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Veteran Entrepreneur Spotlight: Donald Coolidge

How does a veteran’s military skills, training, and knowledge translate to a business startup? One word…“Vetrepreneurship.” In America, U.S. businesses that are majority-owned by veterans make up 9.1% of the business landscape. That’s over 2.5 million businesses in our nation that are owned by those who have served in the military.

To celebrate Veteran’s Day, JA wanted to shine a spotlight on a business owner who utilized his technical skills in the Marine Corps to build the successful tech-savvy company Elemental Path.

We spent some time with Donald Coolidge, veteran and owner of Elemental Path, to discuss his journey into entrepreneurship and what he feels it has to offer to the (not so) “Average Joe”.

JA: What aspect of entrepreneurship attracted you the most?

DC: I wasn’t really attracted to entrepreneurship… It’s sort of one of those things that snuck up on me. I had, throughout my late teens and in college and even in the Marine Corps, started dabbling in creating businesses, recognizing what I thought would be a viable business and figuring out how to put the building blocks into place. I never thought that I wanted to be an entrepreneur -- It was always this natural organic thought in finding an opportunity. The things I dabbled with didn’t turn into much for whatever reason. But in New York, while in the Marine Corps Reserves, trying to finish my grad degree and create a career for myself, I started to build tech products with another Marine in my unit. I liked the ability to build something and have people use it and see how it provides value. Instead of seeing myself as an entrepreneur, I recognized there is a need here…how do I create something and fulfill that need by scaling and growing it?

 

JA: What have you found to be the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur?

DC: With the good comes the bad. There is a lot of responsibility, which I like. There are two perks I have discovered; working with a bunch of awesome people and allowing those people to pursue their passion by creating something that matters and is meaningful and to enjoy the work experience through our company. On the other end, we create some pretty amazing products that are having a pretty awesome impact on kids and families around the world, which is one of the most rewarding aspects. I’m sitting at my desk right now and I’m looking at several postcards that I have gotten from parents with pictures of kids using their Dynos (Elemental Path learning toy).

 

JA: In the Marines, you did a lot of intelligence work with high-tech systems. What inspired you to turn that knowledge that you already had into an education business?

DC: It was a big jump. We were taking on a big challenge right from the start. In what we do, the products (toys) use very powerful artificial intelligence that teaches and entertains. The program is trying to understand the kids that are using them. The Marines, and military in general, helped position me to take the challenges that you have in a business and create products and scale them. The Marines equipped me through the technology I was able to use in the Marine Corps. I was able to fly drones before people really knew what they were, and use other technology. It was the responsibility I was given as a 20-year-old kid while I was deployed and knowing that failure wasn’t an option…that prepared me. In startups, you constantly have limited resources. You have a timeline you have to make, and you’re going to face hurdles and hiccups along the way and you can’t make excuses and stop doing it. You need to figure out the problem, ways to address it and apply several ideas to figure out a solution. The Marine Corps helped me with all of that. The Marine Corps is all about quality and leadership and being agile and creative in the challenges that you face. Leadership skills and certain thinking skills that have developed through the military come together to make most veterans equipped to be really good business owners and leaders, especially in technology.     

 

JA: When you were starting this new venture, who influenced you the most?

DC: When we started out, I was really underqualified. There were so many things I needed to learn quickly and figure out how to do. A big advantage that I had was already being a part of a solid network of people (other veterans). I was actually able to connect with other veterans who had experienced the same or similar challenges, and they were always more than happy to give their insight, ideas and expertise. Coming out of the military, it was great to have other vets who were willing to help. I really encourage others coming out of the military to use the strong veteran network. Today, I currently run the New York City of Vets in Tech. What brought me to where I am in this organization is when I was starting Elemental Path. I started to go to these events to meet other veterans that I could get insight and advice from and I found several mentors. By going to these events, I was able to pitch my ideas to a group that were welcoming of new concepts. They were happy to give advice and feedback. Not only have I met great people, and have been able to gather feedback, but I have also found investors that support the company (Elemental Path).

 

A final thought Donald left JA with was the fact that veterans have strong skill-sets that should be advertised to more companies. The training and knowledge acquired in the military are not limited and instead can be integrated into various business environments.

 

JA thanks Donald Coolidge for his service and looks forward to Elemental Path’s newest smart toy, Scout!

About Donald Coolidge:

Donald Coolidge is a NYC-based entrepreneur with a passion for consumer technology – with a specific interest and focus on the intersection that exists between people and the technology we increasingly use every day. Donald launched his first startup in 2011 and in 2014 he unveiled CogniToys, internet-connected smart toys that are changing the way a generation of digital kids learn and play.

CogniToys are a Time Magazine Best Invention of the Year and were tabbed as the “Best Use of A.I. in Education” by the coveted A.I. Awards. CogniToys are powered by proprietary Friendgine technology that bring voice enabled devices to life with knowledge, personality, interactive content and much more.

