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What were these small businesses thinking?

Cindy Pickering
Your Pro Kitchen, Largo (Pinellas County)
Startup costs: $70,000

Cooking Up a Business

Cindy Pickering
Cindy Pickering's Your Pro Kitchen provides commercial kitchen rentals for food service entrepreneurs.[Photo: Mark Wemple]
In 2008, as the recession bore down, Cindy Pickering saw many unemployed food business workers — both veterans and novices alike — attempting to launch catering and prepared food-supply operations. Meanwhile, those still in business were struggling with the costs of operating their own kitchens. Pickering turned those market conditions to her advantage and launched a commercial kitchen rental company that provides shared kitchen space for the other entrepreneurs to prepare their foods.

Pickering had learned how to run a small food business when she launched a salsa business in 2003. "You can't do it out of your house. You need to be in a certified commercial kitchen," she says.

Pickering used $70,000 of the proceeds from the sale of the salsa business to launch her shared kitchen concept. Today, more than 50 customers — including pastry chefs, caterers and food truck operators — work out of her 3,500-sq.-ft. facility, which has already expanded. Tenants sign a minimum six-month lease and agree to use the facilities for at least eight hours each month, which costs $125. Dry storage space is also available for $25 per month. Michael and Doris Leonardo turned to Your Pro Kitchen to save their 20-year-old catering company when they could no longer afford to pay the rent on their Dunedin storefront. "It was meant to be," says Michael Leonardo.

Isaias Sudit
GridGlo, Delray Beach
Startup costs: More than $1 million

Energy Consumption

While billions are being invested on developing wind, solar, biofuel and other energy sources, many believe that reducing energy consumption is the key to solving the energy crunch, at least in the short term.

In 2010, Isaias Sudit, a serial entrepreneur, launched GridGlo, which offers software and services that help utilities gain insight into consumers' energy consumption patterns. Sudit says he came up with the idea after a smart meter was installed at his house. Wanting to learn more, he attended a conference where he learned that most utilities weren't taking advantage of the "enormous amounts of data" that the smart readers generate.

GridGlo's software combines real-time energy consumption data from smart meters with information from other commercially available sources, including demographic databases, financial records, real estate data, weather data and other resources. With GridGlo's analytics, utilities can more easily predict a consumer's energy consumption habits or measure the effectiveness of energy conservation programs.

GridGlo also provides the utilities with a scoring mechanism that evaluates the consumer's energy consumption patterns and willingness to conserve.

The 12-person Delray Beach startup raised $1.2 million earlier this year via an investment by Cubrc, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based non-profit research corporation with experience in data fusion and other fields, and plans to seek another round of capital. CFO Richard Viens says financial projections show that the company could break even by 2014 if it gets that next round of financing.

Viens says the slow economy has actually benefited the company. "It's having vendors more willing to work with you on prices and bringing people to our team that we'd might not get if it were a really strong economy."

Isaias Sudit
Isaias Sudit's GridGlo helps utilities predict customers' energy consumption patterns.
[Photo: Matt Dean]

Anna Pohl
Day Planners, Bradenton
Startup costs: "Very little." Her main expenses were for insurance, attorney fees and marketing.

Event-Planning Business: Wedding Bills

As the recession deepened in the fall of 2008, Anna Pohl left the catering and event-planning job she'd had for seven years to start her own event-planning business. Pohl reckoned that, good times or bad, people still would get married — and would still spend to get help in planning a big life moment. Pohl kept another full-time job as she built the wedding consultant business on the side. Now full time, she does about two dozen weddings a year, specializing in "destination weddings" on the Gulf. "We attract people from all over the world. It's a bargain," she says.

Pohl runs her business out of her Bradenton home. She draws many of her customers through the internet and says blogging is a crucial part of business development. She offers planning for other kinds of events, from bar mitzvahs to fundraisers and corporate parties. She also teaches event planning at the State College of Florida and is a regular contributor to Nuovo Bride magazine. "There's nothing more rewarding than helping someone in that moment of their life that's really important to them," she says.

Anna Pohl
[Photo: Jeanne Ciasullo]

Dimitri Khoury
Self-employed farrier, Mims (Brevard County)
Startup costs: "Minimal." All he needed was a small trailer, specialized tools and horseshoes.

