Mastering business fundamentals for startup growth

With a doctorate in engineering from Case Western Reserve University, Simon Melikian knew a lot about building technology when he founded Recognition Robotics.

But he knew a lot less about building a business. So he came to GLIDE.

Watch Simon on WKYC“I probably would have failed otherwise,” says Melikian, founder, president and CEO of Recognition Robotics. “Maybe some people are born business savvy and can navigate the system, but not me.”

After launching his business in 2008, Melikian was challenged with selling his technology, which visually guides industrial robots. With only a working prototype, he began looking for investors but was quickly turned off by the demands of venture capitalists. He found a lifeline in GLIDE, which connected Melikian to the tools and resources he needed build his startup.

GLIDE co-directors Dennis Cocco and Cliff Reynolds recommended that the company pursue joint development, in which potential customers make a down payment on a product and the company uses the funding to commercialize it. By 2009, Melikian had enough money to commercialize a visual guidance system that could be incorporated into robots used in manufacturing. He has since been awarded more than 10 patents for his processes.

As Recognition Robotics became more successful, the company faced new challenges, including hiring employees and scaling for growth.

“When I hired my first employee, I really didn’t know how to hire,” Melikian says. “What do you offer as far as benefits, and what is the relationship between employee and employer?”

Once again, he turned to GLIDE for assistance, meeting regularly with his advisers to learn best practices in human resources and other key business areas.

“Coming from a purely technical background, it was not easy for me to understand employees,” he says. “It’s like rocket science. That is really important for a small business, because employee problems can literally kill a company.”

With GLIDE’s guidance on operating a business and dealing with employees, Melikian has Recognition Robotics on a growth track.

“During the first three years, I was on my own,” he says. “Now we have eight people, and with the strategy GLIDE worked out with me, we expect growth to be big.”

Watch Simon’s interview on WKYC.

How a startup becomes a scale-up

All successful companies start as an idea, but at some point, that idea has to generate sales if the business is to succeed.

“People come up with an idea and start a business but in a lot of cases don’t have the business background to drive the company through to profits,” says Cliff Reynolds, co-director of GLIDE.

Companies that are able to make the leap from startup to scale-up find the right support along the way.

When Jim Walborn and Lance Healy started a commercial construction materials distributorship in 2001, it wasn’t with the idea of becoming technology entrepreneurs. But as their young company developed processes to better manage freight logistics and connections, the pair began to see the potential for software that could help other companies do the same.

They took their idea for Banyan Technology to GLIDE, Lorain County Community College’s technology incubator, with the idea of growing it into its own business.

“When we first moved to Lorain County, we took that leap of faith from an entrepreneurial standpoint,” Walborn says. “A big reason why we moved here was because of what LCCC and GLIDE provided in terms of support for a tech startup.”

After relocating to the Great Lakes Technology Park on the LCCC campus, Banyan Technology’s staff learned important lessons that helped them bridge the gap from idea to commercialization to growth. These lessons have transformed the company into a successful freight management software and solutions provider.

Find good advisors

It’s a lesson any tech entrepreneur needs to learn early – discover people who have gone down similar roads and learn from them. Mentorship is crucial because there are so many potential pitfalls in going from a startup to a growth company.

“GLIDE exists, in part, to help take some of the learning curve out of the entrepreneurial life cycle,” Walborn says. “You learn from fellow business owners who have been where you want to go.”

By focusing on the business development process, the GLIDE team helped the company bring clarity and understanding to the business, developing a strong foundation for growth.

GLIDE’s Reynolds says that without that strong foundation and a well-defined sense of direction, a young company may not make it past the startup phase.

“Our job is to take a great idea that an entrepreneur has and give him or her the tools to fashion it into a business plan,” he says. “We take someone who might have a great idea for a product or concept, but might not have the business background, and help them connect with mentors and other relevant support.

“Initially, mentors are experienced people the founders trust,” Reynolds says. “But as you get bigger, creating a formal board of directors that meets on a regular basis and provides the management with strategic input becomes important.”

As Banyan progressed, Walborn and Healy formed a formal board of directors, whose membership has changed over time as the company scaled and its needs changed.

“When we look at a board, we are looking for those people who could help govern and guide,” Walborn says. “At the end of the day, Lance and I have a great vision of what we want to take Banyan to, but how do you complement that with other industry experts or businesspeople who are very good at what they do, from either a finance standpoint or experience in an industry? How do you make that gel together to strengthen the backbone of the company?”

Fund the business

Cliff Reynolds of GLIDEFunding is the biggest issue for any company going from startup to scale-up mode, Reynolds says.

“Because young companies carry a high risk for investors, obtaining cash requires constant effort,” he says.

It sounds like a cliché, but cash is the lifeblood of any growth company.

