Online plan helps startups present ideas


Russell Leff said he can handle making Southern Nevada a global source for rechargeable, biodegradable batteries.

Writing a business plan and getting it to investors is another story.

"The hardest thing I've ever done is put together a business plan," said Leff, whose company, Foxx Power, makes batteries for everything from golf carts to power tools.

Leff, who wants to move the manufacturing of his products from Chinese contractors to an in-house base in Las Vegas with 75 to 100 new jobs, needs a detailed map of the company's goals and an explanation of how those goals will translate into profits.

"To have it clear the direction the company is taking ... is one of the most important things for any investor," he said.

After spending thousands of dollars on consultants who never delivered a satisfactory plan, Leff paid about $60 to a Henderson company that markets a do-it-yourself, online business-plan system.

The product, Funding Roadmap, not only produces a crisp business plan, it generates a thorough due diligence report and posts the entire package online for investors to search, study and, hopefully, invest in. It's online at www.fundingroadmap.com.

"When it is being reviewed it is very clean, it is very simple and it is answering questions that are important to the investor," Leff said.

With more than 11 percent of the Nevada work force unemployed, Funding Roadmap developer Ruth Hedges hopes people with time, good ideas and a need for startup capital will turn to her product. She markets the product through her company, Unismart Capital Software.

"There are 13 million people waiting for big business to save them," said Hedges, citing the number of unemployed Americans. "In reality, they can save themselves."

Funding Roadmap, which Hedges is shopping to banks as a tool to evaluate potential small-business loans, received more comments than any other citizen-submitted proposal on www.recovery.gov, a Web site for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

That the program's one-week run on the site generated more comments than 529 other ideas on the site suggests it resonates with the public, Hedges said.

"Obviously, the viral marketing is starting to take off," she said.

Hedges recently secured an agreement with a major technology company that has agreed to link to the product on its Web site, although she hasn't identified the company publicly. She will also integrate the software into the company's small-business workshop material.

And she would like the government, specifically the Small Business Administration, to do the same.

So far the SBA has resisted requests by Hedges, stating it doesn't link to for-profit ventures, despite links on its site to business plan software marketed by other companies.

Despite receiving $730 million in economic stimulus money and Funding Roadmap's popularity on recovery.gov, Mike Stamler of the SBA said the agency won't be linking to the software. He said the SBA doesn't link to commercial projects.

"We can't really involve the government in endorsing products," Stamler said.

When Hedges pointed out that the SBA already had links to small-business software from more-established companies and links to commercial magazines, rather than concede, Stamler said the SBA has started taking down pages with the links.

"I looked at it when (an SBA worker) showed me (Hedges') letter and we had that link removed," Stamler said.

Although her networking efforts with the SBA didn't succeed, Hedges is convinced that Funding Roadmap will play a role in whatever economic recovery takes place.

"I feel this conversation is only going to get bigger," she said. "That's the only way we are going to resurrect this economy."

Rick Butler agrees. The Las Vegas resident's job is to connect people with ideas to venture capitalists with money. He's worked with both Leff and Hedges and said the Funding Roadmap product is likely to gain traction as private citizens and government seek to grow the economy out of recession.

"We have to generate entrepreneurial spirit. They are creating more and more government now. Government is an animal that eats, it does not produce," Butler said. "The only way we can do this is to create more small business that pays more tax.

"No matter what party you are, you have to create taxable sources," Butler added. "You have to generate more business."

He said the software should help entrepreneurs focus on presenting ideas professionally, not as a few thoughts sketched out on paper. More importantly, the software includes standardized forms to demonstrate a business plan and spreadsheets for due diligence, which is what investors want to see.

"Half of them don't have a clue what it takes to raise venture capital, they have a concept, that is it," Butler said of entrepreneurs who seek him out to help line up funding. "(If) they come to me with this completed ... I just do what I'm supposed to do, go get them money."

Contact Benjamin Spillman at bspillman @reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

 

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