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Sign on the AOL headquarters building in New York. (© Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
Sign on the AOL headquarters building in New York. (© Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

Small Business Briefing

AOL campus squatter scores seed funding 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. Download our app here.

Now that's passion and dedication

Eric Simons spent two months living at AOL's campus in Palo Alto, Calif. Undetected.

He would hide out on couches at night, CNET reports, eating the company's food, exercising and showering in its gym (the link includes a photo gallery). Until he was finally discovered by a security guard.

Mr. Simons, who is now 20, after high school had become part of the inaugural class of Imagine K12, a Silicon Valley incubator focused on education. His idea was to launch a company to create tools to help teachers build lesson plans and share them with students and other teachers. He moved to the Valley, but his initial concept was slow to get going. When the four-month program ended, the $20,000 (U.S.) awarded by the incubator was gone.

AOL hosts Imagine K12, and all of its participants get a security badge. Apparently the one given Mr. Simons kept working after his stint ended.

"There were so many people going in and out each day," he told CNET. "They'd say, 'Oh, he just works, here, he's working late every night. Wow, what a hard worker.'"

After the fateful day he was finally discovered, he moved out of the AOL building, and things started looking up. Mr. Simons said he was able to score $50,000 in seed funding from Ulu Ventures and Silicon Valley VC Paul Sherer.

The money enabled him to rent a house in Palo Alto, hire an engineer for his company, as well as a couple of interns for ClassConnect, all of whom will share the new pad.

"Tenacity and commitment are key attributes of a great entrepreneur," Clint Korver of Ulu Ventures told CNET. "Eric has these in spades."

Way to go, Cozy Co

Junior Achievement of Central Ontario held its annual Company Program Awards last night in Toronto, where as master of ceremonies I was joined by students, advisers, teachers, JA board members and staff, to celebrate the conclusion of another year of the organization's flagship program. The annual venture inspires high-school students to understand the role of business in society by creating enterprises of their own, and collaborating with professional volunteer consultants. Most products developed by students in 2011 ranged in price from $5 to $10, and the average age of each company president was 17. Jay Gould, the founder and CEO of New York Fries, and South St. Burger Co., who was recently featured in a Report on Small Business magazine story, kicked things off with a keynote speech, followed by the presentation of numerous awards and scholarships. The Ralph Gerhardt Company of the Year Award was given to Cozy Co, makers of on-the-go heating pads and hand-crafted 'circle scarves.' The 2012-13 Company Program begins in mid-October, and students can pre-register here.

Get to know your shopkeeper

"Glenn Beck may be one of the most hated men in America, while simultaneously enjoying an audience of millions as loyal as any media personality has ever enjoyed," Boston.com writes. But he loves to support small business, and he's launched a new website, The Marketplace by Markdown.com, to prove it. This site, a product of Mr. Beck's multimedia company Mercury Radio Arts, showcases the work of entrepreneurs, their offerings and their stories. The businesses are chosen by the Markdown team, and once posted they are able to sell their products, talk about why they got started, and what inspires them to keep going. In other words, the story points out, visitors get "the added dimension of getting to know the shopkeeper." How do companies get chosen? "We don't just look for quality products; we look for quality people: entrepreneurs who are living their own version of the American Dream. And while our acceptance rate might be lower than Harvard's, we believe that the businesses and products that do make the cut will exceed your expectations in every way."


Part American Idol, part Dragons' Den

Innovator Idol, presented by RIC Centre, is modeled as a cross between American Idol and Dragons' Den where four companies are invited to present an innovation to an investor panel for feedback. The best ideas and pitches will be chosen by the audience to win $40,000 in prizes. The event takes place June 13, at the Noel Ryan Auditorium, inside the Mississauga Central Library, in Mississauga, Ont. To purchase tickets online, click here. Tickets are also available at the door on the day of the event for $30.

Kick your business into hyperdrive

Waterloo, Ont.'s Communitech has launched Hyperdrive, a $30 million startup incubator program with a global focus to seed, fund, and grow new businesses. Its goal is to build early stage tech startups into Series A venture-capital funded companies over two years. Three times a year, 10 companies will be chosen from a pool of applicants, and the process is now open. Companies must locate to Ontario's Waterloo Region to participate in the three-month 'sprint' part of the program, and teams must include at least two people.


The best time to hire a CFO

When entrepreneurs start businesses they wear many hats. But over time they become stretched thin and tend to specialize in parts of their operations, such as sales or service. This leaves important financial functions – including accounting, reporting, internal controls and financial planning – to bookkeepers, outside accountants and perhaps comptrollers. The best time to hire a CFO to assume the company’s financial risk is “as soon as the business owner is not able to pay enough attention to it themselves,” says David Wilton, the director of small business banking for Bank of Nova Scotia. “It’s ultimately going to make your business more profitable and free up the business owner to do the things you should be doing to generate more profit.”


Lean, mean machine

There are five basic principles of lean production. Here they are, along with some of the benefits.

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