Network reader-to-reader advice.
Thomas W. Oakes's company developed two specialized polymer coatings by winning grants from the federal government's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. But now that the feds are cutting back, Oakes wants to focus on the commercial market (Swords into Plowshares, April, [Article link]). How can his company make the switch "from scientist/entrepreneurs to entrepreneur/scientists"?
Mr. Oakes may want to call Sandia National Laboratories Federal Credit Union (505-293-0500) and speak to president Richard Rays. He is chairman of the Technology Transfer Task Force, a cooperative effort of Sandia National Laboratories and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. The program can help businesses that have relied heavily on defense contracting to refocus on the private sector. Its members try to find commercial applications for technology developed in federal facilities.
Gearcon General Contractors Inc.
We too have done work under the SBIR program, and have been fairly successful with it. Indeed, as a result of some research we did under that program, we started a new company to manufacture thermoplastic composites.
I get the sense from Mr. Oakes's letter that he has considered only the physical products his company has developed and ignored the other products of the research. We believe the real product of our SBIR research is intellectual property, protected by patents and know-how. Mr. Oakes may have a whole lot more than two products to sell. He may have proprietary knowledge, and patents that he can license. It was important for us to learn that we did.
S. R. Taylor & Associates
Kenneth Roberts's company helps small and midsize companies meet Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Environmental Protection Agency regulations. While he often reads that safety and health concerns are growing, he finds prospective clients uninterested. He asked Network readers for advice on selling his services (Heads in the Sand?, April, [Article link]).
Mr. Roberts can request a list of companies cited by OSHA for failing to meet regulations. He may have some luck marketing his program if he can get a copy of that. Also, I was at an all-day OSHA seminar recently, and it seemed many contractors do want to protect themselves against liability, especially since OSHA will likely be enforcing its requirements more stringently. These contractors are seeking education, not just waiting to be caught.
Mr. Roberts should concentrate on two major concerns. One, it's virtually impossible to comply with all OSHA regulations, so contractors want someone to identify the important points. Two, they are concerned with their liability for subcontractors' violations. No matter how the contract is written, the contractor is still open to lawsuits. That's a big concern, and if Mr. Roberts could address it, he'd certainly find his niche.
Most businesses don't want to spend big money bringing someone in to establish their safety standards. They would rather spend a little on ready-made policies they could implement themselves. Mr. Roberts should write such policies, then advertise them in business magazines and in OSHA's monthly magazine. Also, he could publish these policies as software, which users could then customize. As these customers grow, they may need more in-depth help, and they would likely call Mr. Roberts first. Until then, he can make money selling the basics.
Donald B. Jackson Jr.
One of the less enjoyable tasks I performed for my company was development of a safety and health program. The construction business has recently been targeted by OSHA, and we were subjected to four separate inspections last year. Mr. Roberts should study those companies currently being targeted by OSHA and the EPA, and consider patterns in industry and company size. Then he should approach such companies. A few hefty fines against a company are a powerful motivator.
Harry E. Rodman Jr.
Rifenburg Construction Inc.
Who Do You Trust?
Jerry Schults recently purchased a Texas aerosol manufacturing and packaging plant. He wants to begin distributing outside of his home state, but he first needs to know how to find a reputable manufacturer's representative (In Search of Distribution, April, [Article link]).
I have two pieces of advice for Mr. Schults. First, he should contact the Manufacturer's Agents' National Association, 23016 Mill Creek Rd., Laguna Hills CA 92655; (714) 859-4040. This is an organization of manufacturer's agents who have agreed to comply with a code of ethics. I've found that most agents and manufacturers who belong to this organization do business in an aboveboard manner. Second, he must understand that any manufacturer's agent may not be the right one for him. He should take the time to interview these individuals, ask for résumés, and in general treat each agent like an employee interviewing for a job.
Marko Industrial & Warehousing Systems
Mr. Schults should contact a few buyers he does business with and ask them to recommend a good manufacturer's rep. Not only will he benefit from the buyer's experience, but buyers will have a hard time turning down the rep they recommended!
Simson Giftware Corp.
North Hollywood, Calif.
Jim Schaffer, a first-year M.B.A. student at Indiana University, hears about only large corporations in his classes. He asked Network readers how a career with a small company differs, and where he should look for an internship with a small company (Career Counseling, April, [Article link]).
Mr. Schaffer should continue to talk to his professors, and he should also contact alumni. His professors may serve on boards and may consult for small companies that need his help. Some alumni must work in small companies or know people he can contact.
Career life in a small company is infinitely more joyful than in a large business because you're involved in a broader range of activities. For instance, after completing my M.B.A., I interviewed for a position at a large company; my job would have been pricing an airline's route structure from one site to another. Eventually I took my current job in a small health-care company, where I'm responsible for the whole marketing direction. Having that input this early in my life is exciting.
National Marketing Director
Pain Therapy Centers of America
Because a smaller company employs a smaller staff, Mr. Schaffer will be given a wider variety of tasks there than at a large corporation. Fewer people will be looking over his shoulder, so he'll work independently. And his work will be more visible. At large companies, he may face established hierarchies. At a smaller company, each employee may advance according to his or her own pattern.
Recent mergers have spawned many small, independent companies, so Mr. Schaffer's interest is timely. He should check his university's career planning office for a list of internships. Also, he should look at the Standard Directory of Advertisers (known as the Red Book), which lists every company that places a minimum of $75,000 in advertisements per year. The Red Book is arranged geographically and by industry, so he can put together a list of companies that interest him.
Gundersen Partners Inc.
New York City