The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - In Conclusion

Posted by Adam Scouse at 5:00 AM on December 10, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

Just three short months ago I was sitting in my desk chair pondering how to begin my first blog post.  I ended up writing the body paragraph first just because I couldn’t think of a first line.  Now, a semester later, I’m looking back on my internship with Handshake 2.0 and wondering how it is over already.

The series of blog posts I wrote began with the idea of creating a hypothetical business based around selling ginseng.  However, after following the advice of my supervisor and blogging mentor, Anne Clelland, my internship began to broaden its scope and allowed me to experience new research opportunities that I would consider invaluable.  Not only was I able to add to my knowledge of non-timber forest products, but I had a great introduction to entrepreneurial practices. 

I presented a brief summary of my internship to Professor Lorraine Borny’s management class in Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business.  I pointed out to the class what I considered the highlights of my internship.  While I enjoyed exploring the blogosphere for the first time as a researcher, the most valuable aspect came from the number of interviews I was able to conduct.   The Interviews were set up by the networking power of Handshake 2.0 and its founder Anne Clelland.

After being introduced to blogs through this experience, I hope to continue using them as a powerful source of information as I graduate this spring.  Two of my currently favorite blogs are Lifehacker.com and FastLane Blog.  Lifehacker helps keeps me up to date on technological stuff and Fastlane I use to read opinions about the possible GM economic bailout. 

So what were the keys to my success as an intern for Handshake 2.0?  The first and foremost unbreakable rule was to keep deadlines.  Because much of my blogging could be done from home, I was responsible for submitting quality material by my weekly Tuesday deadline.   It was also extremely helpful to have friends look over my material and provide proofreads.  That being said, it is important that an intern enjoy writing, because, well… you do a fair amount of it.  So if you excel at working on your own without heavy supervision and want the freedom to make your own schedule, then Handshake 2.0 would be the place for you.

As I finish up my final entry in The  Hypothetical Entrepreneur blog series, I want to say thanks to all of those who helped me along the way.  Many people took the time to meet with me and provide invaluable information and feedback about my internship.  Thank you to all of those who made it possible.  It truly is all in who you know.   

Adam Scouse wrote the The Hypothetical Entrepreneur series for Handshake 2.0 as intern at Virginia Tech during the fall of 2008.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - Blogging Businesses

Posted by Adam Scouse at 6:00 AM on November 29, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

In an effort to better familiarize myself with the so-called blogosphere, I described in a previous post looking into what my buddies were reading online in their spare time.  However, the power of blogs has not been limited to those within dormitory walls.  Businesses have also embraced and encouraged blog writing within their company for a variety of reasons. 

According to Social Text’s Fortune 500 Business Blogging Wiki, 12.8 percent of the Fortune 500 companies are currently blogging.  Topics vary by company and post; however, they seem to correlate mostly with current events and recent product developments.  A fascinating example is General Motor’s FastLane Blog .  Recent posts address the looming economic downturn and its effect on the car industry while the blog fosters reader discussion through commenting. 

Not all blogs are created equal.  Social Text also offers links to blog reviews that base ratings on ease of finding, frequency, engaging writing, relevance, focus, honesty, social-interaction design, and responsiveness. 

Author David Kirkpatrick wrote about the evolution of blogs within companies in his article for Fortune.  He mentions the multiple applications he has witnessed for blogs and refers to managers who strongly encourage blog writing to their employees.However, Kirkpatrick is quick to mention that there are trade-offs and examples where lay-offs have occurred after personal posting.

Coming from an academic perspective, I originally did not associate much validity with what I read in blog posts.  In fact, Internet sources in general are frowned upon by professors.  However, research done by Thomas Johnson and Barbara Kaye during the 2004 presidential election investigates how the public perceives blogs.  Realizing that this study is specific to presidential topics, the study sheds some light on the typical blog reader. 

