Allee,” is there, and now a new office complex, built in the structure of an old brewery and designed to bring entrepreneurs together, will soon be there. But don’t expect to get office space anytime soon as it’s already oversubscribed without even being fully built yet, Reuters reports.

Some 1,300 startups call Berlin home, attracting 136 million euros (U.S. $169 million) in funding. And as the tech scene in Berlin grows, it’s attracting the attention of international investors and entrepreneurs too, like LinkedIn co-founder Konstantin Geurike who just joined EarlyBird ventures, a Berlin-based VC dedicated to funding European startups. Another company, SoundCloud, launched in Sweden and relocated to Berlin to attract talent and take advantage of the international city’s thriving creative class. They’ll be the first major tenant in the brewery-turned-office space, which will have room for some 30 companies.

Other notable startups in Berlin include Spotify as well as Gidsy, which attracted the attention and capital of actor/investor Ashton Kutcher.

Small business owners are optimistic


Small business owners are optimistic about the future of the economy. That’s the gist of a new Bank of America survey released last week. The first of its kind, the survey included some 1,000 small business owners.

“The overarching theme here is despite of all the stress and challenges, small business owners in this country are confident folks and feeling pretty good about the near term future of their business,” said Robb Hilson, a small business executive with Bank of America. “Optimism has improved over the last several quarters.”

Though the survey found that small business owners feel confident about their local economies, they feel less confident about national leadership, which is unsurprising given the upcoming election and the shaky economic recovery.

GoCardless tries to disrupt the credit card industry

For small business owners, frustration with credit card companies is nothing new.

“You are a slave to the lender,” said Doris McMillon, owner of a communications consulting business, in a recent Reuters article. “What some of these banks have done to small business owners is unconscionable.”

Luckily for entrepreneurs like McMillon, one UK based startup, fresh with $1.5 million in venture capital, is trying to shake up the credit card industry. GoCardless is building a way for UK businesses to cut out the credit card middleman, and instead allow customers and businesses to deal directly with banks by tapping into banks’ APIs, which were previously reserved only for larger companies and organizations, reports Wired.

Looking at the new crowdfunders and the JOBS Act

The crowdsourcing site Kickstarter just turned three years old, and the New York Times has a nice profile that explores how the company has evolved and how its changed the way entrepreneurs, artists, and anyone else with an idea can raise capital online.

Much as the introduction of cheap Web services lowered the barrier to entry for people seeking to create a start-up, and as offshore manufacturing gave entrepreneurs a chance to make products without having to build a factory, Kickstarter offers budding entrepreneurs a way to float ideas and see if there’s a market for them before they trade ownership of their company for money from venture capitalists.

Tapping into the wisdom of the crowd is nothing new. And now that Kickstarter has beaten the path, there are a few similar, and niche-focused, alternatives to Kickstarter. One interesting development to consider, though, when thinking about the online fundraising space, is the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, also known as the JOBS Act. As Talking Points Memo reports:

Q & A with MycroBurst co-founder Joe Witte

Joe Witte is the co-founder and Executive Vice President at MycroBurst, a crowdsourcing site for companies and individuals who want custom logos and designs. Reuters Small Business interviewed Witte about building a tech startup and how Mycroburst balances work with clients and designers.

First off, can you briefly describe MycroBurst? How it works, etc.

I’ve always described MycroBurst as an eBay for design services. We have a community of more than 35k designers representing more than 100 countries. They participate in design contests for our customers (aka Project Holders), who require anything from a brochure, postcard, website or logo design. What makes our marketplace so powerful, is that a Project Holder will typically receive dozens, and typically more than 100 design concepts from our design community to choose from. And that’s in one week. Our platform makes it easy to communicate with all the designers, and easy to review the concepts side by side.

Where did the idea come from?

Previously, we had a design team that provided services to our clients via online transactions. Many of our designers were leaving in order to freelance for sites like eLance. And after seeing this model work for other crowdsourcing sites, we felt that this was where the future was with sourcing design services. After we shifted in 2009, it was apparent that everyone was happier. Our designers had freedom, and our clients received far greater choice, and flexibility in a faster delivery method.

How to avoid getting swindled under the JOBS Act

The new JOBS Act was aimed at making it easier for start-ups to raise cash, but critics warn the legislation makes it easier for criminals to do the same. In this Reuters TV video, Fred Katayama explains how you can avoid getting ripped off.

Looking at Greece’s entrepreneurs

Maybe it’s Instagram-size payouts or maybe it’s just pure desperation and a lack of good opportunities that drives someone to start a business in the middle of a recession. Either way, instead of protesting or moving away in search of work, a group of entrepreneurs in Greece are tapping into that same spirit and defying the odds to launch their own startups, NPR reports.

The Athens entrepreneurs, based around an incubator called CoLab, include at least one tech startup, BugSense, that has already raised capital from Silicon Valley. So while many tech startups, including those in Greece and those that launch during a recession, will never turn a  profit, it’s worth noting that a more than few startups have successfully launched during a recession.

For perspective, here are just a few of those companies that launched during hard economic times:

Q & A: Uncovering the hidden agenda

According to Kevin Allen, we pitch business ideas every day. But how do we ensure our pitches will be successful? Allen’s forthcoming book, The Hidden Agenda, teaches readers how to connect to their audience on an emotional level in order to win pitches. Entrepreneurial spoke with Allen about how to find and connect to what he calls the hidden agenda.

You write in your book that each of us makes a pitch every day. What do you mean by that?

Whether you’re trying to get a group of people to follow you for the first time who you’ve hired or you’re running a small company, at the end of the day there’s an organization you’re trying to reach and connect with. In business (that’s) an audience that you’re trying to get to do what you want them to do and to buy your product. So the notion of pitching, that is reaching someone and connecting with them so they will follow you is a universal thing in business we do each and every day.

Small business defense against cybercrime

Small businesses can innocently expose themselves to cybercrime when an employee opens an email that appears to be from the CEO, not updating the anti-virus program or having a laptop lost or stolen.

Eduard Goodman, Chief Privacy Officer for Identity Theft 911 has seen an increase in small businesses being targeted for cybercrime within the last five to seven years. Highly desirable data include customer information lists and personally identifiable information such as social security numbers, dates of birth and account numbers.

A recent survey by Symantec and the National Cyber Security Alliance shows 85 percent of small business owners believe their company is safe from hackers, viruses, malware or a cyber-security breach. Sixty-nine percent rely on Internet security for their business’s success.

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