their own business
You know what the
name of the game is in building a business?" asked Bruce
Freeman '73, an entrepreneur and syndicated columnist.
"It's called ‘parlay.' Everything you're
doing, you're parlaying to the next thing," building on each
new experience and connection to push the business toward greater success.
Binghamton University alumni who are entrepreneurs have learned to parlay
the most recent success into the next opportunity. These days, alumni-to-be
are getting a head start on that lesson as a new entrepreneurship program
takes shape at the School of Management.
"The whole idea of having an entrepreneurship program was initiated
about three years ago, and it was really the vision of Barry Goodman,"
said Upinder Dhillon, dean of the School of Management. A venture capitalist
and executive with a hedge-fund firm, Goodman graduated from Harpur College
in 1979. He provided both inspiration and funding to launch the program,
which currently offers classes in business plan development and new product
With the addition of a course in new venture finance, "we're
going to have a concentration or a major in entrepreneurship next year,"
Dhillon said. SOM is also recruiting a faculty member to fill the newly
created Ray and Wanda Osterhout Distinguished Professorship in Entrepreneurship.
Bruce Freeman '73
Bruce Freeman learned to parlay in a big way at the age of 39, when he
lost his job as manager of the personal computer testing laboratories
at PC Magazine. Through the magazine, Freeman had built a rich network
of media connections -- editors at other publications as well as
people at public relations and advertising firms whose clients sent their
products to the PC lab for review. So he started ProLine Communications,
a Livingston, N.J., marketing and media relations firm that serves high-technology
"When I left the magazine and started talking to potential clients,
the credential of having been the testing manager at PC Magazine was almost
an instant entrée," Freeman said. As he started building
his business, Freeman multiplied his connections by joining trade associations
and founding one of his own, the Northeast Technical Association.
Business at ProLine boomed until about 2002, when money grew tight throughout
the computer industry, Freeman said. While he still helps high-tech firms
get their messages to the marketplace, today Freeman is also pursuing
another avenue, showing other entrepreneurs the path to success. He teaches
small business management at Kean and Seton Hall universities in New Jersey,
and he has hosted a segment called "Be Your Own Boss" on News12
New Jersey. Last year, the Scripps-Howard News Service, serving about
400 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, started syndicating his column,
"The Small Business Professor."
Each column tells the story of a successful business startup and points
out a lesson that readers can apply to their own ventures. Having interviewed
numerous entrepreneurs for the column, Freeman said that despite the great
variety in their personalities, skill sets and businesses, they have three
traits in common. "Passion and vision are the top two," he
said. "And in a lot of the cases -- I won't say all --
it's the ability to overcome adversity."
And, Freeman added, the main force driving their ambition is not a thirst
for wealth. "Everybody has to pay their bills. But it's not
about money. It's about the freedom to make your own decisions,
and it's about the ability to call your own shots and make your
own successes in life."
Freeman said he would love to hear from Binghamton alumni whose own entrepreneurial
success stories might provide materials for future columns.
To submit ideas, see his website at www.proline-com.com/html/professor.html.
Adam Gilbert '05
Born to the Breed
One of the first successful business owners to emerge from the University's
entrepreneurship program just graduated this spring. Nature and nurture
have conspired to make Adam Gilbert '05 an entrepreneur. Both his
parents own businesses: His father is a corporate headhunter and his mother
sells aviation-theme t-shirts. He also picked up the business bug on the
golf course, caddying for players who became role models. "Just
being around highly successful people motivated me," he said.
So it's no surprise that he took the first steps toward his startup
practically the minute he hit Binghamton. Today, Gilbert is off and running
with The Ultimate Discount Card, a $15 card that gives students discounts
at local businesses.
Eating at Wendy's on the first day of his freshman year, Gilbert
wondered what it would take to let students use their meal plan debit
accounts at off-campus restaurants. He used the idea to gain entrance
as a sophomore into Entrepreneurship 460, the business plan development
course, usually reserved for upperclass and graduate students.
At the same time, he was making deals to hand out flyers with discount
coupons for two restaurants near campus. As a junior, he experimented
with an online coupon service for numerous merchants, but eventually he
settled on another strategy. Instead of charging retailers to distribute
their coupons, he would charge students for a card providing discounts
at local businesses.
Gilbert sells the cards through the University Bookstore, off campus through
Mando Books and the Bookbridge and through his website (www.ultimatediscountcard.com).
Student organizations also use it as a fundraising tool. "I've
sold over 1,000 cards already," he said when interviewed early this
year. He plans to expand to Broome Community College, Cornell University,
Ithaca College, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Oneonta and Hartwick College.
A management major, Gilbert has accepted a job with accounting firm Ernst
& Young in New York, but he expects to keep building his business.
"I'm going to find campus managers for each school and basically
have them run it" while he oversees things from a distance, he said.
In the long run, "my goal is to be at enough schools to attract
national companies" to participate in the discount program.
Having studied entrepreneurs all his life, Gilbert readily admits that
any business venture carries risk, but "as the saying goes,"
he said, "it's better to have tried and lost than never to
have tried at all."