According to the study, blogs have maintained credibility among those “politically interested Internet users, journalists, and public officials.”  The study even mentioned that readers prefer blogs to traditional media sources.  It appears that readers believe writer bias within blogs is somewhat of a strength over traditional media sources and the depth of blogging material is greater. 

While I may not be able to use blogs in my traditional research as a student, I certainly do use blogs to do research in my everyday life much like one might use Wikipedia.  As long as I understanding the strengths and weaknesses of blogs, I can use them as an effective tool for keeping informed on a daily basis. 

You can follow the full series of posts by Adam Scouse for Handshake 2.0 at The Hypothetical Entrepreneur.

Adam Scouse is an intern for Handshake 2.0, a member company of business acceleration centerVT KnowledgeWorks, located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a technology park, a research park, and a science park on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - The Blogosphere

Posted by Adam Scouse at 6:00 AM on November 15, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

Three months have passed since I was introduced to the blogosphere.

Since my time contributing to it began, I have completely ignored reading others' blogs while trying to write my own.  This week I decided it would be a good time to find out how people around me actually use blogs.

I took a few steps around my residence hall to find out if college students were reading blogs and if so, what were they reading.  Here is what I found:

Sports – An old roommate, Kevin Lancaster, pointed out to me that he uses blogs to track the progress of his favorite NFL players as well as make decisions about his fantasy football team.  He was even interested in it enough to start his own baseball blog.

Music – Hall mate Billy Endean suggested using blogs to share opinions about musical releases or following a favorite band. 

Technology – Psychology major Richard Yentes told me about using blogs to follow recently developed computer technologies as well as gaming.  His favorite was Lifehacker.com.

Current Events – Family members had mentioned to me using blogs to track the war in Iraq.  Research pulled up interesting and highly popular military men and women blogs.  MSNBC recognized the new trend and wrote an article about the effect of blogs in the military a few years ago.

Gaming – Next door neighbor and video-gamer Cory Wright let me know about his use of blogs to find out about up-and-coming games and the current buzz around new releases.   

So people read these things after all…

You can follow the full series of posts by Adam Scouse for Handshake 2.0 at The Hypothetical Entrepreneur.

Adam Scouse is an intern for Handshake 2.0, a member company of business acceleration centerVT KnowledgeWorks, located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a technology park, a research park, and a science park on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Web 2.0 Internship

Posted by Handshake 2.0 at 6:00 AM on November 14, 2008:

From Anne Giles Clelland:

Handshake 2.0 has an intern from Virginia Tech who lives in a dormitory on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.  Handshake 2.0 is housed on a hill maybe two to three miles away.

We have never met.

***

Perhaps because we negotiated the terms of the internship via e-mail, one phone call, then completely via e-mail afterwards--including electronic submission of contracts to the internship’s supervisor, Lorraine Borny--I thought of Thomas L Friedman’s, The World Is Flat 3.0: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.

Friedman’s premise that world commerce can be increasingly conducted inter-personally and inter-nationally without in-personal contact seemed profoundly true as Adam Scouse, through his internship, became an online vendor of products and services--guest blog post entries--for Handshake 2.0. 

Part of the reason we didn’t meet initially is how busy I was as the founder of a start-up company. 

Then the idea of a Web 2.0 internship occurred to me. 

Interns are asked to determine their passions, then to turn those passions into expertise in a series of blog posts for Handshake 2.0.  At the end of the internship, students have online portfolios of passionately created content representing their project management acumen, growing industry know-how, and communication skills.

They also have learned how to write a business blog, a social media skill an increasing number of Fortune 500 companies value.

I thought:  What if, to those résumé beauties, were added a Web 2.0 recommendation?

“Not only does this individual exceed expectations, but he can meet and surpass project goals through a synergy of his own independence paired with virtual--and minimal--supervision.”

Adam Scouse agreed to a Web 2.0 internship.  The sentence above applies.

Adam Scouse has written The Hypothetical Entrepreneur for Handshake 2.0, an exploration of the feasibility of launching an agriculture-based start-up business in Southwest Virginia.

