• 3D Printing: Down to business

    The hype around 3D printing we saw in the last few years has kind of died down recently. This seems like a perfect time to examine the current realistic uses and expectations for 3D printing.

    In other pieces I focused on the potential consumer uses for 3D printing. And while some early adopters have gotten their hands on this technology, for most consumers the idea of getting a 3D printer currently has not yet been realized. However, commercial companies that produce hard goods may want to look into investing in 3D printing.

    Having the ability to quickly test an idea allows companies to be much more agile when trying to create a product that meets a new or changing demands. Being able to hold and test different designs within hours of completing a design for a product gives companies much more advanced testing time for potential products. Rapid prototyping is helping companies get to a viable product to market quicker - and being first to market is a huge advantage.

    3D printing can also help businesses on the sales side. The ability to give potential clients a hands-on experience with a product can greatly help salespeople. It would do so much more than a sheet of dimensions of pictures and help eliminate uncertainty. And one thing that humans are averse to is uncertainty. 3D printing allows for a  dynamic range of possibilities, many new applications are still being explored. It can be used for modeling in architecture, parts for aerospace industries, modeling for health fields, and much more.

    What it really comes down to is if companies are willing to sink money into a process that can be time-intensive and in some cases costly. For particular uses, 3D printing is a great fit, but for others the time and price of this technology might not be right yet.

  • Accessibility in public, not so much in private

    It’s been 24 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nearly a quarter-century later, handicap accessibility is the norm pretty much everywhere you look.

    Almost every public building—stores, restaurants, schools, federal buildings—has handicap parking and at least one ramp on their curb. Most crosswalks also are on a slope, instead of separated from the street level by a curb. Most public buildings with more than one floor have an elevator. Stadiums, movie theaters and other venues have seating accessible for wheelchairs.

    For those born around or after the ADA’s passage, accessibility has always been the rule rather than exception, and even those who were around beforehand are probably used to it by now. It’s so common that you barely even notice it in your daily routine. But able-bodied people might not even realize that some things are still not accessible.

    You do notice it when you or someone you know has a disability, however. Having had a relative confined to a wheelchair later in life, my family and I noticed it. From that experience, I can say that most businesses and public buildings are accessible, with a few exceptions (most often small businesses in older buildings).

    Regular housing, however, is another story. In my experience, the only accessible housing is housing specifically built with wheelchairs in mind. In your standard home, even the couple steps of a front porch requires lifting the wheelchair (and the person in it) like a piece of furniture.

    ADA only requires public places to be accessible, not private homes. Homes built before its passage didn’t have to adapt the way businesses did, and while accessibility is standard in new public buildings, new housing developments to this day still don’t take disabilities into account.

    They should. Maybe not as a legal structural requirement, but developers and designers could, for instance, start replacing porches with ramps, or provide more spacious rooms and doorways. Making these elements standard would save home owners the time, effort and money of having to remodel their home to make it accessible.

  • Applying Rapid Prototyping

    Michael Loubier Anyduino Valparaiso Meetup

    Technology is a constantly evolving and creative medium, which gives life to concepts and ideas both simple and profound. In the past, the craft of invention was typically regulated to those with a lot of funding or a lot of man power, and often required both. As we accelerate towards future innovations, the science of rapid prototyping is poised to create a paradigm shift in the way we think about and implement complex technologies in our everyday lives. 

    A common theme among most (if not all) inventions, is that they are designed to make some task or aspect of our lives simpler. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the emerging smart home industry, where billions of dollars are being spent developing technologies which will allow the average consumer to automate many of the domestic tasks of their daily lives. These technologies will be developed (typically) to cover as broad a consumer-base as possible, to ensure mass-marketability. However, for a custom solutions, such as an automated irrigation system for a garden or an automated candy monster for a home on Halloween, it will be necessary to generate technologies that can accommodate those unique needs. This is where devices like Arduino and Raspberry Pi microprocessors become valuable. 

    Using an open-source interface, standardized programming languages and powerful microprocessors allow consumers to build, from fairly easy-to-find parts, a completely custom solution to any desire or problem. From custom lighting configurations on a costume, to creating a prototype for a marketable product, open-source technologies are the future. 

    Existing rapid prototyping technologies, such as 3D printing and CNC machining, have been around for a while now. But until recently they have not been available to the general public in consumer-grade, affordable variants. The open-source revolution is changing all of that, and companies are producing new, more efficient, and price-accessible units. Combined with the power of a technological base, such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi, consumers will have the power to create, from scratch, fully-functioning electronic solutions. What this means for us as a community is that the children of today will be, and already are in some cases, working with these technologies, even at the elementary level. Inventors with the proper skills will be able to bring their ideas to life for a fraction of the cost of previous generations. I would go so far as to call open-source engineering the next paradigm shift in technology, as it will take the power of innovation away from the hands of groups with large funding initiatives, and put it into the hands of the masses, allowing for further progression of the technologies. 

