Sometimes, an ActSeed Entrepreneur Group member not only has a promising business, but is also an ally in ActSeed’s mission to assist people in building exceptional companies of all types. The TEC Center is one such partner that has the potential to make a positive impact on our economy.
There are a lot of folks hurting for work and wanting an opportunity to leap out-and-up from their current economic situation. As many big companies sit on the sideline for hiring, a growing number of disenfranchised people aspire to take control of their future and create their own job by starting a business or joining a startup. The trouble is: where do they turn? Where can they acquire the knowledge to be a business owner, a business partner, an entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurship is not a reserved for a “ruling class” or exclusive to the highly-educated. At its core, entrepreneurship is about building something of value that others want to purchase and accepting the risks inherent in the process of moving from “idea to implementation”. This includes butchers and bakers, not just iPhone app makers. Just as ActSeed is dedicated to assisting regular people build exceptional businesses, TEC is committed to training regular people to become business partners.
We interviewed Jack Finkelstein, the co-founder and President of TEC – which is as much a movement for positive change as it is a promising young business. We have provided Jack’s contact information at the end of the interview so you can reach him directly and explore how to get involved.
Q. Describe your “Eureka Moment”. What was the market opportunity that drove your decision to form a company around this product/service?
A. The Eureka Moment came when we realized that every one of our graduates will be guaranteed a job. This is a powerful statement to make in the middle of a recession. We also realized that not only are there millions who need our service, but every year an additional 2 million young adults enter our target market zone.
Q. How did you fund the company to its current state?
My partner and I have self-funded the project till now. We have also formed a 501(c)3 not-for-profit corporation, held seminars with Operation Hope in Harlem to test market our program, acquired an office at 590 Madison Avenue in New York City, and started some of the businesses that our graduates will participate in.
Q. ActSeed champions the need for solid planning and preparation from the very beginning. How important is planning and prep to your company’s success? Can you share an example or two?
A. Planning and preparation is important to the success of any new corporation. The seminars we held at Operation Hope and some of the high schools resulted in the following: Young adults in the inner cities with a high school degree or GED degree desperately want and need the TEC Center Program. Not only will they be guaranteed jobs but they will also become partners in the business that they will work in. Our target market currently has an unemployment rate of close to 20%. The TEC Center Program is a valuable program that can provide them with the type of success they may otherwise only dream about.
Q. How long did it take to get your idea into the market from initial concept to first customer?
A. This has been a 3 year labor of love that not only is about a great business venture – but also a “movement.” From understanding the inner city individual to determining which businesses can be formed and remain successful in the inner city has taken up the majority of our time. The last 6 months have been spent in looking for the right nationally accredited school with the proper accreditation, and Title IV abilities that we require for our program.
Q. What influence have the internet and new media had on the way you are marketing, selling and supporting your products/services?
A. An advantage we have is that we know how to reach our target market. Every high school graduating class, every GED class, and even the colleges represent potential students for our program. It is not a surprise that these individuals all have email addresses and a cell phone. We also utilize the internet as a research tool to teach entrepreneurialism to our students.
Q. Describe the challenges you faced as you built your customer base, including defining the customer target, establishing the right price and pricing strategy and of course, closing the first few deals. Any wisdom to share with other entrepreneurs on this subject?
A. Defining and reaching our customer base is perhaps our easiest task. We decided primarily on young adults in the inner cities because they can utilize our services more than college grads. The cost of tuition is covered through Title IV Federal Student Loan Program. Students pay back the loan after they graduate and begin working. Since all students will be working for one of our company-sponsored startups, we do not anticipate any issues in paying back the loan.
Q. What techniques have you used to establish credibility in the eyes of customers, investors, partners, personnel and the general public?
A. The TEC Center Program speaks for itself. Guaranteed government funding for every one of our students (each student gets pre-qualified for the funding). Guaranteed jobs for all graduates. The government spends approximately $100 Billion dollars every year on education and we anticipate that this will continue for a long time. This is virtually a no-risk, low cost business to enter. A classroom of 32 students can be turned around 3 times a day (each class is 3 ½ hours long). This represents enough revenue to support full operations and the company-initiated small businesses. Direct overhead is approximately 20%. Investors salivate over these statistics.
Q. Have government, University, or other community / economic development programs been useful? If so, how?
A. We believe that educators are good at educating but do not make the best entrepreneurs. Most have never owned or operated a successful business. While high schools mostly concentrate on math and science to prepare students for college, we concentrate on entrepreneurship and prepare our students to become partners in a business – a business that they will enter as a partner, without being required to apply any of their own savings. Most inner city economic development offices attempt to convince large businesses to move into their district in order to create jobs (mostly low level jobs). The TEC Center Program provides the tools, entrepreneurial education, training and a myriad of jobs and businesses that students can choose from.
Q. What is the most important thing people never tell you about joining or founding an early-stage company?
A. Most people do not know enough to give sound advice about founding an early-stage company. Entrepreneurs and optimists tell you to “go for it.” Non-entrepreneurs and pessimists tell you that “most new businesses fail.” The real key to success is to keep your expenses down, understand your target market and product (or service) better than anyone else, don’t hesitate to continually challenge all of your assumptions, and have plenty of contingency plans if things do not go as expected.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share that we didn’t ask you in the questions above?
A. In addition to an expected healthy financial return to our investors TEC is a shining example of a social value enterprise: a profitable venture that address a major public need and gives back to the community. The success of the TEC Center Program will also help reduce the dramatic high school drop-out rate, especially in the inner cities. Nationally, the high school drop-out rate is 25% to 50%, over 50% in the inner cities. In addition, 50% of college students drop out of college – 30% the first year alone. This dropout rate is called “The Silent Epidemic” because few people are talking about it. These individuals can now learn how to become entrepreneurs and partners in a business. TEC will be instrumental in training the unemployed, single parent families, returning G.I. veterans, and individuals who have been released from a correctional institution as long as they have a high school or GED degree. Something has to be done now. The TEC Center Program takes a major step forward in solving this very serious situation. Having just 1,000 students in each state represents a major contribution to job creation and the economic growth in each stage. We are not in a high-tech business; we are in a high-value business.
Our thoughts about ActSeed: “ActSeed is very professional and I strongly believe that its CEO, Bill Attinger, truly cares about our program. ActSeed has been involved in every aspect of the processes that are required to present the TEC Center Program as good as possible. You can’t go wrong by giving ActSeed the opportunity of matching your program to possible investors.”