“You need to know what your cash needs will be as your business advances,” says Russell Donda, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at GLIDE. “What does your cash position look like in the next month, the next quarter, the next year? Plan for any shortfalls by raising the money that you’ll need ahead of time.”

While that has to be done from the start, it can become even more of an issue as you grow, Donda says.

“As you are adding people, adding overhead, you’ve got a bigger nut to crack every month. You have to understand clearly and early where your shortfalls are and plan for those.”

Through its network, GLIDE provides access to a number of potential funding sources. For a young Banyan Technology, that meant securing a $350,000 early stage commitment from JumpStart, a Northeast Ohio nonprofit focused on accelerating the success of entrepreneurs.

“With GLIDE’s guidance, we became a JumpStart portfolio company,” Walborn says. “The two organizations accelerated our growth not just through financial investment but through the investment of knowledge that they’ve passed on as we’ve grown.”

Banyan Technology used that early money to improve its computer infrastructure and ramp up its hiring of computer programmers. As it was doing that, it was reducing its risk.

“As companies accomplish development milestones, they become less risky, and when commercial launch — and then increased revenue — occur, investment risk becomes even less, and more investment opportunities become available,” Reynolds says.

For Banyan Technology, that opportunity came from River SaaS Capital, a debt fund that specializes in lending to Software-as-a Service companies. It provided $2 million in nondilutive capital that not only simplifies Banyan Technology’s debt structure but fuels accelerated growth by paying for much-needed sales and marketing resources.

“Lance and I were the two sales guys,” Walborn says. “Lance and I are not the sales guys any more. We put together a sales team and we are putting together a marketing team so we can create the market awareness to help drive sales.”

Wendy Jarchow, chief investment officer of River SaaS Capital, says her firm is eager to fund scaling companies and work with them to continue their growth.

“Companies like Banyan are getting traction, they have a solid customer base, they are growing and need capital so they can focus on sales and marketing so they can scale their businesses,” Jarchow says. “River SaaS is not just a financing partner. We can bring to bear some operational experience and we can help portfolio companies with introductions to new networks.”

Hire and develop talent

As young companies begin to scale up, it becomes increasingly important to find the right talent.

“You are only as good as the people you hire, so it’s important to find qualified people,” GLIDE’s Donda says. “The companies that I’ve worked with that brought in good people have rocketed to the next stage.”

For Banyan Technology, being on LCCC’s campus gave it ready access to high-quality talent. LCCC’s student population provides Banyan Technology with a pipeline to the specialized workforce of technology developers it needs to keep its business thriving.

“We have had 17 interns through LCCC and the University Partnership, and hired seven of them as full-time employees,” Walborn says.

As the company has matured, it has evolved from a startup into a pillar of the technology park.

“We didn’t plan on taking over the third floor of an entire building, or growing from five people to a team of 42 in the same location,” he says. “But this is where we’ve found the resources to grow the company.”

Banyan made a major hiring move in October. Brian Smith, who helped grow Proforma from $40 million to $400 million and ultimately became its president and CEO, came on board as Banyan Technology’s new chief executive, a role previously held by Walborn.

“Lance and I have a vision to make a difference in our industry,” Walborn says. “We understand the industry. There is experience that Brian Smith brings to the table that we don’t have. He’s navigated the HR side. He’s navigated the finance side. He understands growth and can complement what Lance and I are doing. We just put in another pillar to strengthen the organization. That’s really what Brian brings to the table. He’s a classic hire that is better than yourself.”

Build a strong culture

A company’s culture plays a major role in attracting and retaining employees. In the midst of trying to develop and commercialize an idea, the founder of a scale-up can’t lose sight of the type of business he or she is building. It’s the founder’s idea and company, but for the people coming on board, it’s their livelihood and their reality for 40 hours or more each week.

“As a company gets bigger, the CEO can’t touch every single thing,” Reynolds says. “When you bring in a level below the CEO, and then you’ve got employees reporting to them, it changes the chemistry. Hopefully, every level you bring in takes on the culture of the CEO.”

Walborn and Healy have worked hard at keeping a strong culture as Banyan Technology scales in size.

“We have a culture where we have each other’s backs,” Walborn says. “In our space, you really need to have a work hard, play hard kind of culture, where you know how to balance work and play, and you emphasize the importance of giving back to the community. It’s about creating the type of culture that people want to be a part of.”

Walborn credits GLIDE, LCCC and other regional institutions for making it possible.

“You look around and see the investment opportunities and the high caliber of interns and graduates produced by the educational institutions throughout the area, and you realize this is a great place to develop a business,” he says. “There are so many organizations out there to help you. All you have to do is ask the right questions.”

Success in 3-D: As additive manufacturing explodes MakerGear gets spark from Fab Lab

In the early days of 3-D printing, MakerGear founder Rick Pollack bootstrapped a small business making components in his Shaker Heights garage.

“When we started out, we made our machines out of laser-cut plywood,” Pollack recalls. “I was making printer parts one at a time in my garage.”

In 2008, a friend introduced him to the Fab Lab at Lorain County Community College’s Nord Advanced Technologies Center. The lab had a much better laser-cutting machine, so Pollack quickly jumped on the opportunity to use it to augment his own equipment.

“The lab gave us access to a $25,000 piece of cutting and fabricating machinery for basically no cost,” Pollack says. “It was really a visionary thing for the college to do. They saw how manufacturing companies like ours needed access to advanced machinery that required too large of an investment for a startup.”

Eight years later, MakerGear is a thriving manufacturer selling thousands of 3-D printers a year to companies via its website, www.makergear.com, and an Amazon reseller.

Printing in three dimensions

3-D printing – also called additive manufacturing – is still a relatively young technology, but it’s fast becoming a key aspect of advanced manufacturing. Once the exclusive domain of research and development, 3-D printers have expanded beyond their R&D roots of modeling and prototyping to the production of end-use products.

“The applications of additive manufacturing are expected to grow significantly as advancement in materials and technologies continue,” says R. Scott Zitek, Assistant Professor, Automation and Fab Lab Coordinator at LCCC. “The ability to print objects with various combinations of mechanical, optical and thermal properties will expand the possible applications.”

Improvements in the speed and accuracy of 3-D printers are creating a world in which plastic or metal parts can be printed instead of formed in tooling molds, eliminating the time-consuming process of creating a mold. That allows the manufacturing process to jump from raw material to product fabrication, resulting in less scrap and waste.

“As the technology evolves it will be able to produce increasingly more capable parts by integrating materials that offer a range of properties from flexible to rigid, transparent to opaque, and conductive to isolating,” Zitek says. “In addition to prototyping, this technology will be used for the creation of rapid tooling and flexible production.”

3-D printing can potentially allow for a made-to-order production system in which products can be fabricated quickly and shipped in smaller batches, allowing distributors, wholesalers and retailers to more closely manage their inventories.

Energizing MakerGear

LCCC opened the Fab Lab in 2005, making it the first of its kind in the country outside of Boston. When Pollack heard about it three years later, he decided to augment MakerGear’s production operations.

He quickly set to work using the machinery to build a better product, hiring an LCCC student to run the Fab Lab’s cutter. He even took a course on how to use the lab’s advanced equipment.

“So many technology businesses are out there looking for a way to bootstrap, and LCCC is one of the local entities that has provided a facility that can help deliver that,” Pollack says. “And outside of the class fee, it’s available for no cost – a huge factor for a company just starting out.”

With access to the Fab Lab’s more advanced machinery, MakerGear’s business began to take off. Pollack was able to spend less time focused on the manufacturing process and more time focused on building his business.

“We were really able to bootstrap the business with that increased level of efficiency, as well as build a commercially viable business with the capacity to grow even more,” Pollack says. “We could devote time to refining the product, refining our business plan and developing strategies to take our products to market.”

MakerGear has continued to grow along with the rapidly expanding market for 3-D printing. It has purchased specialized machinery to outfit its production facility in Beachwood and it is preparing to open a second location in Northeast Ohio to serve as an R&D and production facility. MakerGear will produce parts for existing products as well as develop new products at the new location, which will house multiple production CNC centers.

As a way to thank the college for its help in getting MakerGear off the ground, the company last year donated one of its 3-D printers to the Fab Lab.

“You think about the fact that I paid $100 for a course on how to use the Fab Lab equipment at LCCC, and the benefits our company has received from it, many times over,” Pollack says. “It wasn’t a cheap investment for a local college to make, but my business, and so many others, have benefited from it.”

Work with SMART Microsystems yields big wins for Nordson – and the region

Nordson Corp.’s Lorain County roots run deep.

The global industrial company, based in Westlake, was founded in Amherst by Eric and Evan Nord, sons of local industrialist Walter G. Nord. While the Nord family no longer runs the company, the manufacturer retains close ties to the community, and nowhere is that more evident than in its relationship with SMART Microsystems, located in the Richard Desich SMART Commercialization Center for Microsystems on Lorain County Community College’s Elyria campus.

Roots of the partnership

The relationship between Nordson and SMART began in 2010 when the center bought state-of-the-art equipment from Nordson’s Advanced Technology Systems group, giving it a competitive advantage with capabilities in automated dispensing, plasma treatment and X-ray inspection.

“We do microelectronic packaging, and Nordson manufactures a wide variety of equipment that supports that,” says Matt Apanius, president and managing director of SMART Microsystems. “When we first got SMART off the ground, we purchased four initial pieces of equipment from them.”

