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mark-burnett.jpgBanks aren't lending like they used to. Credit card companies are reeling in their lines. Even the in-laws are tapped. But there's still one outfit that's offering a lifeline to the startup hopeful: Shark Tank, a forthcoming reality show on ABC, is looking for entrepreneurs with original business concepts and exceptional drive. Participants will be competing for serious startup capital, advice and support from five deep-pocketed business owners. Winners won't get a new car or a trip to Hawaii, but they will get their dream operations off the ground with, in some cases, seven-figure investments.
business-travel.jpgThe adult entertainment industry isn't the only one feeling snubbed by Congress: Travel and tourism also wants a break, at least as far as travel-bashing is concerned.  

That's because business travel (and all travel, really) is way, way down. Some of that is because companies are trying to save money; but another reason stems from policymakers' response to allegedly over-the-top junkets by firms like AIG, whose mismanagement of bailout money (after receiving billions, the company sent execs to a plush resort in California, where they reportedly spent more than $440,000) fueled cries against further "despicable" behavior. In this case, the criticisms may have been deserved, but companies preferring to err on the side of caution have made an unwitting victim of an entire sector of the economy.

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ramping-up-ent.jpgEntrepreneur is in Anaheim, Calif. today, getting the low-down on what small-business owners think about the economy. SCORE and American Express OPEN have made a pit-stop here on their Small Business Speed Coaching Test Drive tour, offering 30-minute coaching sessions with business counselors and workshops on government contracting, cash management and business strategy, all at no cost to attendees. If you live near a city on the circuit schedule, it might be worth your time to go.

The mood of the 200-some attendees seemed overwhelmingly positive, and it was good to see that optimism spread across diverse industries. For example, Diane Cuniff, president of cageless doggy daycare The Bone Adventure, was here for advice on whether to buy or lease property for a second location. Monica Herrera and Ronald Brown, respectively CEO and CTO of Aquatic Resource Farming, Inc., are starting a biofuels project they are certain will lead to government contracting opportunities. Carol Tenney is making the jump from attorney to Stories for Nieces web content entrepreneur because she thinks the playing field is being leveled and now is the time to jump in.
credit-target.jpgAs the U.S. Senate considers legislation that would allow credit card users, including countless entrepreneurs, to return to their previously lower rates after six months on-time payments, a recent Business Week report found that JPMorgan Chase "suspended credit lines for a large number of business owners" in March.

It's good news and bad news for the struggling Main Street shopkeeper. Under the Senate proposal, credit card issuers couldn't raise rates until a customer is at least 60 days behind in payments. Terms would be reviewed every six months, too.
one-individual.jpg"Join the entrepreneur movement. Stimulate the economy. Spread the word."

That's the description for a sleekly designed video released by the newly re-branded Grasshopper (formerly gotvmail), a company that provides advanced business phone solutions for entrepreneurs.

mothers-day.jpgMoms are getting a raw deal during this recession. They were early to give up their own material wants during Christmas, but where their children are concerned, it's not exactly a two-way street.

The National Retail Federation and industry research firm IBISWorld have unveiled some depressing projections for Mother's Day, coming up Sunday. NRF's 2009 Mother's Day Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey places total spending at $14.1 billion (just above $12.73 billion in 2009 Easter spending), noting that Americans will spend an average of $123.89 per person, down from $138.63 last year. IBISWorld expects gift giving to drop a steep 14.7 percent, to a mere $12.9 billion (just 1.6 percent of the amount the government will spend on the stimulus).
thawing-ice.jpgAt the moment, things are looking up in credit markets, and the market for U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loans is no exception.

According to a Wall Street Journal article today, $1.3 billion in new SBA loans have been approved--up more than 20 percent--since mid-March, after President Obama announced new initiatives that would cut lending fees and increase guarantees on small-business loans to as much as 90 percent.

detroit.jpgWhen deciding where to start a business in this economy, Detroit may not be the first city that comes to mind. With the highest unemployment rate in the nation (12.6 percent in March) and the Big Three automakers struggling, Michigan's economy is in a serious state of disarray.

Bizdom U is out to change all of that. A no-cost, two-year program that assists entrepreneurs in launching businesses, Bizdom U takes driven people with business ideas and provides the guidance, training and support necessary to put these ideas to work and create successful growth-oriented businesses in the city of Detroit, according to the program's website.

vc-sustain.jpgThe most interesting session I attended at the Milken Institute's 2009 Global Conference was The Next Generation of Venture Capital: Hot Ideas from Sand Hill Road. (Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park is known for its high concentration of venture capital firms.)

The panel was enthusiastically moderated by Kara Swisher, co-executive editor of All Things Digital, who pushed the elite group of venture capitalists and investment bankers to talk about what they saw as the next big breakthrough.

sba-loan-eligibility.jpgThe U.S. Small Business Administration today announced that it's loosening eligibility for the most-popular line of loans it backs, making the cash available to auto dealers, car-parts suppliers and other businesses deemed too large for the credit lines in the past.

The expansion of the SBA's "7(a)" program starts next week and lasts until Sept. 30, 2010. The SBA states that 70,000 small business will be newly eligible for the loans.

booster-shot.jpgHouse committees and subcommittees that deal with entrepreneurship today green-lighted a package of bills that promise to create jobs and help business owners.
"These programs offer resources and expertise that can help existing businesses expand and new enterprises get off the ground," states Congressman Heath Shuler (D-N.C.). "The legislation we are passing today will strengthen these programs, providing small businesses with better access to valuable training, counseling and other services."
rocket-man.jpgDay two at the Milken Institute's 2009 Global Conference has wound down, and there's a lot to share.

Bad news first. During lunch, Milken Institute Chairman Michael Milken talked with a panel of Nobel laureates in economics about capitalism, touching specifically on the expanding role of the government in free markets. Gary Becker, who won the 1992 Nobel prize for pioneering research that extended microeconomic theory to human behavior, issued a damning statement: the economic stimulus won't work.

consumer-confidence.jpgThe Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index reached its highest level in 2009 in April, gaining 12 points from 26.9 in March.

The spike was "driven primarily by a significant improvement in the short-term outlook," states Lynn Franco, Director of the Conference Board Consumer Research Center. Its "Present Situation Index" also posted a gain, which is "a sign that conditions have not deteriorated further, and may even moderately improve, in the second quarter" of the year, she added.
titans-gather.jpgEntrepreneur is at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California for the Milken Institute's 2009 Global Conference. The event brings together some of the most respected minds in business, government and academia to deliberate the challenges facing the world.

With more than 120 panels and an agenda starting at 6:30 a.m., it was decidedly rough choosing which sessions to attend. (And it was with heavy heart that I decided against the "late night" panel on team building with Duke University and U.S. Olympic basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.)

But here are notable insights from the panelists I did hear.

main-street-social.jpgAccording to the Discover Small Business Watch monthly report, 38 percent of entrepreneurs surveyed said they used Facebook, Linked-In, My Space or Twitter, up from 22 percent in October of 2007.

A little less than half of those people, however, said they used their social-networking accounts to promote their businesses.