From the October 1999 issue of Startups

Since entrepreneur Don Herman started speaking at Southern California-area high schools nearly three years ago, the students just haven't been the same.

It seems the founder of the Southern California Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative has made quite an impression in So Cal--so much so that many of the students he's spoken to are now finding creative ways to turn their interests into profitable ventures.

That's just what Herman hopes they'll do after hearing his presentation--that is, if they've got the will and the way to make it happen. Says the 35-year-old, "I'm trying to get them to look at an alternative to working for someone else for the rest of their lives."

By the time Herman wraps up a presentation, in which he'll typically point to entrepreneurs like Michael Dell who started businesses in their teens, he's sparked the interest of at least half a dozen kids looking to sell their wares, wash windows or design Web pages. Herman makes himself available to these students for advice and, in some cases, start-up loans of up to $1,000.

Herman is careful, though, to tell the budding entrepreneurs to do what he did two years ago before starting his Costa Mesa, California, Taste Budz Candy cart business, which funds the nonprofit Southern California Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative: scope their target market and carefully research the competition, then proceed with caution.

"I see myself as a catalyst," says Herman, who also holds conferences periodically to teach teens business basics and hopes to get a small-business club started on each campus. "I can give them those first ideas about where to go to get more information, but then it's up to them and their determination to make it happen."

For additional information about the Southern California Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope and the words "Info List" to P.O. Box 2364, Newport Beach, CA 92659.

Micro Mania

By Cynthia E. Griffin

If you hear one more no from one more loan officer, you're going to do some serious damage to something. But wait: Before you hit the zap button, there's at least one more place you should look to for start-up or expansion capital for your business. Where, you ask? Why, your friendly neighborhood microlender, of course.

OK, so maybe these microlenders don't exactly reside next door. But the microlending industry in the United States is growing by leaps and bounds--making these small pots of money easier to find than ever before.

Below, you'll find programs in some of the largest states, with information about their requirements. If you don't see a city close to yours listed, call your nearest Small Business Development Center (listed in the government pages of your phone book) and ask them to direct you to a microloan or revolving loan fund.

For information on even more microloan programs, visit our Web site at http://www.bizstartups.com

  • California Economic Development Lending Initiative--amount: up to $50,000; criteria: administered by intermediaries statewide (criteria vary with each organization); region: California; contact: (510) 267-8990
  • Illinois Development Finance Authority--amount: up to $25,000; criteria: unable to obtain a conventional loan; region: Illinois; contact: (312) 793-5586
  • Southern Dallas Development Corp.--amount: up to $25,000, criteria: administered by intermediaries (criteria vary with each organization); region: Dallas; contact: (214) 428-7332
  • SBA Microloan Program--amount: up to $25,000; criteria: administered by intermediaries (criteria vary with each organization); region: nationwide; contact: http://www.sba.gov/financing/microparticipants.html

Just For Kickoffs

By Michelle Prather

Could face-painted, pennant-swingin' college football buffs out-fan even those newsworthy Star Wars devotees who camped out in line this summer? The thought's so disturbing, we won't contemplate it any further. The fact that football-helmet-shaped umbrellas emblazoned with team logos even exist is evidence enough that, for true enthusiasts, nothing is too extreme.

Like Los Alamitos, California, umbrella-maker Sportsbrella LLC (http://www.sportsbrella.com), large and small companies nationwide are snatching up collegiate licenses and making serious bucks off loyal college football followers, collectors and insiders. Some eclectic offerings in this arena: Manufacturer Sportscast hawks life-sized football lamps at the FANSonly Marketplace (http://www.fansonly.com/marketplace). Seattle Traders offers the Gridiron Tailgate Barbecue Grill (http://www.seattletraders.com/tailgating.htm)--your traditional barbecue apparatus, but with a huge football helmet as its lid! Ticket agencies earn top dollar off prime seats to each season's games, and online College Fantasy Football Leagues rake in revenues for savvy netpreneurs.

Capitalizing on the mania are high school buddies Bob McNeil and Tracy Talley, 37 and 36, respectively. The avid collectors were dissatisfied with college football memorabilia offerings. So in 1997, the Oklahoma City dwellers started T-Mac Sports, a company that produces 150 different miniature college football helmets, complete with metal face mask and working chin strap. The mini-helmets, which retail for $30, are sold to 400 outlets nationwide, including bookstores, athletic departments and alumni groups. Aside from the potential of creating helmets for all 327 Division I and II schools, these shelf-toppers have another draw. Says McNeil: "They've been [called] the Beanie Babies for guys."

Since college football is hardly a dying trend, and consumers (read: fanatics) will buy almost anything, your success is limited only by your originality.

Dumb and Dumber

By Laura Tiffany

We all know how much extra money entrepreneurs have, right? (Stop snickering.) In case you have a few bucks lying around, we, um, proudly bring you products you never knew you needed. And no, we're not making these up:

Mobile Traveling Case: The ultimate cure for the business travel blues: Crank this puppy up and watch the tourists run.

HQ2O Beverages: And you thought Silicon Valley entrepreneurs thought up brilliant business ideas with their brains? Duh. The idea fairy slips into their offices at night and dilutes the water cooler with extra-smart fairy dust. How can you beckon the idea fairy? Fork over $125 for five bottles of water-cooler water directly from the likes of Apple, Wired or Yahoo!. Yum.

UltraTech Products Inc.'s Activated Carbon Air Filter (a.k.a. flatulence filter seat cushion): Is your partner full of hot air?

Knotie Designs: Tired of all that wasted space on neckties? Fret no more: Intromark Inc. lets you plaster your logo on the knot and turn those two square inches into the billboard of the future.

He Said, She Said

By Laura Tiffany

You say toh-mato, I say ta-mahto. He says he's got a problem with a co-worker and expects you to solve it. She mentions a similar problem, but only wants a sounding board, not a solution.

Ah, the age-old problem of miscommunication between men and women. You might think that once you and your significant other separate for the workday, your gender woes are over. Unfortunately, they're only starting.

"For those primarily working with [the opposite sex,] you can [improve] almost all of your interactions if you learn to speak some of the other gender's language," says Judith C. Tingley, co-author with Lee E. Robert of GenderSell: How to Sell to the Opposite Sex (Simon & Schuster, $24, 800-223-2336) and owner of Performance Improvement Pros Inc., a communication consulting firm in Phoenix. Likening such gender differences to speaking Greek among the Spanish, Tingley provides the following advice for dealing with the opposite sex in your business:

1. He says/She says: "I need more time to think before I purchase your product or service."

Translation: He doesn't need as much time, so offer him a sooner and definite follow-up time so he knows you're eager and interested in the sale.

She really does need more time, especially if it's a high-ticket item. Tell her you'll call in a few weeks so she doesn't feel pressured.

2. He says/She says: "I'm taking my business elsewhere because you lost my last order."

Translation: He will be a tough sell. For him, price and service are more important than the business relationship. Be ready to bargain and compromise to keep his business.

She may change her mind, depending on the length and quality of your business relationship. "The relationship itself has value to her that may supersede the quality of service at least once," says Tingley.

3. He says/She says: "The check's in the mail."

Translation: He may thinking that because you're a woman, you'll be a pushover. Don't be afraid to be aggressive--tell him firmly exactly when you'll be coming by to pick up the check.

She may think you'll give her a break and be easier on her. One word of advice: Don't.

4. He says/She says: "I'm putting you on probation because your work hasn't been up to par lately."

Translation: His ego will be somewhat bruised, but the key with him is to be concise and matter-of-fact--and don't worry if he doesn't like you for it. If you deliver the news properly and drop the subject if the probation period goes well, he will respect you as a boss.

She'll take the news much more personally, so dish it out, as Tingley suggests, with "a few more pats on the back.

Diff'rent Strokes

Where do the differences lie in He-speak and She-speak?

Content: Author Judith C. Tingley says research shows men prefer to talk about business, money and sports. Women generally like to converse about people, feelings and relationships.

Style: Men communicate in order to solve a problem. Women speak to understand and be understood. "For men, communication is a means to an end. For women, it is an end in and of itself," says Tingley.

Structure: Tingley says men tend to be brief and more concise. Women are more detailed, more descriptive and less specific.

Contact Sources

HQ2O Beverages,http://www.hq2o.com

Intromark Inc., 217 Ninth St., Pittsburgh, PA 15222-3506, (800) 851-6030

Mobile Traveling Case, (800) 422-0871

Performance Improvement Pros Inc., (602) 371-1652, http://www.gendersell.com

T-Mac Sports, (888) 323-5658, http://www.tmacsports.com

UltraTech Products Inc., (800) 316-8668, http://www.flatulence-filter.com