Guiding Light

Do-It-Yourself Help

If nobody seems to offer the support you need, then you might have to create your own support group. That's what John Friess and some like-minded entrepreneurs did. Similar to NEXT Business, but in Portland, Oregon, Starve Ups is what it sounds like: a shelter in the storm for start-ups.

Starve Ups came about because Friess, 27, is the vice president and co-founder of Wired.MD, a company that produces interactive educational videos for hospitals and health-care organizations to show to their patients. Wired.MD opened in 2000, though its product has been in the market for only about a year. Friess' company has 15 employees; clients consist of 88 health-care organizations in 29 states.

Open Your Mind . . .

And let a business mentor fill it with their knowledge. Read Learn From the Best for more info.

During the start-up stage, he and his brother and co-founder, Mark Friess, 30, attended every entrepreneurial meeting they could find-with disappointing results. "What we found," recalls John, "was that at the end of [the meetings], we'd meet other [attendees] in the parking lot. We were finding that the most valuable component of the meeting was that 20 minutes afterward, talking in the parking lot."

And so John, Mark and 25-year-old Paul Anthony, CEO of Rumblefish, a Portland, Oregon, record label and publisher, formed Starve Ups, a peer group that simulates those parking-lot conversations. "We have an extremely strong peer network-we can call each other anytime and ask any question," says John. "We've got the ability to utilize other companies' resources, and we've gotten some great leads."

It's a tight group with 18 companies-and 92 businesses are on a waiting list to get in. Entrepreneurs in the Portland, Oregon, area may not be able to join the group anytime soon, but who knows? As John says, "Those who are passionate and aggressive usually get what they want."

If you live elsewhere, you could start your own Starve Ups chapter, which John wants to see happen. Just call him-if you're serious, he'll help you get started. Or begin a peer entrepreneurial organization of your own. In any case, Starve Ups' peer counseling seems to have benefited its members. "At our first meeting, seven young companies showed up," says John. "Two years later, they're still in the group."

This sounds great, but doesn't starting a nonprofit entrepreneurial peer group take time away from running your soon-to-be thriving enterprise? And at a time when every ounce of your energy should be focused on building your business?

Definitely, agrees John, "But at the same time, it brings so much back. You get organizational skills, leadership [skills] and opportunities like this interview. And we're building relationships with like-minded peers, relationships I believe we will have for many, many years."

It's Still Up to You
But don't overindulge, advises John. "A lot of times, networking is not working. You just sit around and talk. Once you meet [someone who can connect you to an opportunity], try to keep it to one to three networking groups."

"Time is valuable, so I choose the event," agrees Dresner.

Being puzzled, worried, frazzled and even frantic is part of being in business. So is asking for advice. Keep that in mind, and things will be decidedly different in the future. The next generation of entrepreneurs will have somebody else to turn to for help: you.

Need More Help?
  • Axxess Business Centers: These for-profit centers provide advice and help from veteran entrepreneurs on all aspects of starting and running a business.
  • Bizymoms.com: If you're a mom with a business, here's your support group.
  • Launching Entrepreneurial Advisory Panels: This University of Wisconsin, Madison, School of Business group helps women entrepreneurs.
  • Northwest Entrepreneur Network: Located in Bellevue, Washington, this program aims to help regional entrepreneurs succeed through mentoring and networking.
  • SBA: Visit this site for business resources and information on special programs.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist in Loveland, Ohio. He says people are always telling him he should seek help.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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This article was originally published in the August 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Guiding Light.

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