Entrepreneurship News

“Ready, Set, Grow”

“Ready, Set, Grow”, headed up by Ernst & Young, is a competition for high-potential entrepreneurs with young companies around the world. Created for talented and ambitious young CEO’s and Presidents, finalists will

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get the chance to fly to Monacco to showcase their product at the Entrepreneur of the Year event in June 2014.

Accepting entries until March 15th, 6 finalists (including 1 by popular vote online) will be picked for this once in a lifetime experience. Applications for the program are available at www.ey.com/rsg.

Past winners who have gone on to huge success include: Howard Schultz of Starbucks; Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google; Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster; and Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner of Linkedlnm, Inc.

Jared Polis: From Cards and Flowers to Congress

VentureOut – Highlighting LGBT leaders in business.

Powered by StartOut. Written by Adam Sandel.

Jared Polis’ passion for innovation in business, education, and leadership has taken him from entrepreneurship to philanthropy to the U.S. House of Representatives.

While still in his early 20s, the Colorado native and Princeton graduate founded the online greeting card company bluemountainarts.com with his parents Steven Schutz and Susan Polis Schutz. Three years later he sold the company to Excite@Home for $780 million.

In 1998 he founded the online floral giant ProFlowers.com. The company expanded to become Provide Commerce, Inc., which was acquired by Liberty Media Corporation in 2006 for $477 million.

Now in his third term representing Colorado in the U.S. House of Representatives, Polis recently took time to share his thoughts on being an openly gay entrepreneur and politician.

“In the business world, the topic of sexual orientation doesn’t usually come

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up,” he says. “The key to being an entrepreneur is taking real risk. Having the right idea is usually easy, but the execution of that idea, and building the right team to do it, is the challenge.”

The seasonal nature of ProFlowers.com posed just such a challenge. “On our first Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the demand was enormous. We did more business in two to three weeks than we did the rest of the year. So building a system to support that was our biggest obstacle.”

In 2000, he turned his attention from business to social entrepreneurship, creating the Jared Polis Foundation, with a mission of “supporting educators, increasing access to technology, and strengthening our community.”

In addition to sponsoring the Teacher Recognition Awards, and refurbishing and donating more than 3,500 computers a year to schools and non-profits, Polis founded two charter schools with multiple campuses across Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, and the New America College for at-risk students.

“In founding the schools, I became frustrated by the federal laws behind education, such as No Child Left Behind,” he says. “So I decided to run for Congress to do something about it.”

While many LGBT political hopefuls are concerned about being an openly gay candidate, Polis claims it was never a problem for him. After a six-year term on the Colorado Board of Education, he handily defeated opponents in 2008, 2010 and 2012 for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“When you run for office, you’re happy if voters remember your name, let alone your sexual orientation,” he says. “Some voters had concerns about my support of same-sex rights and marriage

equality, but those would’ve been the same for a straight candidate.”

Polis admits that the demands of being in Congress pose the same challenges on his relationships with his partner Marlon Reis and their two year-old son Caspian as they would for any Congressman. “It’s a very busy job with a lot of travel and work, and there’s not a lot of predictability. I spend about half of my time in Colorado and half in D.C.”

In addition to championing causes from education, to LGBT equality and immigration rights, Polis has brought his entrepreneurial expertise to Washington as well, founding the bipartisan Innovation and Entrepreneurship Caucus and the National Startup Day Across America, to get Members of Congress and State and local officials to visit startup companies to learn about the impact of entrepreneurship.

“This country was built by entrepreneurs, who take a chance and go for it,” he says. “And it’s always the execution that makes the difference.”

His advice to LGBT entrepreneurs is the same as it is for aspiring politicians. “Having an entrepreneurial and business background is great, because it keeps you in touch with the real world. It helps you focus on job creation and growth. And it’s always important to give back to your community through public service.”

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Why Every Startup Needs a Business Concept Statement

There is a lot of talk in entrepreneurial circles about the need to develop a business plan.

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And while I agree that a business plan is important for defining your strategy and the key deliverables for all stakeholders – including staff, investors, and strategic partners, I believe that way before you delve into the data, projections, and planning required of a full-blown business plan, it is important to crystallize your business idea. The best way to do that is to create a Business Concept Statement — a one-page document that defines the great idea that you’re turning into a business.

Your Business Concept Statement should include the following elements:

1. A brief description of the Business Concept – a sentence or two that captures the essence of your product or service.
2. The Market Need. What is the void in the marketplace that your business idea is going to fill? There's something that's missing, something you believe the market needs. There is an opportunity for a new idea – your idea!
3. The Solution: how your business idea is going to solve a marketplace problem and why you are the person to make it happen.
4. The Business Model, which is how you are going to make money. Are you going to charge your customers a subscription or membership fee? Will you charge a set fee for a given service or charge by the hour? Will you sell a product outright? Will you sell ongoing and/or maintenance contracts? Or will your business bring in revenue using a combination of these approaches?
5. Why anyone should buy your product instead of buying something else? When you can answer that, you have your Value Proposition. Explain what's new about your idea. Which unique attributes will your business will bring to the table: customer service, technology, a special process, better taste, lower price, faster delivery, or a combination of things? Even something as simple as more attractive packaging could make the difference for many consumers.
6. To really be sure that your new business will fill a market need, you must consider the Competition. Ask yourself who else is providing products or services that could meet your potential customers' needs. Keep in mind how big your competitors are in terms of annual revenue; estimate, if you have to. This can give you an indication of both the market size and market potential. Are there many or few companies vying for the same customers? Even though the number of competitors may be greater, coming onto the scene as one more of many similar products often can be easier than trying to break into a market dominated by giants.