From that initial interaction, Nordson and SMART developed an ongoing dialogue, discussing the capabilities of both organizations and how they could develop synergies that would drive both the company and the college forward.

“They had a couple of conferences on site, and we attended,” says Dave Selestak, business development manager for Nordson MARCH, part of the Advanced Technology Systems group. “That, in particular, allowed us to see the additional capabilities SMART had gained as far as microelectronic diagnostic capabilities and the like.”

The fact that Nordson, SMART and LCCC are all located in the same region also provided shared motivation for partnering.

“SMART and LCCC are organizations committed to helping individuals and businesses in the region,” says Apanius. “You want to help the people in your own backyard, because when they’re successful, it benefits everyone who lives here.”

Uncovering new opportunities

Over the last six years, Nordson and SMART have worked together on a number of projects. SMART’s ongoing acquisition of advanced equipment and new capabilities has made it an increasingly valuable resource to Nordson.

“For about a year and a half, Nordson needed sophisticated camera capabilities for looking at microelectronic devices,” Selestak says. “We worked on some designs of experiments (DOEs) that we wanted to turn into a white paper to distribute to conferences and trade shows.”

Nordson worked with SMART and LCCC Business Growth Services to fund a DOE, a systematic approach to finding the relationship between factors affecting a process and the output of that process. That support helped pay for an LCCC student intern to develop a white paper evaluating how plasma might benefit the manufacture of microelectronics, especially circuit boards.

The white paper – which showed that plasma helps clean circuit boards without inflicting any damage – was presented to a global audience at the 2015 Surface Mount Technology Association International conference in Chicago.

“That student now works at SMART,” Apanius says. “It’s a great example of how everyone can work together for a lasting benefit to everyone involved.”

Nordson continues to market the results of the study and has performed other DOEs with customers to find new uses for its plasma technology. The company is using the analytic capabilities and inspection equipment of SMART Microsystems to conduct the studies, which are a critical part of the commercialization process.

In addition to these projects, Nordson has sponsored a series of biomedical sensor technology conferences at LCCC, helping to boost the industry’s profile across the region.

“We bought equipment from them, they’ve helped us with event sponsorships, and now we’re helping them find new applications for their products,” Apanius says. “We’re both open to new ways in which we can work together, and that’s a big factor in our combined success.”

Helping Nordson grow

As Nordson continues to leverage SMART to help develop new product lines, Selestak considers the relationship a critical factor in Nordson’s continued success and growth.

“SMART and LCCC are very valuable sources for developmental capabilities,” Selestak says. “When you are in the process of developing a device, LCCC not only has the facilities to support the tangible needs of development but also the industry expertise that is going to help shorten the time to market. It’s not only about developing the device, it’s about turning it into something that’s commercially viable, and doing it as soon as you can.”

Meanwhile, the partners always looking for new ways that their relationship and mutual goals can benefit each other, as well as the region.

“The more applications Nordson develops, the more they sell, so that’s an instance where the partnership has a direct correlation to their bottom line,” Apanius says. “Every time we’ve worked together, it’s been a win-win for SMART, the college and Nordson. We’re creating a high level of mutual value for all involved, and that’s always what you want to aim for.”

How Apollo Medical Devices developed a new blood testing system

One-drop results

To perform most blood tests, a nurse obtains a vial of blood is from a patient and sends the sample to a lab, where it’s spun in a big machine and analyzed. Lab technicians then email the patient’s results to the physician who ordered the test. The entire process takes up to two hours but can be rushed for urgent cases.

But what if that same testing process could take five minutes instead of two hours, and could be performed right in the hospital’s ER, OR or ICU environment? What if it also required just one drop of the patient’s blood? How much accuracy and efficiency could that innovation add for hospitals? And what would it mean for patients, who wouldn’t have to wait to receive important test results?

Punkaj Ahuja, founder of Apollo Medical Devices LLC, is making this a reality through a new point-of-care blood testing system. The system will allow doctors and nurses to read a basic metabolic panel – also known as the CHEM-7 – by squeezing a single drop of blood onto a disposable cartridge, which sends the results to a handheld analyzer.

From prototype to production

Beginning in 2012, Ahuja spent a year working at the Richard Desich SMART Commercialization Center for Microsystems at Lorain County Community College (LCCC) to test and develop the technology behind his innovative blood-testing system. Although he devised the idea for the product at Case Western Reserve University – where he was pursuing his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering – Ahuja couldn’t be sure he had a viable product until he had a working prototype produced at a competitive cost.

“We’d developed proof of concept of the core technology, but at the Desich SMART Center, we were able to prove scalability – that it was a commercially viable product,” he says.

Even a great product won’t take off if the technology proves too expensive to mass produce or if it offers negligible advantages over competitively priced products. At Desich SMART Center, Ahuja learned how to use equipment, instrumentation and clean rooms to engineer and produce microelectronics for the system’s single-use cartridges at a lower cost than competitors are able to.