I don’t need to write too much more about Adam Scouse.  The quality of his thinking and knowledge, his ability to conceive a plan and execute it, his ability to communicate his ideas through words and images, and his ability to engage others--all speaks for itself on Handshake 2.0.

I can easily write that recommendation. 

And I don’t even know the guy.

A gathering of Virginia Tech officials, internship-sponsoring companies, and interns will occur soon to mark the end of the semester and the end of the internship.

Adam Scouse and I will have our first real handshake.

But I feel like I already know the guy.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - The Successful Business Plan

Posted by Adam Scouse at 6:00 AM on November 12, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

In my previous post, I delved into research techniques and explored new tools like AttaainCI to help me along in my market research.  Now I am left to decide what to do with the huge piles of information that I gathered.  I guess it is time to write up a business plan…

As I hike further into the hypothetical business process, I have heard mixed reviews about business plans.  Some professors I have talked to are very adamant about a standardized format which makes up the backbone of the company.  Others, such as business acceleration center VT KnowledgeWorks director Jim Flowers, had a more laid back approach.  He asks just three simple questions to determine the probable success of a company.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this business plan situation.  Did I take the strict and traditional approach recommended by my Wood Products Management professor Dr. Henry Quesada or did I simply write up the necessities?  Just then I was hit with a large serving of entrepreneurial luck.  Guest speaker Richard Daugherty, director of the Virginia Tech Business Technology Center, arrived at my Wood Products Business class to discuss the requirements of a successful business plan.

Mr. Daugherty started by defining the business plan as a company’s resume, a document used to prove you have something that the people want.  But he reminded us that this game is no Field of Dreams.  Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come.

The management class then took a look at four different business strategies used to differentiate a company:  low cost, technology expertise, quality, and customer service.  According to Mr. Daugherty, a business would need to focus on only one of the strategies and excel in that area.  Mr. Daugherty also agreed that the traditional business plan format may not always apply.  The plan however, must tell a compelling story.

  1. Customer Centric – meeting a customer’s perceived need
  2. Competitive Advantage – offering a truly different product or service
  3. Creating and Capturing Value – combining value in the eyes of the customer and in terms of business profitability
  4. Company Culture – creating an environment that is consistent with the business strategy
  5. Consistency of Focus – executing  business practices that follow the business strategy
  6. Conscience of Cost – costs need to be matched with those presented in the business plan
  7. Serendipity C – being able to take advantage of that “lucky” break

After the lecture I walked away with new questions to ask about my hypothetical business.  How would I create a differentiated product?  How could I make sure I was capturing the largest possible value from the product?  These are by no means easy questions to answer, but if I can address them and put in the hard work up front, then the payoff will be sure to follow.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur considers differentiated products

You can follow the full series of posts by Adam Scouse for Handshake 2.0 at The Hypothetical Entrepreneur.

Adam Scouse is an intern for Handshake 2.0, a member company of business acceleration centerVT KnowledgeWorks, located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a technology park, a research park, and a science park on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - Research Tools of the Trade

Posted by Adam Scouse at 6:00 AM on November 5, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

As a current student, research represents a significant portion of my time as I fight to complete writing assignments.  As a student of Virginia Tech, I have the opportunity to use powerful research tools made available through the university library.  These tools, which consist mostly of database search engines, allow for material-specific searches through books, images, e-journals, and scholarly articles.

Did my need for research change as a result of being a hypothetical entrepreneur?  It certainly did not.  Information about competitors and markets is essential to finding a niche where I can compete and succeed as a business. 

Adam Scouse using competitive intelligence software AttaainCI Through my current internship at Handshake 2.0, I was offered an opportunity to use a unique web-based software program which offered a new approach to market research, AttaainCI.

