Author Archive

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

August 18, 2008

A self-described foodie, photographer and avid cyclist, Khamel Abdulai is the Entrepreneurial Services Director for the Albany Center for Economic Success. With an MBA and hands-on experience, Khamel helps entrepreneurs develop their business and marketing plans. He also partners with other agencies and entities to provide learning and training opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Khamel is originally from Ghana.  He moved to the US about 13 years ago.  As an undergrad, he majored  in Geology; however, as Khamel describes it, his “marriage with geology was on the rocks.”  He was increasingly drawn to business and commerce which led him to explore the relationship between people, ideas and the ensuing exchange –  his passion.  What Khamel loves most about his job is working with a diverse set of clients whose interests, backgrounds and goals are richly varied.

The hardest part? “Being confronted daily with the harsh realities that a large size of the population faces – social and economic distress. Playing the role of realist and watching people’s crestfallen faces as they weigh the enormity of an entrepreneurial jaunt and all the planning, sacrifice and sweat involved.”

The program at ACES is specifically designed for economically distressed populations, minority- and woman-owned enterprises. In addition to one-on-one counseling and group classes, ACES provides incubator space.

What is the biggest pitfall for new business owners?

“Not being adequately equipped – being undercapitalized and under-informed.”

What advice do you offer someone who is thinking of starting a new business?

“Plan, scan, then plan again. When you can answer all the important questions to yourself and others, take the plunge!”



The Chamber’s Art n Soul

August 14, 2008
Janet Tanguay

Janet Tanguay

Meet Janet Tanguay. Janet is the Entrepreneurial Assistance Coordinator for the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce AND she owns her own business: Art n Soul, Inc. , where she is a creativity coach and artist Representative. As part of her business, Janet assists creative types in pursuing their goals and dreams by helping them create a brush with opportunity. “I help artists obtain gallery shows and sell their work in corporate environments.” She is also a mixed media

Peacock Pride

Peacock Pride

artist. “One of the reasons the Chamber hired me is that I am an entrepreneur. I’ve worked through the kinks in starting and growing my business and I can share those experiences first hand with the entrepreneurs in my program. I love the mindset of entrepreneurs….typically innovative, creative and risk-taking. I’m absolutely passionate about helping people start new businesses.”

Janet grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Her dad had several businesses, including a magnetic sign business, a snow plowing business, a maple syrup business and a concrete company. In addition to owning Art n Soul, Inc., Janet is the author of two children’s books: Be Bee and Dustbunnies Don’t Eat Carrots. In 2007, she was voted “Best Visual Artist” in the Times Union’s Readers’ Poll.

With her Chamber hat on, Janet designs and coordinates a 60 hour comprehensive training program for entrepreneurs. She provides one-on-one counseling to individuals seeking to start or expand a business and advises clients on where to find resources for funding a business. She assists with business plan writing, M/WBE certification and contract procurement. She also connects clients to a wide network of business consultants, attorneys, accountants and others that assist small businesses.

What does she love most about her job?

“I am passionate about inspiring people to pursue their business dreams and goals. I love watching an entrepreneur come into my office with an idea and then assisting that goal so that it comes to fruition.”

What is the biggest pitfall for new business owners?

“The biggest pitfall is not doing market research ahead of time and not having a solid business plan. Partnerships with the wrong person are also a big cause for concern. Another problem that arises is that entrepreneurs get so caught up in the day to day operations of the business that they don’t make time to network and market themselves properly.”

For those starting a new business, Janet offers the following advice. “Do a lot of research before opening up shop. Make phone calls to similar businesses either in the area you are looking to open or if your competition is reluctant to talk, do research in a similar size city in another market. Find out about pricing, demographics, sales, expenses and anything else that you might need to consider to get your business off the ground. Learn from other people’s experiences. I know of some restaurants and gyms that change hands regularly every year. This is probably a tip that this particular location isn’t working in some way.”

