Charting new paths

What could you do with a $10,000 lifeline?

Expand your business. Launch a new product. Focus on a new market or growth phase. What if the ante were upped to a $50,000 infusion? Even more interesting possibilities come to mind.

Or maybe you’re not in business for yourself — yet. You have a dream, a vision of the small business you want to build. Ideas for a product or service, for marketing and promotion, for structure and staff — they’re swirling around in your head, but you haven’t put them down on paper. More than likely, the lack of start-up capital is precluding you from bringing that business dream to life.

This fall, why not get down to business on your plan of action and get some help to turn those ideas into a polished business plan.

Small business owners and would-be entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio can enter COSE VentureQuest 2002, a new regional business plan challenge.

With a top prize of $50,000 cash and myriad valuable business support services and products, VentureQuest 2002 provides an enticing incentive. There are five categories: Start-Up, Growth, Under 30, Minority Business and Female Business. The creator of the top plan in each category will win $10,000 in cash and a package of business products and services.

According to Steve Millard, executive director of COSE, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s small business division, there are more than 100 nonprofit providers of assistance and resources to small businesses in Northeast Ohio, yet the state ranks 44th in new business start-ups.

“We at COSE brainstormed with our volunteers and partner organizations on how we could help entrepreneurs understand both the importance of a business plan and where they could turn for assistance,” says Millard.

He points to a recent study of 194 start-up loans granted by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in 1995. As part of the loan process, each applicant was required to submit a business plan. Today, more than five years later, 85 percent of those companies are still in business, beating a survival rate of 10 percent to 50 percent for start-ups in general.

“That study underscores the value of having a written business plan,” says Millard. “You wouldn’t take an important trip without a road map and solid directions, so why would you want to risk starting a business or launching a new product without a solid plan in hand and some sound assistance.”

He recommends entrepreneurs take a realistic look at the financials, neither going overboard on the sales and income projections nor underestimating start-up and operating costs.

“Whether you use the business plan as your own personal road map or whether you are seeking a loan or capital investors, the numbers need to be honest and reasonable,” he says. “Also important is a thorough analysis of the market and a well-rounded marketing plan. Do you know who your competitors are? What about emerging trends in your industry? How will you price your product? Distribute your product? Market and sell your product?”

Millard says resources abound in the community to help entrepreneurs prepare their business plans. COSE VentureQuest 2002 entrants will have a chance to connect with area resource providers and attend networking opportunities from now through the challenge deadline. To participate, entrants must send a notarized letter of intent that is receieve at the COSE office by Nov. 12, 2001. Completed plans and entry forms are due by Dec. 3, 2001. Winners will be announced at the Growth Association’s annual meeting in first quarter of 2002.

VentureQuest 2002 categories

Minority-owned business A minority must own 51 percent or more of the business.

Woman-owned business A woman must own 51 percent or more of the business.

Under 30 At least one business owner must be under 30 years of age and own 51 percent or more of the business.

Start up Best plan for a business start-up venture.

Growth Best plan for continued growth of a business, adding product lines, expanding operations, etc.

Sharon Lamcha is director of communication services for COSE. Contact her at (216) 592-2380.

VentureQuest 2002 website