After having completed Principles of Business and Marketing, I’m now in Entrepreneurship I, an elective course taught by Carson High’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructor Billy McHenry. The class provided me with an opportunity for my first internship, here at the Adams Hub. I work directly with entrepreneurs who are starting companies, in a professional business environment.
Last year, Mr. McHenry’s class focused on how to manage our money and make smart decisions with it. It gave us a great foundation for thinking differently about money. This year we’re getting hands-on, and learning how to truly run a business. During our time in this course we create an original business plan, which we eventually present to Mr. McHenry, in hopes of moving on to the “Shark Tank” event, where we then compete for a cash prize that could help us start our own businesses.
I’ve learned some incredible things and worked with some remarkable people, including some who have helped me create a more professional business plan. Molly Dahl, who also works at the Adams Hub, has been a consistent support for the students in the business program as well as myself. Because of her, we’ve learned things we would have never imagined working on, including mindfulness, customer service, teamwork, presentation skills and more. Ms. Dahl is an anchor and constant inspiration to the students in this program.
With her have come other supportive Adams Hub mentors including Miya McKenzie, Matt Westfield, and Peggy Borgman (who I also get the pleasure of working with). They have all come into the business program and shared their knowledge and expertise with the students. Ms. MacKenzie has shared the latest thinking on how to truly “think outside of the box” before starting a business. Matt Westfield has presented a class on how to make a successful business pitch and win any audience over. Peggy Borgman, who has been a small business owner, discussed her experience with running her own company and the importance of offering world-class customer service.
The members of the Adams Hub team have left their mark in the Carson High business program and furthered the love of business we Entrepreneurship students share!
We caught up with Carolyn Usinger, founder of disaster-recovery communications company ReadyConnect.
Why did you start ReadyConnect?
I have a passion for helping businesses succeed. My earliest careers were involved with foreclosures and bankruptcies. After those experiences, I wanted to devote my life to helping businesses succeed. I started by creating a series of #business #startup kits to help people create their businesses easily, with the California Chamber of Commerce.
While I was doing that, my house and home office burned in the 1991 Oakland fire. It changed my whole life. I began to look at disasters through new eyes. I learned that 50% of local businesses don’t survive a disaster. Of the ones that do, another 50% are gone within 3 years. Disasters have a very long-tail effect of small businesses.
What are some of the things we don’t understand about disaster recovery?
Even well-meaning attempts to help can backfire. For example, a truckload of bottled water or a load of plywood may be donated to the community, and undermine sales that could have gone to struggling local businesses. Without accurate insights into what a community needs, efforts to help often don’t hit their intended target. ReadyConnect facilitates communication, coordination and recovery. It pulls the community together. As we say, “Don’t face a disaster alone.”
During a disaster’s immediate aftermath, consumers don’t know which businesses are open, which are closed, which may have supplies that they need. Employers may have difficulty finding out the status of employees. During power outages, cellphone batteries run low as people make multiple calls to family, friends, and employers.
I began doing research through chambers of commerce and started to create a toolkit. As I learned more about the needs of businesses following disaster, that tool morphed and grew. It became a resource to help business and people connect to each other.
Since then, the number of natural disasters and the intensity of the destruction has magnified. ReadyConnect was created to make recovery a reality, supporting local businesses and individuals with a community network. My goal is to provide toolkits to every community in the country, to enable them to start recovering on Day 1 instead of starting from scratch.
How does your product work?
Our toolkit is hosted online for business and we offer a mobile #app for end users. We’re beginning with Chambers of Commerce, so every member business receives an online toolkit at no charge, and their employees and families can purchase as many mobile apps as they wish. Anyone can purchase the mobile app, so we expect that our subscriber base will grow organically through these personal connections. If you’re connected, you want your friends and family to be, too.
The businesses create disaster plans and the employees who have the app can build their own family disaster plan. One of the features people appreciate most is that we keep their contact lists up to date and enable them to have fast, efficient, battery-preserving “one button” communication with all those people. But it is much more than a communication tool. Perhaps the most important element of ReadyConnect is that we help businesses #market themselves to the Ready-Connected Community in the aftermath of a disaster. They will be able to notify consumers of crucial supplies in stock. If they’re scrambling to re-open, they can let people know their re-opening date and sell vouchers to keep cash flowing. This is absolutely critical, because many businesses that survive that first year following a disaster will eventually succumb to poor sales. The disaster doesn’t end when the media coverage does.
How does this differ from what Facebook is doing?