7. Marketing your idea will be critical for success. How will you spread the word about your new business?

Want to learn more about how to develop a Business Concept Statement? Read more about it in Forbes and complete Step 1 of the 10-Step Startup Roadmap at Wicked Start. Once you have finished your Business Concept Statement, you’ll have a useful document to share with advisors, peers or mentors. They can use what you’ve written to understand what you want to do and thus more easily give you the help you need to proceed.


Bryan Janeczko is a StartOut cofounder and founder of Wicked Start, the startup incubator with online tools to plan, fund and start a business.

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Declara Co-Founder Ramona Pierson’s Comeback Odyssey

Originally posted on Bloomberg Businessweek.

By Ashlee Vance
September 26, 2013 12:49 PM EDT

As a 22-year-old marine, Ramona Pierson spent most days stuck in an office at the El Toro air station near Irvine, Calif. She excelled at math and was doing top-secret work, coming up with algorithms to aid fighter attack squadrons. Pierson enjoyed the covert puzzling. She was also an exercise addict: After clocking out each day, she would head off for a 13-mile run. Her male counterparts were impressed enough with the workout regime to nominate her the fittest person on the base.

At about 4 p.m. on a weekday in April 1984, Pierson finished her work, went home, leashed her dog, Chips, and set off on her usual run through a suburban neighborhood. She stopped at an intersection, bouncing in place as she waited for the light to change. As she started across the street, a drunk driver ran the red. Chips got hit first and died instantly. The car plowed into Pierson and then ran her over as the driver kept going. Both of Pierson’s legs were crushed; her throat and chest were ripped open, exposing her heart. Her aorta sprayed blood, and she sputtered as she tried to breathe. Just before everything went black, Pierson says, she felt “my life’s blood emptying out of my neck and my mouth.”

Passersby saved her life. One massaged her heart to keep it beating; another used pens to open her windpipe and vent her collapsed lung so she could breathe. The crude handiwork kept Pierson alive long enough to get her to a hospital.
She spent the next 18 months in a coma, being fed through a hole in her chest. Then one day, to her doctors’ surprise, she woke up. Weighing 64 pounds, she was bald, with a cubist face, metal bones, and a body covered in scars. And she was blind. The one part of her that wasn’t ruined was her mathematical mind.

As a kid growing up in Waco, Tex., and Southern California, Pierson discovered she could do math in her head. Rather than pulling out pencil and paper, she’d use techniques akin to meditation and visualization to process equations. In high school in Huntington Beach, Calif., she was a standout athlete (field hockey) determined to get a free ride to college. Plan B was an academic scholarship. After flying through high school, Pierson enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley at age 16. She didn’t get the scholarships, though, and had to pay for school on her own. Her goal was to become a cardiologist.

Declara has essentially built a software simulation of Pierson’s mind. “I learned to create a cognitive map of the world, sort of like The Matrix,” she says.At Berkeley she scored so well on a standardized test that her results were flagged by on-campus military recruiters. “The Marines showed up at my dorm room,” says Pierson. They found a savant who could barely afford to eat and offered to pay for her two remaining years of college in exchange for enlisting. Pierson took the deal. In 1980, at 18, she joined the Corps and was soon writing algorithms to help calculate the position of Russia’s nuclear silos and guide F-18 fighter missions. Four years later, she entered that Irvine intersection at just the wrong time.

The blindness was terrifying. But it also forced Pierson to expand her ability to solve puzzles in her mind. As she listened to her doctors and other people, she began to “see” them as what she calls “glow globs,” patterns of light with different properties. Then she recognized patterns within descriptions others gave her—such as how items were arranged in a grocery store or how the figures on a spreadsheet interconnected. “I learned to create a cognitive map of the world, sort of like The Matrix,” she says. “I see the world in my head.”

On Sept. 26, Pierson, now 50, unveiled a technology company called Declara. The year-old startup, based in Palo Alto, has essentially built a software simulation of Pierson’s mind. It’s a type of social network that links everyone in a company or an organization. With the help of algorithms developed by Pierson and others, including top engineers from Google and Microsoft, Declara’s system learns how people interact, what types of questions they’re looking to answer, and who can best answer them. The company has raised more than $5 million in funding from investors, including Peter Thiel, the billionaire who first backed Facebook.

A flurry of business-oriented social networks have appeared in recent years with a similar pitch. Microsoft, for example, spent $1.2 billion last year to acquire Yammer, which lets companies create private networks among their employees through an interface that looks almost exactly like Facebook. Box, Dropbox, and Jive Software are among the dozens of other companies that have received billions of dollars in funding to become the “collaboration platform” of choice for modern companies.

Declara does something different, say Pierson and Nelson González, the startup’s co-founder. Declara’s software flags people who seem to excel at certain tasks. Someone at a biotech company, for example, might want to know which enzymes seem promising for curing a particular disease. Declara will scour the company’s social network to identify the people others turn to most for information about that disease and who have the most up-to-date research at hand. Pierson and González describe Declara as a kind of automated consulting firm—except that, where the fees from a McKinsey or Bain can run into the millions, Declara charges $15 per employee per year. “We’re flipping the equation so that people can become their own consultants,” says González, who used to work as a consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. “And we help people keep on learning, instead of leaving them with little more than a pretty-looking PowerPoint deck.”

Pierson and her longtime partner, Debra Chrapaty, a technology executive, live in Menlo Park. Whenever possible, though, they head south to Carmel Valley, where they have a spread so implausibly perfect it could be the set for a Cialis commercial. There’s a hot tub nestled among some trees and a pair of lounge chairs that look upon the rolling hills and rambling estates where Clint Eastwood and Arnold Schwarzenegger live. The house is part Mediterranean villa and part art museum. A George Rodrigue Blue Dog painting dominates the airy, tiled living room, and a John Lennon original drawing hangs in the hallway.

