From the October 1998 issue of Startups

In a blast from the past rivaling the popularity of video games, classic toys are rolling into the marketplace at warp speed. Leading the pack is the yo-yo: the wheel-on-a-string rumored to have existed since 500 BC.

TV commercials on kid-geared channels like Nickelodeon have boosted industry sales, but demonstrations and competitions are credited with sustaining yo-yo fever nationwide. Middlefield, Ohio-based Duncan Yo-Yos ships thousands of yo-yos weekly, and sales have quadrupled in the past two years, says Mike Burke of Duncan Yo-Yos. The company's latest marketing tool: lesson plans for middle schools, where yo-yos help teach principles of science.

"Today's yo-yos aren't just cute toys," says Lori Northcutt, 33, owner of Phoenix-based The Yo-Yo House. "They're sports equipment."

Northcutt was moved to spin off The Yo-Yo House when, during the 1997 Christmas season, she noticed yo-yos were accounting for more than half the sales at her educational toy store, Brainstorms. When retail space freed up nearby, Northcutt moved fast to open The Yo-Yo House and, between the two stores, sold 20,000 yo-yos last Christmas alone. Since then, she's added San Diego and Chicago locations of The Yo-Yo House.

Driving Force

Dust off the dreams you've cast aside--or brew some new ones. It's possible using Cynthia Kersey's incisive advice in Unstoppable (Sourcebooks, $12.95, 630-961-3900). "The greatest natural resource??? is not in the earth's waters or minerals, nor in the forest or grasslands," writes motivational speaker Kersey. "It is the spirit that resides in every unstoppable person."

Thus Kersey sets the stage for 45 short, real-life profiles chronicling professional and personal battles that resulted in triumph, not only of the now-rich-and-famous, but of the lesser-known as well.

Whether your entrepreneurial wagon is rolling ahead full steam or you're ready to join a local chapter of Quitters Anonymous, Unstoppable will inspire and entertain you--and prepare you to overcome the most arduous of obstacles.

No matter what your track record of accomplishment or failure, you won't delve far into Unstoppable before you realize your best years may be yet to come.

Wrapper's Delight

Thomas Andonian, founder of Los Angeles-based Gift Toppers, crafted his business idea by accident while trying to avoid one of his least favorite activities: "I always hated wrapping gifts," says Andonian, 34.

It was 1994 and time for a theme-based holiday gift exchange--a tradition among Andonian's friends. The theme was glamour, and Andonian had a brainstorm: Instead of a boring bow, why not affix a glamorous woman--a paper cutout version, of course--to add allure to his gifts?

A student artist helped bring his concept to life, and in 1996, Andonian launched an all-occasion line of stand-up magnetic gift decorations (for re-use on the refrigerator) with messages on the back. "I've always been daring, but I had no business background," says Andonian, who took an entrepreneurship course and attended a greeting card seminar.

Next, Andonian traveled to New York City for a gift industry trade show, where he gained attention from sales reps nationwide and flew back to Los Angeles with more than 40 orders in hand. With Gift Toppers' 1997 sales topping $150,000 and a 25 percent increase expected this year, the former waiter's formula for success--"Two Ps: patience and persistence"--is all wrapped up.

Food For Thought

Make it snappy: The most neglected room in the house may be the kitchen, as time-pressed consumers continue to seek food preparation shortcuts. By 2005, predicts a study by international management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Inc., many Americans will have never cooked a meal from scratch.

Walk this way: Walking was the exercise of choice for more than 76 million Americans in 1996--a 31 percent increase over the previous decade, the National Sporting Goods Association reports. (For more sports trends, visit http://www.nsga.org)

Who's online?: When it comes to the Internet, the African-American consumer market remains largely untapped. A study by Vanderbilt University reports 29 percent of African-Americans own home computers, compared with 44.3 percent of whites. However, African-American families surveyed were nearly twice as likely as whites to plan to buy a home computer in the next six months.

Chances Are

Pondering the odds of landing a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan? Now you can sidestep the guesswork, thanks to free loan analysis software from the National Business Association (NBA).

The First Step Review disk series is tailored to SBA specifications, eliminating unnecessary paperwork and making the loan application process easier for both business owners and the SBA.

The program is interactive and easy. "You'll [learn] what the SBA wants to see and how they want to see it," says Jody McWilliams of the NBA. To assess the likelihood of loan approval, "just plug in the numbers, and the software calculates and prints out your results."

If you don't score high enough, the software shows you areas you need to work on before submitting your application. Follow-up disks ($5 each) fine-tune your balance sheet, cash flow analysis, business plan, and profit-and-loss statements.

For software or additional information, call the NBA at (800) 456-0440.

Room To Grow

By Sean M. Lyden

Looking for a way to get an Internet-related business off the ground? Consider an Internet incubator like Phase 1 in Laurel, Maryland.

Founded in July 1997 by Doug Humphrey, 38, and his wife, Lisa Losito, 27, Phase 1 offers Internet-related start-ups office space with high-speed Internet access; at-cost legal, accounting and human resources support; and access to the expertise of Losito and Humphrey, who used to own Internet service provider Digex Inc.

Universities and government sectors have housed tech incubators for years, mostly as nonprofits catering to a broad spectrum of high-tech start-ups. Losito and Humphrey's approach is different: They're for-profit and accept only cutting-edge Internet firms. "Because they're all Internet-related," says Losito, "our members can share a focused set of services and vendors as well as similar experiences."

To enter Phase 1, start-ups must give up about 3 percent of the company and must graduate--that is, move out--within 24 months. "In the Internet world," says Humphrey, "if your business doesn't take off in two years or less, it never will."

For a list of Internet incubators near you, visit the National Business Incubators Association's Web site at http://www.nbia.org

Contact Sources

Duncan Yo-Yos, c/o Flambeau Products Corp., (800) 457-5252, http://www.flamprod.com

Gift Toppers, (888) 443-8867, (213) 463-6869, gifttoppers@earthlink.net

Phase 1, 312 Laurel Ave., Laurel, MD 20707, http://www.phase1.org