“There are other devices that do this, but they’re very expensive,” he says. “Competing handheld devices cost $15,000. Our analyzer will sell for a third of that price.”

Competing cartridges are designed with eight layers of complex metal electrodes, which drive up fabrication costs to $15 per cartridge. Ahuja has found a better way.

“We use plastic layers and chemical sensors,” he says. “We’ve eliminated all of the expensive raw materials, so we can drive testing costs to about half that of competitors.”

Furthermore, none of the competing handheld products can test less than a vial of blood.

Out of the kitchen

Apollo is now in the “alpha phase” of cartridge prototype development, which will prove whether it can mass-produce the cartridges without issue, says Apollo Medical Devices CEO Patrick Leimkuehler.

“We have to know if we can make a thousand at a time that respond as they come off the line and six months later – without having to wait an actual six months,” Ahuja says.

Through its partnership with LCCC Business Growth Services, Apollo also secured $125,000 in financing from the Innovation Fund and business operational assistance through the Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) to bring its system to market, financing that has helped them come a long way.

“Last year at this time, it was Punkaj and I in his kitchen, writing on his whiteboard,” Leimkuehler says.

Today, Ahuja and Leimkeuler have hired four full-time and three part-time staffers as they ramp up production for a clinical trial next summer.

Ultimately, a victory for Apollo Medical Devices is a win for Northeast Ohio as the region continues to grow its reputation for biotechnology innovation. Patients can also see the benefits of new technologies that improve patient care and make health care more efficient, convenient and cost effective.

 

To learn more about SMART Microsystem’s services, call us today at (440) 366–4203 or email info@smartmicrosystems.com.

How PLIDCO® helps people train for careers in CNC machining

Building a talent pipeline

February, 2016

Today’s manufacturing industry is struggling to find the skilled talent it needs. Just ask Northeast Ohio manufacturer The Pipe Line Development Co. (PLIDCO®), the world’s leading supplier of pipeline repair and maintenance fittings.

In 2014, the family-run company invested in two new high-tech Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machines to support its growing operations. But like many of today’s advanced manufacturers, its leaders struggled to find skilled technicians to operate the machines, or any type of manufacturing technology.

“When we went out to market to look for new candidates, we had a problem identifying people who wanted to work in manufacturing,” says PLIDCO President Kim Smith, who has been with the Westlake, Ohio-based company for 14 years. “They thought manufacturing was a dirty business, or something they didn’t want to do.”

Technology in manufacturing

The CNC machining process uses computers to control machine tools, including robots, lathes, burning machines, mills, routers and grinders. However, many people don’t realize that a career in manufacturing today can involve computers and advanced technology. Smith recognized the technology disconnect after speaking with students who were interested in computers but didn’t understand their use in manufacturing.

“We were hoping that we could get out to both transitioning adults as they are looking for new careers and the next generation as they identify careers and show them the importance of manufacturing. It’s a new type of manufacturing that presents many opportunities for professional growth,” she says.

The Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network (MAGNET) – a regional collaboration of manufacturers, educational institutions, economic organizations and chambers of commerce – connected PLIDCO with Lorain County Community College (LCCC) Business Growth Services as a partner for talent services.

“We were having a hard time finding qualified people, so we thought if we could go out to the schools and work on some kind of partnership where students got introductory training, we could train them to our product specifications, and that would be a perfect partnership,” Smith says.

Representatives from LCCC Business Growth Services, Lorain County Joint Vocational School (LCJVS), Lorain County Growth Partnership (LCGP) and MAGNET sat down with PLIDCO and other area manufacturers to get a feel for which skills and training the businesses needed most. They discovered a clear need for workers trained to use the latest CNC machines who could step in immediately and run them.

“CNC operators are in high demand,” says Dave White, manager of Human Resources, Safety and Training for PLIDCO. “We welcomed entering this partnership to set up the kind of program that could help fill that need.”

A perfect match

After the discussions, LCCC, in partnership with LCJVS, LCGP and MAGNET, designed a series of CNC training courses tailored to the needs described by Northeast Ohio manufacturers. The first group of students enrolled in the Right Skills Now training program at LCCC in January, learning the nuts and bolts of using CNC machines and preparing for careers in manufacturing while concurrently earning college credits.

Although the program has only run a single pilot, the team at PLIDCO already considers it a success. Through Right Skills Now, the company has access to talented individuals with advanced skills critical to supporting its continued innovation and success. PLIDCO hired a student from the first class – Christina Layne – as an intern before offering her a full-time position.

“She had the basic background training, and then she came here and we got to teach her our process,” Smith says. “It’s a great way to interview somebody. She gets to see if she likes PLIDCO, the work environment and our machines, and we get to see if we like the student and if the work ethic is up to our standards. For us, it was a perfect match.”

