(This is the second in a series of articles on the Gauntlet Business Program and Competition, following several entrepreneurs as they progress through the process. They include Heather Oltmanns, Lois Fritz, and Holly and Jonathan Hart.)
The third annual Gauntlet Business Program and Competition is now underway. Classes held at the Vinton War Memorial on Tuesday nights and at the HIVE Business Incubation Center on Thursday mornings will culminate in the Gauntlet Competition on May 11.
The Gauntlet is the brainchild of The Advancement Foundation founder and president Annette Patterson. Seventy entrepreneurs from fifty starting or expanding businesses are participating in the sessions, “studying the feasibility of their proposed business, exploring business models, and developing business plans.”
The introductory classes were held the first week of February with an overview of the program by Patterson and a talk from guest speakers in an “Entrepreneurial Showcase,” Andy and Jason Bishop and Barry Robertson from the highly successful Twin Creeks Brewery, winner of last year’s Gauntlet Competition.
In the second week of classes, the entrepreneurs worked in groups to introduce their business proposals and to gain feedback from their peers on perceived strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Oltmanns is planning a children’s clothing consignment business. The Harts are developing a business which will involve the outdoors. Fritz is focusing on making her existing New Freedom Farm for veterans sustainable.
Students were asked to complete the 15-minute DISC profile assessment to determine “what drives you.” Patterson told the classes that “before you can know the strengths and weaknesses of your small business, you must first know the strengths and weaknesses of yourself.”
“DISC” represents Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Dominant people see the big picture, can be blunt, accept challenges, and get straight to the point. Individuals who rate high in Influence place an emphasis on persuading others. They are generally optimistic, show enthusiasm, like to collaborate, and dislike being ignored. Strengths in Steadiness indicate those who value cooperation, sincerity, and dependability. They are calm, supportive, and don’t like to be rushed. The Conscientious stress quality, accuracy, expertise, and competency. They are objective, independent, want the details, and fear being wrong.
Holly Hart said that as she and her husband completed their DISC assessments, they “laughed at how insightful they were and it seemed to nail both of our personalities.” He was an “S” for “Steadiness,” while she is an “I” for “Influencer.”
“What was interesting was learning about how to identify the individual you are dealing with in regards to DISC assessment to improve your communication,” said Hart. “Jonathan and I laughed as we figured we could use those lessons to improve our own communication. Joking aside, I have realized that much of this information can be transferred to everyday life and experiences.”
Fritz was surprised to learn that she is a high “D” for “Decisiveness” and a very low “C” in caution.
“From this DISC assessment, I learned about myself and this will help in communication with others, volunteers, board members, and even my husband,” said Fritz.
Oltmanns discovered during the DISC personality assessment that she tested extremely high on the Steadiness and Conscientiousness traits.
The DISC assessment is available to all at www.tonyrobbins.com/disc/.
The third session featured Tom Kirby, owner of Kirby-Cundiff Installation Inc., in the Entrepreneurial Showcase, who gave students advice on mistakes to avoid in establishing and growing a business that he learned the hard way.
Tom Tanner, founder of Photo USA, also spoke to the entrepreneurs about developing a successful business model by doing a market analysis, interviewing potential customers, setting goals, and researching their proposed industry and its trends.
Fritz said that her “take-away” from the third class was that there is an “unlimited amount of resources available for small business owners at the Virginia Small Business Development Center.”
“Business plans and models are important— looking at your business from where you are now and where do you want to be in five years,” said Fritz.
Oltmanns said, “I thought it was great to hear Mr. Kirby talk about basically here’s how to not start a business and try to help us by sharing his mistakes starting out. Mr. Tanner seems like a wealth of knowledge as well.”
“We found Mr. Kirby and Mr. Tanner to be incredibly informative and gathered great and different information from each,” said Holly Hart.
The things that really seemed to stick with the Harts from Kirby’s talk were:
- His emphasis on the importance of cash flow to run your business. If food equals money, then cash flow equals breathing in business (although cash flow seems to be the big hurdle for many of us, especially when just starting out).
- Who you buy from is just as important as who you sell to. That struck a chord within us, considering that our business idea has a catering component. In our push to provide quality ingredients, with a farm to table focus, our goal is support local and buy local, as much as we can. As stated in the first class, when $100 is spent locally, it generates a $43 return back into the community. We are more than mindful to this; we are committed to it for our business idea.
- Be aware of your overhead and recognize that increasing your volume increases your profit margin. Of course, to have a successful business, you have to cover your overhead. However, it is also important to recognize, once that overhead is covered, any increase in business volume has a significant increase on your profit margin. Push for volume! It has our wheels churning-–how to maintain cash flow and be conservative in some ways and how to push your volume and go big in other ways. It appears to be a complex balancing act and we’re trying to learn how to control how the wind is going to blow.
- His three questions to start with and revisit every six months: Where are we now? Where do we want to be in five years? How do we get there? Those questions are now posted above my home desk, so I can reflect on them frequently.
“Mr. Tanner was incredibly informative as well, driving the importance of first determining if your idea is even feasible, if there is market validation for your product,” said Hart. “Meaning, is there a real need, a real opportunity for your product and can you really make money from it? And, once you determine there is a need, the importance of getting feedback, targeting your market to learn what value your product has, what customers like/dislike about your product, what they would pay for your product. This is all to determine what value you can add to your idea to set it apart, to make it desirable as compared to your competition.”
She added, “He also suggested to keep an eye on your marketplace, globally and locally, and be aware of the life cycle of your business. So much I hadn’t ever, and wouldn’t have ever thought of without their guidance and input. If this competition ended this week, the information we have gathered so far would be so worth it. However, I’m glad we are only a quarter of the way through and am excited for what am going to learn next, whatever it may be.”