Although Pierson prefers not to talk about the accident, she’s not shy about it when asked. During an interview in her kitchen, she walks over to a storage cabinet and takes out a few plastic bags. Some are filled with horrifically long screws that once held parts of her limbs together; others contain gruesome photos of her many operations. There’s a black-and-silver contraption that a doctor once bolted to the outside of her leg. “They left a piece of a saw in my leg for a few years,” Pierson says. “I was walking up a hill when the stupid thing snapped. The bone had become necrotic.”

In the 18 months following the accident, Pierson went from a trauma hospital to a series of VA hospitals and then National Jewish Health in Denver. None of her doctors expected her to live, and she’d been only minimally put back together. She didn’t have a nose so much as an aerated mass of flesh. She’d become a “gomer,” an unpleasant medical profession acronym for a hopeless case: Get out of my emergency room. When Pierson, then 24, finally awoke from the coma, she couldn’t begin to take care of herself, so in the fall of 1986 the doctors decided to send her to a home for senior citizens in the small ski country town of Kremmling, Colo.

“It was bittersweet,” Pierson says of the rehabilitating in the seniors’ home. “They were declining every day, and I was getting better because of them.”

The seniors took Pierson on as a pet project. They taught her how to speak, cook, and get dressed—with results that veered between hilarious and near disastrous. For lunch one day, the men decided to educate the still-blind Pierson in the art of barbecuing. They left her alone for a few minutes only to return and find that she’d sprayed lighter fluid around the yard and singed the grass. The women, meanwhile, put Pierson in floral gowns and gave her perms and other hairstyles befitting an 80-year-old. “It was bittersweet,” she says. “They were declining every day, and I was getting better because of them.”

She had few visitors. Pierson’s friends from before the accident had moved on and likely had no idea where she was. Her father, an electromechanical engineer, died of a heart attack when she was 12. Her mother, a lawyer, would sometimes run away for periods of time and “struggled with alcohol and other things and could not be a parent,” Pierson says. Her two brothers had their own challenges. They fell in with the wrong crowds and bounced around, living on other people’s couches. Her sister got married at 18 “to a husband that beat the crap out of her,” says Pierson, and the two no longer talked.

Without any close family or friends, Pierson lacked a confidante who could help her face up to hard questions, such as, “What do I look like?” Pierson never asked anyone about her appearance directly; she didn’t need to. “I was in a grocery store with one of the ladies, and I hear this kid ask his mom, ‘What happened

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Over time, and more than 100 surgeries, Pierson’s body improved. She had procedures to fix her eye socket, nose, and teeth. “One of my doctors did Wilt Chamberlain’s nose,” Pierson says. “My face seemed to come together well. Part of my butt is in my face.” Her skills improved, too, and she realized it was time to try and leave the home. “I just kept moving forward,” she says.

We’ve all met people who seem to make more of their years than the rest of us. They become experts at whatever they try and collect friends wherever they go. Driven, in part, by a maniacal fear that she had fallen behind the world, Pierson became one of those people.

The hallways of her house tell many of Pierson’s stories, reflect her many tribes. Photos show her exploits as a blind rock climber and cross-country skier. At the end of one walkway are several framed newspaper clippings covering the year she spent tandem-bike racing through Russia to qualify for the Paralympics. While popping handfuls of pills a day to deal with the pain, she set some records, then joined a regular, i.e., not disabled, USA Cycling masters team, grabbed a silver at the National Championships, and was named cyclist of the year in 1995. “I never thought I’d be living that long, so I figured, ‘I am going to wear this s-‍-‍- out,’ ” she says.

The people goading Pierson into many of these adventures were the young friends she made at school during her recovery. After leaving the senior citizens’ home in 1989, she enrolled in a community college, hoping to figure out if she could handle going back to class. She could. Then, with the help of a guide dog, she spent two years studying psychology at Fort Lewis College in Colorado. Following her undergraduate work, she got a master’s degree in education from the University of San Francisco, a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford University and Palo Alto University, and attended the Danforth educational leadership program at the University of Washington.

During all this, Pierson still felt like a collection of component pieces. Her legs were different lengths. They ached. Various bits and pieces between her heart and throat needed tending. She volunteered for all the riskiest procedures—the latest and greatest in cadaver bones, cow ligaments, and carbon fiber—in her resolve to get somewhere near normal. “A lot of this stuff failed, but they would move my life forward incrementally in a way,” she says. “Some of the surgeries were great, and I would really take off after them.” After 11 years of being blind, Pierson regained the sight in her left eye in 1995 through another radical operation.

Determined to help people suffering from her own level of trauma, Pierson worked for the military during the first Gulf War. The U.S. Army discovered that desert sand was destroying not only planes but also MRI machines. Soldiers would get shot in the head, and the doctors trying to operate on them would have to work off grainy images caused by malfunctioning equipment. Pierson solved the problem by developing a series of algorithms that sharpened the images. In 1997 she went to work at a brain research center in Palo Alto, again to aid soldiers coming back from the Middle East.

That job set Pierson’s life on a new course. She decided to team with the Department of Veterans Affairs and study how well returning soldiers learned skills and remembered things. Pierson wanted to develop a solid means of assessing the soldiers and turned to local educators to see how vets measured up against their students. “I was shocked to walk into these classrooms and see that they were so antiquated and similar to what our grandparents and parents would have experienced,” Pierson says. She had expected to find systems that kept track of how students performed over time and responded to different teachers and materials. Instead, she found a black hole. “I saw this as a data problem,” she says. Pierson got her teaching certificate and won a fellowship funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to begin building data collection and analysis systems for Seattle’s public schools.