    I had a great time presenting this and more information at the Duneland Innovators Meetup, and I’d like to thank the organizers for inviting me out to share something that I am so passionate about. Figure 8 was a great venue for the event, and they make a mean turkey-avocado melt, which I will certainly come back for. The people who attended the event had some great questions, and I was glad to hear that there are others out there doing precisely what it is I am trying to do. It was a validating experience, to say the least, and I can’t wait to see what a group of interested, collaborating innovators can bring to NWI and the world. 

     

    #Video of "Applying Rapid #Prototyping" from #Meetup in May with Michael Loubier#3dPrinting #microprocessors #nwIndiana #tech

    Posted by Duneland Innovators on Thursday, July 2, 2015
  • Augmenting Brick & Mortar Retail Space with Digital Distribution in Northwest Indiana

     

    In this day and age, having a beautiful store front is only a small part of the battle for retail supremacy. You have to have a presence not just in the local community, but also in the digital one as well. We live in an age where I don’t have to wake up and drive to my local comic book shop to pick up the latest issue of ‘Batman’, I can roll over and grab my iPad off of my coffee table, load up an app and download it instantly *and legally* from the comfort of my own couch.

     

    So why haven’t brick and mortar retail stores vanished from our collective zeitgeist yet? Because they don’t have to now! If they learn to adapt, that is.

     

    Digital distributor Comixology, who are the largest digital comic book distributor has allowed retailers (such as Portage’s Lightspeed Hobbies) to create their own digital store fronts for a cut of the proceeds. This allows them to attract customers to their digital store front for the convenience, and leverage it towards  attracting customers in the physical store. Other local companies are using their digital presence for promotional use and to help grow their existing customers while enticing new customers into their stores via contests, giveaways and web exclusive deals. As I wrote about previously, all of this can be aggregated through social media to help give Northwest Indiana small businesses a much larger stage than traditional print advertisements could ever dream of. 

     

    How will this synergy between the physical retail world and the digital retail world continue to evolve and grow over the years? Only time will tell on that.

  • Business Showcase & Fundraiser

    Since its launch, Duneland Innovators has reported on innovators and businesses in the area. Now, the site will give businesses the opportunity to meet and network with these individuals, and to also give back to the community.

    The site is proud to announce the Duneland Innovators Business Showcase Event Series. Beginning August 26, these events will connect businesses and their clientele to connect and learn.

    This exciting Event Series has three goals. The first is the opportunity for business clientele to meet other service providers. The second is to give clientele from the area an opportunity to meet new service providers in The Region. And lastly, but certainly not least—as a matter of fact, most importantly—the events aim to raise money for a local charity. The goal is to raise such money through event-based fundraising. This kickoff event will be making it's donations to Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Indiana.

    The first event, taking place August 26, will be in Schererville at AgeLess Medical [Address: 41 US Hwy 41] from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. In addition to meeting vendors from around Northwest Indiana, attendees can make donations to Habitat for Humanity. There will also be a silent auction.

    The event is sponsored by the Northwest Indiana Telephone Company (NITCO). NITCO is a longtime provider of phone, cable television and broadband Internet in the Region, and has more recently undertaken a substantial effort to replace copper wiring with fiber optic cable. 

    Duneland Innovators is looking to open discussions with additional sponsors and charities for future events. Sponsorships are also available at two levels, with all extra costs going to the chosen charity.

  • CES 2013 | Convention Culture

     

    Just after the new year, most people would assume Vegas business slows down down, but quite the opposite is true.  Consumer Electronics Show, which ended Friday, once again broke the 150,000 attendees mark, signaling the kick off of winter convention season switching into high gear.  January through March hold the highest volume of conventions/meetings and attendees for Las Vegas , which sees over 500,000 visitors a month, at a total of over 5700 events over the three month period. 

    “With more than four decades of success, the International Consumer Electronics Show reaches across global markets, connects the industry and enables CE innovations to grow and thrive." - CES

    5 conventions in January alone draw over 350,000 attendees.  Those numbers may seem staggering, but with an average monthly volume of over 3 million total visitors and the availability of over 150,000 hotel rooms a night, Las Vegas more than accommodates the largest events.  

