Leaders & Influencers: Jeff Glazer

In our final Leaders & Influencers post of the year, we chat with Jeff Glazer, clinical assistant professor with the University of Wisconsin Law School’s Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic, which provides free legal services to nascent entrepreneurs and early stage companies through the work of law students, faculty, and private sector attorneys. 

Talk a little bit about what brought you to the Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic in 2011 and the work that you do there.

Jeff GlazerI started at the Clinic in a part-time capacity as a supervising attorney for the law students who were working with entrepreneurs. I had my own law office at the time, but the work they were doing at the Clinic was similar to what I was doing in my own practice, and it just seemed like a new and interesting overlap. As I continued my work there, I really started buying in to what [L&E Clinic cofounders] Eric Englund and Anne Smith were trying to do, which was to fill a market need for legal service where the only other options were self-service or no service.

As lawyers, we want people to be proactive in obtaining legal services, but we often price ourselves out of that opportunity. People tend to delay seeking legal services because they can’t afford them, even though they know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. At the L&E Clinic, we provide good legal services in a way that entrepreneurs can be legally proactive.

My own background is in the food and beverage industry, which is a big industry for Wisconsin and provides a good opportunity for entrepreneurship. So I’ve been concentrating on this area and thinking about how the many pieces of the food and beverage industry can work together in a more holistic way. I’m taking more of a leadership role in bringing these disparate food and beverage companies together, beyond just providing legal services. There are real opportunities in this sector, but there are also real monetary challenges to getting these types of businesses started.

What kind of entrepreneurs does the L&E Clinic work with? Do you specialize in any particular industry?

To be eligible to work with the clinic, you only have to be in the first couple of years of your business. If you meet that definition, it doesn’t matter to us if you’re a food cart or a high-tech spin-off company from the university—or anything in between. There are varying levels of service we provide depending on what it is the business needs. For those companies who are most interested into growing into something bigger, we can get them connected with a range of providers, services, and individuals that can help them do that. And we can play the role of quarterback to help those same companies survey the field and think about the things they need to do to move the ball. We don’t do this in every instance, but for companies that want it, we do provide that handheld, integrated type of service.

Any new or continued initiatives the L&E Clinic has been working on over the past year?

We’re working on an ongoing basis with tightening our relationship with [coworking space and seed accelerator] Madworks. It’s an interesting work in progress. As Madworks is starting to take more of a governance-related direction, we’re finding more opportunities for students to get involved with clients while they’re going through the accelerator.

We also moved into the @1403 startup hub about a year ago, and it’s been exciting being in that space. The organizations that have found a home here—Discovery to Product (D2P), Madworks, gBETA, the L&E Clinic—weren’t necessarily planned for this space but have gravitated and grown here organically, which really has made @1403 more effective for entrepreneurs. It’s cool to be part of the space and activity that goes on there.

What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in our community?

I think we need to have a broader discussion about what is and isn’t entrepreneurship. When people think of entrepreneurship, they tend to think about the big high-tech companies that want to grow like crazy. I think we need to bring it down and understand that entrepreneurship doesn’t only mean big and high-tech. You can be a graphic designer or a VP of Marketing who provides independent services and you’re an entrepreneur too. I think there need to be more discussions and services around supporting entrepreneurship in all its forms. These smaller businesses may not have a huge opportunity for growth, but there’s also not a huge opportunity for risk. I want to support the woodshop or food cart owner and help them make connections so they can solve whatever challenge or problem in the world that they’re trying to solve. At its heart, that’s what entrepreneurship is all about.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting to learn more about how our outsourced accounting and CFO services can help your business succeed.

 

Leaders & Influencers: Maddy Niebauer

In our continuing series on Madison Leaders & Influencers, we chat with Maddy Niebauer, Founder and CEO of vChief, a virtual chief of staff service supporting executives from all industries.

Tell us a little bit about your background and what made you decide to start vChief?

Maddy NiebauerI was a chief of staff with Teach for America for about five years, and I really loved that role. As a chief of staff, your role is very much strategic, but it’s also action-oriented. It goes beyond strategic planning to execution, thought partnership, and acting as a surrogate for the leader you support.

I also had a wonderful relationship with the leader I was supporting at Teach for America. When she left that organization to start a new nonprofit, she asked me to moonlight for 5-10 hours a week as a virtual chief of staff. As I thought about my own next steps, career-wise, I realized there was a demand for this type of part-time chief of staff work and decided to launch vChief. Though I continue to support this leader, I now spend most of my time running the business and matching executives with a chief of staff who can meet their unique needs.

How does vChief work and what services do you provide?

We contract with executives and leaders to work for a set number of hours per month—typically between 20-80 hours—and will pair up one of our chiefs of staff to work with that person virtually. Since our chiefs of staff are located all over the country, we can also work with some leaders in person if needed. Right now we have nine chief of staff, each of whom has his or her own accomplished background and areas of expertise—everything from talent acquisition and human resources to strategic planning, sales, leadership, and risk management, among others.

