An experimental mentor/protege program aims to foster entrepreneurial growth in south Florida.
By Pat Dunnigan
Renée Frengut has a doctorate in psychology, 22 years of experience in market research and a great idea for an internet research business. She's also smart enough to know that without money, marketing and a physical address to meet clients, EqualitativeResearch.com is going nowhere.
So Frengut has decided to become a protege in an experimental program launched by the Enterprise Development Corporation of South Florida, the Broward Alliance and the Small Business Development Center at Florida Atlantic University.
The program, started in November with a $157,000 grant from the Small Business Administration, pairs experienced professionals in science and technology-related businesses with fledgling entrepreneurs who are either women or minorities or who operate in designated enterprise zones targeted for economic investment.
Among the approximately 50 mentors from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties who have signed on so far are professionals from Tyco International, Citrix Systems, HR Logic, Paxson Communications, Quest Diagnostics and the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm. About three dozen matches have been made. Mentors agree to provide at least 15 hours of consultation or services over the course of a year.
Jane Teague, Enterprise Development's new executive director, has helped Frengut develop a press release and advertising campaign for her virtual research facility -- where clients can conduct real-time focus groups without leaving their offices.
But what Frengut is really hoping for is access to prospective investors and perhaps a relationship with a big telecommunications company that could supply some of the video-conferencing hardware she needs to equip focus group participants. Ideally, she'd end up in a situation where her company and a telecommunications "mentor" would cross-market each other's products.
Teague, formerly regional vice president of Wakefield, Mass.-based High Ground, a marketing firm that specializes in high-tech businesses, says that's exactly the kind of mutually beneficial relationship the program hopes to foster.
Success will be measured in part by the number of contracts that spring up between mentors and proteges. "The larger company could eventually buy or use the technology the entrepreneurs are developing," Teague says. "It's a way for (mentors) to bring in new technology and a way for them to get involved in the community." In her case, she says, Frengut could eventually become a paying client of High Ground.
Lori Metcalf, the EDC's vice president of operations and administrator of the mentor program, says there are already some negotiations under way between mentor and protege companies. "The ultimate goal," she says, "is they could actually end up in a business-to-business relationship."
In the News
Dania Beach -- City officials are wooing the 5,500 residents of the Riverland neighborhood for possible annexation. Fort Lauderdale is also among the suitors for the 1.15-mile strip, which lies between Davie Boulevard and State Road 84.
Davie -- Mayor Harry Venis wants city officials to consider filing a class-action lawsuit against chemical manufacturers and wood suppliers over the potential health hazards posed by arsenic-treated wood, which the city used in building its western-facade buildings and town hall. Venis believes the manufacturers should reimburse the city the cost of replacing the lumber.
Fort Pierce -- The new owners of the 42-slip South Bridge Marina & Storage plan to renovate and expand the formerly vacant facility. Terrie Munn and Jay Mitchell want to add 85 slips, more storage space and a restaurant.
Hollywood -- City commissioners are trying to push sex clubs out of the city limits after the discovery that a local catering business was operating a swingers club on the side. The resulting neighborhood complaints led to a proposed ban that has the unanimous approval of city commissioners but is likely to face legal challenge.
Lake Worth -- The 387-bed JFK Medical Center has begun a $76-million expansion that will add 37 beds, a larger emergency and intensive care unit, 57 private rooms and a 500-car garage. The project is scheduled for completion next year.
Palm Beach Gardens -- Telecommunications services company Dycom Industries (NYSE-DY) has completed a stock exchange that leaves it holding 94% of the common shares of Arguss Communications, a group of companies that designs and maintains telecommunication systems.
Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center has broken ground on an $11.2-million expansion that will include a 3,200-sq.-ft. women's diagnostic imaging center, new private rooms and 168 new parking spaces.
Two Wackenhut Corp. (NYSE-WAK) shareholders have filed separate suits aiming to block the sale of the company to Group 4 Falck, a Danish security company, for $573 million. A lawyer for the plaintiffs says the proposed deal would benefit the Wackenhut family at the expense of shareholders.
Pembroke Park -- Town commissioners are debating how to deal with a flood of requests to open storefront churches while preserving the 1-square-mile business-dependent tax base. Commissioners may impose a six-month moratorium on new churches in districts reserved for offices, restaurants and retail businesses to give the city time to weigh its options.
Port Everglades -- A recently unveiled 20-year expansion plan for Fort Lauderdale's 2,190-acre seaport includes two new cruise terminals, additional container yard space and a people-mover connecting the port with the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. Meanwhile, a national search for a new port director has been extended in an attempt to bring in more applicants. Former Director Paul DeMariano resigned last April.
Stuart -- Seahorse Submarine International has reached a licensing agreement with the National Geographic Society that will allow the submarine maker to put the society's logo on its submarines in exchange for an undisclosed share of earnings.
Aircraft seat maker Dettmers Aircraft Industries, acquired last year by California-based DeCrane Aircraft, will shut down this year as part of a plan to shift operations to DeCrane's factory in Wisconsin. Some of the company's 83 employees will be offered transfers, Dettmers President Walt Peters says.
West Palm Beach -- Palm Beach art collector Elsie Dekelboum has donated 21 oil, watercolor and gouache paintings representing 19th and 20th century American and European works to the Norton Museum of Art. The works include a 1907 portrait by Mary Cassatt and works by Pablo Picasso, Maurice Prendergast, Robert Henri and Childe Hassam.