AttaainCI’s power as a research tool came from its simplicity and its ability to track user-specified topics.  What made researching even easier was AttaainCI’s capacity to categorize searches by topic, companies, people, and markets.  The company and people specific searches act much like a regular search engine would.  The market search, however, offered a combination of articles, news announcements, and even blog posts which made for a useful conglomerate of information sources.

Through using AttaainCI, I found The Appalachian Ginseng Foundation, news stories about ginseng as an an anti-cancer agent, and blogs mentioning topics related to the Appalachian region. 

Not only did AttaainCI allow me to research markets, but I was also able to find information about partners and competitors.  With the available people search, I was able to locate local Non-Timber Forest Product professors like Dr. Tom Hammett and Dr. Jim Chamberlain where I could follow recently published peer-reviewed articles related to ginseng. 

Long story short, AttaainCI offered research power much more extensive than your typical Google search.  With the possibility to find and track recent changes in markets, competitors, and partners, small business owners who typically conduct their own research piece by piece have the opportunity to use a tool that compiles market information.  Happy hunting!

You can follow the full series of posts by Adam Scouse for Handshake 2.0 at The Hypothetical Entrepreneur.

Adam Scouse is an intern for Handshake 2.0, a member company of business acceleration centerVT KnowledgeWorks, located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a technology park, a research park, and a science park on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.  The research park provides high-technology companies access to university faculty, university facilities, university equipment, and business-related support services.  The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center fosters commercialization and technology transfer of university research for both high-tech start-up companies and established technology businesses.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - Diversify

Posted by Adam Scouse at 2:00 PM on October 26, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

As Non-Timber Forest Products Research Scientist Jim Chamberlain advised me, The Hypothetical Entrepreneur, I need to start thinking about diversification.

To create a business profitable enough to support me will require incorporating multiple medicinal plants instead of offering ginseng as a stand-alone product. This is really no problem at all.

According to Dr. Jim Chamberlain, Dr. Robert Bush, and Dr. A.L. Hammett in their essay Non-Timber Forest Products, The OTHER Forest Products, there are multiple plants that come from the woods that offer value and which fall into one of four categories: edibles, floral greens, specialty wood products, and medicinal and dietary supplements.

Edible plants are represented mostly by mushrooms but can also include nuts, berries, resins, blackberries, and maple syrup. Floral greens are typically associated with decorations such as wreaths and include dried flowers and fruit, greenery, and roping. Specialty wood products are products from the tree that are used without having to cut it down such as burls, twigs, and cypress knees. These are used to make handicrafts or musical instruments. Last, medicinal and dietary supplements are those products that have some sort of therapeutic value.

Medicinal and dietary supplements offer the largest potential market of the four categories. Author Peggy Brevoort investigates the current herbal market in her article The Booming U.S. Botanical Market: A New Overview

Brevoort gives a specific look at herbal industry growth in the United States as of 1998. Table 4 (pictured below--used with permission) from Brevoort’s article indicates an herbal market increase of over 300 million dollars in just seven years. 

From Peggy Brevoort's The Booming U.S. Botanical Market: A New Overview

Of tese herbal plants, are any known to grow in the local Appalachian Mountains? '

To answer this question, I referred back to Non-Timber Forest Products, The OTHER Forest Products. Dr. Chamberlain et al. have produced a list of local medicinal plants that are considered dietary supplements. The plants range from shrubs used to combat enlarged prostate, like saw palmetto, to hardwood trees, like slippery elm, that treat sore throats.

All that is left is to dust off that old field identification guide that has been sitting on the shelf and bring it along with me on my next hike.

You can follow the full series of posts by Adam Scouse for Handshake 2.0 at The Hypothetical Entrepreneur.