Layne says she had four job offers after completing the program and chose PLIDCO because “what PLIDCO offers employees, no one can match.”

“Based on how she was doing both on the job and in class, it was a no-brainer to hire her,” White says of Layne.

Considering the results achieved so far, PLIDCO won’t hesitate to partner for future talent development needs, say Smith and White.

“Any academic institution that takes the time to work with employers to find out what they need, that’s a relationship that is worthwhile,” White says.

 

Contact LCCC Business Growth Services at (440) 366-4300 to learn more about our services for advanced manufacturing or to enroll.

LCCC is helping Lorain County Habitat for Humanity transition to its new headquarters

A home for homebuilders

If you’re looking for the headquarters of Lorain County Habitat for Humanity, you might run into some trouble. That’s because the organization is currently located at two addresses – its administrative offices in Elyria, and its ReStore home improvement resale outlet in Lorain.

Operating out of two locations hasn’t been easy for the Habitat team, says Executive Director Kelly La Rosa, who is tasked with managing the growing nonprofit. But that will soon be changing, as the organization has finally found its new home. On Jan. 2, 2016, Lorain County Habitat celebrated the grand opening of its new location in a 23,000-square-foot, two-story office building in Amherst, Ohio. Situated on 2.2 acres, the new facility houses all of the nonprofit’s services under one roof.

“We started in 1988 in the basement of a church in Amherst, so this is something of a homecoming for us,” La Rosa says. “The building has 15,000 square feet that we can use just for retail, so it is going to really help us consolidate and simplify things.”

Getting move-in ready

Relocating a countywide organization is a major undertaking, which is why Lorain County Habitat sought assistance from Lorain County Community College (LCCC) Business Growth Services– one of its longstanding partners.

To help finance the purchase of the building, La Rosa and her team worked with LCCC in partnership with Ohio Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) to create a financial presentation for banks and build a dialogue with lenders.

“LCCC helped us talk things through to give us a better idea of what type of loan deal would work best for Habitat,” La Rosa says. “They ultimately helped us settle on a loan.”

Now that Habitat is taking the final steps to move into the new facility, LCCC  is also helping it refine its business practices in areas such as human resources and operations so team members can thrive in their new environment.

“LCCC has continued to be a resource for us,” La Rosa says. “They’ve connected us with a local Six Sigma black belt who has helped us on a pro bono basis to incorporate Six Sigma lean operating principles into our business. In particular, that’s going to help us manage donation traffic more efficiently.”

Support from LCCC has ultimately put Habitat in a position where it can operate more efficiently and effectively expand its operations, she says.

“That’s been extremely important for us as we move into our new place and continue to grow.”

 

Contact LCCC Business Growth Services at (440) 366-4300 or email LorainSBDC@lorainccc.edu to learn about our services to assist small businesses.

LCCC launches The Richard Desich Sales Institute

New-School Selling

Five years ago, tire-kicking customers of Mike Bass Ford visited four to six dealerships to gather information, ask questions and compare models before making a purchase. Today, studies show that educated consumers visit just one dealership before they buy.

“A test drive is the only thing you can’t do at home,” says President Jim Bass. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re buying clothing or a car or anything else. People now get an idea of what they’re looking for online.”

Consumers have an arsenal of new shopping tools to learn about products and services and to inform their purchasing decisions. And that keeps Bass and his sales team on their toes.

Learn more about the Desich Sales Institute.

“What has completely changed is how consumers gather information and the speed at which they require responses,” says Mickey Mann, third-generation operations manager at Mike Bass Ford. “When they want information, they want it now. With the amount of research they’re able to do online, customers can come into the dealership as informed as our own employees.”

Because consumers have changed the way they buy, selling to them requires a toolkit update. Savvy, knowledgeable consumers don’t respond well to pushy, old-school sales tactics, so professionals need to learn new sales skills to be successful. And that could include redefining what “selling” means.

“I consider our team more like customer relationship managers,” says Mann, son of President Jim Bass and grandson of founder Mike Bass. “There are lots of places you can buy a Ford. How do we differentiate ourselves? It’s more about providing information and building relationships than ‘selling’ — that’s why somebody buys.”

Critical skills

While Ford Manufacturing Co. provides sales training for employees, it is primarily focused on product-specific information such as models and features. So when it comes to teaching employees consultative soft selling skills such as communication and relationship building, Mike Bass Ford has been on its own.

“There are so many areas where there is customer interaction,” Bass says. “Sales skills aren’t just for the traditional new or used car salesperson, but for all of these other areas of our business.”

Like Mike Bass Ford, Northeast Ohio businesses have struggled to find regional sales training resources that support new-school selling skills. Many resources that do exist are either motivational in nature, or geared specifically toward curriculum-based students.

