And AZ Small Businesses Said…

What keeps you up at night?  What are the challenges you face in growing your business?

For the last year, O’Neil and Associates in partnership with the Arizona Small Business Association has been asking thousands of Arizona Small Business owners this question and others like it.  The study, the only one of its kind, gives great insights into what entrepreneurs need, especially in this challenging economy.  Even better, it has tracked the results over time, giving us a picture of the world evolving around us.

Mike is a brilliant researcher, and the data these reports – as well as others I have received over time have been an invaluable tool.  A tool that I used in my ASBA days to help shape policy, and today as a small business owner, use to shape the decisions I face each day.

Provided below is some of the great data released today. I’m not the expert on reading this data, Mike is.  So from this point on, the words are his…

O’Neil Associates/ASBA Economic Indicators Monitor

“Healthcare, Bank Lending Dominate Critical Issues for Arizona Businesses.

Housing Market, Government Regulation, Interest Rates, Skilled Workforce Follow in Importance”

– Mike O’Neil (


Healthcare costs (37%) and reduced lending by banks (35%) are most likely to be rated as critical issues by Arizona small businesses.  These are the dominant findings this quarter for the O’Neil Associates / ASBA Arizona Economic Indicators Monitor, a survey of the 3,000 members of the Arizona Small Businesses Association. We asked Arizona small
businesses to indicate how important each of ten separate issues were for their business. Each was rated as being either “critical,” “important,” “somewhat important,” or “not very important.” There is ample reason for focusing predominantly on issues which are considered to be absolutely critical. Only slightly less likely to be rated as critical are the housing market, excessive government regulation, interest rates, and skilled workforce.

When we add in those responses which considered items important, the rank ordering of responses tends to be similar; although, the relative importance given to interest rates, skilled workforce, and inflation is higher.

2 oneilresearch


Are you Leading?

We hear a lot about leaders today.  Our country’s leaders, our state’s leaders, technology leaders,  business leaders. 

It seems that lately, some of our leaders may have let us down, while others are rising up, making promises, trying to get the country and the economy back on track.  Some of those promises they will keep and no matter how hard they try, some of them they will not.

Today I spend some time listening to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testify to Congress about what is needed to support our ailing financial markets and another $30 BILLION investment in AIG.  I wondered what it would be like to be “too big to fail.”

Through his remarks ran a common theme – the U.S. will be better off “moving aggressively” to solve economic problems because the alternative “could be a prolonged episode of economic stagnation.”

You don’t have to be famous to be a leader.  Each of us has that opportunity each day when we talk to someone, share an experience, pass on a lead, or just take the time to listen.  Leaders can be your teacher, your neighbor, your friend or the stranger sitting across the room at the coffee shop. Any of us can be a leader if we are willing to take the lead.


Over the years I have learned a few things about leadership and about taking the lead. 

  • You can’t keep the lead by standing still. Leaders forge forward.
  • People will not follow you if you don’t help them see what’s waiting for them at the end of the road.
  • You have to keep to your path, have faith in your sense of direction, and be willing to stand in front and take a bullet.
  • You will know you are out in front when others try to emulate what you do.  – Celebrate when what you do is valued it means you’re on the right track.
  • To keep your lead — keep innovating — or you can be left behind!
                   -Joan Koerber-Walker

Show me the money…

Over the last few weeks I have been on what some say is an impossible quest.  Raising capital in today’s economy.  The journey is not a new one and the road has many twists and turns.  It’s taken me from the coffee shops of Phoenix, to the islands north of Vancouver and the mountains of Winnipeg.  From Singapore to Europe and back to Arizona again.


The two projects could not be more different. 

One – a biotech company is pre-revenue with a vision of detecting dread diseases, including cancers, before the disease can spread and harm the ones we love.  SBIR funding and early stage capital has taken them far in the lab, but now to commercialize takes funding from the equity markets or strategic partners if we are to make vision  reality.

The second – a manufacturing company – has product, inventory, a proven system, an experienced sales and management team, AND, best of all, customers. 

In multiple conversations, across multiple continents, in the quest for money, the secret is to find the RIGHT partner and show them the value.  Only then will they ‘show me the money.’

I have not reached the end of the quest yet, but I am learning along the way.  Here are a few of the lessons I have learned:

1.  Be creative – funding streams can come in all forms from traditional lending and equity, to more creative funding streams like loan guarantees and debt conversions.

2.  Be passionate – if you can’t get excited about what your opportunity- how can you get an investor excited?

3.  Be flexible – they have what you need.  You can’t call all the shots.  Know what points you can flex on and those you can’t without jeopardizing the success of the business plan.

