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Workers look at the K1 lodge at the Killington Ski Resort damaged by Hurricane Irene on Sept. 1, 2011, in Killington, Vermont. (Matthew Cavanaugh/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH/GETTY IMAGES)
Workers look at the K1 lodge at the Killington Ski Resort damaged by Hurricane Irene on Sept. 1, 2011, in Killington, Vermont. (Matthew Cavanaugh/MATTHEW CAVANAUGH/GETTY IMAGES)

Small Business Briefing

Rainstorms bring brainstorms Add to ...

The latest news and information for entrepreneurs from across the web universe, brought to you by the Report on Small Business team. Follow us on Twitter @GlobeSmallBiz

From disaster comes inspiration

As the cleanup continues of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, there are, no doubt, already some entrepreneurial minds at work on business ideas sparked by the storm, as others have found inspiration from past natural disasters.

"Mother Nature is also the mother of invention," writes The Wall Street Journal's Sarah E. Needleman, in a piece about several companies that rose because of the ruin caused by previous such events.

One entrepreneur it reports on was watching TV coverage of a flood four years ago, when a commercial for baby diapers appeared. For him, it was a eureka moment: he went to work on an alternative product to sandbags that, like a diaper, absorbs water to help prevent floodwater damage.

Another company founder fell asleep while watching a documentary on Hurricane Andrew. When he woke up, there was another program showing a race car being tested in a wind tunnel. That combination gave him the idea for protective covers initially for mobile homes but since expanded to storefront windows and signs, gas pumps and other uses.

Still another company began half a century ago after water damage to its own building put one of its engineers to work on heavy-duty flood barriers.

"Often large disruptions such as natural disasters create the basis for new business opportunites," Andrew Zacharakis,a professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College, is quoted as saying in The Wall Street Journal piece.

Irene also prompted some readiness lessons for small business owners in this Small Business Trends piece, written by Rohit Arora, CEO of Biz2Credit.

Among them: Always have a line of credit available; manage cash flow well; leverage technology; and don't put all your eggs in the insurance basket.

'Freemium' proves premium

The 'freemium' business model is proving to be a premium ploy for many small businesses, taking advantage of the dropping costs of computing power and storage, a Reuters story reports.

Businesses in the freemium game offer some products and services for free, but also hope to reel in customers with upgraded, or premium, versions that come at a cost.

The story calls LinkedIn the "highest-profile freemium story." The business-oriented social networking site is free to join but charges for premium subscriptions. Other companies that are doing well with the freemium model, it points out, include file-sharing and storage site DropBox; online survey site SurveyMonkey and Animoto, which turns photos, video clips and music into video slideshows.

Columnist Mark Evans has written about freemium a couple of times, including this piece and this one.

U.S. small businesses cut jobs in August

U.S. small businesses cut jobs for the third month in a row in August, according to the latest survey by the U.S. National Federation of Independent Business.

In August, small businesses averaged job losses of .08 workers per firm. That follows a loss of .23 workers per firm in June and .15 workers per firm in July, according to a release by the NFIB of its survey of 926 small businesses.

The good news: "The trend is moving in the right direction -- losses appear to be decreasing," said NFIB chief economist William C. Dunkelberg in the release, which comes before the NFIB releases its monthly economic survey on Sept. 13, although, he added, "it doesn't seem to be moving fast enough to close the employment void we've been experiencing for the last several years."

Other confirmation of the trend: The CBIZ Small Business Employment Index also fell for the month, according to a release. The index, a barometer for hiring trends for companies with 300 or fewer employeees, decreased by .36 per cent in August, after falling .90 per cent in July.

EVENTS AND KEY DATES

Clean energy conference

Registration is now open for the Global Clean Energy Congress & Exhibition, taking place Nov. 1 to Nov. 3 in Calgary. The conference will bring together experts in the area of clean energy to discuss emerging technologies and strategies. Read more about the conference here.

Clean technology funding

Attention, clean-technology innovators: Sustainable Development Technology Canada has put the call out to take advantage of its twentieth round of funding available to support clean-tech ventures. SDTC, which finances late- stage development and pre-commercial demonstrations of clean technologies, is open to statement of interest applications until Oct. 19. Check out more details here.

EDITOR'S PICKS FROM REPORT ON SMALL BUSINESS

Photo service 500px takes aim at Flickr

Columnist Mark Evans zooms in on 500px.com, a Toronto-based online photo-sharing service that is gaining popularity. It's a business that started as a hobby but has now gained some recent funding and has expansion plans in the works.

FROM THE ROSB ARCHIVES

Be prepared: Disaster planning

Whether it's Hurricane Irene or the disaster that hit Japan earlier this year, catastrophe can strike at any time, and it's imperative for small and medium-sized businesses to always be prepared, Bertrand Marotte wrote in a piece about disaster planning readiness in March. Here, also, are his five steps for coping with catastrophe.

Got a tip on news, events or other timely information related to the small-business community? E-mail us at yourbusiness@globeandmail.com

Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT

 

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