    The city has become a well oiled machine, by uniquely creating a community and culture largely based around hospitality in one of the most geographically inhospitable environments in the US. Not only does the revenue from conventions boost economic activity in lodging, entertainment, dining, retail, and transportation, but they are stable, mostly annual events, that can be counted on, especially during winter when general visitor volume is down the most.  The convention market and especially CES have become integral in helping push the evolution of hospitality forward in multiple ways. 

     

    "More than 2,000 companies enjoy the benefits of CEA membership, including legislative advocacy, market research, technical training and education, industry promotion, standards development and the fostering of business and strategic relationships." - CES 

    Also, Las Vegas is a perfect case study for the aforementioned sectors of business. A type of sky island, as much in a business sense as geographically.  Attendees to CES can see the latest and greatest gadgets from all over the world, while at the same time, be steps from witnessing a wide array applied technologies from retail/consumer to commercial. Watching a technologically advanced show, then stepping out into a casino with the latest slot machines, or crossing the street to a mall with high end shops, then dining at one of thousands of restaurants, all after a day networking with tech companies begins to paint a picture of just how readily available the opportunities for analyzing market trends and brainstorming for the future are.

     

    Mark Dudzik is the owner of Series Solutions based in Las Vegas. He moved west after graduating from Columbia college and freelancing around the Chicagoland region.
  • Cori Mathis | Intellectual Property & Entrepreneurs

     Cori Mathis Intellectual Property Entrepreneurs

    Intellectual property are the ideas behind inventions, the artistry that goes into books and music, and the logos of companies whose brands we have come to trust . . . I believe it is enormously important that the United States remain a global leader in these forms of innovation – and part of how we do that is by appropriately protecting our intellectual property. 

    Victoria A. Espinel, the first U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator.

    Many people think of patents when they think of intellectual property; however, intellectual property is a much broader category of property rights. If you have ever identified a product or service by a brand name, created an original work of authorship, or developed and then kept information away from your competitors, intellectual property was at play.

    Intellectual property rights protect assets that are created, developed, designed, or invented, such as brand names, logos, slogans, books, music, computer software, machines, and confidential information. 

    Trademarks are words, designs, or a combination of the two that identify a product or a service and distinguish it from products or services offered by others. Strong trademarks identify source, indicate consistency, and are often one of a company’s most valuable assets. In the U.S., trademark rights begin when you use a mark in commerce to identify a product or a service. Trademark registration is available and often recommended for the many advantages that it affords trademark owners, but registration is not mandatory.

    If you choose a trademark  that is identical or substantially similar to a trademark that is already in use in the same industry, you may be infringing on someone’s trademark rights. Therefore, it is important to have a trademark clearance search conducted before you adopt a brand name, logo, or slogan. Checking to see if your proposed trademark is available as a domain name is an important step in a trademark clearance search, but it should not necessarily be the first step and certainly should not be the only step.  

    Copyrights protect original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Ideas are not copyrightable, but original articles, books, computer software, and designs may be. Copyright owners have a bundle of rights that they can exercise, including the right to copy, distribute, and license their work. Copyrights exist at the moment that a work is created and continue whether or not the copyright is ever registered. It is critically important to determine who owns a copyrighted work. Factors that are relevant in determining copyright ownership are who created the work and whether the creator was an employee, independent contractor, or bound by a written contract. 

    A patent is a monopoly on something that is useful, novel, and non-obvious. A patent owner has the right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling their patented invention. There are utility, design, and plant patents. Unlike trademarks and copyrights, registration is required in order to obtain patent rights and patent applications must describe the the invention with sufficient detail so that one skilled in the art would be able to replicate the invention. 

    A trade secret is information that is sufficiently secret to derive actual or potential economic value from not being generally known to competitors. Trade secret protection may be available for customer lists, processes, research and development data, and know-how. Trade secret protection allows you to keep your information confidential, the protection lasts as long as the information remains confidential, and there is no government registration required or available for trade secrets. Conversely, patent applications require you to fully disclose your invention, patent rights can only be obtained through government registration, and patent protection generally lasts for only 20 years. Therefore, in some cases, companies must choose between trade secret protection and patent protection.

    An April 2015 article in The Indiana Lawyer cited a trend whereby businesses are viewing their intellectual property as their competitive advantage over the marketplace. Rather than compete on pricing, businesses want to distinguish themselves through innovation. I wholeheartedly agree with that trend and encourage innovators, entrepreneurs, and business owners in Northwest Indiana to identify, protect, and maximize the value of their intellectual property.

