Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bill Combes talks about MicroCOO

Where are you from originally?  
Originally from Hauppauge, NY and town on Long Island

What university did you go to? 
University of Kansas

What brought you to Austin?  
I met my business partner for my first company, AnythingWeather at the KU.  We decided Austin was the place we were going to start our business so we left Lawrence KS in July 1995 for our move to Austin.

What is the idea behind your startup?
My main goal is to help others avoid the pitfalls of starting a running a company.  I want to help others succeed.  My company MicroCOO covers two areas of interest.  The first is operations.  For companies that cannot afford or are not ready to hire a COO, that is where I come in.  I can provide fractional COO services and the fraction of the cost of a traditional COO.  The second is social media.  I developed a product called Social Storm Marketing which provides social media management for companies at a fraction of the cost of hiring someone full time to complete those tasks.  

What need does it fulfill?
We provide valuable services that are cost effective to the small to medium sized business using them.  A company may have a need for a chief operating officer but not $200,000 a year to hire one.  Instead of a full time COO, we can provide that service at a reduced rate.  The same thing applies to social media.  A full time content and social media manager (just about a requirement for every business nowadays) will run a minimum of $3000 a month.  We can provide the same service for between $500 and $1000 a month

What exactly does your product do?
The COO service covers sales, marketing, operations, human resources, and any operational functions.  Social Storm Marketing covers all aspects of a company’s social presence online.  We manage the entire social environment for our clients.

Who is it for?
Our main client base is small to medium sized businesses.  However we are managing social for several Massage Envy locations in the Denver metro region.  

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up a business?
Getting my first client to believe in me!  Now I depend on referrals and networking to make it happen.
What is the next step for you and your startup?

Continue to grow at a steady pace and make sure every client we work with is absolutely satisfied with the services we provide.  

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?
To have a plan, never give up and make sure you have a close group of advisors that you can turn to with questions avoiding family if you can for that advice.

What Austin-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

My long standing relationship with the Business Success Center and Jan Triplett was recently rekindled.  I met Jan back in 1995 when we started AnythingWeather.  Her events have really helped get my name out.  I try to attend as many networking groups as I can.  My connections with TEN and also with the WEN network in Williamson County have been helpful.  Really meeting as many people as I can and connecting with them on LinkedIn has helped business a lot.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Charlotte Vorkinn talks about the Norwegian Entrepreneurship Program in Houston

Charlotte Vorkinn talks about the Norwegian Entrepreneurship Program in Houston

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Lillehammer, Norway but I am a so called “Oil-brat” and I am raised in different cities around the world.

What university did you go to?

I have a bachelor’s degree in International Marketing from BI Norwegian Business School and had a year abroad in Singapore to complete my degree at Nanyang Technological University.

What brought you to Houston?

I got an internship at Innovation Norway Houston who, amongst other things, facilitates the Norwegian Entrepreneurship Program (Gründerskolen).

What is your group’s mission?

The Gründerskolen program in Houston is a joint cooperation between Oslo University’s School of Entrepreneurship, Rice University’s Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Innovation Norway and young, growing companies in the Houston area. The overall objective of this collaboration is to give the participating students a taste of entrepreneurship, to help them better understand local business culture, and to stimulate ideas that can be of value to them in the future. 

The Gründerskolen program in Houston is a required component of a MSc in Innovation and Entrepreneurship offered at several universities in Norway. For three months the participating students work full-time on an unpaid basis with local start-up companies while attending evening classes at Rice University studying innovation and entrepreneurship.
As a formal partner to the Entrepreneurship Program, Innovation Norway coordinates the placement of students in start-up companies abroad. 

What exactly does it bring to its participants?

The purpose of the program is to give students a “real-world” experience in an entrepreneurial environment, providing them with insight into the operation and management of a company in the start-up phase.

Who would benefit from your program?

The student placement program can be thought of as a combination of a traditional internship and a consulting engagement. Depending on your company’s needs, a team consisting of up to 4 students can work with and examine your company’s processes, and provide in-depth recommendations for necessary improvements. A typical project might involve the development or distribution of a new product; how to streamline a purchasing process; creating an annual sales forecast procedure; market research; or exploring the capital appropriation process.

What was the most challenging aspect of starting up the initiative?

Locating suitable start-ups in the Houston area to host student interns for three months requires that we have ongoing insight into Houston’s entrepreneurial environment. As we have experienced in previous years, some start-ups are simply too young to take on interns as they do not have the available resources required to supervise and mentor these students.

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

If you are a Houston area start-up or know of any that could benefit from hosting one or more of our interns, please do not hesitate to contact me (Charlotte Vorkinn) or Eric Namtvedt for more information.

What Houston-based resource have you found to be the most helpful and why?

Our ongoing cooperation with the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has been invaluable to the programs’ success. We attend all of their Venture Forums throughout the year as they serve as excellent arenas for meeting new exciting start-ups from the Houston Area. 

For additional information regarding the program see: