Taking the Leap

Why 5 Local Entrepreneurs Started Businesses -- Even During Turbulent Times

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008; Page N01

The economy is disintegrating.

Credit is tightening.

Banks are collapsing.

And you can't stop thinking about your surefire idea to market illuminated golf balls.

Starting a business can be a dicey proposition even in the best of economic times, and this seems like the worst of times. Let's get the grim statistics out of the way first: More than half of small businesses listed financial uncertainty as one of the three most significant challenges to their growth and survival, according to a recent survey by the National Small Business Association, a trade group.

Nearly 80 percent expect the economy to be flat or in a recession in the coming year. Almost 70 percent are in a hiring freeze, and 38 percent say their profits have gone splat over the past year.

"Even though times are tough, times are always tough when you're a small-business owner," says Molly Brogan, a spokeswoman for the association. "They muddle through."

Still interested?

Of course you are. That's because one key characteristic that entrepreneurs share is optimism: sometimes blind, delusional, fantasy-world optimism. But optimism nonetheless.

Perhaps that is why in the same survey in which small-business owners bemoan their fate, more than half say they expect sales to grow and 43 percent predict profits will rebound.

Meanwhile, part of the federal government's plan to stem the financial crisis includes removing through next year the $100,000 ceiling on bank deposits protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. That move is considered a boon for small businesses worried about the safety of their bank accounts.

So while today might not seem like the right time for illuminated golf balls, the first lesson of Business 101 is that there is never really a right time. Below, we pick the brains of five entrepreneurs to gain insight on transforming that business plan you always bring up after a few beers into a truly million-dollar idea.

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