WVSU EDC

Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship Interview

by Sarah Halstead, CARD Extension Specialist, shalstead@wvstateu.edu

Sarah asked Brenda Pinnel, a WVSU Lean Startup 60X client, to share advice with others who are thinking about starting a small business. Below is an excerpt of the interview.

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture? How did the idea for your business come about?
For me, it was more of a long-smoldering ember that several breezes blew back to life. I’ve been doing graphic design work for newspaper for 30 years, and for the most part, enjoyed it. After meeting Charly Hamilton and Bernice Deakins and coming around in my life, I think I decided I wanted to be an artist. I started a notebook of sketches and somehow a whirlwind blew me into Tamarack. And then into [WVSU’s DigiSo business training program] and the Lean Startup 60X program. And I began to think, maybe I can be an artist and make money.

What three pieces of advice would you give to college students who want to become entrepreneurs? Is that advice different for Encore Entrepreneurs 50+?
Follow some kind of passion or dream. I wouldn’t halt a perfectly good career or job prospect unless you do have a passion. If you’re over 50, I’d say, get moving. You never know how much time you have. Listen to people who have gone before, even if you think they are lame. Learn to see what is in front of you for what it is.

If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Be more proactive. Follow more advice. I have been lucky enough to drift into pretty good situations, even out of college. Sometimes I wonder if I had been more persistent, could I have been a fancy modern Mad Men style executive? If I had followed advice to concentrate on informational graphics would I be renowned or famous? Or unemployed?

I do believe, though, in not having too many regrets or dwelling on what could have been. Maybe I don’t learn any lessons with that philosophy, but I am where I am because I did what I did. And try to be okay with that.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Not successful yet, but — and this is just for me — I think I will need to be able to manage my own time, do things I’m afraid of or uncomfortable with and be open-minded.

What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Hard to say yet what my failures are or aren’t in my HepCatz venture. Right now, a big failure is choosing to play online games rather than pushing on with a Facebook post. Also, not believing in myself. Don’t know what I’ve learned yet. Ask me again in a year.

How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?
Well, so far about six months.

How many hours do you work a day on average?
While I am working full time, about 12 hours, five days a week. But that includes travel time. I work at least a couple of hours on the business nearly every.

Describe/outline your typical day.
Get up, plan what I’m going to do. This is important, because I tend to drift without a plan. At this point, it’s not so critical to get everything done on the list, but I need a guide. I try to get in doing a little artwork. Go to the WVSU Economic Development Center. It’s hard to say. I don’t really have a typical day yet.

How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?
The cats are ticked. But they’re mollified by the hope of better kibble.

What motivates you?
A desperate, deeply-ingrained need to succeed. And a need to draw, and the pleasure both give me. I also like to please people and make them happy with what I do, and if I’m successful, be able to make the world better in what small ways I can.

Brenda Pinnell is the 2013 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., Graphic Designer of the Year and a Tamarack juried artist at Tamarack in Beckley, W.Va.

#WVSUExtensionStories: The Doctors Are In…Business!

Drs. Walter Neto and Brett Jarrell could become the next big thing in the beauty product business. This fall, with the help of Extension staff members at the WVSU Economic Development Center (EDC), the Huntington-based physicians will launch Biovita, a line of high-end cellular skin care products. It’s a success story that began, admittedly, by happenstance.

While completing his intern year of general residency conducting burn and wound healing research, Walter developed a serum to help in the skin graft healing process that proved to have anti-aging benefits. Teaming with Brett, an emergency room physician, the pair began pondering the feasibility of starting their own business. They tested the product with a select group of users in late 2013, and the response was overwhelming.

“Our users reported that their skin felt younger, silky, more hydrated,” says Brett. “Their friends were noticing a difference and were asking what products they were using to get those effects.”

As the product continued to be honed and additional items created, the urge to become entrepreneurs increased, with one glitch: medical school curriculum doesn’t cover launching and sustaining a small business.

“Having a good product and successfully marketing it as a business are two very different things,” admits Walter. The doctors needed help, and that’s where WVSU Extension Service stepped in.

While visiting the EDC with a writer friend, Brett met WVSU’s Community and Economic Development Specialist Sarah Halstead and liked what she had to say about startup business development. Soon, Brett and Walter were enrolled in Lean Startup 60X, an intensive business training course piloted at the EDC.

“We embrace and teach Lean Startup principles. We joke about the tagline associated with Lean Startup—fail fast, succeed faster—but that’s what we help people do,” says Sarah. “It’s been exciting to see Walter and Brett launch landing pages and social media campaigns designed to test their initial business and customer assumptions, and pivot based on the feedback. They’ve gained valuable customer insight that ultimately changed how they position their products.”

Now they’re equipped with skills and knowledge they never realized they’d need.

“We’ve learned to challenge our assumptions — to find out what people want versus what you think they want,” says Brett, pointing to the impact that the EDC’s educational resources have had on their process. The course had them hitting the streets of Charleston, talking with actual consumers about their wants and needs in a skin care product.

Throughout the 60-day program, the pair worked with writers, designers, financial advisors and marketing experts who helped them turn their anti-aging serum into an entire Biovita line of products — marketable ones.

Once launched, the line will include moisturizer, exfoliant and eye cream, available for purchase from the company’s website and through other online retailers to start, with in-store distribution in the works. And while the product is a local creation, its audience is much larger.

“We want to see where this can go,” says Walter. “Our goal is to take it internationally.”

An ambitious goal for a company that the creators admit was started on a lark? Not at all, say the experts.

“The playing field for startups is more level than ever now, with broadband, social media and access to affordable technology that didn’t even exist a year ago,” says Sarah. “People with a variety of business ideas are attracted to the EDC and its resources. We’ve created virtual and physical resources, and have nurtured a community of entrepreneurs who can test their assumptions and develop customers using fast, direct, cost-effective methods. We’re happy to help them fail fast, so they can succeed faster.”

Look for the Biovita line of products this fall.