Protecting Your Startup Idea: The Vital Areas to Safeguard - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

The struggle associated with launching a startup can feel all-consuming. Developing the idea, engaging with others, securing funding, refining concepts, and implementation require the majority of an entrepreneur’s time. While these are essential components to developing your startup, it is also necessary to spend time planning to protect what’s being built. This begins with protecting your startup idea, hiring the right people, and guarding your finances.

Protecting Your Idea

Intellectual property is an intangible, but essential component of your startup that must be protected. It can include patents, copyrights, trademarks, logos, and registered designs. Your company needs a policy that covers establishing intellectual property rights, chronicles the steps taken to ensure their security, and recourse when people fail to respect them.

Begin by completing trademark and patent searches to make sure the idea and specifics you want to use for the startup haven’t already been claimed. If they are free, file your paperwork as soon as possible. This needs to happen before you put the idea out into the public and begin discussing it openly with other people.

Asking people to sign over intellectual property rights to the company can feel uncomfortable when you’re building a business together. In the beginning, everyone is enthusiastic, and it’s difficult to imagine everyone not being on the same page. The reality is people and circumstances change. It’s important at every step along the way the intellectual property rights are assigned to the company so the startup is protected from issues further down the line.

The question of who needs to sign over those property rights is quickly answered: everyone who works on any aspect of the development of the company. Founders can wander off, and employees may want to take the idea they come up with and start their startup. By assigning the rights to the company rather than to an individual, the company is protected.

Secure Your Data

At the same time, you must protect your data. Startups and small business owners often mistakenly believe their data would be of no interest to hackers and fail to employ an adequate IT team to construct and maintain data security protocols. You may think antivirus software will be enough to protect your data. It’s not. Many cloud-based data management companies can help smaller businesses set up security procedures that will more fully protect their data.

Businesses can also improve their data security in-house. In significant part, this relies on consistent management techniques. Keep your software current. Frequent updates are necessary to secure your network. Backing up computers and networks is the next component to internal security. Even the most secure system can experience a power surge or hardware damage. If the data stored on those systems haven’t been appropriately backed up, all of the information can be lost. Ideally, backups should be stored offsite for optimal security.

Hire The Right People

Finding employees you trust can be a challenge. Hiring the right person for an open position is more complicated than simply filling out a help wanted advertisement in an online database; at least it should be. The first step is to outline the core values of the company. If there is more than one person involved in the startup, it’s essential that everyone discuss what values new employees need to embody. Outline, review, and revise until everyone is on the same page, and then winnow out candidates who don’t match; regardless of their skill set.

Once the values and attitude needed have been established, you have to decide where to recruit. It’s possible to join a massive job board and hope for the best, but some of the best talent isn’t sitting around stalking the newest openings. Consider advertising on your website and using social media to spread the word, or look for prospective candidates on LinkedIn or niche job sites. When you find a good match — move fast. Please make an appointment to interview prime prospects before they are snapped up by the competition.

When the candidate pool has been narrowed, it’s time to look beyond education, experience, and compatibility. It would be ideal if everyone could be trusted to tell the truth about themselves and their skills, but the gulf between ideals and reality is vast. Background checks are essential regardless of the size of the business. Every component of creating a secure environment rests on the trustworthiness of the employees.

Legal Protection

Find an attorney that fits within the defined parameters of your company’s culture. Choose an attorney with experience, authority in the industry, case history, and client reviews.

Many new startups are in the on-demand services industry. Some of the most well-known include Uber, TaskRabbit, GrubHub, and SpotHero. These kinds of startups require a different type of protection because their workforce is made up of independent contractors rather than traditional employees. Legal counsel will make sure your contracts and agreements are appropriate to your business, even if you’re working in a relatively new industry.

Protecting Your Bank Account

While protecting the various aspects of your startup are vital for your business, you also need to protect your finances. One of the most critical steps in protecting your wealth is to establish business credit. There are several reasons to do this; the most important being if the startup falters at any point, those involved in starting the business will limit the impact on their finances. Established business credit also looks good to potential investors, and it can make it easier to borrow more considerable sums.

Another resource to consider is credit insurance, sometimes referred to as receivable insurance. Primarily, a business purchases an insurance policy that will pay a set amount if a customer fails to pay their bill. The maximum limit directly affects the cost of the policy so it is essential to be realistic about what must be covered and the premium the company can afford. As a new startup, it is unlikely that your business will have the financial cushion needed to absorb losses. If the money is available for this type of insurance, it can be the difference between success and having to close the doors.

Conclusion

Most entrepreneurs have no idea what they are getting themselves into when they decide to develop their excellent idea. Initiating a startup requires careful planning that goes far beyond a stellar idea. Take the time to ensure you bring the right people in to help make the business a success, protect your finances, and keep your ideas safe. Then start working on the next great idea.

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Jeff Shuford

Jeff Shuford is a nationally syndicated columnist whose monthly column appears in more than 44 regional newspapers. Shuford is one of fewer than five millennial African-American syndicated columnists in the United States, and one of the country's youngest syndicated columnists overall.


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