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Resources and perspectives for Florida small businesses


• Throughout Florida, companies that avoided government work in the past because of red tape or other concerns are seeking it in the downturn. Small Business Development Centers can help companies interested in federal, state and local contracting figure out if they're eligible for preferences. In addition to programs for women- and minority-owned businesses, there are those for service-disabled vets and for companies in certain economic-disadvantaged zones.



• Partners for Self Employment is one of the few remaining county-supported small-business assistance entities working with micro-businesses providing business counseling and loans.

• The Hispanic Business Initiative Fund of Florida caters to Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs with free seminars and funding. It recently opened a Miami chapter.

• Although many of Launch Pad's programs are available only to University of Miami students and alumni, this month it launches a free intensive technology training program open to the entire Miami-Dade community. The program will offer four months of training in several programming languages, along with mentoring from experts as programmers work on their own projects. The goal is to encourage entrepreneurship and make sure the local workforce has the skills that local tech companies need: thelaunchpad.org

• Refresh South Florida puts on regular events and workshops.

— Rochelle Broder-Singer

"It's been a very uneven year. But I'm starting to see a lot more requests for financing of fixed assets, and I think that's a good sign because it shows that people are starting to get back their confidence. ... Two industries that are performing above average are hospitality and the healthcare industry. The rest — it's really scattered."

— Omar Ojeda, senior vice president and lender,
TotalBank, Miami

Omar Ojeda

Carlos Cardenas
"The success has been companies in the range of 10, 20 years old, established companies that we call second stage. I think those are the ones who are going to bring the economy back to where it was before. Small, established companies are the ones who are willing to take the risk and hire more people because they're going to increase sales eventually from looking to new markets."

— Carlos Cardenas, regional director,
Miami-Dade County Small Business Development Center

"There's a startup called Pikchur. In the last few months, they've gotten investment from Microsoft and Nokia. ... (Then there's) CareCloud, raising $8 million locally and then $20 million in Silicon Valley. That has shown people that not only can a south Florida company raise a significant amount locally, but then also can be the top in the world. ... There are a lot of world-class tech people who work in Miami but work remotely for companies in California and Boston. There are a lot of people working out of their homes, working on nights and weekends on their startups."

— Susan Wills Amat, executive director, The Launch Pad,
University of Miami; lecturer, UM School of Business

Susan Wills Amat


Joe Catrambone
[Photo: Matt Dean]

"I think we've turned the corner."

— Joe Catrambone, president/CEO,
Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce

• The Florida Small Business Development Center network offers growth acceleration services, a grant-funded program started in 2011 that provides no-cost services to help companies understand their markets, identify opportunities, assess capital needs, improve profitability, identify what's needed for sustainable growth and help implement strategic business plans.

• Counties in the southeast and throughout Florida have tapped into the free Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center web portal as a resource for small businesses.

• Indian River State College offers itself as a one-stop shop for small businesses. In addition to customary services, it held a soft opening in January for its innovation incubator, a co-work area where entrepreneurs can gain access to seminars, classes, office equipment, high-speed wireless and meeting rooms.

— Mike Vogel



Daniel James Scott
[Photo: Mark Wemple]

"Political, municipal, linguistic, industrial, educational, demographic and psychographic diversity in the Tampa Bay area creates one of the most opportunity-rich areas in the entire world. That being said, we've managed to create so many silos within the area that individual entrepreneurs, businesses and organizations, programs and services, cities and counties, and even regions refuse to work with each other for any number of reasons. If we can find a way to tear down the walls, really spectacular opportunities could have a chance to develop here."

— Daniel James Scott, associate director,
Sustainable Entrepreneurship & Innovation Alliance,
University of South Florida St. Petersburg


• The Gazelle Lab business incubator in St. Petersburg (another is opening in Orlando) aims to kindle Tampa Bay's "entrepreneurial ecosystem" by helping business owners and staging networking events. Companies that get accepted into the program get up to $18,000 in seed funding.

• USF-Polytechnic has opened Blue Sky business incubators in Lakeland, Winter Haven, Wauchula and Sebring. The centers match USF-Polytechnic faculty and students with first-time entrepreneurs.

• The Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation, one of the nation's biggest foundations devoted to supporting entrepreneurship, has plans to open a coaching center in Sarasota later this year. The facility will be Kauffman's first in Florida.

— Art Levy


Greg Hoffman
"Starting or running a small business is always difficult without a good plan, without a real understanding of what your niche is and who your customers are and how to market to them. But it's particularly hard now because we've seen a real pullback on consumer spending, and most of the people who come to us for advice want to start consumer-oriented businesses."

— Greg Hoffman, chapter chairman, Manasota SCORE


Thomas O'Neal
[Photo: Brook Pifer]

"There is at least a portion of small companies that are doing well in this economy — growing slowly and deliberately, hiring when they need to in a thoughtful manner, making sure they don't use any more of their cash than they need to."