The Albany Colonie Chamber of Commerce is a membership organization that provides networking opportunities, health insurance programs, cost-saving benefits and many other services and programs. Janet explains: “The networking opportunities through the Chamber’s EAP training course are amazing. We have over 2,700 members. Many members are EAP instructors and offer great resources for entrepreneurs to get started.”



Business Junkie

August 13, 2008

Meet Bill Brigham. He’s a “business junkie”.  After working in and around small businesses for the last 25 years what else would you expect. 

Bill & his family in Ecuador

Bill & his family in Ecuador

Bill is the director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), at the University at Albany. The Center is staffed with 10 Business Advisors that provide free one-on-one counseling to existing and startup small businesses, including: business planning, marketing, creating financial statements, and training. “Some business owners just want to talk or bounce ideas off us, so we sit down and guide them through the problems and issues that they face.”

Beyond his business obsesssion, Bill is a distance runner and golfer and recently spent two weeks in Ecuador where he and his family learned about the cloud forest and the indigenous people. Not a typical vacation for a suit & tie bureaucrat (whatever that is).

Prior to the SBDC, Bill was the Marketing Manager and the Vice President for two local family-owned manufacturing firms – the ideal on the job training for what he does today. It involved sales and marketing, product development, quality control, production scheduling, figuring out how to make payroll along with the typical “putting out fires” of small business management. Bill’s toughest decision: laying off 40 people three weeks after Christmas. (We’ll hear more about that in a future blog).

In addition to first-hand experience, Bill is an SBDC Certified Business Advisor. For five years prior to becoming the Director ten years ago, he worked on a pilot SBDC program that was structured as a three person “swat” team to trouble-shoot distressed family businesses in New York State. He also teaches an e-commerce business planning course in the University’s MBA program. “This keeps me in tune with current trends and issues.  It also allows me to feed off the enthusiasm and unique perspectives of a group of extremely intelligent young people.”

What do you like most about your job?
“We empower people! We make entrepreneurs successful!  Also, the diversity of the region’s businesses involves working in “pizza to aerospace”.  Analyzing and assisting existing businesses is a welcome challenge.”

What is the biggest pitfall for new business owners?
“The obvious, lack of capital, planning, and experience.  Simply put, small businesses are victims of what they don’t know.   My best advice for someone starting a new business or even an existing business: Plan Plan Plan.  Also, use the resources that are out there.”

The SBDC at the University at Albany staff is comprised of serial entrepreneurs, former business owners, and technology and economic developers. The services are tailored for any small business (500 employees or less), start-up or existing.   The program specializes in business planning, financial analysis, strategic planning, marketing, international trade, and even has access to a 5 business librarian research network, which includes pro blogger Roger Green, that supports the entire 23 center network with market research for clients.  The services are of great value, even though the services are free.  

The SBDC: Here to make New York State businesses successful.  

The Original Chocolate Gecko

August 12, 2008

Lissa D\'Aquanni

Lissa D

My name is Lissa D’Aquanni.  Nine years ago, I created the Chocolate Gecko in my basement.  I wasn’t sure where I was headed with it — all I knew was that I was disappointed with the quality of chocolate that was available for purchase in the Capital Region and I needed an outlet for my creativity.  Growing up, my Aunt had a chocolate store in Westchester.  I remember it being a magical place — who could be miserable in a candy store?  I think there was a part of me that wanted to recreate that magic at the Gecko.  The gecko name — well, that was just frivolity.  I liked geckos and a chocolate one seemed doubly attractive. 

I began the business in the Winter of 1998.  That season — Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter — was fairly busy for a new business.  So I decided to make a go of it. As soon as I decided that, business dropped off.  The phone didn’t ring all summer. “OK, I thought, “it was fun while it lasted.”  Then in September, the phone began to ring again.  That was my first experience with a seasonal business — who knew?  (Just about everyone who had ever run a business — but that wasn’t me.) 

