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Finding money-making opportunities at work

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Photo illustration / Issei Kato / Reuters / File

(Read caption) Whether or not you still hold down a paying job, any ideas you had at work could parlay now into big money – and what better time to go into business for yourself?

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With the unemployment rate remaining high, there continues to be a steady stream of people looking to create their own jobs through entrepreneurship.

For many of these accidental entrepreneurs, the most promising opportunities can often be found through experiences and observations from their previous jobs.

Brian Roland, an alumnus of Belmont University, had been working with Sprint for five years designing and developing online employee procurement portals for Fortune 100 companies.

These portals gave employees of Sprint corporate customers access to discounts on Sprint products and services. A pervasive problem was that the discounts Sprint offered to the employees of its corporate customers were being underutilized, thus not really serving as much of an employee benefit.

As Roland worked closely with many of Sprint's largest corporate accounts, he realized that the issue was insufficient staff and technological resources within human resources departments to handle the large number of employee discounts offered by their vendors.

Roland immediately recognized the need for a third party to administer the details of employee discount programs, allowing the HR departments to stay focused on the day-to-day requirements of their routine business.

His novel idea demonstrates the most important aspect of any new business opportunity: how to find potential customers with clearly identified unmet needs.

Through market research Roland discovered that there were very few options available for companies seeking a third-party employee discount provider.

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With a demonstrated market need and limited competition, Roland partnered with a custom software developer to co-found Abenity Inc. to offer employee
discount management to companies.

The team at Abenity has listened to customers and adapted its business model along the way since the company launched in 2005.

For example, Abenity found that employees valued specific discounts. Employees prefer discounts on four things: movie tickets, restaurants, groceries and gasoline. By focusing on securing these types of discounts, especially with local vendors, Abenity provides tangible value to its corporate customers.

Another change in the business model involved how Abenity secures vendor contracts for employee discounts. The industry standard was to charge the vendors fees to participate, and to make the majority of revenue from ad sales.

However, because the mission of the business is providing employees with benefits, Abenity realized that it should do everything possible to secure as many discounts as possible for the program. The company charges no fees to vendors and has made the participation process much easier for new local vendors.

Even in a weak economy, entrepreneurial opportunities can be found. Don't overlook those opportunities you have observed "on the job."

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