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In 1986, innovator Karen Goetz saw a business opportunity to transform the way event tickets were sold in the arts, sports and entertainment industries. Her developers created graphical seat-selection software for PCs, unimagined at the beginning of the PC revolution during the 1980s. Goetz’s startup company was the first to the marketplace with a color-coded, interactive seating chart that made selling tickets not only user friendly for the entertainment venues that were her customers, but also able to capture important data on who their customers were who were buying tickets. TicketsLive grew rapidly from three employees to 125 in five countries. In 1995, Goetz and her team foresaw the growth of the Internet as a marketplace, and began transforming the company from solely a provider of computerized box office ticketing systems to one of the most advanced Internet ticketing companies and networks in the world, with a base of 150 million tickets available for sale on the Internet from customers in the U.S. and four international subsidiaries. In 1996, TicketsLive was the first company in the world to sell tickets, live, over the Internet, demonstrated at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, N.Y. After building TicketsLive from the ground up for 13 years, Goetz sold the successful company to a competitor in 1999 and planned to savor an early retirement. But walking away from entrepreneurship wasn’t as easy as she expected.
“When you’ve been working to build a business and traveling all over the world, to just sit at home was not what I wanted to do after all. I love running businesses for two reasons: I love figuring out solutions that really help our customers and I love seeing my employees grow,” she says.
Goetz’s problem-solving curiosity was rebooted in 2000 after she and her family members witnessed several instances of experienced physicians not having critical medical history information available when needed in order to make critical and timely decisions for other family members with cancer. She was amazed that the healthcare industry still kept track of its patients with paper charts that were not easily accessible or searchable by the physicians and staff trying to provide excellent care to their patients.
“Medical practices were investing in diagnostic equipment to provide better diagnosis and treatment but they remained reluctant to invest in the running of their office, which would enable them to be more efficient and provide better patient care,” explains Goetz. “My goal was to help practices make that move from paper charts and paper forms to electronic versions of those charts as simply and easily as possible so that they could be more efficient very quickly.”
With that goal in mind, Goetz purchased a medical transcription company, an electronic prescription company, and an Internet document management company in 2000, merging them into what would eventually evolve by 2009 into an electronic health records (EHR) company. This creative approach was the opposite of Goetz’s first foray into business, requiring her to deconstruct multiple, long-established companies into a single cohesive venture. Originally called HealthCareOne, Goetz changed the company’s name in 2009 to Inforia, Inc. The name Inforia represents her team’s vision for a company that helps customers achieve ‘information euphoria’.
But the Syracuse-based company’s mantra of “no paper, no problem” wasn’t going to be an easy sell. From the very beginning, a significant challenge for Goetz’s company has been the negative perception of traditional EHR systems in the marketplace. Medical practices are reluctant to make the move to paperless office systems for two main reasons: The cost barrier to purchase expensive proprietary software systems and negative drastic changes to the functionality of the office, such as learning all new forms and programs, hiring more administrative staff to input patient documentation in the computer, or reducing the number of scheduled patients to compensate for the office’s lower efficiency.
To overcome this perception, Inforia’s mission is to offer an approachable, adaptable and affordable solution. Her programmers developed software that uses the customer’s unique forms in the way they are already using them, eliminating the need to learn a new program that is one-size-fits-all. The software seamlessly integrates with the customer’s existing practice management software as well as hospital systems. Another of Inforia’s competitive advantages is to offer the software on a subscriber basis, which allows customers to pay for the system incrementally and enables automatic upgrades as the software is continually enhanced. Inforia’s customers do not have to invest in expensive computer servers since Inforia is an application service provider (ASP) and maintains servers in a Rochester-based data center. All data stored off-site on Inforia’s servers is automatically backed up and mirrored, so that the information is secure, encrypted and protected from loss from natural and man-made disasters.
Today Inforia offers a range of paperless products beyond its original product, eDictation, now an App for iPhones and iTouches downloadable from the Apple Store. Its other products include eLabs, eScripts, and its popular EHR software, CaregiverDesktop. Customers can use the software on their PCs, tablets and mobile devices. With over 2,000 users from its base of 150 customers mainly concentrated in the Northeast, Goetz’s company is committed to “software usability” by soliciting and incorporating customer feedback into every software upgrade.
With a B.S. in education from Indiana University, Goetz had no formal business training before starting her first company. The opportunity to get intensive business training through SBA’s e200 Emerging Leaders Initiative was one she couldn’t pass up. The MBA-style curriculum was taught during evening classes, enabling Goetz to attend while still running her business full-time. Goetz graduated from the e200 Syracuse Class of 2012 in November with a three-year Strategic Growth Action plan and has already felt the impact on her 13-year old business.
