Nearly 100 small business owners from around southwest Florida gathered Saturday morning at the FGCU campus for a discussion and town hall aimed at local business owners and potential start-ups. Although headliner Congressman Trey Radel was a no show due to being held up in Washington, the forum was well received and offered not only tips, but an overview of the many resources available to both new and existing businesses in the area.
Each of the five panelists, representing different agencies, took to the podium to offer ideas, insight and background of the resources available.
Dan Bjerk, Sr. International Trade Specialist at U.S. Commercial Service led the way with discussion encouraging area manufacturers to consider exporting. Why export? He asked. With 95% of the world marketplace being outside of the US this presents great opportunity. Most businesses are already competing in their own backyard with Global companies. Additional benefits, especially for companies with excess capacity can include extending product lifecycle, taking advantage of economic or seasonal cycles. Shortly to be operating under its new name, Global Markets of the International Trade Administration can best be thought of as a clearinghouse for anything you do internationally.
The second Federal partner to speak was Althea Harris, the Assistant District Director for Marketing and Outreach for Area 1 of the Small Business Administration (SBA). She spoke on the ongoing efforts to reach more of our small business customers with the programs, products, and services the SBA offers to help them start, grow and succeed in business. Ms. Harris spoke of the opportunities to do business with the US Government, the largest consumer of goods and services in the world. In addition to providing small business access to capital, there are also opportunities for international trade loans and long term disaster relief loans.
David Miller, Executive Director at Chamber of Southwest Florida spoke of the value that any of the 13 area Chamber of Commerce brings to local business owners. With different chambers serving different needs Mr. Miller urged searching out and participating in the chamber/s that is right for your business. While the chambers offer fantastic networking opportunities, he stressed that the investment is not as much about money as it is time.
The Director of the Small Business Development Center at FGCU, Dan Regelski started off by identifying the three most important factors of success in business: The person, the opportunity, and the financing. He reminded us that the ‘person’ behind the business is the business. Your success will be shaped by your experience, your beliefs, your credibility, etc. Next is the product or service you provide; what is your niche market? Where is the window of opportunity? Lastly is capital or your access to capital, because “…it doesn’t happen without money”. He went on to identify trends in the region where there are opportunities to serve particular industries such as medical, tourism, hospitality, sports, IT, education and professionals.
Thomas Scott is the Director of SWFL Enterprise Center in Fort Myers where his goal is to train and assist startup businesses. Mr. Scott spoke of the importance of having a clear vision in mind for your company. Likening it to flying an aircraft, you have to be able to look outward and know where you want to be going. From that vision the mission is how you will achieve that vision.
Attendees were given not only ideas and tips by the panelists, but an overview of just some of the local resources available to help our small businesses. Businesses are encouraged to contact these organizations and learn more about what they have to offer and how they can potentially help your business grow and succeed. Take the advice of Dan Regelski and “don’t ever be too smart not to seek help”.