    #Local #intellectualproperty #attorney Cori Mathis presents at our #Meetup#law #nwIndiana #Chicagoland #trademarks #copyrights #patents

    Posted by Duneland Innovators on Friday, December 4, 2015

    Thank you to the Duneland Innovators group for allowing me to present on this topic at a recent Meetup. The people in attendance were dynamic and inventive. I appreciated the lively discussion that followed my presentation.

    This article should not be construed as legal advice nor does it form an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. 

  • Dushan Nikolovski & The Big Sell

    Many entrepreneurs and startup creators have the date of The Big Sell circled on their calendars. What is the big deal you ask? The Big Sell, a nonprofit event for entrepreneurs to present their ideas to a panel judges. The event was created by Dushan Nikolovski and is hosted by Purdue University Calumet Center for Entrepreneurship Success.

    I had the opportunity to talk with Dushan about the upcoming competition and the general climate for entrepreneurs in the Northwest Indiana region.

    How did The Big Sell get started?

    Dushan: “I have been an entrepreneur since I was young. I have been to various competitions and been part of the entrepreneur world forever. People have great ideas but don’t necessarily know what their first step is or how to take it from concept to next level.

    The way I created this competition, I basically gave the competitors the opportunity to be in front of live audience members and let them pitch to the audience. And let the audience members vote for the first round. I don’t know if anyone else is out there (doing this) but I am the first one out there. That is why people are willing to travel from across the country for the competition. We even have one competitor trying to make their way from Australia right now. People want to come out because they like the concept of pitching to audience members and letting the audience, their ultimate consumers, decide whether this a product or service that they would buy or use.”

    What are your thoughts on the startup climate in Northwest Indiana?

    Dushan: “We have a lot of smart people here in the region and there is not always the resources. It is very tough because you could be good at your craft or what your doing but you have to do a lot of different stuff to get from one level to the next level.

    Helping and assisting our local entrepreneurs, which eventually will turn around and help our local economy by establishing businesses and hiring workers. If you take a look at the large majority of jobs that are being offered, a lot of the new hiring is coming from small businesses. Around the corner, or across the nation if you give them enough resources and impress them enough I don’t think too many people would have a problem relocating if they get the help they need.”

    How is The Big Sell different from other entrepreneurial competitions?

    Dushan: “We wanted to capture an essence of all of them. How did you compete against a great app or medical device, are you just pitching a simple service. We wanted to make sure we tried revising the categories a little bit. Its a great way to break up the products.

    You can go through money pretty quick and still not take a second step. We are trying to focus on is giving you legal time, accounting time, marketing people, office space, and creating a business plan. We are all about support. If you just give them the money, where do they go? If you take a look most people who win these competitions where they just get cash, very few of them make it to the next level.

    We are the support, the winner still has to drive this.”

    I love the specially tailored prizes of The Big Sell. The format and prizes show that Dushan knows the ins and out of being an entrepreneur and what will help aspiring entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. While this competition is still about the quality of the ideas, the commitment to giving the winners the tools for success is a welcome change to the format of the prizes.

    The continued success and popularity of competitions like The Big Sell will help the Northwest Indiana region retain and attract talent for local businesses. If the area wants to grow, investing in local ideas will keep talent in the area for years to come. We need to stop exporting talent and start exporting products and services to other areas beyond our geographic area.

  • For Toll Road, public ownership is better than privatization

    It’s been nearly six months since the Indiana Toll Road declared bankruptcy, and it recently appeared obvious who would take over its operations. But at the eleventh hour, some new developments popped up almost out of nowhere.

    It looked like a partnership between investors and Lake and LaPorte Counties was the front-runner. If approved, that deal would bring in $5 million a year for each county, plus even more in excess toll revenue.

    That bid was going through the approval process in recent weeks, and it seemed all but inevitable that it would win the lease. But at the end of last week, the Australian firm IFM Investments announced that it had put in the winning $5.725 billion bid for the Toll Road.

    Proponents of the Lake-LaPorte plan insist that the decision is not made, that the IFM plan has yet to meet government approval. Even so, IFM’s statement sounds pretty final and confident, more so than those of the Lake-LaPorte backers.

    I must say, the Lake-LaPorte plan seems like a better idea. For one, the last attempt to privatize the Toll Road ended up losing money for the owners, so it seems a little foolish to try again. But more so, a public (or at least semi-public) Toll Road could benefit the local communities, whereas a private one can only really benefit the owners.

    I can’t help but be reminded of our neighbor Chicago’s infamous parking meter debacle, in which the city sold control of its meters to a private firm for 75 years for $1 billion. The idea was almost immediately revealed to be a bad one on the city’s end, as it could have raised more than that over the long run by running the meters themselves, money a state in such massive debt could have really used.