“I had always wanted to make time for professional development but I never had the free time to devote to go back to school full-time. I loved the idea of a concentrated program over eight months; the beauty of it was the assignments weren’t on hypothetical companies but geared to my own company. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it because the time invested is directly applicable to your business,” says Goetz. “My management team and I have been working on evolving the company into a full-fledged EHR company, and this is the year I feel it’s all going to come together.”
For Heidi and Tim Sanders, the meat counter represents more than how their parents made a living or where they met and fell in love- it’s the inspiration for their second careers as entrepreneurs. Tim apprenticed for three years to his father, a butcher in Nashua, New Hampshire, before beginning a 30-year career in the supermarket field. Heidi’s mother worked in a meat market in Westfield, Massachusetts and taught her how to bake from scratch. To honor their history, both Tim and Heidi’s parents are featured in framed photographs on the walls of their successful startup, Sanders Meat Market.
During their time at Shaw’s Supermarket in New Hampshire, Tim worked in the meat department and then as store director for 11 years, while Heidi worked her way up from cake decorator to deli and seafood department manager over 22 years. Ready for retirement from their supermarket careers, the Sanders vacationed in the Saratoga area in 2008 and fell in love with the place and the people. They relocated to the area and worked for several months to stay busy, but Tim and Heidi quickly realized they didn’t want to work for anyone else any longer.
“With our skill set, we looked around and thought the area was ripe for a high quality meat market,” Tim recounts. “We used Northeast NY SCORE in Saratoga Springs to help build our business plan, working with counselors Bill Hunt, Bill Edwards, and Dennis Crimi. They were very knowledgeable about this particular area. We needed help putting it all down on paper to create a plan and pursue the financing.”
Heidi and Tim sought a startup loan during the credit crunch of 2009, and found that in spite of their extensive industry experience, their business loan application was turned down by several banks. The Sanders increased their equity investment and decreased the loan amount, trimming back the extras they could add later. Their revamped business plan was approved by Saratoga National Bank & Trust Company. The SBA-backed loan provided working capital for the Sanders to run their fledgling store, coming through the same month they opened the shop’s doors in February 2010.
The Sanders set out to create a local meat market that offered Ballston Spa area residents top quality meats previously unavailable, without steroids, hormones or antibiotics. Their slogan “A Cut Above” is more than just a marketing slogan-it’s a mantra. Tim’s longstanding relationship with distributors ensures the shop receives top quality cuts such as USDA Prime and Certified Choice. And if a cut of meat doesn’t meet Tim’s high standard, it’s promptly rejected and returned to the distributor.
“I’d rather have to tell a customer that I didn’t like the way something looked than sell sub-standard products,” explains Tim. “When people ask our customers where tonight’s dinner is from, I want them to proudly say Sanders Meat Market.”
Increasingly, customers are asking more questions about what is in their meat and where it comes from. Last year’s controversy over “pink slime” or lean, finely textured beef brought national attention to the content and quality of mass-produced meat products. The Sanders saw a dramatic increase in new customers as locals switched from buying their meat at regional chain grocery stores.
“The same day the news broke, our phone was ringing off the hook from people asking if we sold ground beef without pink slime,” recalls Tim. “We’ve never sold it and we never will. Ever since then, I sell more hamburger than I can possibly keep up with.”
“Our beef isn’t sprayed with ammonia or squeezed from a plastic tube into packages. You can’t get any fresher than our ground chuck and sirloin, which sits in the display case just 20 to 40 minutes,” adds Heidi.
Ballston Spa residents have discovered that Sanders Meat Market offers more than top quality meats; customers can pick up everything to make tonight’s supper in the store. The shelves are stocked with salad and bread items, appetizers, vegetables, drinks and desserts. The desserts are scratch-baker Heidi’s specialty, ranging from dish-size chocolate chip cookies to flaky apple pies just like her Grandma used to make. Customers who prefer ready-to-cook meals enjoy bacon-wrapped pork tenderloins stuffed with apricot and dates and savory chicken pot pies.
As their business turns three in 2013, Heidi and Tim are completely at ease in their second careers as entrepreneurs. With persistence and a great team of employees, the Sanders turned their passion into a successful small business. They haven’t had a second thought about trading the corporate pay, benefits and security for something they can call their own: “After years of being serious, now is the time to have a little fun. We’re free of the golden handcuffs and we laugh a lot here. It’s the best thing we ever did,” says Tim.
