Expert Entrepreneurs Talk Small Business in Hartford

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Enthusiasts of entrepreneurship gathered on May 3 in Hartford to celebrate Small Business Week with Comcast Business and CNBC’s The Profit. The founders of Edible Arrangements and Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ, among other local entrepreneurs, shared stories and gave advice to budding visionaries.

Richard Brown, vice president of investor relations for Metro Hartford Alliance, and Emily Carter, director for the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, joined Tariq Farid of Edible Arrangements and Jamie McDonald of Bears Smokehouse in a panel discussion at Real Art Ways on Arbor Street.

The event featured a networking portion and a casting opportunity for candidates interested in participating in CNBC’s The Profit.

The event was part of a larger celebration of small businesses, with partner events taking place in Atlanta, Chicago, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Seattle over the course of two weeks.

Hartford’s panel discussion, moderated by Brad Drazen of NBC Connecticut, focused on encouraging small business development through positive mentorship, mutual partnerships, time management and goal development.

Farid, who now employees more than 12,000 employees around the world, drew on his experiences in the mid-1990s when he pitched his idea of “fruit on sticks” to other would-be mentors who shot down the plan. He cautioned the audience to block out that negativity by surrounding one’s business with supportive networks.

“Don’t ever think and worry about the risk,” said Farid, who started his first business at 17 years old. “Just chase the opportunity along the way. Opportunity you chase, risk you mitigate.”

Encouragement is the foundation for any aspiring success story, especially for new and struggling business owners. That’s why Farid called on state leaders to foster a welcoming economic climate, reaching compromises on the price of doing business in Connecticut.

“It’s a circle that we all have to realize [so we can] help each other, and it does start with some initiatives from the state of Connecticut to make the state business-friendly,” he said. “The world has changed. I think the focus needs to go to young people—so how do we attract them and how do we give them access?”

The economic opportunity is there, said Carter, who heads a state department funded through the Small Business Administration and Department of Economic and Community Development. Her team of 12 people travels around the state to 30 locations, working with small business owners to review business plans, help them secure capital and manage expectations.

In 2016, Carter’s department helped Connecticut entrepreneurs secure more than $53 million in capital.

“We provide really great consulting services to businesses of up to 500 employees at absolutely no cost,” she said. “We are very cautious in connecting business owners to the right resource at the right time. It’s a great program that people need to know about.”

Still, business success is determined by the will of the entrepreneur, the panel agreed.

McDonald said business owners must believe in their product and go “all in” by working seven days a week to ensure success is earned, maintained and expanded.

The Kansas City native, and former U.S. Navy sailor, has embodied this attitude, and now employs a workforce of 150 people. Many of the workers came through the state’s Second Chance Society initiative, which reintegrates former nonviolent offenders and incarcerated citizens back into the workplace.

McDonald said he decided to raise the minimum wage at Bears to $15 an hour in order to share the restaurant’s success. Although the decision increased labor costs by more than 25 percent, he has seen improved attitude and appreciation from employees.

“Once you get people to start believing in your company, it gets easier,” he said of finding good business partners and treating workers fairly.

Brown said the business environment in the greater Hartford area is improving, adding that more businesses and residential developers are moving to downtown Hartford.

Connecticut has a lot of room to grow, he said, but has the ability to offer an affordable space for small businesses and large national and international entrepreneurs to find success in the state.

“There is underground entrepreneurial activity happening,” he said. “There is a buzz, and seeds are being planted. But it starts and ends with you.”

Lead photo by Eric Gerard Photography

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