4.  Do your homework – not just on the company you are working to build but on the needs of a potential investor.  What do you need and when.  What do they need and when.  Look for strong matches.

5.  Reach out to your network and listen.  You’d be surprised who knows who or who’s done what in the past.  Your network can connect you to the perfect partner if you take the time to listen.

So wish me luck along the journey and stay tuned…

The Economy and Your Economy

When you view the world news on The Economy, its pretty dismal as recounted in the attached report from the Associated Press. [youtube=]

The important thing to remember is that WE are the economy. And while the Federal Government, Wall Street, and the Big Banks clean up their act, it will be up to all of us, the entrepreneurs and small business owners to innovate, expand, create jobs, and save jobs.

As I make my way around the valley and talk to companies across the country and around the world. I am seeing some incredible things. Small businesses and entrepreneurs are creating innovative products and services – the kinds that can pull us out of this economy the old fashioned way – with American spirit and entrepreneurial ingenuity.

Here are just a few:


  • Imagine a Convenience Store open 24-7 that has when you need but is totally automated. This video shows the first one in the US. Now there are three and soon to be more. Check out Shop24 and be sure to view the video press releases. This cool technology may be coming to a corner near you some time soon!
  • How about having a guardian angel looking over your company or property with video surveillance and live reporting. That’s what Iveda Solutions is doing. Click their link and see what this cool Arizona company is up to.
  • GangPlank in Chandler in Chandler has created an incredible environment where entrepreneurs can gather for learning, support, and even locate their new business.

So don’t let all the doomsday news from The Economy keep you from being innovative, reaching out, working with others, and continuing to build up Your Economy. The opportunities are out there!

Climbing Mountains…one step at a time

south mountainThis morning my husband Chris and I took a walk on South Mountain.  As mountains go it is is not exactly the top of the heap. Mount Suppoa (the highest peak) reaches 2,690 feet.

As I tripped up the trail (literally) I saw others making the trek.  Mothers with little children, bikers, hikers and the like, all were taking advantage of the trails on a glorious Arizona Sunday morning.

Walking the paths, I thought back on the week and the many people I had met with and talked to.  Each were climbing their own mountains (metaphorically).  Some were looking for jobs.  Some were starting them.  Others were starting new businesses or growing the businesses they work in.  Some had had unexpected set backs.  Some were worried about what was yet to come as the economy continued to falter and the stock market hit a new low.  But interestingly, as each tackled their personal mountains…no one was giving up.  Each was taking it one step at a time. 

DSC00084 I remember another time when things were pretty bleak.  It was October of 2001.  The implosion had just begun to really gain momentum.  Our country had just experienced one of its greatest tragedies – the horror of 9-11.  At that time my husband and I were in China and climbing another mountain, this time along the Juyongguan Pass (about 37 miles from the city of Beijing)  back in those days we also faced uncertainty, a perilous  stock market, job losses, and the like.  But we rose up after that period in history and started climbing again.  Just like we did in ’89, in ’92 in the 70’s and on and on it goes.  You take each step just as my friends and I did along the Great Wall.  You struggle to reach the ‘top’, and when you do, before you is an incredible vista – of more steps and watchtowers as far as the eye can see.  Each one is a new milestone – a challenge to be reached.  And in between there are valleys where you step down before you can begin to step up again.

It’s been said that there is only one way to eat an elephant…one bite at a time.  Well, when it comes to tackling mountains, we take it one step at a time.  In the end, it’s worth it.

So as I prepare to tackle the week ahead, I have my hiking shoes on.  We each have a mountain to conquer, I wish you luck with yours.

Joan Koerber-Walker, CorePurpose, Inc.

Being in the right place…

250px-Bob_Hope_in_The_Ghost_Breakers_trailerOne of my favorite quotes is from entertainment icon Bob Hope.

The quote is simple: 

“I’ve always been in the right place at the right time..of course I steered myself there.”

Whether you are looking for a new job, building a business, or looking for financing for the business you own, being in the right place can make all the difference.  The right place can be a frame of mind, a networking event, or a new business opportunity.  Steering yourself there starts when you open yourself up to new things, take sage advice when it is offered, leverage your personal relationships, and always extend a helping hand to others.

It has been so rewarding to be out in our community and see so many examples of Arizonans ‘steering themselves there‘.  Friends, old and new, making introductions – offering advice – making time for others – and most of all creating new opportunities. 

