Ever since leaving Westinghouse at age 50 with an early retirement, I have been interested in starting businesses. Westinghouse provided the opportunity with the Placement Center.
Strategic Direction, Inc.. a consulting business in two parts, operated from 1986 – 1996:
Career Strategic Direction, an outplacement and personal marketing service.
- Purchased the assets of the Westinghouse Placement Center and after fulﬁlling a contract with the company, moved to a more professional location, upgraded the equipment and opened for business.
- Marketed using yellow page ad for resumes that was successful in obtaining individual business along with networking and referrals. Resume writing, letter campaigns and career counseling was provided by me for individuals in corporate careers and by my wife for teachers, medical and people in services careers.
- Corporate outplacement contracts resulting from downsizing and relocating were obtained by direct sales. The largest customer was Occidental Chemical in their move from Niagara Falls to Houston. In addition to individual services, provided work spaces with telephone service. Other contracts included a partnership with an organization in Rochester NY, another Westinghouse facility and several local ﬁrms.
Strategic Direction Analysis, a marketing and systems consulting practice.
- Obtained contracts through former Westinghouse collegues and personal networks. Large contracts included consulting on the installation of a new Material Requirement Planning system, an order management system and a product pricing system for Siemens Energy and Automation in Little Rock AR, Norwood, OH and Atlanta GA. Also provided marketing studies for new customer development and for a potential new product line to Siemens.
- Provided management oversight services to Spaulding Fibre on their closed plant with environmental issues in Tonawanda, NY.
- Provided marketing and strategic planning consulting through the University of Buﬀalo Center for Industrial Eﬀectiveness to a software company and a metal fabrication business.
Although the business as a whole was ﬁnancially successful, I was ready for new challenges. The individual resume business was evolving with more people being able to utilize their own personal computers although most had diﬃculty with the content. The outplacement business moved toward organizations with a national presence. To continue in a consulting practice, new clients must be developed as the needs of existing clients are fulﬁlled and I grew too comfortable with the actual consulting.
Attempts to sell the business failed as potential purchasers with interest in all aspects of the business did not materialize and none of the businesses were sustainable on their own. We closed the oﬃce and oﬀered computer ﬁles of their materials to all clients.
In Strategic Direction, perhaps focus and a big scalable vision was lacking but the business provided a transition from big company security to learning to doing some of everything in sales, marketing, operations, cash planning, accounting, taxes, legal and real estate from a tactical and strategic point of view.
WEDI & Wes Side Bazaar
Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) and the West Side Bazaar, a non proﬁt 501(c)3 entity founded in 2006 and is operating successfully at this time although I left in 2013.
- Westminster Presbyterian Church in Buﬀalo, NY was interested in a capital building program with a mission component. After much discussion of alternatives with members of the congregation it was agreed that the mission component would focus on completing the conversion of a street to 100% homeownership through continuing partnership with Habitat for Humanity and work to develop economic activity in the proximity of the street so that jobs be available to residents. The capital campaign of the church was successful so that funds were available for both eﬀorts.
- A non proﬁt corporation Westminster Economic Development Initiative (WEDI) was chartered, the 501(c)3 completed, and a board of directors established. I was elected the founding board president.
- Work on the homeownership goal was advanced with the building of 4 new Habitat homes on properties previously housing 8 living units.
- Work toward the economic goal was started by establishing a committee of community stakeholders including business owners, homeowners, local governments and non-proﬁts as well as community activists. The committee agreed that the best way forward was to establish the West Side Bazaar.
- The WEDI board agreed to lead this eﬀort on behalf of the community and the Economic Development Director was hired by WEDI to spearhead the eﬀort. In addition to the startup of the Bazaar the Director also implemented business development loans for new business within the area but not in the Bazaar.
- The startup of the Bazaar involved recruiting potential vendors and providing training, ﬁnding and securing retail space, hiring a manager and securing additional funding.
Initial location and expansion grant
- Initially, the West Side Bazaar had space for six entrepreneurs. Marketing eﬀorts and the entrepreneurs were successful so it was decided to apply for a $100,000 competitive grant to move to a larger location and install a commercial kitchen so that food could be oﬀered. Over twenty organizations applied for the grant. The winner was decided by the members of the foundation. After several elimination rounds, the Bazaar won the grant.
- After the grant was received, a partner who was to rent space to the Bazaar was unable to obtain funds for the necessary renovation to prepare the space. A new location was secured and permits obtained from the city. A kitchen planner and a general contractor was hired. The work was completed on-time and within budget and the new Bazaar opened in stages, ﬁrst with 17 craft vendors and then, when the kitchen was complete with ﬁve food vendors. The Bazaar continues to operate successfully under the WEDI board.