From about 2003 to 2007, Pierson developed software called The Source and served in a variety of roles, including chief technology officer, within Seattle’s public school system. Using The Source, parents could log on to a secure website and check their kids’ performance, seeing not just grades but test scores, attendance records, and notes from teachers. The technology grew into a massive database that helped illuminate patterns in performance of both the students and the teachers, and it connected to repositories for new learning material such as videos, podcasts, and blogs. The Source remains in use today.

As the performance of Seattle’s students improved, Pierson wondered if she could take the data-driven approach and turn it into a business. She formed SynapticMash, an educational startup. Three years later the British interactive learning company Promethean World acquired SynapticMash for $10 million. “All of this data was being left behind when teachers would scribble notes and put them in a binder or the students left their papers in folders,” Pierson says. “The end grade would be recorded, but not the process of how people were learning. We tried to digitize that and fix it.” Pierson went on to become the chief science officer and head of policy at Promethean, until she left last year to start Declara.

The Declara office is in an industrial part of Palo Alto, not far from an electric motor supplier and a robot manufacturer. It’s a single large, high-ceilinged room with a dozen or so desks. Pierson sits at the back of the room with Dave Matthews Band music playing and her dog, Tanqueray, sprawled on a red beanbag.

Pierson looks more normal than you might imagine. She wears her reddish-brown hair on the shorter side, parted to the left. Other than a noticeable scar on her lip, her face is surprisingly unmarred. Her nose was rebuilt with a plastic prosthesis where cartilage used to be; the only way you’d notice she’s had work done is if you compare the new nose to the old one in pictures. She often wears Bono-style glasses with yellow lenses to protect her left eye. Chrapaty teases Pierson about her bushy eyebrows. (“We did a DNA test, and it came back saying she’s got a lot of Neanderthal genes.”) And her voice sometimes gets hoarse—her throat muscles tire easily. A crosshatched pattern of scars on her chest is visible when she wears a V-neck, and the scars on her knees and feet look like rivers with many tributaries. Pierson has the broad shoulders and build of the athlete she became again. She’s a hugger, too.

The Declara team is a mix of engineers and designers who’ve spent the past year working in relative secrecy with governments and companies to refine the startup’s technology. Chrapaty, who’s worked at Cisco and Microsoft, is about to join the company. Pierson says large banks and biotech companies such as Genentech have signed on as customers. The agreements she talks most freely about, though, are with the Australian and Mexican governments.

In Australia, which has recently moved to have a single nationwide public school curriculum, educators from Sydney to Perth have digital access to the same lesson plans, tests, and all other classroom materials. Thousands of the country’s teachers have been given early access to a private network built by Declara called the Scootle Community. It’s a social network that will eventually link all 280,000 teachers in Australia and allow them to form groups around topics. “In one week, we saw about 50 groups set up, and the discussions amazed us,” says Susan Mann, the chief executive officer of Education Services Australia, a nonprofit owned by the Australian education system. “They were all about developing curriculum, teaching new technologies, working with disadvantaged students—and on this very serious, professional level.” Using Declara, teachers can pull up graphical displays that show hot topics among their colleagues, click on something like “8th grade math” and find tests and videos that other teachers have recommended, and, most important, reach out directly to their peers all over the country. “It’s like having a huge staff room,” says Mann. “People are getting answers to things that the other teachers in their school didn’t know.”

Declara’s technology watches all these interactions. It learns whom people tend to turn to for, say, complex physics questions, and which teachers seem to produce high test scores quarter after quarter. The software can search and catalog all the digital material collected during the past 15 years by the Australian school system. So, if you need to find advice on teaching gifted children, you type “gifted children” in a search box, and up pops all the available documents on the subject, along with some guesses about the experts in the area you might want to contact.

Declara makes it possible for these organizations and companies to operate in two modes—private and public. The Australian teachers, for example, can keep chats within their own network to themselves but also have an open area where companies with interesting technology or specialists in certain fields can participate. Pierson describes this as a kind of permeable membrane. “There are countries in Latin America and the Middle East that are industrializing and improving their judicial systems and moving into spaces they have never been before,” Pierson says. “They need to seek experts among themselves and outsiders.”

It’s on this last point that Declara can challenge the big consulting firms, she says. The software studies interactions on Twitter, can see which people have frequently cited academic papers, and, with permission, scans chat sessions for verbal clues about people who know what they’re talking about. (Companies such as IBM have released similar software for finding internal experts.) “In Australia, there is no McKinsey team or Harvard school telling the teachers how to develop the world’s most innovative curriculum,” says co-founder González. “They’re doing it themselves by learning from their peers.”

When Pierson turned 50 last December, she and Chrapaty threw a three-day-long celebration in Carmel Valley. The couple had been through a lot, including a series of bungled leg surgeries that left Pierson near death once again. “The doctors gave me an infected bone implant,” Pierson says, adding that she’s never sued. “They had to cut that out of me and start again. Debra and I almost broke up. She didn’t really sign up for all this.” By the time her birthday rolled around, Pierson was as healthy as she’d been in years, and it was time to party.

On the last day of the event, everyone gathered in a banquet room at the Carmel Valley Lodge, down the hill from the house. Pierson has picked up friends all over the world, and here they were spending hours chatting and reminiscing together. One of the more memorable moments came as Pierson gave a bear hug to Naomi Hoops, an octogenarian former school custodian who got to know Pierson at the community college in Colorado. “I thought she was going to squeeze the life out of me,” Hoops says. “She is that same old Ramona I first met.”

