Top Apps for Entrepreneurs

When the local newspaper asks you to suggest the best apps for entrepreneurs you have to respond even if you don’t have a smart phone.  Here is what I recommended and I am fairly convinced that these apps almost made me buy an iPhone!

The Apple iPod was predicted to be the top selling item for Christmas 2011 and many entrepreneurs will be playing with theirs now and trying to figure out how it could help them.  The Apple iPad is also becoming a must have item for business owners and entrepreneurs and the Android operating system has taken off in multiple devices.  Let’s face it though such items can waste plenty of time too; especially if you get addicted to ‘Angry Birds’.  So what apps does the Center for Entrepreneurial Learning and Leadership at Georgia Southern consider useful for the productivity conscious entrepreneur?  We asked Dr. Luke Pittaway to make his top recommendations, his initial comment was, “Well I don’t have an iPhone yet, and I didn’t get one for Christmas, but honestly the following seven apps would persuade me to buy one”.

Dragon Dictation

Not all entrepreneurs can afford a secretary, so this is a great app for those entrepreneurs who have to keep notes and ideas, who travel a lot or who post regularly to social networks.  It provides accurate fast voice transcription and the ability to share messages via e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.  The developers claim it is five times faster than typing on a keyboard.  It’s most useful for recording notes and sending reminders to yourself.

HoursTracker

For entrepreneurs who have to keep a track of their hours this could be essential.  HoursTracker allows you to record, report and analyze the hours you work for each customer.  You set up the jobs you are working on and then clock in and out of each job using your iPhone.  You can then keep track on time and earnings and download the information into a spreadsheet for further analysis.

Priority Matrix

Priority Matrix is a task management app that will help any entrepreneur improve their time management skills.  It allows you to visually organize lists, agendas, and priorities by labels and colors.  You can set target dates, evaluate options and share your organized projects via e-mail with employees.  This one is best used for daily planning and project management.

QuickOffice Pro

QuickOffice Pro provides integrated access to remote services like Huddle, SugarSync, MobileMe, DropBox, Google Docs and Box.net and through these links provides mobile access to documents.  This is a key app for entrepreneurs who are out of the office and need access to critical documents.  You can access, open, edit and send changes to an employee or a customer while out of the office.

ScanBizCards

It happens to us all.  You’re at this event, you meet loads of great contacts then you lose their business cards or you forget to follow up.  For entrepreneurs that need to be good at networking or who attend lots of events the ScanBizCards app is useful.  It scans business cards to your iPhone and Outlook contacts and has other interesting features including an ability to sync with LinkedIn.

SurePayroll Mobile Payroll

Most small businesses cannot afford to have an in-house accountant and although many may outsource the job to their regular accountant any help making payroll is important.  SurePayroll has multiple features including: calculating wages and deductions; managing payroll taxes; issuing checks or direct deposits to employees and providing online access to files, alerts and labor law information.  The downside – the free app is linked to a Payroll service provider and there is an ongoing registration fee.

Workday

If you need some help with your HR tasks this could be the app for you.  This app helps with the recruitment process but also has many features that help entrepreneurs with other human resource tasks.  It will allow you to review, approve and sign off on employees’ expense reports, time sheets and vacation requests.  The app is particularly good if you have remote workers or a mobile workforce who need to secure approval for an HR issue remotely.  The Workday app is free but the Workday program requires a subscription.

These are some great apps but there are many more.  If you are an entrepreneur and need help or space for your business including somewhere to start, somewhere to meet or a training room the  E-Zone in Downtown Statesboro may be able to help.  Contact: Jaye Parker, City Campus E-Zone, cparker@georgiasouthern.edu, 912-478-8701

Where to Look for Entrepreneurial Opportunities (Part 1)

It’s a while since I have written anything for this blog and so I started to write a piece exploring where to look for entrepreneurial opportunities to assist students doing business planning classes.  Well it grew and grew – so the first installment is posted here and other parts will follow over the next few weeks.

An article in April’s addition of Fast Company by Charles Fishman on water security and the challenges and opportunities it presents led me to consider where future entrepreneurial opportunities might come from. Inevitably, in my role as a Professor of Entrepreneurship, I read a lot of newspaper and magazine articles about entrepreneurship and business in general and I read a lot of business plans from students and entrepreneurs.  This combination of experience leads me to some considered thoughts on what the future trends might be.   I doubt that my insights are novel and many of these will seem obvious to most people.  Students in entrepreneurship courses, however, could benefit from considering some of these trends when proposing
ideas and before they develop business plans for their courses.  Inevitably, this is a broad and sweeping list of good places to look; the real opportunities will only come from a microscopic analysis of these areas and analysis of the firms that are already doing things in these markets.

