Justine Coyne: «Women-owned businesses get innovative with social media»

«While it’s not uncommon for a business to have a social media presence these days, some women entrepreneurs around the city are finding innovative ways to use the free services to build their brand.

»When Jessica Pedersen, a holistic health coach and early adapter of social media, started Be Mama Be Well in January, she saw the possibilities to incorporate social media beyond promotion.

»“I realized when I started my business, I would have to facilitate programs to reach people outside Pittsburgh,” she said. “The challenge in that was I had to figure out a way to facilitate meetings without actually meeting face-to-face.”

»Pedersen decided to experiment using private Facebook Groups to see if she could facilitate cleanses. With the groups, clients could adjust their Facebook settings to get reminders and emails with updates, or choose to participate more passively.

»“It was a huge success,” she said. “It allowed clients to have instant access to interact with myself and each other in a private setting, and the benefit to me was that it allowed me to open up my business and reach clients from all over the country while having no overhead costs.”

»Emily Levenson, a co-founder of the women’s networking organization Propelle, said social media is something every business should be using to their advantage.

»“Social media is great because you can target your specific niche audience while still having the capability to interact with a seemingly endless amount of people,” Levenson said.

»Levenson said Propelle is a big proponent of social media, hosting seminars and panel discussions on the topic, in addition to using it to grow the organization itself.

»Erin Szymanski has been using social media to connect with customers, and her business isn’t even open yet. Szymanski, who is in the process of opening Glitter & Grit Bridal Studio, an alternative bridal boutique in Lawrenceville, said using Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter has been a great way to amp up interest, as well as to connect with other professionals in the wedding industry to build a network on contacts.

»“I post pictures and updates of how the store is coming along as well as the designers I will be featuring,” she said. “I’m using social media in a very image-heavy way to show the aesthetic I am bringing in.”

»Szymanski, who hopes to open the shop by the end of June, said with no traditional marketing she has already been able to book appointments with brides before the store’s opening.

»“To me, this more grassroots way of connecting with people through social media is more personal than an ad,” she said.

»Levenson said her advice to any business owner is to know your audience and know what corresponding social media site they are on.

»“These social media sites can be a powerful tool for getting your message out, but you have to make sure you are using the right tool,” she said.

»Debbie Hardin, owner of Hardin Acupuncture, said while she uses it to promote her business, she also uses social media to connect with potential clients on a more personal level.

»“Acupuncture is still somewhat of a strange thing to a lot of people,” Hardin said. “Especially in a field that people might not understand, it’s important that people see me as being a down to earth and approachable person.”

»Hardin said she spent a year dedicating extra time to build up her social media followers.

»“At first it was really intimidating, but after I started to get used to it, I saw that I could really tailor my social media to fit my schedule,” she said. “My schedule doesn’t allow me to tweet all day, but I found out that is fine.”

»Levenson said with any social media outlet, consistency is key.

»“If your business has a Facebook page or Twitter account, it is important to keep the information updated,” she said. “This doesn’t mean you have to be posting every day, but find something that works for your business and your schedule and try to keep it consistent.”

»With a 4-year-old son and plans to adopt another child in the next year, for Pedersen, the flexibility she has running her business through social media is a huge help.

»“Having the flexibility to be a mom, be a wife, be active in the community and run my business to the way that suits my lifestyle has been such a blessing,” she said.»

Pittsburgh Business Times


Daniel Bukszpan: «Most Innovative Small Businesses of 2013»

«No matter how far the marketplace advances, there will always be problems that plague consumers and that no company can seem to solve.

»This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it creates a niche for the right company to fill. For example, motorists experience considerable straining when cleaning their windshields from the inside. So the makers of the Windshield Wonder saw an opportunity to address an unaddressed problem, a successful product was born, and the rest is history.

»Small businesses can experience great success and expand their operations when they find innovative solutions to common problems. Often, it can mean cultivating a loyal and much-needed customer base, which any small business needs in order to sustain itself and grow.

»What follows is a list of 10 innovative small businesses that are making their mark this year with inventive products. Read ahead to see what they are.

»Yardarm Technologies

»Gun legislation has always been a front-and-center topic in the U.S., but it reached a fever pitch in the months following the tragic events in Aurora, Colo. and Newtown, Conn. But while politicians have been trying without success to find a solution, Yardarm Technologies has come up with a high-tech idea—a wireless controller that allows gun owners to disable a weapon remotely.

»If a gun is moved, an alarm is triggered on the owner’s phone, and he or she can then disable the weapon remotely. An Associated Press report said that the technology would cost gun owners an extra $50 per weapon, while the service itself would carry a $12 annual fee.

»Systems and Materials Research Consultancy

»3-D printing is a technology that fabricates objects based on a digital model. It made headlines in 2012 when a company called Defense Distributed created the world’s first 3-D-printed gun, but Systems and Materials Research Consultancy is currently researching ways to use it to fabricate food.

»NASA awarded the Austin, Texas-based company a Small Business Innovation Research grant of $125,000 to develop food to be printed for space missions. Senior mechanical engineer Anjan Contractor said that the technology could someday be used to address world hunger.

»AMP Americas

»AMP Americas is a Chicago-based company that makes compressed natural gas. While the alternative fuel market already has plenty of businesses that call themselves “innovative,” this one truly is: Its fuel is converted from cow manure.

»The company’s efforts were highlighted in March in The New York Times, which said the fuel was being used by a dairy farm to power it 42 tractor-trailers that deliver its milk to different states. The article also cited Energy Department officials, who called the technology a “pacesetter.”

»Able Planet

»People who don’t need a conventional hearing aid but want to enhance sounds can use a personal amplifier. Able Planet is a noise-cancelling headphone manufacturer whose personal amplifier was singled out for praise by The Wall Street Journal in September, and in Popular Science in December.