Another attendee that evening was Stan Chervin, a screenwriter working on a movie about Pierson. “People who dismiss It’s a Wonderful Life as being too hokey should have been in that room,” he says. “Person after person stood up and said, ‘This is how

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Ramona Pierson changed my life.’ The cliché is the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. Well, it ain’t a cliché with Ramona.”

One Founder Discusses the Challenges she had with All-Male Meetings

The founder of a wine app discusses her first year as an entrepreneur and some of her experiences with all-male meetings. 

By Carla McKay (CEO & Founder, Crushed Wine App)

When I decided it would be fulfilling to be my own boss, I chose my first love; wine.

Entering the wine industry in my mid-40s, I had fewer options of places to start. but after completing intensive wine courses and traveling to many wine regions, I began my new career as a wine consultant. I was surprised by the lack of useful applications available for my clients, friends, colleagues (really anyone that I came in contact with). There was nothing available to them that helped easily organize the wine industry, which can be overwhelming (and pretentious) at times.

So many of the folks who had interest in trying new wines also lacked the basic tools to keep track of what they were drinking, making it nearly impossible for them to refer back to their favorites and make a better decision in any setting – grocery, wine store or restaurant. There also wasn’t anything readily available that allowed wine fans to learn and share with friends what they liked.

The wine industry is shifting. People are more interested in what their friends are drinking and liking than the stodgy ‘100 point’ wine scale by experts.

THE ALL-MALE MEETING

And so Crushed Wine App was born. Early on, it seemed like a fairly easy undertaking. But once underway, I knew that I was in for a wild ride, especially working in the ever-evolving industry of mobile application development. After hiring a female friend who is a designer and has experience in app design, we went from concept to app wireframes, in just a few weeks.

With that done, we began the process of researching and meeting with development firms to build the app. Of the six firms that we met with – virtually and in person – all were represented by men. No women – none!  As I said to my designer, “couldn’t they at least find one female to join the meeting?” It obviously never occurred to them that two females would not be ‘fine’ meeting with and being sold to by a bunch of men.

One in-person meeting that we had with a development firm had us feeling about two-feet tall while two men, the lead developer and sales manager, lectured us on the ‘process’. We went into each meeting with the development firms having done our homework and with a budget. We also knew the going rate for developing a more complex app like the one we were interested in building.  We were not asking for anything out of the norm and we were met with resistance and made to feel like we didn’t know what we were talking about. Two of the development firms delivered proposals to us that were close to $100K over the budget that we agreed in our meetings! Was it because we were female?

WOMEN TO THE RESCUE

Enter Cloudfour. We found Cloudfour on the PhoneGap referral development network. I practically had tears in my eyes when I read the firm’s bios – a female lead developer/founder and half of the firm was female. After a few discussions it was clear that they would become our partner to support the development of the Crushed Wine app. Our first in-face meeting was an all-day planning session for the app development. What a difference it was for my designer and I to be sitting with three women and one man. The working relationship that we have with Cloudfour is one of the most collaborative that I have ever experienced. Discussions are always thoughtful and everyone’s opinion matters on every subject. This bodes well for a great product.

A year after we began this process with a ‘concept’ to develop a social mobile wine application — we are two months from launch.  We launched our new site last week and are busy with the app development, business development, public relations, social media marketing – anything and everything to successfully develop a great app in the crowded world of food and wine apps.

I have loved the experience and learned more in this last year than I have in my entire life. I would never have had the opportunity to become the CEO of my own business if I didn’t have the confidence to get going and keep going when things got rough along the way. I credit two crucial mentors – my sister in-law, who is on her third business, and another female CEO that I was connected with as part of the Startout for gay and lesbian entrepreneurs. They took me under their wings early on and supported me when times got challenging. Now, I want to be a good mentor for other women.

WHAT CHALLENGES DID YOU FACE IN YOUR FIRST YEAR AS AN ENTREPRENEUR?

CarlaMcKayAbout the guest blogger: After more than 20 years in business development and sales positions for big corporations and startups, coupled with eight years of toiling on the weekends for a winery in Sonoma, Carla McKay (@drinkchikmade the leap to the wine industry by creating the Drink Chick consulting firm in 2011. 
Reposted from http://women2.com/one-founder-discusses-the-challenges-she-had-with-all-male-meetings

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Arun Apte: How Coming Out Changed the Course of His Business

VentureOut – Highlighting LGBT leaders in business.

Powered by StartOut. Written by David Duran.

Arun Apte was born in the Bay Area in a typical Indian family. And like most expectations coming from Indian parents, according to Apte, he was expected to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer. But Apte had different career goals for himself, and one day when his mother asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he responded with, “I want to run my own company.” He would eventually achieve this goal, but not without struggles. Entrepreneurs face many issues before achieving success, but in Apte’s case, he was dealing with something much more personal that had the potential to keep him from being the success he is today. 

After earning his degree, Apte took a year off and worked as a lab tech at Clontech laboratories. This is where he became fascinated with the world of genetics. The software he was working with at the time was very poorly written according to Apte and had algorithms that were sub-par. Apte’s mother had previous experience running a software company and one night, Apte asked his mother if she was interested in working with him to create a cutting edge software package to address this market, and she agreed. The mother and son team spent the next year in the spare bedroom of her home writing code. After a demonstration of their software, Clontech quickly became their first customer, and shortly after, PREMIER Biosoft was born. Instead of taking money from the reseller agreement with Clontech, which was more money than he had ever seen, he and his mother decided to reinvest the revenue by creating a company in their hometown in India. “This allowed us to stay in contact with family members, while creating much needed local employment, and giving hands-on experience to biotechnology college graduates,” he said.