— Thomas O'Neal, executive director,
GrowFL at the University of Central Florida

• Seminole County and the Florida Economic Gardening Institute at the University of Central Florida have formed a partnership to promote job creation. The initiative will provide services and support for CEOs of second-stage businesses, generally defined by the initiative as for-profit businesses based in Seminole with between seven and 100 employees.

• Small businesses in Flagler County have a new source for free advice and consultations with the opening of the Palm Coast Business Assistance Center. The center launched last year at City Marketplace is a partnership of the city of Palm Coast and the UCF Small Business Development Center.

• Osceola County has created a "5-Day Fast Track" permitting process to encourage business formation as part of a new economic development outreach effort called We Speak Jobs.

• Sumter County created an online business resources page to promote business formation and expansion. The site, sumterbusiness.com/resources, has a list of local incentives, data, demographic information and other resources and helpful links.

• Lake County's Office of Economic Development and Tourism has started an annual economic summit. The inaugural event in November at Howey-in-the-Hills attracted more than 250 business and community leaders for an economic recovery strategy session.

• The National Entrepreneur Center moved from downtown Orlando to larger quarters with easier access and more parking at the Fashion Square Mall in Orlando. Formerly the Disney Entrepreneur Center, it is the main clearinghouse for small-business assistance in metro Orlando.

• The Metropolitan Business Association of Orlando, a regional chamber of commerce for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, opened its first permanent headquarters building in downtown Orlando's Thornton Park district in 2011. Founded in 1992, the organization has grown to more than 300 members and is expanding services.

• Volusia County and UCF have a new 8,000-sq.-ft. business incubation facility at Daytona Beach International Airport to foster small-business development in the region.

— Jerry Jackson



• JaxPort's Small and Emerging Business Program works to boost small, local firms with capital and procurement contracts. Port policy requires inclusion of small businesses and minority-owned firms in contract awards and projects whenever feasible. To participate, business owners must become certified through Jacksonville's Small and Emerging Business Program.

• The Jacksonville Aviation Authority has a Small Business Enterprise Program that gives preference to firms in Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Nassau or Baker counties.

— Cynthia Barnett


"Small firms in the northeast Florida region seeing the most success are those "that are very aggressively seeking new markets," especially international markets. "Traditionally, it was hard to get small businesses excited about exporting, but now they're seeing that they can do it."

— Janice Donaldson, regional director, Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida, Jacksonville

Janice Donaldson


• The Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County last year initiated an Entrepreneurial Excellence Program, a tuition-based course to help existing early-stage startup businesses and entrepreneurs with well-developed ideas for the successful launch and development of a business.

• The Tallahassee EDC in 2009 launched an International Business Development Program whose goal is to grow and diversify international business opportunities and provide leadership, counseling and advocacy on international business issues through strategic partnerships.

• Florida State University College for Business at Tallahassee is part of a network of eight national schools partnering to offer the Small Business Administration's Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, and a similar program for families of veterans with disabilities. FSU has participated in the programs since 2008, which combine online and classroom instruction.

• The SBA announced two new programs in the fall of 2011 for veterans, which complement the consulting assistance offered by the SBDC Veterans Business Outreach Center at Gulf Coast State College at Lynn Haven. New are SBA's V Wise program for female veterans in business, and Endure and Grow, for National Guard members or reservists who are in business.

— Charlotte Crane


Joe Chavarria
"It seems every small business is just trying to get by. Construction contractors have stopped dramatically. The charter boat and fishing industry and restaurants have been hard hit because of the oil spill, and that had a trickle down effect on retail, hotel, leisure. Although we've seen closures, we also have seen a rise in business startups since last year. The businesses that seem to be doing well are any type of medical business and businesses doing work with the government contractors."

— Joe Chavarria, regional director, SBDC at Gulf Coast State College, Lynn Haven (serves Bay, Gulf, Jackson, Washington, Holmes, Calhoun counties)

"Businesses closing due to the recession are generally those just starting up during the recession. We haven't seen that huge a drop."

— Karen Moore, chairman, EDC, Tallahassee (Leon County)

Karen Moore

Tom Hermanson
"I see two trends: One that correlates with the phasing out of a recession, where people begin to look forward and are starting to see an opportunity; and also one in which individuals because of high unemployment may have looked for employment elsewhere and now are evaluating a business opportunity. And we are seeing more businesses for sale as well."

— Tom Hermanson, associate director, SBDC,
Fort Walton Beach (Okaloosa and Walton counties)

"National brands or franchises seem to be doing better on the whole than local business. I would estimate that there is less than half of the business startup activity today than there was in the fall of 2006."

— Larry Strain, executive director, SBDC,
Pensacola (Escambia and Santa Rosa counties)

Larry Strain