The business continued to grow.  We had a unique, fresh product and our customers were our best advertisers.   In 2002 I decided to expand the business from my basement.  I purchased an abandoned building in my neighborhood, renovated it and re-introduced the Chocolate Gecko.  That’s the short version.  The long version included piecing together a financial package that included private investors, an SBA loan via my credit union (SEFCU), a loan from the city via the Chamber, and assistance from the Capital District Community Loan Fund.  It included coordinating neighborhood volunteers and friends who selflessly gave up their weekends to help gut and rebuild this diamond in the rough.  It included negotiating the often confusing and frustrating maze of contractors, subcontractors and the city’s building department. It included recruiting two other start-up businesses that helped make the project complete.

The business continued to grow.  And as it grew, I became aware that it was no longer a little niche business.  It had the potential to be national — our product was good enough to compete. But I didn’t have the knowledge to get us there and after 9 years of exhausting holidays, I wasn’t sure that I had the energy.  I decided to sell the business.  Do you remember the game show “The Weakest Link” — well, I felt like the weakest link.  I’m not putting myself down — it’s good to recognize what we are good at and when we need to hand off.  Recognizing that it’s time to step aside is just as important as stepping up.  

When I sold the business in 2007, it was with the intention that the new owners would be able to infuse the energy, time and capital necessary to take the business to the next level.  I’m pleased to report that they are doing just that. 

Over the course of this blog, I’ll be reporting on some of the challenges and joys that made owning the Chocolate Gecko an incredible experience.  Staffing, marketing and advertising, financing, vendors, community and networking are just a few of the topics I’ll discuss.  

As for now, I’m an adjunct Professor at the University at Albany and the College of Pharmacy.  I teach public relations and communication.  I love teaching and the students are energizing.  I also started another business: Out On A Limb Consulting.  I provide public relations, marketing, program and campaign assistance to micro-entrepreneurs and nonprofits.  Why Out On A Limb?  It’s all about perspective.  When I owned the Gecko, Entrepreneur magazine wrote an article about creative financing and featured the Gecko.  The article was called “Out On A Limb: when the money tree looks dry, sometimes you just have to create your own branch.”  There were many times when I felt that my back was up against the wall and I was out on a limb (i.e. no options).  But when I got over my fear of heights (excuse the metaphor) and looked around, I realized that there were options I had never seen before — they were creative, entrepreneurial options.  Like I said, it’s all about perspective. 

Over the next few posts, I’ll be introducing the other bloggers at EbizNY and as a blog team, we’ll spotlight other entrepreneurs in the Capital Region and some of the issues they face.  If you have comments or have something that you would like us to address, please let us know. If there is something you are struggling with in your business, email us.  We’re here as a resource and support for you.





Welcome to EbizNY!

August 11, 2008

Welcome to the “Entrepreneurs’ Business Information Zone for NY” blog — EbizNY!  It’s designed for those folks who run their own small businesses. That’s  the American dream, right?  It’s sexy and enviable.  Oh, the allure of being your own boss. OK, wake up. Now let’s talk about the realities of owning your own business. The long days, the sleepless nights, the lack of capital, the staffing problems . . . but you’re not alone – we’re here to help. Together, we can put the luster back on the nickel and more nickels in the bank!

We have a stellar group of bloggers who have signed on for the ride. My name is Lissa D’Aquanni. I owned my own gourmet chocolate business, The Chocolate Gecko, for 9 years, at which point I sold it. You’ll read about my story — what my challenges were and why I decided to sell my business. Cowriters include: Khamel Abdulai, Business Development Counselor for the Albany Center for Economic Success; Bill Brigham, Director of the Small Business Development Center; and Janet Tanguay, Coordinator of the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program at the Albany-Colonie Chamber of Commerce.  All of us are committed to helping your small business work for you.

This blog will feature spotlights on the resources available to small business, case studies of other entrepreneurs, and discussions of issues that affect small businesses.  If you are have an idea, suggestion, comment or question, please let us know.  We look forward to building an online community of resources and supports for entrepreneurs.

And now for the fine print: The views expressed here are those of the bloggers and not necessarily those of the affiliated organizations (ACES, NYSSBDC, A-C Chamber of Commerce, University of Albany).