Business - Florida Making a go of it on their own Pair of dads taps into market for cell phone technology

By Heather Scofield

The Daytona Beach News-Journal

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Theirs was an idea born in a coffee shop.

It's not an unusual place for a business idea to be born that way ... a couple of friends talking, out comes a good idea, and eventually, months of determination and research to take the concept from simple talk to real life reality.

Palm Coast residents and new fathers Chris Irwin and Luke Detering wanted more flexibility in their lives. They wanted it all -- more time to spend with their babies and wives, more time to volunteer at their church and a bright career future that includes a stable stream of financial support for their families.

A few months ago, Irwin was working multiple jobs to make ends meet and it was stealing time that could be spent with his 2-year-old and wife. Meanwhile, Detering was spending too much time at one job and with his first baby's impending arrival, the two men felt sure there had to be a better road to the futures they envisioned for their families.

The phones on the table next to them ended up holding the answer they were looking for.

With Irwin's background in marketing and Detering's background in software development, they decided to tap into the growing world of cell phone applications with a new company called "Turtle Apps." And they would try to bring businesses in Flagler County with them.

Companies don't have to have a geographically broad customer base to benefit from the applications they're working on, they said. The cell phone application market offers great marketing potential for even companies that are strictly regional in their work.

From video games that act as advertisements for local businesses to real world utilities like the ability to renew library book rentals and driver's licenses, cell phone applications like the ones they're creating "can make life a lot easier," Detering said.

In fact, their early research led them to believe the market had plenty of room for them and even more possibilities for growth. They also wanted to put quality before quantity to ensure theirs weren't among the technological graveyard of "one-hit wonder" applications made by one of the many software creators that have come and gone from the phone technology scene.

Irwin and Detering aren't alone in their efforts to make a go of being self-employed in the darkest recession since the Great Depression, according to Small Business Administration officials.

The recession seems to be adding momentum to the creation of small businesses around the country. The growth is coming both by choice and necessity, with more people pursuing self-employment as an alternative to a questionable corporate existence, according to recent data.

The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, which measures new startups, shows a slight spike during 2008 and it's expected to continue. Self-employment rates have been growing annually for most of this decade, adding roughly 1 million people per year. The increase is expected to show up again when 2009's figures are released.

Also noteworthy was a recent Microsoft study that showed that roughly 70 percent of first time entrepreneurs left jobs to start their new companies during the recession. However, only 13 percent did so out of necessity or desperation. In fact, the study indicated that most started their companies because they encountered a desirable opportunity.

"These new entrepreneurs have had a passion for business concepts that have percolated for several years but were delayed due to the inherent business risks and security of their previous jobs," said Ned Harper, director of the Small Business Development Center at Daytona State College.

But there are exceptions to that situation, like an investor behind Detering and Irwin's venture, Anthony Fregenti.

Fregenti has started three new businesses since the recession began. For Fregenti, the key has been ensuring he's creating businesses that can turn the recession's tide to his advantage. Now is a time when people and companies are looking for ways to save money and most of his latest business startups work to that end.

And while Detering and Irwin said they know they're facing a tough business environment, they think Turtle Apps can reach the 70 million iPhone users amid more than 100,000 applications already available.

On Jan. 21, Turtle Apps went live in Apple's online store with its latest cell phone application -- Aid Haiti.

Published: Tue, Feb 16, 2010