Our services vary drastically based on what the client needs, but generally we serve as a soft partner to leaders and help take tasks off of their plates so that they can concentrate on the things that matter most to their organization. Our consultants are generalists and offer a wide array of support: strategic time management & prioritization, project management, strategic planning, operations, communications, team management, finance, HR, and almost anything else a leader could need.

Generally speaking, our services fall into two primary buckets:

  • Interim role replacement, where we fill in for a key team member who is on leave or who has left and a replacement hasn’t yet been hired – sometimes a chief of staff role, other times a COO or another key strategic role. This type of work tends to be short-term and intensive—we can jump in pretty quickly and provide support right away.
  • Chief of staff, where we provide ongoing virtual support to executives on any number of tasks, including operations, project management, communications, team management, finance, and human resources. We typically work in this role from 5-20 hours a week, as needed.
Do all of your clients work for large organizations? Or do you also work with startups and small businesses?

Since I launched vChief six months ago, we’ve served clients in industries ranging from nonprofits and education to e-commerce and pharmaceuticals. The organizations have ranged in size from 1 staff member to several hundred, and have been located around the United States.

We’ve worked with four startups to date, and I think we provide a very helpful and economical service. Often startup founders don’t have many other staff and are overwhelmed by everything that needs to happen to launch their business. They need to be lean, nimble, and able to pivot—and they don’t want to bear the risk of bringing on staff if they’re not sure they can afford them. We can come in for just a few hours a week and provide a very high level of support to help move the needle on their business.

Why was Madison the right place to launch vChief and what kind of support have you received from the community?

I lived in Madison while I was working for Teach for America, so I was already based here, but I have found the entrepreneurial community here to be fantastic. I work out of 100 State and have met so many great people there. I’ve also attended a number of Doyenne Group trainings, 1 Million Cups presentations, Forward Fest, Capital Entrepreneurs happy hours, and other startup events. There’s a real entrepreneurial community here doing really interesting things, and they’re all so eager to help connect you to other people here who might be able to help you with your own business. It’s really pretty amazing.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting to learn more about how our outsourced accounting and CFO services can help your business succeed.

Case Study: Streamlining Complex Finances for Door Creek Church

Door Creek Church

 

“I’m so grateful to [Fine Point Controller] Sarah Motiff and her team for rolling up their sleeves, digging into our complex financial systems and processes, and bringing ‘order out of the chaos.’ Sarah’s quiet confidence, tenacious spirit, and desire to help others has not only been refreshing, but extremely helpful.”

Marc Maillefer, Lead Pastor

After losing a qualified CPA and Director of Finance, Door Creek Church turned to Fine Point Consulting to lend a helping hand. Fine Point staff standardized processes, streamlined the organization’s Chart of Accounts, and organized the various fund accounts. Many of the church’s accounting processes are now automated, creating efficiencies for staff and cleaner reporting overall. Church leaders have a greater understanding of the church’s finances through easy-to-read reports, ensuring better communication to the congregation at large.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting for more information about the great tools and services we use to help organizations like Door Creek Church succeed.

Fine Point Meet & Greet: Steph Breunig

Meet the newest Fine Point Consulting staff and learn a little bit about what makes them tick. This week: Firm Administrator Steph Breunig.

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you do at Fine Point.

Steph BreunigMy background is actually in English and Education. I worked for a number of years as a Library Media Specialist in a couple of school districts. I’ve known Luella for years and have always joked with her that she should hire me to work for her, especially as teaching in this state has become more difficult in recent years. But Luella told me one day she wasn’t kidding anymore and she really did want to hire me, and it’s been a great experience.

I do a little bit of everything. My role here is part office manager, part bookkeeper, part technology manager, plus whatever else Luella asks me to do. I also coordinate HR and benefits. Luella has been really great at letting me tailor the job to my strengths; for example, I’m setting up “Lunch & Learns” a couple times a month through AstUtemy, so our staff can learn more about business and accounting. As a former teacher, I can’t help myself but to teach!

What’s the transition been like going from a career in Education to working in Business—and what do you like most about working for Fine Point?

As I’ve been educating myself more about the business world through webinars and other resources, I’ve just started looking at things through a different lens. Business articles in the newspaper grab my attention now—and what I notice in the world around me is just different. Working with startups is exciting, and I really love that so many of these companies we work with are really making a difference in the world.

The people here at Fine Point are great and the environment here is very fun. The Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) that Fine Point employs was also a major draw for me as a working mom. I like being able to take time off when I need to for my family—and I like that not all of my days off are tied to the school schedule!