Galloping Ahead

Dimitri Khoury
[Photo: Dominic Agostini]
When Dimitri Khoury, 49, was laid off from his job at Kennedy Space Center in June 2010 after 23 years working on the space shuttle's exterior insulation system, he turned an avocation into a vocation. Khoury, who lives on 10 acres in Mims with a few horses and a horse arena, had gotten involved with horses in the 1980s through his girlfriend (now his wife), who owned and rode horses. To keep costs down, he learned to trim and put shoes on his horses and friends' horses. Since his shuttle job ended, Khoury has worked as a farrier — a specialist in equine hoof care and shoeing horses. His fees, he says, are based in part on a horse's demeanor. "Some are very mean and take a little more effort. Some are calm and gentle and very easy," says Khoury, who charges $20 to $30 for trimming hooves, $55 to $65 for shoes in the front and $80 or more for shoeing all four hooves. He's busy enough that he's had to turn down some requests for services — and he's happy in his new work. "I've always liked working outside and knew that was the direction at this stage of life I wanted to go. I only wish I'd done it many years earlier."

Davide Di Cillo
Fifth Layer, Miami
Startup costs: Minimal

In Sync with Tech

Davide Di Cillo
"During the economic crisis is when you see the disruption in every industry happen. People look for cheaper solutions and more efficient solutions," says Davide Di Cillo.[Photo: Bill Wisser]
Davide Di Cillo, 31, has some mature ideas about starting a tech company in Florida rather than Silicon Valley. True, Silicon Valley has a critical mass of venture capital and talent. But in Florida he knew he wouldn't have to compete with Google and the like for talent, there's no income tax and the cost of living is so much lower that you can build a company on a credit card rather than swap half the ownership for a $30,000 investment.

Di Cillo's SyncPad software, available from the Apple app store and direct from SyncPad, allows remote users on iPads, iPhones and browsers to simultaneously draw and share images and pdf files on a whiteboard screen. He offers a free version that allows only two people to collaborate with some limitations. Paid plans have varying prices, depending on the number of people connected at a time. SyncPad has gotten positive reviews for its design, ease of use and efficiency relative to competing solutions. Teachers like it.

Di Cillo is an entrepreneur by plan and a Floridian by accident. As a 7-year-old in Milan, Italy, he and a pal built and sold things, and in high school and college he took design jobs on the side. After graduating with a major in graphic design from the Istituto Europeo di Design, he came to Miami to visit a friend in 2005. An interview at a Miami design firm produced a job offer, but soon his entrepreneurial bent took over. He founded 39 Inc. — 39 is Italy's country code for international dialing — and it grew to five people developing applications for the web and for mobile devices.

With a colleague from 39, which he still operates, and a friend and neighbor, he started working on SyncPad. With a fourth friend, none drawing a salary, they founded Fifth Layer, with SyncPad as its first product. The company has revenue of less than $100,000. He believes new features to be released this year will take SyncPad to a new level.

Ray Hicks
CO2Meter, Ormond Beach

Measuring Carbon Dioxide Levels

For grins a couple months ago, Ray Hicks checked to see when he had his first customer contact at his new company, CO2Meter. Hicks, a cheerful, chatty sort, found it came the same day in October 2008 as one of the market's first big tumbles.

The 58-year-old Michigan native says he was undeterred. He started his first business, supplying silk-screen signs and photo studio props, at 16. Through the decades, he built businesses largely in the photo and optics field, earning a slew of patents, before selling to Kodak in 2000. He met his future wife, Irene, a South Africa native working in the gas detection industry, in Michigan. They bought a place in Ormond Beach to escape the cold.

A life of leisure didn't suit him. Hicks took over the garage for CO2Meter, which manufactures inexpensive sensors of carbon dioxide levels, "oodles and oodles" of them. "You've got these idiots saying there's global warming. Another set of idiots saying there isn't. I really don't care. I just want to measure CO2 concentrations," he says.

He sells to manufacturers who install his products in their equipment and has found a market in the packaging, pharma, food, brewery and fermenting industries, universities, HVAC businesses and consumers. Hicks tells of the unexpected interest from California greenhouse marijuana growers (higher concentrations of carbon dioxide promote growth) and egg hatcheries (more CO2 helps the hatch rate). Schools buy his products because students don't do well when breathing in too much CO2 in stuffy classrooms. Ever been stuck in a warm meeting room dying for coffee or feeling vaguely ill? Hicks asks. It's not all that body heat; it's the carbon dioxide concentration, he says.

CO2Meter farms out components to Florida companies and does final assembly in Ormond Beach. It employs just six full time and has less than $2 million in revenue but is growing fast, Hicks says.

Ray Hicks (with wife Irene) sells his CO2Meters to manufacturers and consumers. Revenue is just under $2 million. [Photo: Martin Christopher]