Facebook offers a “safe” notification, which is a simple way to notify friends and family of your status–if you’re all Facebook subscribers. Now imagine, following a disaster, trying to remember who you have reached and then having to still communicate by phone or text with the individuals you’ve missed. Another serious issue is that Facebook and other social media sites are rife with scams and rumors, even well-meaning misinformation. ReadyConnect provides forums that are vetted by local community leaders. Users can ask questions and get reliable answers. We’re a source of trusted information. We can start disseminating information before the disaster center opens five days after the fact. We provide a platform on which to organize the recovery.
We recognize that not all disasters are big, natural disasters. A fire or broken pipe can close a business, too. So we’re offering ReadyConnect as a tool for “everyday” recovery.
What are some challenges you’ve faced?
People don’t want to think about disasters. And it’s human nature not to prepare—it’s called “denial”. So we are approaching “preparation” with tools that businesses can use every day, as well as during these epic events. For example, a tool to “broadcast” updates to your employees if you’re experiencing a sudden closure, that enables them to easily view work schedules and cover shifts.
There’s the obvious problem of government agencies being consumed with major infrastructure issues such as repairing roads or levees or putting out fires. But when it comes to recovery, we find that different agencies are “siloed.” There is not good integration of resources. Disaster centers are not enough. Without clarity about a community’s needs, agencies may not be providing the right help. We have built this company to deliver what FEMA is asking for, a “Whole Community Approach.” Unless you own your own business, you can’t understand the urgency of keeping your doors open. A weeks’ closure can be the difference between life and death for many local businesses. Folks in government don’t experience this kind of traumatic job insecurity, so their ability to relate to this situation can be limited. Meanwhile, a #small business owner may be paying salaries to employees even when they have no sales and revenue. Many sacrifice themselves to keep their teams going, expecting that recovery will be faster.
In speaking with cities, we’ve learned that they’re willing to spend $30,000 on a reverse 911 system yet don’t understand why they should invest 10% of that cost to enable their community to recover. That has been eye-opening. Chambers “get it” because they’re part of the business community, so they’re our target market for the rollout.
Where is ReadyConnect now?
This is a very exciting time—we’re launching in five communities in California: Palo Alto, San Mateo, Half Moon Bay, Encino and Culver City. We’re working through Chambers of Commerce because they’re already connected to community businesses and they get it. Ironically, businesses receive the least amount of support after a disaster, and yet healthy businesses are key to the recovery of the entire community. ReadyConnect is filling a gap, and we’re very excited about the future.
Adams Hub has been chosen as the recipient of the 2017 EDAWN (Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada) Award for #Entrepreneurial Program of the Year. The award was presented on March 30th during 10th annual #NCET Technology Awards at the Atlantis Casino Resort & Spa. The NCET Technology Awards celebrate the #Northern Nevada individuals and companies who have greatly enhanced the growth and prestige of the technology #community. The #EDAWN Awards recognize the people and resources that have played an integral part in contributing to the growth of our community.
“We’re delighted to receive this honor,” said Miya MacKenzie, Chief Professional Officer of Adams Hub for innovation. “We’ve kicked off lots of new programming in the past year to support entrepreneurs and small businesses. This award is validation that those efforts are making a difference.”
City officials and local #business experts meet with a group of visiting Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative fellows at the Adams Hub for Innovation in Carson City, Nev. on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.
Photo by Cathleen Allison
New program launches in 2016 included a Carson City chapter of Entrepreneurs Assembly, the award-winning Nevada nonprofit; a Pre-Accelerator program facilitated by #entrepreneur Kevin Lyons; Research Ninjas, on-site Carson City Librarians who assist clients and community businesses with deep research using proprietary databases; and Lunchbox Learning, monthly sessions with subject matter experts on a key business-building topics. A 2017 addition is “Motivation Mondays,” one-on-one entrepreneurial-effectiveness coaching with Diane Dye Hansen of What Works Coaching.
“Adams Hub has extended our programs beyond traditional #startup incubation,” explained MacKenzie. “Our goal is to foster #entrepreneurism and increased employment throughout the Northern Nevada business community.” To that end, a number of the #incubator‘s services are offered to community businesses and non-profits. “We’re building an ecosystem that supports peak performance for the entrepreneur and solopreneur,” she said.
Local entrepreneurs can begin their year on the right foot: Entrepreneurs Assembly (EA) Carson starts the New Year on a new schedule: the second Wednesday of the month from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Entrepreneurs, #startups, small businesses, even people working on a new business idea are welcome. There is no charge to participate, and meetings are held at The Studio at Adams Hub, 177 W. Proctor, in Carson City.
EA is a Nevada non-profit whose mission is growing opportunity and prosperity throughout the state through entrepreneurship and #innovation. There are now thriving chapters in Reno, South Lake and Incline. EA also launches chapters in 2017 at UNLV and Henderson, Nevada.