Adam Scouse is an intern for Handshake 2.0, a member company of business acceleration center VT KnowledgeWorks, located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a technology park, a research park, and a science park on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.  The research park provides high-technology companies access to university faculty, university facilities, university equipment, and business-related support services.  The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center fosters commercialization and technology transfer of university research for both high-tech start-up companies and established technology businesses.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - A Family Affair

Posted by Adam Scouse at 6:00 AM on October 26, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

In this entry in my chronicle exploring starting a ginseng business, I wrote about the opportunity to meet an official “sang” hunter, Sylvester Yunker. Mr. Yunker represents all the folks hiking the Appalachian Mountains with an eye for plants that people just seem to want for some reason. I want to take a step further into the system to investigate what Mr. Yunker does with his ginseng once he has harvested it.

Before a collector travels into the woods to harvest a specific Non-Timber Forest Product, most likely he or she has already given the local dealer a call to see what is currently in demand.  This dealer, who prefers doing business with larger quantities of product, will act as a go-between for diggers to brokers.

What does this mean for my ginseng business research? That I have to talk to a dealer and find out how they operate!

To do just that, I searched for ginseng dealers on Google, a popular search engine.  It wasn’t easy to find dealers located in Virginia, but I did come across one commonwealth resident by accident when searching through a list of West Virginia dealers. His name is Samuel Daniel, owner of Daniel’s Country Store, and his family has been collecting ginseng for four generations.

I gave Mr. Daniel, former State Inspector for the Highway Department, a call to ask about his business as a ginseng dealer. Mr. Daniel was interested in buying any amount of ginseng that I might have to sell, provided it was dried, for 420 dollars a pound. This price is down from 900 dollars a pound this time last year. From his office in Horsepen, VA, he mentioned that at least ninety-five percent of that ginseng would go straight on to Hong Kong.

My call to Mr. Daniel further reinforced a previous conversation between myself and Dr. Jim Chamberlain.  In talking with each other, Dr. Chamberlain had recommended focusing on multiple Non-Timber Forest Products, not simply ginseng by itself. Mr. Daniel mentioned that as a dealer, he would collect anything there was currently demand for. A few examples of other herbs in demand which he would be interested in collecting are black cohosh, goldenseal, and snakeroot.

Mr. Daniel also mentioned that a lot of what he collects is dependent upon the harvest season. Working closely with a group of familiar diggers, all who share his same family tradition of Non-Timber Forest Products collection, Mr. Daniel amasses the harvested herb and reimburses the collector according to its current demand.

What does this interaction teach me, The Hypothetical Entrepreneur? It is evident that from a dealer’s perspective, ginseng collection alone will not be a feasible business operation.  In order to create a large enough revenue of income I should seek to deal with multiple Non-Timber Forest Products alongside of ginseng.

You can follow the full series of posts by Adam Scouse for Handshake 2.0 at The Hypothetical Entrepreneur.

Adam Scouse is an intern for Handshake 2.0, a member company of business acceleration center VT KnowledgeWorks, located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a technology park, a research park, and a science park on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.  The research park provides high-technology companies access to university faculty, university facilities, university equipment, and business-related support services.  The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center fosters commercialization and technology transfer of university research for both high-tech start-up companies and established technology businesses.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - A Little Help From My Friends

Posted by Adam Scouse at 6:00 AM on October 7, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

While I have an idea about starting a ginseng business, I have never had any formal business start-up experience.  In his blog, So you want to launch a business..., Jim Flowers recommends mentors.

I sought mentors.

I stopped by and visited Dr. Tom Hammett , Non-Timber Forest Products professor at Virginia Tech, to get a little bit of expertise.

Dr. Tom Hammett recommended a reference guide, A Planning Guide for Small and Medium Size Wood Products Companies.  The publication strongly emphasizes the need for formal business planning.  It states, "Research has shown that a formal planning process is a key to the success of manufacturing companies, especially with regard to developing new products and new markets.” 

How does a small business accelerate itself?  If it is located in the New River Valley, that business can always visit business acceleration center VT Knowledge Works, located in Virginia Tech’s Corporate Research Center.  I caught the CRC bus out that way to meet up with the director of business acceleration, Jim Flowers

Inside the VT KnowledgeWorks conference room, Mr. Flowers and I scribbled over the white board while asking questions about ginseng and the path it follows to get to the end user.  The brainstorming session also addressed key issues such as harvesting regulations, acquiring required permits, and the availability of other harvestable plants.  Each of these subjects would need to be researched and planned out before I would be able to set my business plan into action.

