Techonology forum to help startups polish business plans
By Tom Harlan
Two technology companies are to present their business plans at a workshop Wednesday (11/10) as part of a South Florida organization's plans to educate and promote entrepreneurs.
Executives from Camplink.net, a Davie company that provides Internet access at camp sites, and Merkatum Corp., a Coral Gables company that provides security and identity solutions, are to present their business plans for critique at a 7 p.m. workshop at the University of Miami's Storer Auditorium.
After the presentations, a four-member panel of executives is to offer advice on how the companies can improve their plans, said Luda Kopeikina, chairman of the MIT Enterprise Forum of South Florida, a chapter of a 25-year-old organization affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The school's alumni established the local chapter last year to encourage the growth of the technology industry and businesses in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
During the year, the forum has grown to include 40-50 active volunteers from entrepreneurs to executives in large companies, Ms. Kopeikina said.
The forum held four workshops last year and plans to host nine workshops and three seminars at various times and locations across the tri-county area. The seminars would focus on topics such as technology trends or how entrepreneurs can build larger companies, she said.
"We're actively engaged in trying to connect this community," she said. "We would like to build a community of entrepreneurs."
The group expects to build the community through seminars and workshops, which typically draw between 80 and 100 executives and entrepreneurs, Ms. Kopeikina said.
At the upcoming workshop, the companies are to present their business plans to a panel of business veterans with management and venture-capital expertise.
The panel is to give advice on how the companies, in the early stages of development, can improve their plans through team building, financing and strategic positioning.
Mike Ferraro, founder of PlantFind Flash Preferred Commerce, a technology information-solutions company that participated in an October workshop, said the panel commended him on his business plan and warned him of potential problems his company might face.
Overall, the panel emphasized that companies need to update their business plans to attract capital, Mr. Ferraro said.
"Three to five years ago, anyone with an MBA, a good business plan and no experience could go drum up $20 million," he said. "They were sure to point out that's not going to happen."
The forum hosts workshops to discuss how companies that have a proven product or service can grow into other markets through strategic marketing or an additional round of financing.
Panelists are asked to generalize their feedback so all attendants can apply the advice to their operations, Ms. Kopeikina said.
After the panelists' remarks, the workshop will conclude with a question-and-answer session.
The audience will consist mostly of entrepreneurs and executives from small and medium-size companies, Ms. Kopeikina said. But she said the forum is working to attract larger companies such as Tyco that are entrepreneurial-minded and interested in working with smaller companies.
"We have the potential to build Florida into one of the capitals of entrepreneurship," Ms. Kopeikina said, pointing to financial resources, an intelligent workforce and a strong university system. "What we need is to create a community to promote entrepreneurship."