Prior to becoming involved in technology, Donald served 8 ½ years in the Marine Corps in Iraq, Kuwait, Mozambique and Senegal. He’s passionate about mentoring young veterans and advocating for the veteran community. Donald currently serves as the NYC Director of VetsinTech and has participated in the Urban Justice Centers Veteran Advocacy Project, along with the Intersections International Veteran-Civilian Dialogue.

Marine Corps Service Dates: 2005 -2013

Enlisted Reserve: 0311 (B-billet, company level intelligence cell)

Iraq 2008-2009

Kuwait, Senegal and Mozambique (for smaller periods of time)

 

Connect with Donald Coolidge

Twitter: @donaldcoolidge1

Linkedin: /donaldcoolidge

Instagram: DonaldCoolidge

 

Connect with CogniToys

Twitter: @CogniToys

Facebook: @CogniToys

Instagram: @CogniToys

 

Four Employee Benefits of Corporate Volunteerism

What will community volunteerism do for your work family?

America’s Charities reports that the average business turnover rate in all U.S. industries is 15.1% with those making under $75,000 or less a year, costing $15,000 to be replaced. That is hard-earned money that is being taken out of the budget to find someone who may or may not be the right fit for the position. In this era of hiring, it is more important than ever to invest in your employees from an individual AND work-community standpoint. The best way to knock out these two standpoints with one stone? Volunteering! Check out the following benefits volunteering has on your company and on those who make up your business.

Improved Connectivity and Performance

According to a PwC study, 10% to 15% of the world workforce reports feeling unsatisfied within their workplace dynamic. In turn, only 4 in 10 employees are planning on spending at least another year at their current jobs. Yet, through volunteering, employees have the ability to feel more “connected” to their co-workers and executive teams. A large component of employee performance is not only one’s passion for his or her work, but also an environment that harnesses challenges. Volunteering provides employees with an opportunity to impact their local community by coming together with their professional family. It is with challenges in a group setting that connectivity is formed and therefore provides a foundation that an employee feels committed to. In fact, committed employees have been found to put in 57% more effort into their job and are 87% less likely to resign.

Investing in Skill Building

By encouraging your employees’ input in volunteer efforts for your company, you are providing them with the ability to take on leadership roles that in turn build experience. Through various community efforts, employees are moved from their comfort zones to work with others to solve challenges in order to achieve goals. Collaboration, self-awareness, and leadership skills are just a few of the many skills that are exercised through volunteering. Professional skill-building should not be limited to those looking to be hired, skillsets should also be harnessed within one’s work environment.

Attract Future Employees

A Deloitte study found that almost 9 in 10 (89%) employed Americans believe that companies that encourage volunteer activities offer a better workplace than companies that do not. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can not only serve to benefit your company when seeking employees, but it can also serve to benefit your sales. A 2017 Cone Communications Survey found that 87% of Americans will purchase a product from a company advocating an issue they care about. If making a difference can sell your product or service, why wouldn’t it sell your company to a possible job candidate?

Harnessing Charitable Giving

In this day and age, Millennials make up 1 in 3 labor force participants in the United States, making them the largest labor force generation that America has ever seen.  Further research conducted by Cone Communications, revealed 2 out of 3 millennials will not consider taking a job if the company does not have strong CSR values and 9 in 10 reported they do a better job in CSR-friendly environments.

Final Thoughts

With all the benefits of volunteering, one thing is for certain -- providing volunteer opportunities not only helps your company in the eyes of potential candidates and consumers, it also fulfills the professional desire in your employees to make an impact in their local communities.

Why Businesses Fail: Part II

Today, research shows that 29% of businesses fail because they run out of money and 17% failed because they lack a business model or plan. In order to thrive as an entrepreneur, it is crucial that business leaders create a cohesive plan that addresses possible risks, road-blocks, and competition within their industry.

After identifying a market and the details within the industry, it’s time to start writing it all down. This stage marks the beginning of creating a business plan. Through the creation, an entrepreneur establishes a start-up stage to a business tied to goals to be accomplished in the future. Business plans are not only useful to keep startups on track as they grow, but in some cases they may also be a requirement to obtain financial support.

Making the Game Plan

A business plan is a document that outlines business goals, objectives, and strategies, along with market research that has been conducted, as well as future financial predictions. This document is essentially a company’s game-day playbook; providing strategic and methodical “plays” to reach goals and overcome the competition. In creating this document, entrepreneurs will be give an investor a sense of security, which will allow a company to win at the game of business.

While there are a few ways to lay out a business plan, rules of thumb include:

1.     Begin with an introduction. This is where you are going to spark interest in your business from others.

2.     Your plan should begin with an executive summary. Essentially, this is the quick run-down on all the points you will be making in the document. Be sure to make this section short and address: the business name, location of the business, product or service offered, mission and vision statement, as well as the specific purpose of why you are creating a business plan (to obtain funds, clarify strategies, etc.)

3.     Your third section should be about the environmental and industry analysis of your business. Here, you should address the SWOT analysis you conducted. This will give an overview of your business’s approach to internal and external factors.