When you’re not working, you…

I have three children who are 10, 11, and 13. All three of them play lacrosse, so that eats up a lot of my time. I’m a huge sports fan, which doesn’t necessarily fit with my library persona! I’m one of those crazy parents who yells from the sidelines of my kids’ games—though I keep it positive. My son calls me the “Third Ref.”

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting to learn how our knowledgeable staff can help your business succeed.

Leaders & Influencers: Todd Strother

In this week’s post, we talk with Todd Strother, Senior Technology Consultant with the Center for Technology Commercialization, which offers free consulting and services to help early-stage emerging technology businesses throughout Wisconsin find funding to bring their products to market. 

 

Tell us about the Center for Technology Commercialization (CTC) and how you help early stage technical companies.

Todd StrotherThe CTC is part of the University of Wisconsin Extension’s division of Business & Entrepreneurship, so all of our services are free to Wisconsin companies. We essentially are tasked with helping the Wisconsin economy by assisting technology-based companies bring their innovative ideas to commercialization. We do several things in this regard: We will assist these companies in developing business plans, putting together investor pitches, give advice on marketing and commercialization, as well as help them through the entire process of putting together and submitting grant proposals. The most common type of grant these companies seek out is the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. I spend quite a lot of my time helping these early stage companies with those proposals.

Talk about your process of walking a company through the SBIR/STTR program.

There is some variation depending on who the company is, how far along they are, and what their needs are.   Typically, though, someone may come to us who has just started a company and may have only a few people on board with some founder funds. One goal of the SBIR program is to help bring the company to the stage of outside investment, so often our clients don’t have a lot of investor funds at the time they come to us.

When someone comes to us, we will first try to understand the overall problem they are try to solve and if they have a commercially interesting and innovative solution to that problem. We help them put together an executive summary of their proposed technology, and we help them determine which agency or agencies best fits their idea.  We also can give them hands-on assistance in writing a proposal. We usually don’t write the proposal for our clients because, frankly, we aren’t as knowledgeable about the technology as they are, but we can suggest how to lay out the proposal, what to include in it, what pitfalls to avoid, and what concepts to really focus on. Once the proposal, budgets, biosketches, and other materials are ready, we can help with the submission process, too. We also keep in touch after the submission and can assist in responding to the federal reviewers’ comments and help with some of the so called ‘just in time’ paperwork that might lead to funding.

What other services or events does the CTC offer?

As part of our SBIR/STTR assistance, we provide small microgrant funds to help our clients hire professional grant writers or professional commercial plan writers. We also manage a more formalized ‘presubmission review,’ where we bring in an outside team of reviewers who mimic the federal grant review process. About three weeks before a major deadline, we can send the SBIR drafts through this process so a client can see what a reviewer is thinking as they are reading the proposal. This gives our client some insight and time to make changes and improve the proposal before the deadline. We also have our SBIR Advance program. This is a program that provides up to $75,000 for SBIR companies to do marketing and commercialization activities that their federal grant doesn’t allow.  We find this is a very popular program and we are very happy that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has provided the funds for this.

We also sponsor webinars and training seminars throughout the year. We are really trying to reach out to underserved groups with our activities: minority populations, women-owned businesses, as well as more rural businesses outside of the Madison-Milwaukee corridor.

What are the most common misconceptions people have about applying for (or receiving) a government grant?

Probably the most common misconception I see is that it takes a lot longer to put together a winning proposal than many people think. We often have people come to us a few weeks before a deadline and mistakenly think they can quickly write a proposal in a few days and get it sent in. In reality, unless someone has a great skill set and SBIR writing experience, it takes several weeks and maybe even a couple of months to get a good proposal prepared.

Another misconception is that the team doesn’t have the scientific skill set that they need to manage an SBIR project. Ultimately, these are highly technical and competitive research projects and the team and Principal Investigator need to be recognized as leaders in the field. The nice thing about that is that there are ways to beef up your team and bring on highly skilled people–all paid for on the grant. Conversely, another misconception we see is that people think they are not qualified for SBIRs because they don’t have a PhD or they don’t have a university connection. You don’t need a PhD or be a professor, you just have to show that you have the skill set and scientific experience to run an applied research project.

What’s the single most important change you’d like to see to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship in Wisconsin?

We would like to see more people and more diverse people take the plunge into entrepreneurship in the technical world here in Wisconsin. We have a world-class university here in the state that consistently is in the Top 10 in terms of research dollars, and have lots of inventions brought through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, but we, as a state, are lacking in getting those inventions off the shelf and into commercialization. When it comes to companies preparing and submitting SBIRs, we are about the middle of the pack. With all of these resources available, I’d like to see more people and more companies from Wisconsin apply for SBIR funds and start commercializing these technologies. I hope the CTC makes the process easier so that people with a bit of motivation will come talk to us and try it.

 

Visit Fine Point Consulting to learn more about how our outsourced accounting and CFO services can help your business succeed.