We discussed possible business opportunities and the elements needed to be a successful entrepreneur.  I walked out with a head crammed full of new knowledge and ideas.

I concluded that ginseng was a viable product that has a specific need, specifically in Chinese markets.  The next consideration would be researching the steps needed to transform ginseng from a plant out in the woods into a product on a retailer’s shelf.   

To help me better understand how a ginseng root gets to a customer, I consulted Non-Timber Forest Product Research Specialist Dr. Jim Chamberlain.  He revealed to me a network of relationships between different levels of ginseng diggers and dealers, dealers and brokers, and brokers and exporters or retailers.  As the ginseng moves through the different levels, the number of people involved at that level decrease while the product amasses.

Dr. Chamberlain asked me to consider that the number of dealers and brokers the product must travel through is variable, depending upon who has a relationship with an exporter or retailer.  A visual representation of the network of ginseng handlers is shown below:

Levels of Ginseng Handlers, diagram by Adam Scouse   

Dr. Chamberlain also informed me that many dealers and brokers do business with more than just ginseng.   He suggested I continue to look toward other possible Non-Timber Forest Products available for harvest alongside of the herb.   

If all this sounds too technical, Building a Ginseng Business In Harmony With Nature by Chris Bolgiano from Appalachian Voices might be useful.  It profiles "sang" hunter Sylvester Yunker and sheds light on how much moxie--a term Jim Flowers uses in his blog--it actually takes to be a "sang" grower today.

You can follow the full series of posts by Adam Scouse for Handshake 2.0 at The Hypothetical Entrepreneur.

Adam Scouse is an intern for Handshake 2.0, a member company of business acceleration center VT KnowledgeWorks, located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, a technology, research, and science park on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia.  The research park provides high-technology companies access to university faculty, facilities, and equipment and business-related support services.  The Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center fosters commercialization and technology transfer of university research for both high-tech start-up companies and established technology businesses.

The Hypothetical Entrepreneur - Have You Got It?

Posted by Adam Scouse at 6:00 AM on September 30, 2008:

From Adam Scouse:

You have a great idea that is going to sweep the nation, so you have decided to start a business. However, before you start, Jim Flowers wants to know if you have what it takes.

Jim Flowers, director of business acceleration center VT KnowledgeWorks, calls it moxie.

My generation would call it guts. Either way, in order to succeed as a small business owner, you need it.

Along with my drive to create a powerful product that is different from those of competitors, I need to take some time to better inform readers about my situation. As Thoreau wrote in Walden “I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well.”

After considering some feedback from fellow bloggers on Handshake 2.0 here and here  (thanks you guys!), there are a number of questions that I need to answer. The largest of these questions pertains to how I will be getting my supply of ginseng. Because I am considering this business from a student’s standpoint, I will not try to grow my own supply of ginseng by obtaining land. I do not believe that enough college students have the capital or credit available to purchase the required land. To learn more about wild-simulated, woods-grown ginseng, I recommend checking out page three of Virginia Tech's fact sheet about the herb.

Instead, I would like to center my focus on acquiring ginseng from public lands. From a student's perspective, this more accurately describes how non-timber forest products can be used in an effort to supplement income while allowing ginseng collection to be done according to best practices--and to fit a student’s own schedule.

Note from Anne Clelland:  As a member of the Virginia Tech Rugby Club, Adam Scouse understands the need for the business fundamentals of scheduling, teamwork and competition.

Adam Scouse - Scrumhalf - Virginia Tech Rugby Club

Adam Scouse - Scrumhalf - Virginia Tech Rugby Club

You can follow the full series of posts by Adam Scouse for Handshake 2.0 at The Hypothetical Entrepreneur.