Challenging Citrus Tree Law
FORT LAUDERDALE -- Broward County, Fort Lauderdale and Davie are joining forces to challenge the constitutionality of a new state law that gives the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services broad authority to destroy backyard citrus trees to combat the spread of canker. Miami-Dade County and a number of other Broward cities also may join in the lawsuit.
Taking the Controls
Miami aviation director Angela Gittens still has some problems to address.
By David Villano
As aviation director for Miami-Dade County, Angela Gittens oversees Miami International Airport and other county-owned aviation facilities. The airport, in the midst of a $5.8-billion expansion and upgrade, has been plagued for years with allegations of mismanagement and influence-peddling. Gittens arrived in March 2001 after holding a similar post at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.
Florida Trend: Many local officials initially opposed your appointment -- Mayor Penelas among them -- arguing that only a county insider could effectively maneuver through Miami-Dade's political and bureaucratic mine fields. Did that concern you?
Angela Gittens: I didn't get that sense. I felt I had very good support from the county commission, which voted 10-1 in favor of my appointment. And I've felt that support throughout this first year.
FT: One of your mandates has been to clean up a department with a long reputation for corruption. How difficult has that task been?
AG: Well I don't think the department itself has had that reputation. As for the (county) commission, I think in the past there may have been problems with commissioners not limiting their involvement to the policy level of things and in attempting to micromanage department business. But they understand that. We're making progress.
FT: Recent news reports have revealed that the firm paid by the county to oversee construction at the airport has spent millions of dollars on gifts to airport officials and on donations to local causes at the request of elected officials. Was this a shock?
AG: Yes, I find this quite concerning. It's an awful lot of money that was spent for things other than construction or airport oversight.
FT: You've said that the current $5.8-billion capital program should be scaled back in response to passenger and cargo projections recently revised downward. How much opposition are you feeling to that proposal?
AG: For the most part the need to do this is recognized. The issue now is to decide what we keep and what we defer, and debate over that is to be expected. Everybody wants their piece to remain in place. But we're working through that.
FT: For years MIA has ranked near the bottom in passenger satisfaction surveys of major U.S. airports. Why has this problem been so difficult to address?
AG: This has been a very busy airport. But a full 80% of the current capital program addresses the customer service problems we've had. So that will help quite a bit. But there are other things we're doing that don't involve capital spending. For example, we've just announced that travelers will have access to luggage carts after they clear Customs -- that's new for us.
FT: Any surprises after the first year on the job?
AG: Only the expertise and professionalism of the staff. Miami's (aviation department) reputation has not always been a good one. But I've found the staff to be conscientious and highly skilled.
In the News
Coral Gables -- The University of Miami has received a $1-million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to create the Cuba Transition Project, an academic program that will examine issues surrounding Cuba's transition to democracy.
Doral -- Avaya, a maker of communications systems and software, has opened a new headquarters here for its Caribbean and Latin America markets. The Basking Ridge, N.J., Fortune 500 company will employ about 200 in its $10-million, 50,000-sq.-ft. facility.
Miami -- More signs of life in downtown Miami: The Art Institute of Miami has agreed to lease 100,000 square feet in the long-abandoned Omni Center for use as classrooms and administrative offices. The Omni Center was home to the failed Omni International Mall, a block from the city's $255-million performing arts complex due for completion in 2004.
Pulling the plug on one of south Florida's most venerable celebrations, the Orange Bowl Committee has voted to abolish the Orange Bowl Parade. The 62-year-old event, which drew hundreds of thousands to downtown Miami's streets each New Year's Eve, fell victim to a dwindling audience and lackluster TV ratings. Last year's event lost more than $200,000.
Miami-Dade -- Mirroring nationwide trends, overall crime in unincorporated Miami-Dade County declined in 2001 to its lowest level in five years. During that period, violent crime dropped 41%, robberies fell 37% and auto thefts were down 40%. The county's municipalities reported similar figures. In Miami during the same period, homicides were down 48%, and robberies declined 47%.
MX Alarms Inc. of Canada plans to open a Latin American headquarters in Miami-Dade, hiring 20. ... Argentina's Twin Creativos, an advertising and marketing firm, also plans to hire 10 to staff a U.S. base of operations here.
Miami Lakes -- Beauty products maker Elizabeth Arden (Nasdaq-RDEN) will eliminate 100 jobs -- roughly 10% of its workforce -- in response to weaker-than-expected sales. No word on where those cuts will occur.
Miramar -- Faced with a heavy debt load during a slumping market for aircraft engines and parts, Kellstrom Industries (OTC-KELLQ.PK) has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company will sell its assets to a Connecticut investment firm, which plans to keep the company in operation in Miramar under its existing management team. Kellstrom employs 290, all of whom will remain under the reorganization.
Palmetto Bay -- Voters in the affluent southern Miami-Dade community of Palmetto Bay have voted to incorporate, forming the county's 32nd municipality.
So Much for an Incentives Moratorium
SOUTH FLORIDA -- Despite a recently signed tri-county agreement forbidding incentives to entice businesses across county lines, online brokerage TradeStation Group has announced it will accept a $500,000 cash package to consolidate its Miami-Dade and West Palm Beach offices in Plantation in west Broward. Officials throughout the region downplayed the report, saying the company had threatened to move from south Florida entirely. TradeStation Group employs 170 in Miami and 75 in Palm Beach and may hire as many as 100 more after completing the move.
Meanwhile, inflatable boat maker Nautica International says it will move from Miami-Dade to Pembroke Pines in Broward. Nautica employs 75 but expects to add another 10 jobs as production increases at its new facility. The company received no financial incentives to move.