    Fortunately, Indiana isn’t in nearly as dire financial straits as Illinois. Still, local ownership of the Toll Road is a better option than privatization, because whatever profits are made go to the counties. True, $5 million isn't a whole lot in terms of government expenses, but it's still an extra $5 million that can go to our schools, our roads, or toward something else in the community instead of just into the pockets of some company.

  • Gary should look to Detroit's comeback

    Meteorologically, we still have two weeks of summer, but today certainly marks the end of the summer season in most people’s minds. Looking back on this summer, I have to say it wasn’t good for the Region.

    Some good things may have happened, but in my mind, they’re negated and then some by all the violence in Gary, as well as in the towns that make up Lake County. For a stretch in July and August, the local papers resembled the Chicago stations and media, which have reported murder after murder almost daily for several years now.

    Recent police action has stemmed the violence, for now, but Gary remains a stark portrait of poverty and industrial decline. I’d imagine it’s also far from the minds of most Northwest Indiana residents who don’t live there, a place they only mention in the context of where not to drive while passing through the Region.

    The issue of regulating guns to curb violence is so contentious that nothing ever gets done about it. But regardless of where one stands on that, I don’t think you can affect major change in Gary, or anywhere else with the same ills, without addressing poverty and inequality, which at the end of the day is also a conversation people don’t want to have. The aforementioned Region residents would probably be content to just keep ignoring Gary.

    But, I have one idea that could possibly work: follow Detroit’s lead.

    I know, I know: Detroit has been the go-to image of urban decay for years even before the city declared bankruptcy in 2013. In the two years since then, however, the city has been on a quiet upswing. The very low real estate prices have attracted major corporations, which have created jobs and attracted employment seekers. Cheap housing has also attracted creative people, which has created a small but vibrant artistic scene. Crime has also dropped, and many new businesses have opened. All of which is impressive, considering that within this very decade, Detroit was as desolate as Gary, only bigger.

    Instead of focusing on an airport project that’s in all likelihood years from coming to fruition or clinging to its steel heritage while the industry keeps shrinking, Gary should instead focus what resources it has on trying to attract people with its cheap land and potential for rebirth, like Detroit. They even have something of an advantage: Surely there are some Illinois businesses for whom taking a chance on Gary would be worth it to escape their state’s sky-high taxes.

  • Gathering Brains for the Sake of It

    Doesn't it feel great to be around intelligent folks that share a desire to both grow and expand their understanding of the world around themselves? Whether it is purely social or a business setting, interacting with people that just "get it" is stimulating. We need more opportunities like this in the #nwIndiana community.

    There are lots of ways to get people together to share concepts and nurture their perspectives. It could be as simple as reaching out to some contacts and setting up an informal meeting with colleagues from different industry sectors.

    This past Friday through Saturday representatives from Elevate Ventures hosted the first Startup Weekend in Northwest Indiana. This event encourages people with marketing, business and technical skills to team up and launch a unique business idea in 54 hours.

    Business networking organizations such as ROI, which meets in a number of areas across Lake and Porter County, or BWUN are valuable ways to meet local professionals from the area.

    "The Region" would really benefit by organizing conferences that encourage people from our area to meet and network. Better yet, attracting organizations from around the nation to hold their events here would incredible!

    What other ways can you think to gather like-minded people together to exchange thoughts?

  • Illinois exodus means Indiana customers

    If you’ve seen any Chicago media (and if you live in Northwest Indiana and have a TV, you likely have), you probably noticed that Illinois has had a difficult time over the last several years. The state has massive debt. Income, corporate and property taxes are high. Half of the state’s residents wish they could move to another state.

    And many are. Some relocate to other parts of the country entirely, for better business climates or industry hubs. However, some who are just looking for a more affordable dwelling come to Indiana.

    As a whole, population trends aren’t exactly skyrocketing (Lake County’s total population has actually dropped since 2010, while Porter County has remained roughly the same). Individual towns, however, have seen a steady rise in their populations since the turn of this century. For some towns—St. John and Crown Point, to name a few—U.S. Census Bureau data shows a small spike in 2010, the year Illinois signed all its high taxes into law. Correlation isn’t always causation. But it’s hard not to make a connection, especially with new housing developments going up in seemingly every empty piece of land.

    But Indiana isn’t stopping with just attracting new residents. If you’ve driven on I-94 near the stateline, you might have also seen billboards or other ads trying to lure local businesses across the state line (“Illinoyed” is one of the higher profile campaigns). The state is especially touting its much lower corporate tax rate.