Maureen Kelly '92
Sweet Start for Tarte
Trusting her face to the hands of a makeup artist, Maureen Kelly used
to leave the cosmetics counter pleased with the results. But when she
got home, "I was frustrated, because I could never recreate the
look," she said. "I also felt that makeup lines had gotten
very technical. The packaging had gotten boring. They were catering to
the makeup artists and not to normal, everyday women."
Convinced she could do better, in 1999 Kelly dropped plans to become a
psychologist and launched tarte cosmetics, a New York-based company devoted
to the principle that makeup should be fun and easy to use. Combining
a flair for package design, a sense of play and a determination to deliver
products that don't drip or streak when non-experts apply them,
Kelly has planted a brightly colored flag in the world of beauty.
Kelly had no idea what she was taking on when she started her own business
and, she said, ignorance was bliss. "There was so much work to be
done. I was very positive about it and felt like no matter what, I could
The research skills Kelly learned as a Binghamton English major and a
graduate student in psychology were the same ones that helped her learn
to manufacture cosmetics. She relied on the Internet for basic information
on formulation and packaging and to find labs to produce her products.
Then Kelly started marketing to upscale department stores such as Henri
Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman. "Now, we're in both," she
said, along with some Nordstrom stores, the beauty chain Sephora and numerous
boutiques across the country. Tarte also sells through its website (www.tartecosmetics.com).
Since its launch, tarte has doubled in size each year, with 25 employees
now on staff. One key to tarte's success has been Kelly's
best friend, Raquel Klugman '93, who until recently served as chief
financial officer. "She was getting her MBA from Wharton. I knew
how amazing she was, and I said, ‘When you're done, can you
come on board and help steer this ship?'" Kelly said. "She
promised me a couple of years."
Kelly enjoys working with all of her staff, "and I like our packaging
and our products," she said. She also loves that tarte keeps unveiling
new creations, such as this fall's "Preppy" line. Whenever
she gets so used to one of her products that it starts feeling old, "something
else is right behind it."
Chris Giarrusso '97
Learning to Fly
If you attended Binghamton in the mid-1990s, you might remember "The
Incredible Adventures of My Housemate Ben." A regular feature in
Pipe Dream, that comic strip -- based on his real-life housemate
-- helped point Chris Giarrusso toward the path he walks today as
a freelance cartoonist.
Realizing late in his college career where his real interests lay, the
math major-turned-art major scored an internship at Marvel Comics in New
York. After graduation, he went to work in Marvel's production department.
But "on my own time I started drawing," Giarrusso said, and
Marvel started running his comic strip, "Bullpen Bits," in
"Bullpen Bits" featured the adventures of classic Marvel superheroes
such as Spiderman and the X-Men as children. The strip begat a couple
of full-length Marvel books, and eventually Giarrusso's penchant
for drawing funny stories about little-kid heroes begat an original character,
Giarrusso left Marvel in 2004. Last December, Image Comics published the
first book-length G-Man collection. At Image, Giarrusso owns his characters
and profits directly from the sale of his books. Since leaving Marvel,
he has moved from New York to Phoenix, hoping the lower cost of living
there will let him live off his savings while planning his next artistic
and business moves.
G-Man comics are set in a world where many people have super powers. The
first book tells how G-Man gained powers of his own, learning to fly with
help from a magic cape while incessantly bickering with his brother.
to see an exerpt.)
Like "My Housemate Ben," G-Man draws heavily on real life.
"If I had super powers when I was a kid, my brother wouldn't
be like, ‘Hey this is great, this is so much fun!'"
Giarrusso said. "He would make fun of me, criticize me, say, ‘You
don't know how to do it; you've got to do it like this,'"
just like the brother in the comic.
With G-Man, Giarrusso said he's bucking a trend in the comic book
world, which today mainly turns out dark-looking, serious comics aimed
at adults. "If kids go to see the Spiderman movie now, and then
they go to the store to buy a Spiderman comic, they're likely to
buy a book about Peter Parker talking to his girlfriend." Giarrusso
favors bright colors and wisecracks. "I'm hoping that the
vacuum that was created by the over-abundance of these mature and serious
comics will kind of open the door for me," he said.
Whole in the Wall Hits 25
It all started with whole wheat bagels. Eliot Fiks was running a business
from his apartment, supplying bagels to the University food co-op.
He and his housemate both liked to cook, and they used to joke about
opening a restaurant. "I called his bluff, he called my bluff,"
Fiks said, and the Whole in the Wall was born.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the Whole in the Wall
on Binghamton's south side is well known for its menu of natural
foods -- including those bagels, still made to the same recipe.
Fiks and his then-business partners spent three years renovating the
storefront on South Washington Street, using materials salvaged from
historic homes that were being demolished. The restaurant opened in
At Binghamton, Fiks designed his own major in social change, and as
a restauranteur he has stayed devoted to that cause. In the 1990s
he launched the Stone Soup Project, named for the folk tale about
a town that made a meal out of, apparently, nothing. At the Whole
in the Wall, when cooks cut vegetables, instead of throwing away the
tips, they save and freeze them. At the end of the week, they use
these bits to make a nourishing soup and donate it to the Salvation
Army's Binghamton soup kitchen.