»The technology uses noise-cancelling technology and is smaller than a dime. In a February CNET review, writer Elizabeth Armstrong Moore said: “I can certainly imagine putting these on regularly when I go to bars, rock shows, and soccer matches where I sometimes struggle conversing with the person right in front of me.”


»Changing a diaper is one of life’s less pleasant tasks, even when baby is lying perfectly still. Much of the time, however, baby doesn’t lie perfectly still, and thrashes and squirms. This created a ripe opportunity for a resourceful entrepreneur to revolutionize the process, and Lisa Cash Hanson was that entrepreneur.

»Hanson invented the SnuggWugg, which she described in an e-mail as “an interactive diaper changing pillow that helps parents so their babies don’t twist and turn on the changing table.” The business will launch later in 2013, but it already has the advantage of having won the 2012 Huggies MomInspired Grant of $15,000.

»Bullet Designs

»Most people would be hard-pressed to find much use for spent bullet casings. But Bullet Designs, a Louisiana-based company founded in 2010, has distinguished itself by using them to create bling.

»“We recycle fired bullet casings into beautiful, elegant jewelry and accessories for men and women,” CEO Karan Kirkham said. “Women in particular go wild over our products.” Kirkham said the company is applying for a patent on its “Fire & Ice” jewelry line.


»Anyone who has watched news coverage of a natural disaster or watched an episode of Doomsday Preppers knows that you’ll need a supply of uncontaminated water should a major emergency arise. But whether it’s an earthquake or a zombie apocalypse, the Austin, Texas-based AquaStorage company has the fresh water supply solution to beat—the AquaPodKit.

»According to the company’s website, it can store up to 65 gallons of water, enough to provide a family of four with a 14-day supply. The invention was highlighted by The New York Times in 2011.

»VisionQuest 20/20

»Ophthalmological technology has made leaps and bounds in recent years, but screening children for vision problems still hasn't advanced beyond the eye-chart stage. VisionQuest 20/20, a nonprofit organization founded by Dr. James W. O’Neil and engineer Richard S. Tirendi, is looking to change that by introducing a new product called EyeSpy 20/20.

»The product is a computer program that assesses children’s vision while they play a video game. It tests for eye misalignment, cataracts, nearsightedness, astigmatism and more. It also tests for amblyopia, better known as “lazy eye,” a condition that can lead to permanent blindness if it goes untreated.


»uAttend is a small business that sells advanced time and attendance trackers for employers. Completely cloud-based, it allows employees to mark their attendance with a phone, tablet, or even the tried-and-true punch-clock method.

»The system integrates with payroll software, thereby eliminating an entire step in the process of paying employees. The company also offers punch-clocks with biometric fingerprint and facial recognition capabilities, so one employee can't punch in for another one.


»Hallettco is an Ashland, Ore.-based company that makes an essential product for the outdoors. The product is called the Squat Monkey, and it’s a 4-ounce strap that provides balance and stability to hikers, campers and other outdoor enthusiasts when certain inevitable bodily functions arise.

»According to the product website, “Squat Strap helps to protect your exposed skin from coming into contact with bacteria, fungus, bugs, rodents and poisonous plants. ... Squat Strap keeps you elevated off the ground by supporting and balancing your body. You easily place Squat Strap around a tree or boulder, and then place it about your waist. After you are in a secure and stable position, you can let nature take care of the rest.”»

This article has been published on the CNBC web site.

Photos, top to down:

Yardarm Technologies
David Reede | All Canada Photos | Getty Images
Able Planet
SnuggWugg | YouTube
Bullet Designs | Facebook
VisionQuest 20/20
Squat Monkey


«Successful Encore Entrepreneurs Highlighted at National Small Business Week»

Every year since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week, which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.

More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.

As part of National Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Administration takes the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories. Every day, they’re working to grow small businesses, create 21st century jobs, drive innovation, and increase America’s global competitiveness.

National Small Business Week, June 16-21, will feature dozens of successful small businesses from across the country, including entrepreneurs who started their business after age 50.

This year marks 50 years of National Small Business Week, and is fitting to highlight the thriving small business owners over the age of 50 who help drive the economy and create jobs. The businesses range from a baker of Artisan breads to a helicopter pilot school, and from a maker of skincare and cosmetic products to an aerospace design firm.

The U.S. Small Business Administration will honor these businesses and the more than 100 outstanding business owners in Washington, D.C., on June 21 for their achievements. The week will culminate with the announcement of the National Small Business Person of the Year.

For more than 70 million Americans over 50, business ownership is a practical option. It can be a second career or a chance to leverage life experiences into an interesting and financially practical “encore” career. One in four individuals ages 44 to 70 is interested in becoming an entrepreneur and 63 percent of Americans plan to work during retirement.

One such business owner is Steve Miller of Boynton Beach, Fla., this year’s Florida Small Business Person of the Year. After a 33-year career in the medical profession as a registered nurse, Miller was ready to dive head first into full-time small business ownership.

Miller received some advice and direction from a business development program through south Florida’s SCORE network. “Herb Douglas was my business mentor and his guidance and input was crucial,” said Miller. “Small business capital was not my concern as working out of the home minimized costs but I don’t think I would be where I am now without Herb’s mentorship and input from the great staff at SCORE.

Miller’s background provided him with an in-depth knowledge of the use of hospital devices, and in 2003, he founded EPreward, Inc., to provide precious metals recovery services to cardiology departments and medical offices. Today, EPreward employs 10 full-time employees and had revenues of more than $2.8 million in 2012.

Small businesses are welcome to attend National Small Business Week events.

Participants can register online until June 12.