    Businesses certainly are leaving Illinois in its current climate, but it’s hard to say how effective Indiana’s efforts have been. Many have moved out of the Midwest altogether. Most of what Indiana has successfully drawn have been smaller local businesses seeking a lower operating cost just across the state line, while not straying far from their Illinois customer base.

    That arguably puts Indiana entrepreneurs at an advantage. If the business climate is as good as the State claims, good enough that businesses should move here, then surely a homegrown one can get off the ground. And all those Illinois expatriates coming to live here just means more customers.

  • In the Spirit of Holiday Business

    The last few months of the year are packed with trips to different locations away from home, aren't they? Though getting to where you're going might be cumbersome, travel is a great learning opportunity for entrepreneurs. Whether you are just visiting with family or having a more extravagant destination holiday vacation, seeing different areas expands our understanding of what can work in business. However, successful locales don't just spring up overnight. They take years to develop and shape an identity that is attractive to those from beyond their local market. We should be working to encourage this sort of business climate here in The Region.

    Tourism as a Solution

    Creating a welcoming environment for tourism starts with one intrepid person's vision and expands as others join the movement to fill gaps in the landscape. What good are hotels if their aren't natural landmarks to enjoy? Someone had better get to building a big ******* thing (Thanks Lewis Black!) to get people to come around.

    No municipality or district can rest on its earlier achievements forever though. It is critical to continue working to improve the amenities and switch out retailers that no longer work hard for visitor revenue in exchange for those that will (though the market often does this with little oversight). With that said, tourism is not the only way to generate an influx of traveler money. There are other ways to bring in people that are more business oriented.

    Let Businesses Meet

    Events such as sports-related outings or conferences are an excellent way to get people together from beyond the borders of Northwest Indiana. Bringing together people in industry and business communities means that even when they go home, a solid relationship can result in new jobs or economic growth here at home. Our area should seek to encourage conventions and promotors to stage their gatherings in the venues and towns throughout Lake & Porter county Indiana.

    As Joseph Pete, a journalist for The Times, stated in a recent article, The Region is experiencing an unemployment rate above the state average. If we are going to catch up, and hopefully lead the way to economic prosperity, our leaders and business people must find ways to stimulate growth here. Though we receive help from downstate, the hard work must come from the innovators that call our area home. The conversation needs to permeate every level of our social fabric.

    Let's jump-start the renewal process!

  • Inspiration: Travel

    Today is Labor Day, which signals the informal end of the summer. It also means that kids are back in school. During the break many families take the opportunity to travel and see locations or people they are unlikely to connect with during the rest of the year. Visiting new areas is refreshing for our personal spirit. It's like a battery recharge. This can hard for people in business to accommodate. It means pulling ourselves away from work and the deadline commitments that we have made to partners and clients.

    However, seeing the world can be a valuable asset for those of us that seek to generate and synthesize new ideas. It's a chance to meet new people as well as absorb ideas for our business when we return to work. It can happen through osmosis or by taking advantage of the time off to catch up on reading or thinking. This summer I blended business and pleasure a few times. These trips enabled me to visit Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Connecticut in addition to spending time with friends and family. All the while I was attempting to stay on the look out for how other media and content was being used to promote small businesses in those areas.

    Constant exposure to fresh concepts is critical for business owners to grow both personally and professionally. It enables progress on a communal level too, as partners and associates adopt the elements they like for their own ventures when they return to action.

    Often it can be difficult to get away for a lengthy amount of time but a trip doesn't have to take you deep into another timezone. There interesting things happening in metropolitan and academic centers not far beyond The Region.

  • Jason Topp | TEDxCountyLineRoad

    TEDx Countyline Road Indiana

    Innovative ideas often begin on a small, local scale, such as that of Northwest Indiana. Next week, several innovators local and otherwise will be gathering in the Region to share their visions and ideas.

    TEDxCountyLineRoad is set to take place on November 12 at Hobart’s County Line Orchard. 

    The popular TED conference series lends its name to many local TEDx conferences all over. However, TEDx events are completely independently organized by members of that community, who then reach out to the company for the TED branding.

    Several individuals in the Region came together to do just that in 2014, putting together the first TEDxCountyLineRoad. Among the original curators is Jason Topp, a Northwest Indiana native currently residing in St. John, and a member of the event’s speakers committee.

    TEDx Countyline Road Jason Topp“It’s been one of the most exciting things I’ve been a part of,” Topp said. “It’s inspiring to see driven people laying aside their own ambitions to work as part of a team and bring something really special to the area. It’s great group of people who have grown to become friends.”