Fiks won a humanitarian award for the program from the syndicated
public radio show E-Town in 1999. "It's our goal, through
that, to get restaurants all over the country making stone soup. We've
got some in the area doing it," he said. At most restaurants,
"this is mint quality food that's being thrown in the
garbage. We look at it as an untapped food source."
About 12 years ago, Fiks added homemade pesto to his menu. "We
now also sell seven varieties of pesto in more than 100 stores on
the East Coast and a few on the West Coast," he said. Alumni
with fond memories of the Whole in the Wall can order pesto, soup,
bagels, t-shirts and more, as well as view a digital scrapbook of
the restaurant's first 20 years, through its website (www.wholeinthewall.com).
Laney Biffer Liner '94
Put It in Writing
Send e-mail to Laney Biffer Liner '94, and she will reply.
But the founder and president of poeticpetals, a purveyor of personal
and corporate stationery, would rather you sent a handwritten note.
It's important for people to feel connected to one another, and "letter
writing is one way of keeping connected," said Liner, who has launched
a campaign to revive that dying art. Along with designing and marketing
note cards, she sells books of advice for people who want to write personal
notes, and she gives talks to promote the virtues of taking pen in hand.
At a recent appearance at a Long Island mall, for example, "I spoke
about all the elements of a handwritten note -- how you should choose
your stationery, what pen you should use," and she gave advice on
how to overcome fear of the blank page, she said.
Liner has strong experience creating consumer demand; after college, she
worked at several prominent Manhattan marketing and advertising agencies.
While developing strategies to sell clients' products, she grew increasingly
interested in the artistic side of the business. Returning to work after
the birth of her son, she also found herself longing for a chance to spend
more time at home. Eventually, she earned a degree in graphic design,
quit her job and, in June 2004, launched poeticpetals.
Developing a business plan wasn't hard, but Liner said she was surprised
by how much effort it takes to capture retailers' interest. "I have
several stores that are carrying my products, but in this industry it's
very competitive," and each retailer wants to interact with vendors
in a particular way, she said. Building relationships with prospective
customers "is not as easy as I thought it would be."
Liner also markets her products through a website (www.poeticpetals.
com), and she spent this winter and spring preparing for her first
appearance at the all-important National Stationery Show, scheduled for
May at New York's Jacob Javits Center. Among other things, she planned
to use that show to debut a new line of greeting cards. Featuring text
composed by her mother, a poet, these are the first of Liner's cards to
carry pre-printed messages. That's a concession to a market where consumers
aren't ready to communicate entirely on their own, she admitted, but she's
limiting those messages to just four lines. "There will still be
enough room for them to craft their own notes."
Les Yeamans '76
Business Plan in the Sky
Les Yeamans launched his business in 1997 with an epiphany at 40,000 feet.
Flying home from Lake Como, Italy, where he'd been consulting for
IBM, he was mulling the fact that for a man who wanted to devote more
time to family and religious life, this was the wrong line of work. It
was surely no better than the series of marketing and business development
positions he'd left behind to go out on his own.
"The epiphany was, ‘It's all about the Web!'"
The Web offered an ideal way to earn a living by selling his expertise
without jetting all over the globe, Yeamans said.
Yeamans decided to market an analyst report he had written. "My
business plan was, I'll build a website, I'll start selling
the report for $1,000 each, I'll get 1,000 people to buy it from
the website, that's $1 million, and then I'm done,"
he said. "That was my business plan on a napkin."
Since then, that idea has blossomed into ebizQ (www.ebizQ.net
), an Internet portal for information technology and business professionals
who need information on the subject of business integration. This discipline
involves the merging of processes, information systems and data from different
sources to better run a business.
EbizQ publishes articles and reports on its website; it also delivers
interactive, online training sessions, sells advertising, creates custom
publications for vendors and has recently launched a print publication.
Revenues come from readers who purchase premium content and services,
and from vendors who pay to get their messages across to the technology
users, analysts and academics who frequent the site. "We're
a gathering place for all of them, a virtual water cooler, and as such,
the vendors are very interested in getting access to the potential purchasers,"
according to Yeamans, the company's president.
Yeamans' first Web master, Jamie Bienenfeld, attended Binghamton from
fall 1996 through spring 1998. As ebizQ mushroomed, Yeamans recruited
classmate and friend Rick Frey '76 to become a partner
in the business and serve as vice president of finance. Later, an exhaustive
search for an analyst to oversee the website's content led Yeamans to
Beth Gold-Bernstein '76, who joined as a partner in 2000
and serves as vice president of strategic services.
All this has taken Yeamans a long way from his initial plan to make a
million selling a single report. "I've learned in business,
expect the unexpected," he said. "What happened is totally
different from what I expected."
-- Merrill Oliver Douglas, MA ‘82