Working so closely with his mother, and coming from such a conservative country where homosexuality was illegal until a short time ago, Apte struggled with telling his mother, family or employees that he was, in fact, a gay man. Instead, he preferred to keep his personal life a secret from those around him and focus on his business. While engaged in his work, Apte was also in a long-term relationship with his then boyfriend. At that time, his partner was the more prominent financial contributor to their household and the two were living tight with finances and saving. “I was old school. I thought it was all about running a company, selling a product and making a profit…The idea of selling a company had never really crossed my mind,” he said.

Following the couple’s breakup, Apte decided it was time to be more independent and also more open about his sexuality. It was then that he sought out his community and discovered StartOut, a national organization that fosters LGBT entrepreneurship. During a StartOut event, he met Andy Cramer and Al Farmer. Since then, they have provided frequent advice both on how to build PREMIER Biosoft as well as helping with the launch of his new company; CloudLIMS.com. “Andy and Al have been incredibly generous with their time and advice,” he said. “They have successfully built and sold multiple companies, and I feel fortunate that they are guiding me.”  They also provide a living example to Apte of an ideal work/life balance.  “They inspire me on a personal level because I look up to their relationship and how they make it all work.” In addition, they connected Apte with Mike Sullivan, who provided invaluable advice on how to create intellectual property and the criteria potential acquiring companies use in determining a valuation.  “After talking to Mike, I completely changed course and postponed an exit for 2 years and am now busy putting the patents in place that will improve our valuation.” Prior to connecting with other LGBT entrepreneurs, Apte’s company would have been valued less than it will be when he does exit. He is currently meeting with potential investors for his 3rd company, also through professional connections he made via StartOut.

Coming out and being open about his sexuality has introduced Apte to potential investors, advisors and friends.  Having success as an entrepreneur has given him the confidence to take advantage of the abundance of opportunities that were presented to him within his own community. “When you are an employee somewhere, you can get fired for being gay, which makes you much more vulnerable,” he said. “I’m finally independent now and I treat the people who work for me very well. If someone had an issue with my sexuality, it would be a shame, but there would be someone else to take their place.”

Currently, PREMIER Biosoft has over 70 employees and customers in over 300 countries. The company has been profitable since its first year of operation and has grown steadily ever since.  Apte’s mother has since retired and their once pure business relationship has matured to a more personal one.

For more information on PREMIER Biosoft, visit www.premierbiosoft.com.

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Kathy Levinson: A pioneer in advocating for women and the LGBT community within the workplace

VentureOut

- Highlighting LGBT leaders in business.

Powered by StartOut. Written by David Duran.

In business, it’s not easy to be at the top of your game, or even be a trend setter, but one woman, Kathy Levinson, defied the odds stacked against her, not only as a woman, but as a woman who happens to also be a lesbian and Jewish.

Levinson doesn’t have just one coming out story, as she felt like she spent all her life coming out. During her early 20’s, she officially came out to friends and family, but wasn’t always out in the workplace. While working at Charles Schwab, Levinson met her then partner. When she became pregnant, coworkers automatically assumed the father was the person who ran the company because they believed that was the only way she would be able to be promoted as much as she was. This was her first real encounter of sexism in the workplace.

While at Schwab, Levinson found herself working in the same department as her partner. Her partner was her subordinate. “The head of Human Resources told me we couldn’t work in the same department,” she said. “HR opened the employee handbook to the section about married couples, but we weren’t married.” Levinson knew what the HR person was suggesting but in her first act of creating change, she quickly turned the employee handbook to the health benefits page and made her point very clear. If she and her partner were considered to be “married,” then she should have the opportunity to have the same health benefits as a married couple. As a result of her brave act, Charles Schwab became one of the first companies to offer domestic partner benefits in the workplace. “By doing it the way I did it, it was leading edge at the time and begun my shadow career of creating a workplace that was equal for woman as well as LGBT people,” she said.

Levinson stayed with Schwab for 14 years and held about 10 different high level positions. Her intent after departing was to focus on family and possibly non-profit. Before she could focus on her new life, Levinson received a call from a new company which at the time was called Trade Plus. She agreed to do some consulting work for the company in 1995 and in September of that year, she had her second child. But her starting role at Trade Plus didn’t come without hiccups. While being considered for her position, Levinson was questioned about her family and how she would be able to manage raising children and having an intense travel schedule. “This was another example where I could have laughed or been so offended that I didn’t end up working for them, but instead I took the time to explain to them why I shouldn’t have been asked the question in the first place,” she said. “It was done in a way where in the end, I was still offered the position.” In 1996, she went to work for them full time after a year of consulting and she helped morph the company into what is known today, E*Trade. She helped move the business model from phone trading to internet trading and served as President and COO of the company.

Near the end of her time with E*TRADE was right around the time when Proposition 22 was on the ballot in California. Prop 22 was a law enacted by California voters to restrict marriages to only those between opposite-sex couples. Levinson had been approached to take a leadership role in fighting Prop 22, but what she ultimately decided was to make a significant donation instead to the campaign due to responsibilities to employees and shareholders. The donation was to be kept under wraps until Levinson had time to speak to her CEO at E*TRADE as well as the Board of Directors, but unfortunately, her contribution had been leaked before that opportunity arose. After some major damage control, Levinson felt that it was still the right decision. “I think after that experience, what had been my shadow career was now really becoming my real career, and in the summer of 2000, I left E*TRADE with the intent to do what I had intended to do when I left Schwab,” she said. “My intent now was to focus on philanthropy and activism for women, the LGBT community and Jews.”