In talking to regional businesses, LCCC realized that many companies lacked the specialized resources needed to equip their sales teams with the necessary consultative soft skills — in addition to product knowledge.

LCCC Business Growth Services tested interest in a consultative sales training solution by conducting market research, which included offering a series of sample workshops through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) last year.

The collective inputs from these companies and an additional pilot series will enable LCCC to complete its official design and formal launch of The Richard Desich Sales Institute – a customized training program targeted to meet the sales needs of community-based businesses. The Sales Institute shares the college’s vision to impact the community by strengthening local talent while driving business growth, as an extension of The Richard Desich School of Business & Entrepreneurship at LCCC. In line with that vision, the program’s primary goal is to help companies develop both new and existing sales talent and teach them the skills needed to succeed in Northeast Ohio’s changing marketplace.

“Sales jobs aren’t the easiest to succeed at, but they’re critically important because an organization is only going to grow as much as its sales team can sell,” says Jeffrey Desich, whose family provided strategic guidance and financial support for the Sales Institute, which bears his father’s name. “We saw an opportunity to help people on a more tactical level, to teach those skills and prepare them for sales jobs in the community. At the end of the day, the more successfully that individual is selling, the more successful the business will be.”

New-school sales curriculum

The Sales Institute’s full curriculum is still being developed, and LCCC will launch a formal pilot program of initial courses at the beginning of 2016. Through the program, LCCC will offer sales training to companies of all sizes, in any industry, and can provide customized curriculum based on specific business needs.

How will the curriculum be different than other sales training?

“Action,” says Suzanne Balaban, an independent consultant leading the launch.

Many sales training programs only teach concepts through a motivational approach. The Sales Institute will include a professional sales lab that offers hands-on workshops, where sales professionals practice applying the concepts they learn.

By evaluating which skills employers want in sales candidates — and profiling successful salespeople to identify necessary traits and tools — the institute takes a comprehensive approach to all facets of selling, Desich says.

Once structured, the sales program will be integrated into LCCC’s college curriculum for marketing and business degree programs, offering students real-life sales experience through internships and job shadowing opportunities. Instead of just learning how to sell, students will gain the full experience of a sales career, from the challenges of dealing with rejection to budgeting on a cyclical commission-based income.

“There is more to being successful at sales than just going out there and trying to be persuasive,” says Desich, CEO at Equity Trust Co. in Westlake. “Identifying what makes successful salespeople successful will be critical to figuring out what we include in the curriculum.”

Regional impact

Ultimately, the Sales Institute will benefit individual professionals as much as it benefits businesses. Businesses will have access to a local talent pool of trained sales candidates. Training in new-school selling techniques better prepares individuals for success in today’s competitive sales positions, promoting higher job satisfaction and retention. For companies, that increased retention and reduced turnover provide a greater return on investment on those they hire, Balaban says.

All of this makes the Sales Institute a win for job-seeking candidates, growth-seeking companies and the local economy.

“Teaching these skills will build the talent network that fuels the economic growth machine in our region,” Balaban says.

Besides strengthening existing talent, the program also has the potential to attract new professionals to sales careers, thereby connecting companies with candidates who possess comprehensive selling skills. This will be increasingly important as technology continues to influence the purchasing behaviors of consumers.

“Whether we’re in recession or boom times, there are always sales jobs,” Desich says. “Because sales opportunities will consistently be available, we can have an impact locally by helping people in the community gain those skills. If we are producing good, quality candidates, then more businesses are going to look to our region for those skillsets. The biggest driver for the community is more than just creating jobs, it’s creating employment.”

 

Want to get involved? LCCC is seeking participation from owners, sales managers or HR professionals in the initial free pilot programs, launching at The Richard Desich Sales Institute.

Learn more about the Desich Sales Institute.

How Wireless Environment secured funding to produce its closet lighting solution

Wired for growth

David Levine and his business partner, Michael Recker, started Wireless Environment to shed light on a real problem. Literally.

Both entrepreneurs had closets with inadequate lighting. Recker’s closet had no wiring, while Levine’s required him to locate and pull a cord in the dark space. They wondered, why couldn’t the light come on automatically when the closet door opened? Together, Recker, an electrical engineer, and Levine, a product development wiz, were the right pair to address the challenge.

“We set out to solve a problem, not start a company together,” Levine says.

However, their conversations led to a business start-up idea in 2006.

Funding a bright idea

Designing the first motion-sensor LED closet lighting solution was the easy part for Levine and Recker. Getting the financing to perfect the technology, broaden the product line and acquire customers – that was the real challenge.