Aging populations in developed nations:

Any data you care to look at demonstrates a serious challenge for most developed nations as they enter the ‘demographic time bomb’; the beginning of a particularly critical period in this regard has just occurred as the ‘boomers’ begin to retire.  Over the next 20 years (2031) a large section of the population will retire and become ‘active retirees’, about 15 years from now (2026) the boomer generation will begin to decline and become more ‘dependent retirees’.  There are well document problems with this population shift, which are at the core of the debate about the deficit.  Obvious pressures will be placed on Social Security and [Medicare], as well, as most of the States’ public pension systems.  There is likely to be inter-generational strife as the younger generation realizes that they have little political power, due to demographics.  It is also possible that future generations may become angry, having been made bankrupt by the entitlements their elders have awarded themselves, while removing these from others.

Entrepreneurial opportunities though will abound as a result.  For 20 years developed societies will have a large pool of active retirees some of whom will have wealth. These retirees will want to do things: from vacationing and recreational activities; to starting businesses themselves; and, investing in others’ businesses.  So for an initial period a host of businesses will grow rapidly that cater to this group’s needs and that draw on their experience and wealth.  Businesses initially are likely to see the most robust growth in retirement communities, vacationing, recreational and business services that cater to this age group.  As the group further age’s though their vitality will begin to decline and growth will inevitably occur in medical industries, home help and nursing homes that assist older retirees.

The anger felt by the younger generation may lead to political action and consequent innovation and change to entitlements, pensions systems and the financial instruments (e.g. medical insurance) that support people in retirement.  It is difficult to predict whether this will happen or the exact ramifications if it did occur.  It is clear though that substantial political change here would lead to new opportunities in financial services (e.g. medical insurance brokerages), as well as, in other areas yet unknown (e.g. inter-generational pensions and other financial services).

One of the problems of large numbers of people retiring over the same period may be critical shortages of qualified people in key professions (e.g. education; nursing), as well as, a significant disconnect between the qualifications and experience of young people and the jobs available.  To some extent this is already beginning to occur and professions that expanded in the 1960s (e.g. Higher Education) are particularly susceptible to this problem. Entrepreneurial opportunities will thus exist in the ‘human resource’ industries (e.g. headhunting; HR outsourcing; HR agencies; recruitment; education and training) as those sectors most affected begin to address their human resource constraints.  Immigration will also be one way in which these gaps will be addressed and so opportunities will continue to grow in international out-sourcing and managing immigration from developing countries to the developed.

Bio-engineering:

The world population continues to expand and worldwide mortality rates decline; in many ways this is good news.  Along with climate change the population expansion, however, puts pressure on food supplies and disruptions to food production bought about by climate change are beginning to have an impact on prices and encouraging speculation in commodities, as well as, causing food riots and other calamities.  Fortunately, mankind has discovered genes and genetic engineering.  Despite obvious concerns bio-engineering does offer some very useful solutions that create clear entrepreneurial opportunities and we are only at the very cusp of their potential.  We are already close to having water-tolerant rice and wheat, as well as, nitrogen tolerant corn; each of which will boost global food supplies.  But bio-engineering of plants and animals has many implications beyond food supplies.  We may in the near future have bio-engineered algae that simultaneously remove significant CO2 from the atmosphere while producing bio-fuels.  We are also close to depleting worldwide fish stocks and yet we have recently produced farmed salmon that can grow to the usual size twice as quickly.  Oddly the genes of other plants and animals also become fundamentally more important and we have more incentives to protect them.  The entrepreneurial opportunities here are presently science driven and the purview of large corporations (e.g. Monsanto); however, one can imagine algae farms becoming an important industry of the future that might be accessible to entrepreneurs and no doubt those genetically engineered salmon will be popular with salmon farmers.  The capture and exploitation of traditionally unproductive land in preparation for new varieties of crops seems like one potential opportunity for entrepreneurs. Bio-engineering process technologies themselves are advancing rapidly (akin to moving from mainframe computers to PCs) and may reach a point soon where smaller science based businesses may be able to unlock fundamental advances in the way that large corporations and universities currently do.  This seems like an area of technology that is ready to reap a Moore’s Law like advance accelerating exponentially and so may offer many new avenues for entrepreneurship in the future.

