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posted: 7/2/2012 6:38 AM

Virtual 'incubator' offers small business guidance

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Need some conversation about your small business? Use your laptop, iPad, smartphone or whatever and connect with the Fox Valley Entrepreneurship Center. Still in the birthing process, the FVEC is a virtual small business support center that is part incubator, part accelerator but mostly its own energetic entity.

The best way to explain the FVEC is to explore some of its projects:

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• Position-Tech LLC. Created by four former Northern Illinois University students -- two of whom were football players -- Position-Tech has developed the very first position-specific replacement cleats for football shoes.

Think about it. Offensive linemen bracing to protect their quarterback from defensive linemen digging to get at him, and receivers racing downfield should benefit from differently positioned shoe cleats.

"Our original idea was to go into footwear," says Christian Anderson, chief marketing officer of the Chicago-based Position-Tech. "But that was going to take millions of dollars in R&D and marketing."

Instead, a small grant to design new cleat structures raised hopes -- and eventually got Position-Tech to Harriet Parker, manager of the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Waubonsee Community College, Aurora. She pointed Anderson to the FVEC.

"We were looking for business guidance, as much outside knowledge as possible," Anderson says. What the fledgling business found was "help in multiple areas. They helped us organize our financial model, prepare for fundraising presentations and tighten up our marketing strategy."

"We saw a pony in the pile," says Andy Parker, a FVEC mentor and owner of Graydon Management, Naperville. "They needed an organizational structure, a little better marketing plan and money."

That was six months back. Today Position-Tech sells its replacement cleats nationally, including in 216 Dick's Sporting Goods stores; has hired four sales employees; and has raised $350,000 -- a fraction of the needed $1.5 million but more than pocket change.

• The Herrington Inn & Spa, Geneva. A unit of real estate developer ShoDeen Inc., Geneva, The Herrington is looking to expand its popular facilities.

"I'd read about the SBDC," says Jennifer Piazza, director of sales and marketing. "So I said, 'Why don't we see what they have to say about this?'"

FVEC adviser Joe Abraham, a serial entrepreneur who is head of BOSI Performance Institute, Palatine, and BOSI team members Tim Conway and Steve Kopp said a lot. "They pointed out things we hadn't thought of and reminded us of the right questions to ask," Piazza says. "They offered us conversation and ideas."

Focused, experience-based advice is what FVEC advisers seek to deliver. There is no cost to businesses, which must apply and be deemed to have job-generating potential to participate.

The application process begins at www.fvec.org, which is where you also can find information about the people backing the Center but not mentioned here. They're people you want to know.

• Jim Kendall welcomes comments at JKendall@121MarketingResources.com.

2012 121 Marketing Resources Inc.

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