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Lessons from a Target Vendor; An Investor Search Engine

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Betting on green, even in this economy. Rob Walker has a nice piece in the NYTimes Magazine for anyone selling to national retailers. He looks at how Recycline, a company that recycles #5 plastic into sleek affordable products like toothbrushes (we profiled them in our first Green 50), is coping with the recession—particularly when its biggest distributors (Target and Whole Foods) are struggling. Recycline says it's seen sales, selection, and distribution for its Preserve line of household products grow slightly thanks to a lower price point ($2 for a toothbrush), plummeting demand for source materials like plastic, and attention-grabbing displays like a Whole Foods scheme called Gimme 5: where stations set up to collect #5 polypropylene plastic, which is then converted into Recycline products, display prominent Preserve advertising near the front of the store. It's the differentiating factor retailers looking for, says CEO Eric Hudson. Whole Foods is notorious for demanding that its vendors promote products with in-store displays and samples, often at their own expense. Have you heard of any other stand-out initiatives?

An investor search engine. That's what Angelsoft is calling their new platform, which also allows startups to broadcast their business plans to over 400 angel investing groups and scores of VC funds. In an industry that's long been impenetrable to entrepreneurs not in Silicon Valley or New York, Angelsoft's new site could go a long way towards opening up the funding process. Angelsoft, which previously built websites that connected entrepreneurs to angel investors, was co-founded by David Rose, the Chairman of New York Angels.

Rule number one: Have your act together. Angelsoft may help you find 'em, but VCs are getting pickier than ever, according to Business Week. Begin every board meeting by calculating how much cash you have and how many days that gives you. That's the type of advice VCs were handing out at this year's DEMO conference, where many new startups make their debut. The good news is they were handing out bigger chunks of money to promising ideas. But it's getting harder to get any funding at all, as acquisitions and IPOs drop. So if you want a piece of that VC money, you'll need a solid business plan, an obvious demand for your product, and a little bit of luck.

Egads, something "as important as Google"? It's a tall order, but search engine expert Nova Spivack says Wolfram Alpha, an online "computational knowledge engine" from Illinois-based Wolfram Research can help web users answer questions with factual answers like "When was GOOG worth more than $300?" or "What is the 307th digit of Pi?" Says Spivack, "Where Google is a system for FINDING things that we as a civilization collectively publish, Wolfram Alpha is for ANSWERING questions about what we as a civilization collectively know. It's the next step in the distribution of knowledge and intelligence around the world — a new leap in the intelligence of our collective 'Global Brain.' And like any big next-step, Wolfram Alpha works in a new way — it computes answers instead of just looking them up." Alpha's not live yet, but according to the Wolfram Research blog, it will have one simple input field (sounds familiar enough) with access to "trillions of pieces of curated data and millions of lines of algorithms." Of course, we've heard big promises from Google Killers before. (via AllThingsD)

SBA Retracts Goodwill Rule. Despite concerns that the stimulus plan doesn't do enough to help small businesses, Inc.'s Robb Mandelbaum reports that the Obama administration has repealed an unpopular change to the "goodwill" portion of the SBA's lending process. (We discussed the SBA's new rule here.) Nice to hear that the Obama administration is listening.

Small businesses hiring more contractors. Hiring is up at small businesses, but so is tapping contractors to save money, says The Washington Post. For every 100 employees hired, 3.82 are independent contractors. Contractors don't receive benefits and employers aren't required to withhold their payroll taxes. Compared to regular salaried employees, they're less costly to employ and less difficult to terminate.

Outlasting Blockbuster. Indie movie rental places are hanging in there, even as Blockbuster is hiring lawyers to consider "restructuring" options —for example, bankruptcy. But they're still facing the same challenges as the corporate goliath who nearly did them in. Mail-order DVDs and streaming online video aren't going away any time soon, so indie video proprietors are turning to creative marketing solutions. Mike Clark has turned his business, Movie Madness, into a combination rental store and movie memorabilia museum.

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Last updated: Mar 9, 2009




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