Entrepreneurs Assembly Meeting at The Studio at Adams Hub. Photo by Cathleen Allison
During each meeting, round tables facilitated by experienced volunteer business #mentors who act as a “virtual business incubator” in which participants work on their business, not in their business. Confidentiality is key, as members discuss their business #challenges. Mentors and peers alike join in the lively interactions, and the #entrepreneur formulates a plan of action for the next 30 days. (EA is not a #networking or leads group, though networking happens and business leads often occur.)
“The beauty of this format is that it creates accountability for entrepreneurs, who are generally accustomed to going it alone,” says Matt Westfield, the founder of EA. “This helps keep them on track, moving forward, and making progress. Just as important, our members are able to discuss challenges and concerns that they may not even share with their family members. Our motto is founders helping founders.
Since its inception in 2011, EA has provided support to over 1,000 Nevada entrepreneurs.
To participate, RSVP to email@example.com or call 775.222.0001. You’re also welcome to simply show up on the evening of the meeting.
Scratch the surface of most #entrepreneurs (go on, I dare you) and you’ll find…a scratch-resistant surface. Most entrepreneurs have hard shells. As the pop culture stereotype goes, you gotta be tough to be an #entrepreneur. Not just tough, but a lone genius or a rugged individualist. Most of us are accustomed to going it alone.
Maybe you’re familiar with the Peter Principle. It holds that employees are promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. But plenty of entrepreneurs doggedly work their way up to incompetence, too. It’s something called Founder’s Syndrome. Here are the symptoms, per Wikipedia:
- The founder makes all decisions, big and small, without a formal process or input from others.
- Decisions are made in crisis mode, with little forward planning.
- Staff meetings are held generally to rally the troops, get status reports, and assign tasks.
- There is little meaningful strategic development, or shared executive agreement on objectives with limited or a complete lack of professional development.
- There is little organizational infrastructure in place, and what is there is not used correctly.
- There is no succession plan.
Does this sound like you? No founder can succeed without “working on the #business, not in the business,” as Michael Gerber’s business classic The E Myth describes it. Yet the vast majority of US business owners don’t take the time to step back and examine their strategy, ask the big questions, or seek out the opinions of our peers or outside experts.
Very few of us have a board of directors or even an informal #advisory board. (There are companies who offer “virtual” advisory boards, but over the years I found many of these to be prohibitively expensive or run by people without the kind of entrepreneurial experience I sought.)
So entrepreneurs can be a little…secretive. Not surprising really: many of us start companies so we don’t have to answer to anyone else. There are plenty of chips on entrepreneurial shoulders. This can lead to some less-than-productive behaviors, such as bottling everything up and feeling as though we should have all the answers. Many founders’ families–even their spouses–have no idea what’s keeping them up at night.
So what’s a rugged individual to do?
Entrepreneurs Assembly is a #Northern Nevada business-support organization born in the Great Recession. It’s a non-profit, where members get to experience expertly facilitated round-table discussions about their biggest issues, the stuff of insomnia.
EA’s motto is “Founders Helping Founders,” and it’s clear to see that the magic of these round tables is a set of fresh ears and fresh brains who can help you think differently. Even if it’s just for a few hours once a month. EA members help each other identify blind spots and remove road blocks.
Of course, you’ll leave the meeting with “marching orders” for the next 30 days. And suddenly, you’ll rediscover the beauty of accountability. (You said you were going to terminate that toxic employee in last month’s meeting, and your peers are waiting to hear how it went. No wiggle room. You can’t pull that “I’m the boss” card to explain why you postponed the inevitable…again.)
Best of all, few of those crucial “marching orders” require that you spend any money. EA Founder Matt Westfield keeps members focused on their customers. You’re going to spend some time, certainly, but some of the most profound changes you can make involve talking to people and doing research. Engaging with your customers or your marketplace.
At every meeting I see resources shared: a #mentor or another member provides an email or phone number for a key contact that can provide help. Someone writes down a book or blog to read, or suggests an app to try. Some of the resources are so laser-focused, so ridiculously relevant for the individual involved, it’s hard to believe the serendipities. But that’s what happens when you leave your hard shell behind and get real, and really honest, with other people who are on the same path. And by the way, confidentiality is a sacred vow to EA members.
The founders of EA saw a huge gap and are busily filling it, with chapters in Reno, South Lake, Incline and now #Carson City, where the meeting is held in The Studio at Adams Hub, 177 W. Proctor. And did we mention that there’s no charge to take part?
Our final meeting of 2016 is being held November from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. is your chance to “work on, not in” your business. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 775.222.0001. You can also visit www.ea-nv.org.