Climate change:

Unless you are a climate change denier you have to accept the scientific community’s consensus that climate change is happening.  This is the major challenge of this century and one could argue that we are at the beginning of an industrial revolution as the world moves from an economy based on carbon-energy to one based on new forms of energy.  Many of the areas discussed later are a direct consequence of this 2nd industrial revolution.  Sectors from CO2 management, to energy production; energy efficiency and water efficiency are directly related to climate change.  Even scientists struggle to know what the real consequences of climate change will be so it is difficult to predict where any entrepreneurial opportunities might emerge.  There is no question though that climate change will have consequences that will lead to both challenges and opportunities.  The most obvious are unusual variations in weather patterns, excessive heat or cold, major catastrophic events and rising sea levels.  Despite their calamitous nature and the hope that we will reverse and prevent their effects it seems likely that we will have to deal with the consequences of this over the coming century. Despite the ‘darkness’ of this scenario it undeniably presents entrepreneurial opportunities.  Firstly,insurers will need to have more effective climate change models when they set insurance premiums.  Secondly, weather forecasting itself may need to adapt. Thirdly, consumer products to help families cope with extreme weather may have greater demand; and finally, innovations for disaster protection and response may present opportunities (e.g. tsunami, tornado or hurricane protection rooms and engineering solutions for flood prevention); technologies for recoverying destroyed or flooded land.  These are just a few of the areas of challenge but entrepreneurial opportunity that climate change presents us.

Cloud computing:

There is no question that cloud computing is already taking off (aka Salesforce.com) and all of the major IT companies are moving into the space and competing head-to-head.  The space seems hot in B2B applications/software, datacenters, switching, servers and chips.  The driver here is mobile devices and increasing bandwidths for wireless networks and the conglomeration of IT companies into ‘one-stop’ providers of IT infrastructure, services and software for other corporations.  Most of the competition is ongoing between large companies (Oracle; Cisco; Google) and the entrepreneurial opportunities maybe hard to come by.  There does seem to be a few potential areas where opportunities might remain.  Firstly, niche software offered within specific industry sectors for a specific purpose that utilizes the cloud concept where costs can be reduced and competition is limited.  Secondly, entrepreneurial concepts that target the energy inefficiency of datacenters, and servers, and reduce energy consumption.  Thirdly, B2C concepts that utilize the cloud computing approach in areas that are not yet fulfilled (e.g. Intuit’s turbotax.com). Anybody looking for entrepreneurial opportunities in this space though will need to look hard as this is currently a hot and highly competitive space.

New tax credit for start-ups in Georgia

The Angel Capital Education Foundation and the Kauffman Foundation have both announced recent changes to Georgia’s start-up tax credit.  Apparently more than twenty states currently have tax credits for early stage investment; from 10% to more than 50%.  Angel investors have been lobbying to make their states more attractive to investors and Georgia thanks largely to the support of Atlanta Technology Angels and the Technology Association of Georgia has enacted a 35% income tax credit up to $50,000 per individual per year.  The credit went into effect on January 1st 2011 and will be in place for three years (capped at $10 million per year).

Forwarding Fast the Future

Reading newspapers can still be somewhat depressing following the economic downturn and the number of articles that are written about what is going wrong.  These articles tend to capture, or some would say, perpetuate the gloom and cover everything from the ballooning budget deficits to the impending crises in energy and the environment.  It would be nice to look through this gloom occasionally and see the future in a positive light.  Recently I have read a few articles that have renewed my faith in the power of discovery and entrepreneurship and their scope to help us solve our most intractable problems.

The World Bank Group Entrepreneurship survey, for example, recently reported a record number of pro-entrepreneurship legal and regulatory reforms across the world, which are designed to help cultures form that embrace entrepreneurship.  From making things simple for entrepreneurs to get started to removing the stigma from business failure economies across the world appear to be developing a more pro-entrepreneurship stance.  These encouraging changes also include significant efforts to develop pro-entrepreneurship cultures via the expansion of entrepreneurship education.  The week of November 16 to 22nd was Global Entrepreneurship Week and it demonstrated the demand for entrepreneurial thinking amongst the young.  Over 75 countries (3 million participants in 2008) held events and engaged in activities to promote and support young people to think big, and to turn their ideas into reality.  The demand to become entrepreneurs continues to grow and can be seen as positive force for the future.