Since 1823, New Hope Mills Manufacturing flour-based mixes have had the recipe for small business success. The company’s stitched-top products have been a Central New York household name through the ups and downs of the last two centuries. Leland Weed purchased New Hope Mills in 1947 and built the company’s brand with his hard work and strong salesman skills. Leland’s sons, David and Dale, purchased the business when he was ready for retirement in 1980. The Weed family bonds are intertwined with the business; both David and Dale raised their families next door to the mill. Today, half of the third-generation works there under the new leadership of Dale’s son Doug.
“I’ve worked for the company since I was able to walk,” recounts Doug with a laugh. “I started at the smallest level of cleaning up after the production workers at the end of the day, taking care of the trash, and helping out in any way I could. One of my eighteenth birthday presents was a full-time job. I always had a strong connection to the family business and to my grandfather, so it felt very natural for me.”
Seven years later, the business was bursting at the seams in the original mill in New Hope. Doug helped his father manage the transition of the company to its current Auburn location with minimal down time in 2004.
“We operated very efficiently at the old mill, but we knew we couldn’t get any larger because of the tight space,” explains Doug, “Since the move, we gradually increased its staff from 10 to 44 full and part-time employees in 2012.”
On the manufacturing floor, employees hoist dry ingredients and sift spices into industrial size mixers, which then drop the mixed product into 2,000-pound canvas tote bags. Each batch is tracked on the company’s computer system with bar codes and number strings for the list of ingredients required by a specific recipe. With four different kinds of buttermilk as just an example, employees must rely on the ingredient’s ID number to avoid costly mistakes. The tote bags are then ferried to the production area, where the bulk of the employees work at up to four different production lines. The company’s bar coding is replicated on each product and customized for the retailer where it will eventually be sold.
The nearby test kitchen can be found by following freshly-baked aromas of cinnamon, ginger and berries that waft from hot ovens. Every batch of mix is sampled by the test kitchen team, an exacting quality control practice that the company’s customers appreciate in a world of increasing food recalls. New Hope Mills meets safety requirements with regular inspections by the FDA and NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets and certifications from Safe Quality Food (SQF- level two), the Orthodox Union for Kosher foods, and NOFA-NY for organic foods.
“Obtaining our food quality certification has solidified our place as a player in the marketplace. Retailers are now demanding certain food certifications to carry products in response to health scares from undeclared ingredients,” says Doug.
In the test kitchen, the texture and taste of different recipes are compared in a relentless search for the best flavor combinations. The mix maestros have been busy in the last two years, adding Vanilla Chai, Pumpkin, and Gingerbread flavors to the pancake mix line. Besides their well-known pancake mix, New Hope Mills also makes waffle, crepe, muffin, cookie, scone, brownie and hot cocoa mixes. Many products are also available in organic, low carbohydrate, sugar-free or gluten-free versions.
Products with the New Hope Mills label can be found in the company’s factory store in Auburn; bulk, natural or specialty stores; Amish and Mennonite stores; and regional grocery chains such as Wegmans, Tops and Price Chopper. As a small business marketing to large grocery chains, high slotting fees, navigating corporate structure and intense competition for shelf space remain challenges for New Hope Mills.
New Hope Mills manufactures more than its own brand of mixes, with private label products comprising 40 percent of the company’s revenues. In 2010, the Weed family acquired the assets of New Hampshire-based competitor The Lollipop Tree, adding their flour-based mixes as well as Lollipop Tree brand jams, jellies and grilling sauces to the New Hope Mills portfolio. With extra manufacturing capacity available, making Lollipop Tree brand products in Auburn helped maximize production and significantly expanded the company’s geographic footprint.
As part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Emerging Leaders e200 program in Syracuse, Doug developed his Strategic Growth Action Plan to map out the company’s direction for the next three years. Funded by the SBA, the free MBA-style program guides high-growth entrepreneurs through a nine-month course on topics ranging from financial dashboards and sales trends analytics to employee development and training.
With his sights set on the future, Doug says his experience in the e200 class of 2012 came at just the right time: “I have a vision of where I’d like to take the company. The e200 program helped me get serious about the things that I had to start doing to achieve that vision, which includes an updated website and lean manufacturing strategies. I plan to purchase the business by the end of 2012, as my father would like to retire and begin working on a new entrepreneurial venture.”
Doug also found the peer mentoring groups instrumental to his success in the e200 program. He was grouped with other family-owned businesses who could share best practices and words of advice in a confidential setting. The challenge of “working in the business” at the same time as “working on the business” required a lot of time-literally hundreds of hours-but one that Doug believes was well worth it to ensure a successful transition.
“My work schedule is 7:30 a.m. to question mark, usually five days a week. You can never escape thinking about the business, even though you might not actually be at work. Sunday dinners with the family often lead to discussions about work-it’s just part of who we are,” says Doug, who has found family and business make the perfect mix.