    The second TEDxCountyLineRoad will feature six speakers, one more than its inaugural event last year. The theme of the conference will be “A Revolution of Sorts.” The gist of the theme is thinking outside the box and taking a new, or revolutionary, approach to one’s field.

    “Each speaker is going to be related to a revolutionary idea or talk about a revolution,” Topp said.

    The six speakers cover several different fields, such as business, media, charity, and the arts. Most are from within the state of Indiana, although the organizers managed to secure a speaker who does TED events on a national circuit in Lloyd Reeb, a North Carolina former-real estate developer-turned-author and lecturer.

    Finding speakers who covered relevant and useful topics, under the event's umbrella of revolution, took quite a thorough search, according to Topp.

    “It’s a pretty long process, identifying and making sure we get some talented speakers for the day,” he said. “We’ve been working on that for pretty much the whole year.”

    Topp and his fellow organizers saw the inaugural TEDxCountyLineRoad last year as a success. Their aim with this year’s sophomore outing isn’t just to repeat themselves, but to establish the conference as a yearly event.

    “We were definitely delighted by the success last year,” Topp said. “I think the end result was something great for the region, something we’d like to do again and continue to do.”

    Tickets for TEDxCountyLineRoad are available for $75. The event will begin at Noon Central Time on Nov. 12.

  • Kickstarter: What has changed?

    Kickstarter, FundableGoFundMe all started as crowd funding platforms that entrepreneurs use to raise capital for their ideas. It began with innovative products and video games that needed support to show that there was a demand for them. However, potato salad aside, have the general offerings on Kickstarter changed since its inception?

    More recently, there has been a big influx of entrepreneurs using Kickstarter as a means of raising money to start a business. Restaurants and breweries to be exact. These Kickstarters offer such incentives as early release beer, menu items named after the contributor and private parties. Gone are the days of asking your relatives or even banks for money to start a business, just ask some strangers.

    I am a huge fan of this evolution that is going on with Kickstarter and other capital raising platforms. It allows these potential businesses to conduct market research as well as raising funds without putting themselves in too much debt. Kickstarter really gives any person access to funding levels that weren’t nearly as easy to obtain in the past. Platforms like Kickstarter are great tools for anyone in the local Northwest Indiana startup scene to quickly get national attention on their products.  It minimizes risk and investment and creates a perfect storm for budding entrepreneurs.

  • Labor still alive in NWI, but does it have power?

    It’s been a tough few years for unions in Northwest Indiana, between the state’s 2012 right-to-work law and other legislative blows, and the industrial sectors crucial to this area being, shall we say, less than fruitful lately. Now, it seems like 2015 could be shaping up to be a moment of truth for organized labor in the area, and how much power it still has here.

    Despite anti-union legislation, union membership has remained steady, even slightly increasing since 2012. And earlier this year, the refinery strike made it known that unionized workers were willing to take action.

    The refinery workers got what they wanted from BP (mainly new safety measures) after a few months. Although some hearsay seemed to question the need to strike in the negotiations, it’s still a victory for the union.

    But the next big labor battle, steel mills, looks a lot more uphill.

    ArcelorMittal has proposed cuts to workers’ health insurance benefits during recent negotiations. Steelworkers are understandably not thrilled at the proposal.

    I generally side with workers, but I’m not too optimistic in this case. ArcelorMittal’s Indiana facilities have apparently lost hundreds of millions each year over the last half-decade, and there’s even been talks of closing some of them (which the company denied, but the idea still hangs over this whole situation). That financial reality seems to put them in a stronger place at the negotiating table.

    I don’t foresee the end of unions in the Region once and for all should labor lose this fight. But even if they come out of this as winners, it could be a short-term victory. They may get a contract for another few years out of ArcelorMittal, but no union has the clout to take on the reality of the steel market and the forces of globalization.

  • Lead Generation Bootstrapping

    Robert Wolfrum Lead Generation Bootstrapping

    My entire career has been spent helping small hi-tech companies achieve explosive growth at ridiculously low cost. I want to share my knowledge and show you how to build the same strategic market advantage used to beat the competition.

    Clients were easy to find during the 1990s. Rather, it was top talent that was in short supply and typically came with huge recruiting fees. In an era known for talent shortages, not only did I find the needed talent, but also drove recruiting fees down to zero. Today, the game has changed. In the wake of multiple financial collapses, the hi-tech market has become hyper-competitive. Limits on growth are now dictated by the cost of obtaining new clients.

    Intuition might have you think the solutions to low cost people acquisition and low cost client acquisition would be quite different. The reality is that the solutions are closely related and remain critical to rapid company growth.