In addition, to these signs of cultural changes several magazines have published ‘best inventions’ of the year[i] and ‘most intriguing new businesses’[ii] lists showing how we may solve some of our most challenging problems today. Some inventions like the YikeBike (15) a bicycle design fashioned after the penny-farthing and the universal unicycle (27) may not have large impacts on society but others might.  Most notably Philips Electronics LED light bulb (3) which enhances energy efficiency gains from compact fluorescent bulbs; the smart thermostat (4) which communicates with domestic appliances wirelessly to save energy; the solar shingle (13) which doubles as a solar panel; vertical farming (16) which enables high intensity low water use farming; and, the electric microbe (20) that offers the potential for bacteria based fuel cells that could produce cheap, clean electricity.  When you add to this, inventions such as, computing modeled on the human brain[iii] and the micro RNA revolution[iv] that may have significant impacts on computing and medicine one realizes that perhaps some of the solutions to the challenges we face are actually nearer than we might think.  Likewise we should not give up on our entrepreneurs’ abilities to bring some of these discoveries to market.  In fact recessions like this one are often fertile ground for new start-ups.  Some of the most intriguing businesses are pioneering new approaches in new markets such as biotechnology, clean technology, health care and web computing.  They include companies: developing low cost irrigation systems for poor farmers (DripTech); coverting grease and fat from waste food into biodiesel (BioFuelBox); building electric charging stations for cars (Coulomb Technologies); harvesting oil from living algae (Phycal); and, revolutionizing the business model for residential solar systems (SolarCity).   With this amount of discovery and entrepreneurship going on, the future may be coming forward fast.


[i] Time Magazine, November 23rd page 58

[ii] Business Week, November 23rd page 46

[iii] Discover, October page 59

[iv] Discover, October page 46

From Bench to Factory

Articles recently have highlighted a trend where US companies are engaging in ‘resourcing’.  The term describes a situation where once outsourced manufacturing activities are relocated back home.  There are a number of drivers behind this trend.  Companies have discovered during the recession that long supply chains with multiple jurisdictions can be unwieldy when quick decisions and rapid production changes are required.  Ask Nicolas Polutnik, the CEO of Caterpillar France, how he feels about the challenges.  In April 2009 when negotiating operational changes in Grenoble he was ‘boss-knapped’.  Other companies, when oil prices are high, have begun to recognize that the benefits of lower labor costs can be offset by higher transportation costs.  As ‘cap and trade’ enters into decision-making one side effect may be higher costs for high carbon supply chains, which may lead to further incentives to bring manufacturing closer to home.  Given the US’s unemployment rate and trade deficit such resourcing of activities may be important for a recovery and should be welcomed and encouraged.

The problem with this, according to Business Week[i], is that the evidence does not support this view.  New high technology industries like solar panels, fuel cells, energy efficient lighting, electric cars and flexible TV screens are already in the process of being moved overseas.  In 2000 the U.S. exported $29 billion more high-tech products than it imported but by 2007 this had turned into a $54 billion trade deficit.  Federal Bank Reserve data also show that in the 1994-1999 growth period manufacturing capacity increased by 44% but in the recent period of growth (2002-2007) manufacturing capacity hardly increased (5%).  The US is an entrepreneurial nation, so why is it no longer driving high technology manufacturing?

The US remains at the cutting edge of many of these new technologies and has a research and development infrastructure which continues to churn out the opportunities.  The problem seems to be the exploitation process.  Somehow the industries on which these technologies are built are increasingly being developed elsewhere.  For example, the US is likely to account for only 15% of solar panels made globally in 2010 and it has already lost the initiative to Asian companies in fabricated LEDs on ultrathin sheets (leading to large ultrathin TVs) despite the fact that both technologies were originally developed here.  There are a number of interconnected issues behind these data that indicate a need for more consistent policy towards emerging industries.  Countries in Asia and Europe are courting such industries by providing tax breaks, speedy regulatory approval, cheap credit, low-cost utilities and cash grants, as well as, specialized industrial zones.  At the same time, according to the World Bank, US corporate taxes for emerging industries remain one of the highest in the industrialized world, the US offers smaller grants and there is little evidence of coherent policy to assist particular technologies or industries (although one must acknowledge the tax credits for lithium-ion car batteries and solar cells).  More radical policies, however, may be required.  There may need to be efforts to close the lack of connection between R&D and commercialization in particular industries, for example, through more support for centers for collaboration.  There perhaps should be an effort to play catch up with our European and Asian competitors by developing large industrial zones dedicated to particular industries, offering tax breaks, cheap land, workforce training and dedicated agencies designed to streamline regulation.  Whatever we do, we need to both create value and capture value.  As any entrepreneur will tell you, creating value without capturing it, is no way to run a business (or a country).                               


[i] Pete Engardio, Business Week Magazine, September 21st 2009, p. 46.

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