Successful Business Opportunities
The Week: “Breaking up is hard to do. And for Craig Dershowitz, it’s getting awfully expensive. The 34-year-old New Yorker’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah Brega, took their dog, Knuckles, when she moved to California after their split, and he’s suing to get the puggle — half pug, half beagle — back. So far, he has spent $60,000 on the cross-country legal fight.”
During World War II, wives of American military officers who lived at the Eagle Pass. Texas. base would often venture over the Rio Grande River to the nearby Mexican town of Piedras Negras. On one of these excursions, a group of women stopped at the Victory Club, a popular restaurant, for a bite to eat. And while happy to receive business, the maitre d’ who greeted the women, Ignacio Anaya, found himself in a bit of a predicament:
He couldn’t locate the cook. Not wanting to turn away the patrons, he put on his chef’s hat. He looked around the kitchen and threw together what he had, which according to “The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink” consisted of neat canapes of tortilla chips, cheese, and jalapeno peppers.”
Ignacio was often called Nacho for short, and the dish was named after him. Nachos continued to gain popularity for the next 20 years, but really took off thanks to a man by the name of Frank Liberto, who began to sell them as stadium food at Arlington Stadium (home of baseball’s Texas Rangers at the time). Liberto made one major tweak to Anaya’s nachos:
…because real cheese didn’t have a great shelf life (and melting it would require an oven or broiler), Liberto devised a fast food form of Anaya’s masterpiece that was part cheese and part secret ingredients. The new sauce didn’t need to be heated and, when it came to shelf life, it could likely survive a nuclear blast.
And so the nacho was born, with a missing chef to thank for it.
Photo by Luca
The Oregon Trail is a 2,000-mile (3,200 km) historic east-west wagon route and emigrant trail that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon and locations in between. The eastern part of the Oregon Trail spanned part of the future state of Kansas and nearly all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming. The western half of the trail spanned most of the future states of Idaho and Oregon.
The beginnings of the Oregon Trail were laid by fur trappers and traders from about 1811 to 1840 and were only passable on foot or by horseback. By 1836, when the first migrant wagon train was organized in Independence, Missouri, a wagon trail had been cleared to Fort Hall, Idaho. Wagon trails were cleared further and further west, eventually reaching all the way to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. What became called the Oregon Trail was complete even as improved roads, “cutouts”, ferries and bridges made the trip faster and safer almost every year. From various “jumping off points” in Missouri, Iowa or Nebraska Territory, the routes converged along the lower Platte River Valley near Fort Kearny, Nebraska Territory and led to rich farmlands west of the Rocky Mountains.
From the early to mid 1830s and particularly through the epoch years 1846–1869 the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by about 400,000 settlers, ranchers, farmers, miners, and businessmen and their families.
The following is a guest post by Kevin Bowen.
To understand how federal technology grants can improve the bottom line of a small business, we need to revisit ancient times – those days when primitive technology still forced sleepy people to move one hand when brushing their teeth.
It was a barbaric era. The nation’s computer users were still oppressed by floppy disks. And the Internet had not yet eliminated our need for memory. It was also an era of rampant gingivitis and tooth decay.
Where people saw rotting teeth, the federal government saw a market to advance technology, make money and improve lives. When the company GemTech applied for a grant from the Small Business Innovation Research program, it received a $50,000 grant in 1990 and a $500,000 grant in 1992 for a “sonic toothbrush.” The result was the device that so many people use today – a stronger, cleaner toothbrush.
Thanks to an influx of federal research dollars, we entered an era of whiter teeth and happier dentists. Even happier were the company owners. The company changed its name to Optiva in 1995 and was later sold to Phillips. Sales have reached 1.5 million worldwide, while the company now has a $300 million value and more than 500 employees.
Collaboration and public-private partnerships are a current trend in business and government circles. Small companies that offer innovative technological solutions can seek federal grant funding under the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer program. STTR in particular looks to support collaboration with government or university researchers to commercialize technological discoveries. Here are four reasons that an innovative small business should consider collaboration:
Uncle Sam Funds It – The federal government funds innovative technological companies through its SBIR program and business-academia collaborative research through its STTR program, run through the Small Business Administration. These programs issued $172.8 million in 2011 and have issued more than $2 billion in past years.
States Fund It – Following the lead of the federal government, some states have developed their own programs for business-academia collaboration. For instance in 2005, Texas developed the Emerging Technology Fund. The program makes state funding available to companies working with academic research institutions to develop technology that can be commercialized. Through 2011, ETF reported investing $163.9 million in 133 high-tech companies.
Loosening Rules – An October 2011 Presidential memorandum instructs federal departments to increase the pace of technology transfer of federal patents to the private sector. One result is the December 2011 decision by the U.S. Department of Energy to create a pilot program to give businesses and entrepreneurs greater access to its unlicensed patents, including the ones owned by its system of national laboratories.
Gold in Them There Hills – Companies have had success bringing cutting-edge products to market using federal funds. Products include a GPS system that helps position satellites. SBIR/STTR products include the sonic toothbrush, a GPS system that helps position satellites, and many high-tech projects.
These federal avenues might be unfamiliar to some small business owners. However, if you have the talent for technological innovation, the government is likely looking for you.
Kevin Bowen is a writer working with OppMetrix, based in Dallas, Texas. The OppMetrix smart software solution connects users to federal contracts, federal grants, private grants, federal agency procurement forecasts, and market intelligence and analytics. The system delivers the right federal opportunities to large enterprises, small businesses, non-profits, local and state governments, foundations, non-profits, universities, hospitals, medical facilities, research institutions, and other organizations.
But Garten eventually fled government work for the same reason so many have since: gridlock. “I was working on exciting projects,” she says, “but it was like Groundhog Day. One project was $20 billion, and we were trying to get it out of the budget”—that is, cancel the project due to its exorbitant expense. Yet “every time we’d send it back to the Hill, the senator from the affected district would but it back in the budget. I did this for four years. It may be $20 billion, and it may be going to the president—but nothing’s happening.”
One morning, at the height of her frustration, Garten was reading the New York Times when she came across a section she’d never even seen before called “Business Opportunities.” In it she saw an ad for a specialty food store in East Hampton called the Barefoot Contessa. Although she’d never visited the Hamptons, Garten had become a master of the Washington dinner party; she had also made some extra money buying, renovating, and reselling houses. Inspired, Ina told Jeffrey about the ad, and the two of them soon visited the store, making an offer on the spot. The owner accepted. Now, instead of analyzing multi-billion-dollar nuclear projects, she was managing a 400-square-foot food store.
“After the first weekend, I really thought this was the stupidest thing I ever did,” Garten says. “But Jeffrey told me, ‘Look, if you could do it in the first week, you’d be bored the second week.’ He was right. If I’m not scared to death, it’s not worth doing.”
The Barefoot Contessa was a huge success, allowing Garten to expand the franchise further into East and West Hampton. After overseeing the franchise for 20 years, Garten grew restless, sold her store, and searched for a new passion. The quest took a year. “I had nothing to do,” Garten admits, “which was scarier than anything else.” Finally, she put together a proposal for a recipe book, easily finding a publisher. The book, called The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, which first appeared in 1999, was an unexpected hit, eventually selling over a million copies. A second book followed, then a third and a fourth; Garten is now working on book eight or nine—by her own admission, she can’t quite keep track of them all.
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