    Let’s pause for a moment and explore the finances. Growth oriented companies typically spend of 25% of their revenue on sales and marketing. About one in four of these dollars is directed toward new revenue. A one million dollar company growing at 20% annually spends $65,000 to capture $200,000 in new revenue. That means a year one ROI requires a gross profit margin above 30%. That is a tall order for any company. It is a simple mathematical truth to why rapid growth companies are rare and usually backed by venture.

    The stark reality is that the ROI on new business is measured in years, not months. In short, the high cost of new revenue is the number one factor limiting company growth.

    In 1997, I shifted from people acquisition to client acquisition. Since then I have taken 3 companies from startup to segment leader, attributing success directly to my ability to slash costs. The success formula for low cost revenue acquisition has changed dramatically over the past two decades. Today, client acquisition depends a lot less on sales expertise and a lot more on technology and technique. It is a bit like the auto industry where a computer has replaced much of the master mechanic’s diagnostic expertise. The good news is that any individual at any company can leverage my methods much like an average mechanic armed with a diagnostic device. I can’t help you bring the your costs down to zero as I did in the 90s finding talent, but I can show you ways to slash your costs by up to 75%.

    Twenty years ago you could simply add staff to your cold calling department and slug your way to meet your growth goals. Today buyers behave differently. With the adoption of the Web, they are more educated and elusive than ever. Buyer behavior changes have created both challenges and opportunities. Any individual at any company in as little as 15 minutes a day can make real progress on lowering the cost of new revenue. Recently, I presented some of these ideas at the Duneland Innovators meetup. Watch this video and gain some valuable insight on slashing your cost of new business.

     

    @RobertWolfrum presented on #LeadGeneration #Bootstrapping at the last #Meetup - see the #video here#nwIndiana #sales #business

    Posted by Duneland Innovators on Sunday, August 2, 2015
  • Lorri Feldt & the ISBDC

    Do you currently own a small business in northwest Indiana? Maybe you've been thinking about starting a new venture or have a great idea for one? There is someone that in our region that can help you get started or move things in the right direction.

    Lorri Feldt is the Regional Director for the Northwest Indiana district of the Indiana Small Business Development Center. "We are statewide, our region focuses on the seven counties of northwest Indiana. We help business take the next step" Feldt notes. With over 20 years of business experience, she is a wealth of knowledge for start-ups and business owners looking for insight.

    There are three main reason why people seek out the ISBDC:

    1. Not happy with profitability
    2. Growing fast and need help managing
    3. Find customers

    Lorri's job leads her to meet business managers where they are, she offers coaching and consultation in a council setting or on a 1-on-1 basis. "It's not easy starting a a business and most folks have some questions," she adds. The organization has a number of people available with skills vital for small business owners, such as people with expertise in law, finance and networking that like to see a businesses take off or turn things around.

    "One thing that's interesting is the array of businesses we work with, in the morning it may be a flower shop or a business providing web services to other businesses or someone producing industrial components. That's part of the fun of this", Lorri emphatically says

    The ISBDC can also provide data on retail spending, competition, for analysis and prospecting. Lorri adds, "You can use it to develop a plan". Big data is a popular topic right now and the fact that this organization is bringing it down from the stars to make it accessible and viable for small business is excellent.

    Take advantage of the services being offered by Lorri Feldt and the northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center to improve the overall financial position of your business. Utilize them as a third party capable of offering an objective opinion about your business's situation and the environment it inhabits.

  • Meet Jeff Stoppa

    Hello internets! My name is Jeff Stoppa, a brand new face at Mystic Waters Media. I’ve grown up in the northern Virginia suburbs, living totally within the town of Woodbridge most of my life. I went to High School at Woodbridge, and during my junior and senior years was part of a program called Project Lead the Way which involved engineering and electrical projects. I attended Northern Virginia community college from 2007 to 2011 to obtain my associate degrees, one in Information Technology and a second in business administration.

    I've been trying to gain a well rounded knowledge base in everything from java programming, marketing, economics, accounting as well as a wide sampling of general technology classes. I’m currently attending George Mason University in the applied Information technology program, with a concentration of Information Security. I consider myself competent in many skill sets but an expert of only a few. What I do excel at is problem analysis and solving, given only a short period of time and instruction I'm able to divide and conquer!

    I’m really looking forward to expanding my knowledge with technology and what the world is going to develop with 3-D printing and “smart” devices. There is almost too much to try and focus on but I really would like to see what happens to the human landscape regarding the technology coming down the pipeline.