Monday, May 28, 2012

How Start-ups Help Employers Find the Best Job Candidates

Harqen Ceo Kelly Fitzsimmons
               With signs that the economy is warming up, a bevy of new start ups stand ready to help companies and employees make the right match. While admitting that during the recession, “the hiring space was hellacious,” Kelly Fitzsimmons, CEO of   Milwaukee-based HarQen, made good use of the time to improving existing systems and to work on new products.  Founded in 2007, HarQen considers itself “a pioneer in the virtual interview space,” with its application called Voice Advantage that allows recruiters to use their phones and a simple web-based dashboard to create and distribute customized, prerecorded phone interview questions. On their part, job candidates  take the interview at their own convenience by clicking on a link through email or on the web; they type in a phone number and answer a callback a second later to begin. Once the interview is completed, recruiters can review the exchange and forward it to others who play a role in hiring. Hiring managers, says Kelly, like the product because it is “a real timesaver, eliminating scheduling hassles”.  And so do job seekers. HarQen reports that 90% of candidates complete the interview within the first 24 hours and 40% of them take the interviews evenings or weekends.  

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Farming For Agritourism Dollars

Farming for Agritourism Dollars

Jane Eckert in the orchard
    A 6th generation farmer, Jane Eckert grew up with a first hand view of the rigors of farm life “where one night of bad weather can wipe out a year of hard work.” So after picking up a business degree, she left home to work at Atlantic Richfield in L.A. After several years in executive marketing positions, Jane decided to help the family fruit farms in Belleville, Illinois develop  agritourism business because “it is very hard to make living selling wholesale crops.”  The farm now features  Eckert’s Country Store,   which offers a full line of produce, meats, wines, bakery, and deli  products, as well as country favorites such as preserves, pickles and buckwheat pancake mixes; it also has added  a  320-seat restaurant.  Because Eckert Farms,  currently managed by 5 family members, attracts some 500,000 customers a year, Jane’s marketing reputation spread quickly.  In 2001 she founded  Eckert Agrimarketing with a  lofty  mission “to help the family farm—the backbone of our country’s heritage-- thrive and survive in future generations.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mother and Daughter Entrepreneurs Build A Health Food Chain

     Mother and Daughter Entrepreneurs Build A Health Food Chain

Green Acres in Wichita Kansas

     As Barbara Hoffmann likes to say, her vision for Green Acres, a small Midwestern chain of organic and natural food stores, grew out of her aching back. Born into an entrepreneurial family who started a wholesale plant business, Barbara first  transformed her family business into  an interior landscaping business, Tropical Designs, providing plants and trees for offices and shopping malls. But after years of heavy lifting of plants,  Barbara developed chronic back pain and underwent several surgeries which didn’t solve her problems.  Finally, she took matters into her own hands and began to find relief in alternative treatments, diet changes, and nutritional supplements. The deeper she waded into the growing area of healthy eating and therapeutic supplements, she realized she had stumbled onto a concept—building better health—that she wanted to convert into a business.  

Friday, March 23, 2012

Finding the Next Generation of Art Buyers and Collectors--Online

Jen Bekman at work:  credit: Paul Costello
          In 2003, when Jen Bekman opened an art gallery near the Bowery in Manhattan, she admits she had never bought art, though she always wanted to.  But once she started living with art, she really enjoyed it. Soon  her mission  grew to something more than decorating her own walls. In short, she wanted “to democratize art. My business arose out of frustration. I realized that the reason I had never bought art was that no one had ever tried to sell it to me.”  But one of Jen’s early observations about customers is that they “came with a lot of baggage about buying art. They saw it as an intimidating experience. They had the means because I saw them in my gallery with expensive clothes and accessories; they just felt at a loss about how to make an art purchase. I wanted everyone to enjoy art, but I couldn’t’ reach everyone just with  my gallery.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Goat Farms, Wool and Making a Business Of What You Love

Laura Zander Amidst Her Yarns
It’s getting easier to make a living doing what you really enjoy. Especially since there seem to be enough customers who can afford to indulge their taste for artisanal or handcrafted products. Jimmy Beans Wool was founded in 2002 by  software engineer  Laura Zander who, afraid of losing work during the slump in Silicon Valley, decided to move to Truckee, California, near  Lake Tahoe. Spending a lot of time in the car on weekend ski trips Laura had become obsessed with knitting. When she took a part time job building a website for a graphics designer, she sold an ad to a local hand- dyed Yarn Company, which sparked the idea for what has become Jimmy Beans Wool. A shop built around her knitting hobby seemed like a good idea, and with their tech backgrounds, Laura, with her husband Doug, figured in time they could extend their reach with an internet business.  They invested $30,000 of their own money in a 500-square foot retail store  offering coffee to the knitters too.  And customers came and loved the yarns and the service.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Providing Security--- for Both War and Peace

CEO Stephanie Point
     Stephanie Point,  CEO of Point 2 Point Global Security, (P2P) prides herself on her highly trained teams who  provide  customized  security services to protect people and assets for both private companies and government agencies.  Among the several government agencies she serves is the Department of Homeland Security. During 2008-09, for example,  P2P completed 189 flights transporting  high level felons back to their home countries in South America.  Each flight, for which P2P contracted  737 jets including flight staff and pilots, required 14 security officers and one manager. Once the DHS deposited detainees at a given airport for departure, a P2P security team met them to process their paperwork; it also took custody of the detainees  for the duration of their travel; upon arrival in their  destination cities, P2P released the detainees into the custody of local  authorities.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Taking An Exit Doesn't Always Mean Good Bye

Leslie Blodgett at work
           Two years ago, when Leslie Blodgett, CEO of Bare Escentuals,  first received an acquisition offer of $1.7 billion from Shiseido, Japan’s  largest cosmetic company,  she was well aware that the deal hinged on her remaining in her role.  But she also knew that after 16 years as CEO, she wanted to pull back for awhile to focus again on the creative end of the business.  After convincing Shiseido executives that her COO could handily step into her shoes, she literally “pulled the title executive chairman out of a hat,” and the deal was signed; she reports to the COO of Global Business at Shiseido.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

High Tech "Pipe Cleaners and Popsicle Sticks"

Ayah Bedeir Playing with her kit    Photo courtesy of Zack DeZon

   After an accomplished educational background in computer engineering in her native Lebanon, Ayah Bdeir felt she was on the wrong track.  “My parents and teachers always encouraged me to take more and more science because I was good at it, but I really didn’t enjoy it. It seemed too abstract for me; too many equations and formulas.” But then she was accepted in the US as a graduate student in the Media Lab at M.I.T.where she had a light bulb moment: she discovered a world where she could combine her technology skills with the creativity she feels she had suppressed for so long.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Guest Blog: How to Get Started with Public Relations

Marcy Fleisher is the founder and president of Fleisher Communications Group, a firm based in Columbus, Ohio that specializes in Earned Media.  FleisherCommunications Group represents a diverse clientele including a leading green energy firm, a leader in the health care technology field, and various professionals  who turn to Fleisher  for their PR needs.  Prior to starting her own firm, Marcy  spent more than 15 years as a TV reporter, earning a number of awards including an Emmy.  She can be reached at Here are her tips for starter uppers: