This review first ran in the Oct. 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
By Miki Agrawal
Here’s hoping the recommendations from the Open for Business committee prove worth the wait.
The Hamilton Spectator ran a story about the committee back on July 4, 2012.
The City of Hamilton appointed the committee in the Fall of 2011. City staff and a half-dozen councilors were given the job of recommending a consistent and customer-focused approach for helping entrepreneurs launch small and medium-sized hometown businesses. The kind of businesses that fill vacant storefronts, inject vibrancy into streets and neighborhoods, create jobs and pay taxes.
Committee chair Russ Powers said the committee hoped to have formal recommendations ready for council approval by year end.
Maybe Spectator reporter Lisa Marr should’ve asked which year.
We’re heading into the home stretch for 2013 and still no recommendations.
In hindsight, the city should’ve appointed someone like Do Cool Sh*t author Miki Agrawal. Based on past performance, Agrawal would likely have hammered out a set of recommendations while hosting a working dinner with a handful of like-minded entrepreneurs.
Agrawal’s received the Tribeca Film Festival’s Disruptive Innovation Award and has been named one of Forbes magazine’s Top 20 Millennials on a Mission in 2013.
Agrawal was in her twenties when she opened an organic farm to table pizza joint in New York City. She’s now working with Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh to bring her WILD restaurant to Las Vegas. Agrawal and her twin sister also joined forces to launch a multi-media company to encourage kids to eat their veggies. And she’s now working on a high-tech underwear solution that will allow menstruating tweens and teens in developing countries to continue going to school rather than stay home.
“My entrepreneurial adventure began with a frustrating recurring stomachache that sparked the idea to open the first lactose-intolerant-friendly farm-to-table pizza and local craft beer restaurant in New York City,” says Agrawal.
“I had opened my first restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan at the end of 2005 on a shoestring budget, and I called on every favour I could to make it happen. I was 26 years old and had never worked in the restaurant business, but I was convinced that a farm-fresh healthy pizza concept was going to change the way people thought about their favourite guilty pleasure.”
Agrawal walks readers through the entire process of launching her business from finding a location (a former nail salon going for $6,000 a month), to branding, publicity and media relations, winning over investors, hiring staff, hustling for customers and overcoming a false start.
And there’s one chapter that should be required reading for Hamilton’s Open for Business committee. “Don’t let the paperwork become quicksand,” warns Agrawal. She didn’t know where to begin on the paperwork and permit trail so she called the government hotline at 311 and asked for the business solutions department.
“I was shocked when someone picked up right away. The woman on the line said that she’d help me get everything I needed and was able to expedite the process because New York City had a new initiative to help businesses streamline the paperwork process. She said that she would help get every single department involved at the same time with my case so there would be no delays in getting the business up and running. Well, OK then!
“I made damn sure to let this helpful angel of a lady know that I was grateful to have her help and told her to please come to my restaurant for some free pizza next time she was in the neighbourhood.”
Do Cool Sh*t is two books in one. It’s a nuts-and-bolts how-to manual and reality check for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially anyone with dreams of opening a coffee shop or restaurant where the failure rate is north of 90 per cent. It’s also a revealing look at what makes entrepreneurs tick and just how much drive, determination, hard work, passion and personal sacrifice is required to get a new business off the ground.
And Agrawal’s journey highlights what we need to do as a city to help entrepreneurs successfully set up shop, create jobs and build prosperity one storefront at a time.