Levinson quickly found herself immersed within the Lesbian Equity Foundation, a foundation she helped create. “We spent a lot of time with the name, and the name itself was very strategic,” she said. Levinson is still involved with the foundation and she helps make a number of grants each year to women, the LGBT and Jewish communities. “Sometimes we give grants outside of that range if it’s for educational purposes,” she said. “Even though the organization itself isn’t LGBT centric, we use the opportunity to educate.”

Currently, Levinson is involved with Golden Seeds, an investing group that invests in woman owned or founded companies. As one of the Managing Directors, she seeks out companies that fall within the parameters of what Golden Seeds is looking for. She ultimately invests in some as well as sits on board seats of others. “Women get such a small percentage of venture capital and angel investor money, some 1-4% of the money,” she said. “Much like the corporate world, it just seems like women don’t have as much access to capital and my involvement with Golden Seeds seemed right in line with my personal mission of helping woman in business.”

Since her transition from the corporate world to the startup world, Levinson has actively taken an interest in helping entrepreneurs with funding and advising. Having had worked in big business, she knows and appreciates the major differences from working for someone else versus working for yourself. She hopes to continue to mentor young startups and potentially invest in some through her current position at Golden Seeds and at other organizations. “As a woman and out lesbian, with two decades of experience in the financial services industry, I have a keen understanding of the difficult road that entrepreneurs who are in the 'other’ category can face in the world of raising capital or even in being treated on a level playing field,” she said. “Learning how to stand proud and confident, while still earning a seat at the proverbial tables of venture capitalists, angel investors, and other key constituents, can be a challenge, particularly for those in start-up mode.”

When it comes to transferable knowledge from her experience in a corporate structure to working with startups, Levinson explained that when you are really small, you don’t really think about the culture you are creating. “In my experience, it gets harder and harder to do the bigger you get, so be really clear about the environment and values you want to create.” She suggests hiring people who have the same values and lead with them. “It’s important to understand the significance of imbuing one's company with core values very early on in the process, setting the tone for the expectations you have for those who work with, and for yourself.”

Levinson acknowledged her work within the LGBT community but doesn’t admit to feeling recognized. “I am a mom and a wife and I feel blessed that I did really well in my professional career in such that I was able to obtain the financial resources to be able to focus on my family and shadow career,” she said. “My job became my career and my career expanded to my shadow career. I’ve been lucky enough to have jobs that have been exciting, and I learned a lot about what fits with my values, and I have been able to parlay that into different communities that mattered to me.”

For more information on Golden Seeds, visit www.goldenseeds.com.

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StartOut Announces Second-Annual Entrepreneurship Awards

Recognizing Outstanding LGBT Entrepreneurs

San Francisco, CA Feb 4, 2013

The Awards

On Friday, April 19th, 2013, StartOut will once again honor entrepreneurs and business leaders for their accomplishments and personal commitments to both the entrepreneurial and LGBT communities in the second edition of the organization’s annual gala, to be held at the Nikko Hotel in San Francisco.

Last year's event recognized four amazing and inspiring individuals, including Peter Thiel

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(recipient of the JP Morgan Leadership Award in Entrepreneurship), Ramona Pierson (recipient of the Google Innovator Award), Kathy Levinson (recipient of the Pillsbury Advocate Award) and Geoff Lewis (recipient of the Wells Fargo Next Generation Award).

This year's will once again include a cocktail reception, awards ceremony and dinner, as well as an exclusive keynote interview with the recipient of the 2013 Leadership Award. Each award will recognize exceptional entrepreneurs for their vision, leadership and achievement in entrepreneurship, and for providing inspiration to the LGBT community.

Award categories include: Leadership Award, recognizing an inspiring entrepreneurial role model; Advocate Award, recognizing a champion for LGBT business leadership; Disruptor Award, recognizing an innovator who is revolutionizing an industry; and the Next Generation Award, recognizing a young entrepreneur of great accomplishment.

For the 2013 2nd Annual StartOut Awards, StartOut is proud to announce the recipient of the 2013 StartOut Leadership Award in Entrepreneurship, Tim Gill, founder of Quark and founder and chairman of the Gill Foundation, a force in LGBT philanthropy.

About the 2013 recipient of the Leadership Award:

Tim Gill

A software entrepreneur and philanthropist, Tim Gill was inspired to start the Colorado-based Gill Foundation by a 1992 anti-gay ballot measure in Colorado. The foundation has since invested more than $220 million to support programs and nonprofits across the country that share a commitment to equal opportunity for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.

In 2005, Tim started the Gill Action Fund, an issue advocacy organization working through the legislative, political, and electoral processes to pass and protect laws that positively impact the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

Tim founded Quark, Inc. in 1981 with a $2,000 loan from his parents and built the company into a leading developer of page-layout software. Tim is recognized for revolutionizing the publishing industry with Quark’s innovative and affordable page-layout

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Tim and his husband, Scott Miller, live in Denver, Colorado.

More of the 2013 class of award recipients will be announced

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in the next few weeks. Event proceeds go to StartOut, a national 501(c)3 charitable organization that is building the next generation of LGBT business leaders through entrepreneurship.