Strengthening of WEDI
- After successfully implementing the Bazaar expansion as well as success with the loan program for new businesses in the area, grants were obtained from the leading foundations to further develop the business loan program as well as new business training and mentoring. An Executive Director was hired and a business oﬃce established.
A vision is critical to getting something this big done. Our initial vision was not as large as things turned out – but it was big enough to get the job done.
The importance of self sustainability in design can not be over emphasized. The Bazaar and loan business, though not highly proﬁtable is suﬃciently proﬁtable to be self sustaining.
Having ﬁnancial projections to back up ideas is critical in moving concepts such as WEDI and the Bazaar forward, not only with funders but with all interested stakeholders.
From a people standpoint, the big payback of this venture was people from greatly diﬀerent backgrounds and cultures working together on something of signiﬁcance and learning from and getting to know each other.
Four Hour Society, Beethoven Marketing, Fivenomics and Freight Train Ventures
Four Hour Society, Inc. a volunteer engagement platform and Beethoven Marketing, Inc. a digital marketing agency were founded as Delaware C Corporations in 2015 and 2016 by Sam Valenti and me.
- My experience with WEDI as well as SCORE piqued my interest in entrepreneurship. After moving to Chicago I reconnected with the Booth School of Business to build a network that could potentially lead to areas where I could contribute.
Besides attending ﬁnance and marketing roundtable meetings, I joined the Polsky Center for Innovation and attended Technori, a monthly showcase of startup companies.
- Technori’s format: pre-meeting networking, a keynote address plus ﬁve startups presenting for ﬁve minutes each with three minutes for questions with a networking party afterwards. Technori brought together entrepreneurs, investors, technical and marketing people and provided an avenue for people to connect. Most businesses involved a web or smartphone app that aided the development of an ecosystem. I became interested in doing this.
- At a Technori meeting I met Sam Valenti who was interested in developing a volunteer engagement app and ecosystem. He was open to working with me as an advisor or as a equity partner. With my experience in the volunteer area I could see the value what he was proposing to do.
- We founded the Four Hour Society, Inc. as a Delaware C corporation in November 2015. Sam contributed the idea, domains and website work while I covered expenses involved in starting and operating the business as well as provided planning skills. We interviewed charities and volunteers, reviewed system options, put up a website, developed a business plan with ﬁnancial forecasts and looked for investors and customers. www.fourhoursociety.com
- As we worked together on this, we became aware of other opportunities. The most obvious was to scale Sam’s skills in digital marketing into a larger business. To that end we incorporated Beethoven Marketing, Inc. in October, 2016. http://www.beethovenmarketing.com
- The biggest opportunity, however, is to create multiple businesses and the entity doing this is Freight Train Ventures. http://www.ftventures.co The goal for Freight Train Ventures is is to build businesses that energize communities and empower people.
- Communities could be volunteers, entrepreneurs, consultants, people moving between the gig economy and employment, churches, 12 step programs, community dining groups, and unlimited other affinity groups.
- People are empowered by apps designed to facilitate communication within the community as well as by a local ambassador who provides coordination and inspiration.
- The revenue sources SAAS, advertising, events and others. Research has shown that a basic human trait is to want to belong to energized communities.
- The focus of Freight Train Ventures is:
- Build a startup studio that develops the organization, skills and resources to build community energizing businesses. This primarily includes implementing the community building apps and the interchangeable equity and management positions within Freight Train.
- Build individual businesses with Freight Train Ventures recruiting and supporting local community ambassadors who see the potential of making their community passion into a business.
- Continue the buildout of the Four Hour Society and Beethoven Marketing
- The benefits of Freight Train Ventures:
- Create wealth through more efficient start-ups that are outside of the normal Venture Capital system.
- Reduce the stress and loneliness of starting a business by providing both resources and community.
- Common goal and synergistic uses of technical, human and financial resources
Beethoven Marketing, Inc.
- CoFounder/investor to manage and grow the business to service skilled marketing professionals in multiple markets selling Beethoven products.
- Website and Search Engine Marketing project manager
- Lead development and direct sales professionals .
Four Hour Society, Inc.
- Ambassadors and Corporate Users
Freight Train Ventures Start-up Studio
- CoFounder/Investor to build studio resources and recruit and support Freight Train Businesses
Freight Train Ventures Businesses
- Founders/Investors/Ambassadors to start businesses that energize communities and empower people