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Local Business Leaders Share Insight during Small Business Week

By Ryan MacDonald

When Dani Cone wanted to start her own business, she did what any budding entrepreneur should do. She went to the local bookstore and bought a copy of “Small Business for Dummies” and started doing her homework.

“I thought once you write a business plan, well then, you’ll get a loan and off you go,” recalled Cone about the early stages of her career when she was just a barista a local coffee shop.

So with her 80-page business plan and months of preparation under her belt, Cone opened the yellow pages and made an appointment with every bank and loan officer in Seattle.

Their response? Unfortunately, not what she had hoped for.

They laughed at me and said, ‘OK well, thank you so much for coming in. That’s not how this works, kid. Sorry.”

But having grown up in a family of small business owners, Cone believed opening a small business was a viable career path for someone like herself.

It’s something that, not just rich people do, not just the smartest people do, just regular Joe Shmoes, like me, can do,” she said.

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Cone persisted and was eventually granted a SBA loan (Small Business Association) and opened her first business, Fuel Coffee, in 2005. Since, she’s gone on to successfully open multiple locations of the neighborhood coffee shop and launch a second business venture, High 5 Pies.

These tumultuous (and triumphant) stories of what it’s like to start a new business were the centerpiece of a recent panel discussion to celebrate National Small Business Week in Seattle.

Hosted by the CNBC show The Profit and Comcast Business, the event was part of a multi-city, weeklong tour aimed at illuminating the intersection of technology and innovation and how fueling the growth of small businesses across the country impacts our communities.

Located inside the Galvanize Seattle tech campus in Pioneer Square, Mark Briggs, Director of Digital Media and Innovation at King-TV, moderated the discussion with Cone as well as Brett Greene, the founder and CEO of New Tech Northwest, Michele Griffin from Combat Flip Flops, and Daniel Rossi, Chief Business Officer of “Geekwire”.

How many of you are entrepreneurs?” asked Briggs to around 100 entrepreneurs and aspiring innovators who were in attendance. When most of the hands in the audience shot up, he joked back. “We’re all going to be speaking the same language tonight.”

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Prior to the discussion, attendees were encouraged to pitch their business plans into a “casting kiosk” that was provided by the producers of the “The Profit.” With a mounted camera and studio lighting, the kiosk recorded each applicant’s story and submitted him or her to be on the show.

The pitches ranged from party planning businesses to software that helps pair people with the right lawyer based on an algorithm. Each applicant was given two minutes to explain who they were and why they needed the help of “The Profit” host Marcus Lemonis.

The Profit, which features Lemonis who helps save and growsmall businesses around the US, debuts a new season on June 6 at 10PM ET/PT on CNBC.

Gleaning advice from mentors, like Lemonis, and connecting with other peers in their industries are something the panel agreed was an important component of a business’ success.

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Greene, who moved to Seattle from Boulder four years ago, didn’t know many people before his arrival, so he put out a call on his Facebook page asking for help.

“When you’re starting from scratch, it’s much, much harder to build a community than it is to join a community, or be a part of a community,” Greene advised, who founded New Tech Northwest in 2013. “You give value and the people see that and they’re attracted and they wanna help you.”

And it’s not just the professional relationships that are important when launching a new venture. It’s also the personal relationships one must consider.

Your relationship with your dog, your car, your house, your money, your health, your people relationships,” said Griffin, who left her career in 2015 to help run Combat Flip Flops full time.

When you decide to become an entrepreneur, it will have an impact on every relationship in your life. It really takes all hands on deck,” she said.

Knowing about these challenging realities are helpful for someone just starting out. Equally important is understanding the resources one has available like Comcast Business, which can provide small business owners with a fast and reliable e-commerce website.

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Ultimately, though, it’s the passion for what you’re doing that will drive the business to success, said Cone. Even though she had minimal experience running an actual brick and mortar, she loved making coffee and interacting with customers.

“I loved meeting all sorts of people because coffee is something that really spans a very, very wide demographic,” she said. “People from 8 to 98 drink coffee, believe it or not.”

Greene added, “I’m not rich, but I get paid to be who I am and to do what I love.”

Sometimes being yourself is the best investment you can make.

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