For more information on the event and to purchase tickets visit: http://startout.org/events/2013-startout-awards

About StartOut
StartOut, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering and developing entrepreneurship in the LGBT community, is growing at a rapid pace and expanding into new cities. In their first year, StartOut grew from an idea into a national organization with over 2,500 participants from coast to coast. They have managed to attract some of the greatest LGBT names in the entrepreneurial community to participate in their events.
StartOut members benefit from a multitude of programs that are specifically designed to help and support entrepreneurs at any stage of their business. Programs address a broad variety of entrepreneurial issues and bring together resources needed to succeed. StartOut also helps the LGBT community by building equality through promoting the economic empowerment of the LGBT community, and combating discrimination by promoting the visibility of successful LGBT entrepreneurs, among other activities.

One of the organizations missions is to provide role models for LGBT young professionals. By introducing youth to successful entrepreneurs and the concept of entrepreneurship as a career, they help inspire and foster new ideas and opportunities. There is also a mentorship program that connects new entrepreneurs with experienced professionals who provide support and advice to help them build, fund and grow their businesses. More information can be found at www.startout.org

To sign up as a Sponsor, please contact Lorenzo Thione at lorenzo.thione@startout.org.

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StartOut Partners With The Founder Institute to Support LGBT Entrepreneurs

Launches New Program StartOut Smart: The Founder Institute

New York, NY – Jan 29, 2013

StartOut announced today its partnership with The Founder Institute, creating the “StartOut Smart: The Founder Institute” program. This new program provides educational opportunities for LGBT entrepreneurs through The Founder Institute startup accelerator, which has helped launch over 675 technology companies across the globe. With StartOut Smart: The Founder Institute, LGBT entrepreneurs can get access to the expert training and feedback needed to turn their technology-based business ideas into meaningful and enduring companies.

“StartOut is excited to partner with The Founder Institute, and we know that by doing so, we are helping to develop LGBT entrepreneurs by giving them the resources and support of a world-class accelerator program,” says StartOut Chairman, Lorenzo Thione. “By sponsoring high-potential candidates, we intend to provide them a pathway to success, helping them to mature their ideas and build their businesses, while also providing them with a platform to showcase them.”

Through the StartOut Smart program, StartOut will cover the course fee for a pre-determined number of qualified LGBT candidates to participate in The Founder Institute’s four-month accelerator program, enabling them to create scalable LGBT-founded ventures across the U.S., and

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For an initial pilot, StartOut will sponsor up to 20 eligible LGBT founders in the Spring and Fall 2013 Founder Institute semesters, from U.S. chapters where StartOut and The Founder Institute operate. Currently, this opportunity is available for applicants in StartOut’s chapters in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. Anybody who is passionate about building a technology company is welcome to apply: idea or no idea, full-time job or unemployed, young or old, male or female, experienced in business or straight out of school.

To apply to the program, visit www.startout.org/smart-application. The deadline for applications is February 17, 2013.

About StartOut
Founded in 2009 with chapters in New York City, San Francisco, and Austin StartOut is a national non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to fostering and developing entrepreneurship in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) community. It helps aspiring entrepreneurs to start new companies, helps current entrepreneurs to grow and expand their businesses, and engages successful LGBT entrepreneurs as role models and mentors for up-and-coming entrepreneurs. StartOut’s’ goals are to educate, inspire, and assist members of the LGBT community around entrepreneurship. For more information, visit http://www.startout.org.

About The Founder Institute
The Founder Institute (http://fi.co) is an early-stage startup accelerator and global launch network that helps entrepreneurs create meaningful and enduring technology companies. Through a part-time four-month program, existing and prospective founders can launch their dream company with expert training, feedback, and support from experienced startup CEOs – while not being required to quit their day job. Their unique Graduate Liquidity Pool also enables graduates and mentors to share in the equity upside of each class, creating local, teamwork-based ecosystems where great new businesses can flourish.
In just over three years of operation, The Founder Institute has helped launch over 675 companies across 39 cities and 5 continents – making FI the world’s largest startup accelerator. Their goal is to “Globalize Silicon Valley” by launching 1,000 meaningful and enduring technology companies per.

Contact: Tony Moraga – tony.moraga@startout.org

###

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Applications Now Open For 2013 Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program

In keeping with StartOut’s commitment to support entrepreneurs in the LGBT community, we’re thrilled to announce our 2nd Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program.

Applications are now open, and we’re looking for mentors and entrepreneurs!

StartOut’s Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program pairs new lesbian entrepreneurs with mentors: seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and senior level executives who can provide advice, resources and knowledge to help grow young businesses. To see the 2012 entrepreneurs and mentors, click here.

We’re looking for new entrepreneurs
We’ll accept 10 lesbian entrepreneurs who currently run their own business — or plan to in the next year. The application deadline is March 1. Click here to apply or forward it to a friend.

We’re looking for mentors
We’re looking for investors, senior level executives and seasoned entrepreneurs from any industry. Whether you’re well into your success or have only been doing it for a short time, you have valuable knowledge and experience that ‘newbies’ can benefit from. If you would like to learn more about being a mentor, please click here to submit your information.

We’re also looking to build an advisory committee to help grow the program. If you’re interested please email info@startout.org.

Why Mentoring
In speaking with lesbian entrepreneurs, it became clear that mentoring was high on the list of needs, and a simple way to provide immediate value to lesbians in the StartOut community. If conventional wisdom

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dictates that startup success yields experience, money and connections; and it follows logically that experience, money and connections gets you a seat at the Tables of Influence (boards, VCs, etc.), then the first step is to do whatever we can to help women in startups be more successful, faster.

To that end, StartOut wants to do their part and help lesbian entrepreneurs by offering one on one mentorship, helping pave the way for new businesses to grow and achieve success.

Quick Links
Application to the 2013 Lesbian Entrepreneur Mentoring Program
Lesbian Program Overview
2012 Class of Entrepreneurs and Mentors

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