The photo in this blog (courtesy of shows a young Bob Hope in 1940.  That’s right Hope in the Great Depression.  Recently I have heard so many (from the President on down) compare our current economic times to that period in history.  Yes, there are some similarities, but there are also many differences.  In many ways we have contributed to steering ourselves into this mess. And we can steer our way out of it again.   American ingenuity, innovation, our determination to overcome adversity, and our willingness to lend a hand have served us well in pulling through each historical downturn.  There have been a number of booms and busts. Remember the S&L debacle and the Internet bubble bursting.  I sure do!  We recovered then, and we’ll recover now.  So start steering yourself there.  All it takes is a little Hope.

Two Sides – Same Story


Louis CK on why we’re amazing…courtesy of YouTube.

I’ve heard a lot of talk lately about what’s wrong with this country. 

  • Our banks are in a mess.
  • We’ve created faulty and misleading financial instruments on Wall Street.
  • We’ve put too much faith in technology and it won’t ‘bail us out’ this time.
  • The Government let this happen – let the government fix it.   
  • America’s lost the will to compete, the ability to lead in manufacturing, the fire to innovate. 

Are you totally depressed yet?  Click here to watch a video for a different perspective on American innovation before  you read on. 

Hopefully you feel a little better now.  It may be a bit irreverent, but then perhaps we have been taking ourselves too seriously.

Last night I had the opportunity to listen to a talk by Lynn Tilton at the AeA meeting in Arizona. 

LYNN TILTON is the CEO of Patriarch Partners, LLC, a firm she founded in 2000 to manage and monetize the distressed portfolios of financial institutions.  Patriarch has since evolved to focus on direct investments in distressed American businesses, managing funds with over $6 billion of equity and secured loan assets.

I did not agree with everything Lynn had to say, but she made some points that I definitively do agree with.  Here are a few views we have in common:

  • Government alone will not be able to spend us out of the current economic situation.  Changes are needed in how we manage markets, how we do business AND how we value it.
  • Small and mid-sized businesses are and will continue to be a key factor in turning things around, putting people to work, and restoring our economic base and through it or tax base. See for a better picture of the sizes of businesses that create jobs in your community.
  • It is up to all of us to use our own strengths and talents to affect change and move things forward.  We’ll have to be creative AND flexible.  

Lynn has a few more resources than I do.  OK, a few billion more.  She used her position to get the word out in a Clarion Call that was published in the NY Times and the Washington Post. Sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Geitner proposing solutions.  She’s speaking out on national media, to small groups and large.  And, agree with  her or not, she is not sitting back and just letting things unfold as they may.

So ask yourself.  What can I do.  Share ideas on this blog?  Start a business?  Support a business that is struggling and help them make it through this – while saving a few jobs in the process? Help someone who needs it to find a job? There are answers all around us.  The trick is finding that one thing we overlooked before and putting it back to work for us in a new way.  We need to use our networks and our contacts.  And most of all, stop listening to the nay say-ers and just get on with it.  

Mission Possible


Is this impossible? Watch the video .

Over the last few weeks, I have been meeting with CEOs in and around Arizona.  We talk about what we’ve done, what we are planning to do, opportunities we’ve seen, and people we’ve met.  We share contacts, resources, and ideas.  We’ve looked at what worked and shared lessons on what did not.

At the same time I have watched the media focusing on everything that is NOT working.  It makes growing businesses in this economic sound like Mission Impossible.

Here is a list of some of the impossibilities we are barraged with every day:

  • It’s impossible to raise money in this economy.
  • It’s impossible to be a CEO and not become a scapegoat.
  • It’s impossible to find a great job, grow a great company, take back our leadership position on the world stage.
  • It’s impossible to balance a budget.
  • Everything –  it’s just impossible.

Well entrepreneurs have a long history of making the impossible – possible.  We raise money, take responsibility, create jobs, grow companies, and make our country the world leader that it is.  We balance  our budgets because we have to. (Unlike some, it’s illegal for us to print money.)  And we know better than most – nothing is impossible if you pursue it with passion, work smarter, and put all of your resources and connections to work to make things happen.

So is the mission possible – you bet!

Change is what we make it.

Are you ready for Change?  2009 will be full of it.  From politicians, to business owners…  from consumers to sellers – January 2009 brings a who new year filled with opportunities.

Now is the time to take stock of what you have to work with, lay some plans, and get energized for the change you will make in 2009.  Don’t let all the negative media steal your energy.  Make your changes positive – act on your plans – find new resources – make a difference in your business, your community, your life.

Working together anything is possible and opportunites will be what we make them.