The two initially sought funding from JumpStart, a Northeast Ohio funding source, but they were too early-stage to qualify at that time. Instead, JumpStart led them to The Great Lakes Innovation and Development Enterprise (GLIDE) program through Lorain County Community College (LCCC) Business Growth Services. GLIDE is a regional innovation center, resource hub and business incubator housed on the college’s campus that offers tech support and access to financing through the Innovation Fund. GLIDE was created by a partnership among Lorain County Community College, the Lorain County Commissioners, the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Department of Development.

Innovation Fund financing came with no strings attached and no dilution of the business, allowing the partners to maintain control. That appealed to Levine, who didn’t want to overextend the business.

“Control is so important for an entrepreneur,” Levine says. “If you believe in yourself, control is vital to implement your vision. The Innovation Fund financing did not dilute us and it did not cause any reduction in our ability to make decisions.”

LCCC also provided Wireless Environment with office space at the Richard Desich Business and Entrepreneurship Center on LCCC campus, and daily access to the expertise of the center’s co-directors, Cliff Reynolds and Dennis Cocco.

“They weren’t just big-picture people; they were blocking and tackling,” says Levine, explaining how the two advisers helped him work out real-world business challenges.

Seeing the results

In the end, failure to secure funding from JumpStart was a blessing for the new company, Levine says. LCCC came through with groundbreaking support in terms of seed funding and business guidance, things that were essential to growing the business. In September 2007, Wireless Environment received a $100,000 Innovation Fund award, which gave the young entrepreneurs instant credibility and helped them raise $1.7 million in follow-on financing through JumpStart, Ohio Third Frontier and angel investors.

Today, Levine and Recker have expanded their workforce to 15 employees and hold dozens of patents for wireless indoor and outdoor lighting technology. And as an industry leader in wireless fixtures, Wireless Environment has also greatly expanded its LED lighting product line, which is available through Amazon and at major big-box retailers.

“It’s the brightest lighting you can get at its price point,” Levine says.

It may also be the brightest idea to come from out of a conversation about poorly lit closets.

 

Contact GLIDE at (440) 366-4310 or email innovate@glideit.org to learn more about our services for technology based start-ups.

How the Right Skills Now training program is delivering results for regional manufacturers

Right on track

In spring 2015, Lorain County Community College (LCCC) welcomed the first group of seven students to the newly launched Right Skills Now program. Created in partnership with the Lorain County Joint Vocational School, Lorain County Growth Partnership and MAGNET, Right Skills Now is a national model for offering accelerated training in CNC operations, programming and machining – specialties that will account for 14 to 22 percent of job growth in manufacturing by 2024.

 

 

To learn more about how Right Skills Now benefits employers, LCCC Impact spoke with Jim Tyree, plant manager of Oberlin, Ohio-based General Plug, which enrolled an employees in the pilot program for CNC operator milling to upgrade his skills.

Q: Why was it important for General Plug to get involved with Right Skills Now?

A: It’s important to help support and shape a program like this, because manufacturing is going to keep growing in Lorain County. We need to keep increasing the talent pool and increasing the number of employees who are qualified to fill manufacturing jobs in the area.

Q: How has Right Skills Now benefitted General Plug?

A: We actually had a double benefit, because we had an existing employee go through the course, and we also hired one of the other students who completed the course. It’s great because a lot of the pre-employment screening takes place as part of the program. Students have to go through a pre-employment application, then pass a background check and drug test. Then the participating companies have a chance to interview the students over the course of the program.

It lets prospective employers know the college is investing in the right kind of students from the very beginning. Once a student successfully completes the program, he or she is offered a job at one of the participating companies. It’s a chance to have guaranteed employment, right out of school.

Q: How are you planning to move forward with the program?

A: We’ll have a debriefing session with LCCC once the students have gotten settled at their new jobs. We’ll talk about what worked with the program and what could be done better. Maybe we need to emphasize different types of troubleshooting on equipment, things like that. We’ll get a chance to iron all of that out. But overall, I’d say this was extremely successful for a first attempt at administering a program like this.

We’ve been involved with LCCC for about 20 years now, on a range of initiatives, and we know they’re a great resource for businesses like ours. We’re going to continue working with them on Right Skills Now, and hopefully make an even better training tool for companies in the area.

 

About Right Skills Now

Over the next decade, 2 million U.S. jobs will go unfilled jobs due to the skills gap in manufacturing. Right Skills Now helps address this gap by giving participants the opportunity to earn the National Career Readiness Certificate and industry-recognized credentials in four technical areas of manufacturing.

  • Measurement
  • Materials and safety
  • Bench work and layout
  • CNC operator milling levels I and II

The fast-track training solution is designed to serve students in Lorain County who are seeking employment at area companies or who are looking for additional career training. Paid internships with participating local employers follow the short-term training curriculum. Learn more at [URL].

 Contact LCCC Business Growth Services at (440) 366-4300 to learn more about Right Skills Now.