4.     Next, you need to describe your business venture. Will you be providing a service or a product? Why is there a need for this product or service?

5.     Following the description of your company, you’ll want to address your product or operational plan. Describe what you’re selling,including customer benefits, information about the product or service’s “life cycle” or how it will be desired or marketable, any legal protection to your product or service you’re selling, as well as any plans for future products and services.

6.     While this may sound pretty straight-forward, marketing or advertising can be very tricky. To execute this play, you will need to identify your target market, explain why your product or service is appealing to this market and then how you will reach them. Will you have an online marketplace? Are you going to have a TV commercial? Essentially answer how you will ensure your product or service is seen by those that matter most from a customer perspective.

7.     While you’re sprinting to the end-zone, you need to address your organizational plan. Outline what departments and employees will be critical to the success of the business. Identify who owns what portion of the company. Also list those who are already involved, addressing their title, experience, and responsibilities.

8.     One of the biggest reasons for a business plan is to acquire capital for your business. The last point in your plan should be addressing the company’s financial plans and future projections. You will want to share all financial information, including income statements, cash flow statements, balance sheets, capital expenditure budgets, etc. This will help determine if you will make the touchdown (receive financial support from the lender) or if you will walk away defeated. To avoid a tackle during this crucial play, meet with a professional accountant to ensure you’re providing a full and complete view of your company’s financial information.

While all of these sections seem like a lot, they allow for you to plan where you want to see your business in the future, as well as provide an overview to lenders.

Have a young entrepreneur in your home?, Junior Achievement has the JA Be Entrepreneurial program! To give your future CEO a head start on learning how to develop a business plan, click here.

 

Why Businesses Fail: Part 1

When it comes to business, what you don’t know will cause failure.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an estimated 20% of businesses fail within the first year. 30% fail within the second year, half, 50%, will fail within the fifth-year, and almost three-fourths, 70%, fail within the tenth year. While there are a million views as to why businesses fail, it comes down to one problem—lack of business education. To avoid having your business turn belly-up, here are some basic business rules to follow before you open shop.

Thorough Research is a Strong Start to Any Business

As easy as it is to jump feet-first into your business idea, it is crucial that you take the time to develop your product or service as well as your company’s foundation.

While this sounds simple enough, you need to consider:

-       Why are you starting this company? Is it just for income or is this your passion?

If you’re passionate about the industry you want to do business in, keep pushing forward! If not, it’s been suggested that you reallocate your focus on something that is of interest.

-       Is there a need or a market for what your business is offering?

There is no point in starting a business when there is not a demand for your product or service. While considering the market, be sure to think about where you are located and the possible customers you would have within the area.

-       What type of business do you want to develop?

Do you want to have a sole proprietorship, a limited liability company (LLC), general partnership, limited partnership, corporation, etc.?) This is the stage to determine how much responsibility you want to have should something occur within your business.

-       Where would your product or service thrive?

As with determining if there is a market for your business, you need to determine the best location for your industry. While you should contemplate a physical location, another area to explore is digital. How will you want your business conducted? Online or a physical store?

-       Who is your target audience? Who will purchase your product or service?

Catering a product to the right audience is not only strategic marketing, but it is also smart business. To stay in business, you need repeat customers as well as new that have a need (or want) for your product or service. Determine the demographics of those who would be interested in your business concept and compare it to the location you are looking at conducting your business.

-       What competition will you face? How will you diversify your product or service to compete in the competitive market?

The beauty of a mixed economy in the United States is in the ability to protect private property and to allow economic freedom while permitting the government to step in should there be any conflicts. With business-freedom comes business-competition. It is essential to consider how your company will differentiate its product or service in the marketplace. Knowing your target audience will provide insight into what is important to them and then catering to your product or service.

For nearly a century, Junior Achievement (JA) has focused on programming to educate youth in three areas-- entrepreneurship, financial literacy, and work readiness. As a result, JA Alumni are 2 ½ times more likely to start a business compared to the general population. Through the JA Company Program, students learn how to successfully start and maintain a thriving business.

 

Click here to see the JA Company Program in action!

Teens lack of retirement Knowledge Should Scare You

Think about a teen that you know. How much do you think he or she knows about retirement? Where have they, if at all, learned about the topic of saving for their future after they retire from their career?

These questions were the driving force behind Junior Achievement’s (JA) 2018 Teens and Retirement survey.

Overview:

From August 13th and August 20th of 2018, Junior Achievement USA, American International Group, Inc. (AIG), and Wakefield Research conducted an online survey focused on teens understanding of saving for their future retirement.

Retirement Findings (according to Teens)

Presented by: American International Group, Inc. (AIG) 

JA Teens & Retirement Methodological Notes

The JA/AIG Survey was conducted by Wakefield Research (www.wakefieldresearch.com) among 1,000 nationally representative U.S. teens, ages 13-18, who are not currently enrolled in college, between August 13 and August 20, 2018, using an email invitation and an online survey.  Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in this particular study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3.1 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample.

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