Local programs are available to help budding businesses succeed.
IT’S A STARTLING STATISTIC: More than 90 percent of all local businesses employ fewer than 20 people providing everything from marketing, advertising and consulting services to air conditioning, automobile repair and even healthcare.
Of the region’s 31,369 businesses, more than 28,000 are small operations, according to Brent Kettler, research and data consultant, who analyzed the business climate for the FutureMakers Coalition.
And more often than not, those companies started with good entrepreneurial ideas that translated into success. So it’s in the interest of local business and education leaders to provide as much help as possible for new ventures.
“We have to teach people how to start their own business,” says Kettler. “If they have a good product, they reach clients all over the country. It’s not like it used to be where a business was 10 to 20 minutes away in a physical location.”
Successfully identifying entrepreneurs also will factor into a sustainable workforce, says Tessa LeSage, director of social innovation and sustainability for the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, which is the anchor organization for the coalition. Formed in March 2015 as part of Southwest Florida’s inclusion in Lumina Foundation’s Community Partners for Attainment, the FutureMakers Coalition is working to increase regional post-secondary completion and promote the knowledge and skills needed for success in the workplace and in life.
“Helping our residents start a business contributes to the region’s economic health,” she says.
There are resources that educate and assist those eager to start a business. Here are a few examples:
FGCU’s Small Business Development Center provides 25 full- and part-time consultants in the five-county region to potential small business owners and hosts training events and expos to connect these entrepreneurs to companies dedicated to helping small businesses secure insurance and even startup capital. Its work complements the university’s Institute of Entrepreneurship which also prepares students to launch a business, says Lois Knox, SBDC director.
Collier County Public Schools recognized the need to develop young entrepreneurs when it introduced INCubatoredu in 2013. The program provides high school students with the opportunity to create, develop, market and finance a product or service, receive coaching and mentoring advice from local entrepreneurs and business experts.
The Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership works with small tech companies by promoting networking opportunities for entrepreneurs and others in the field, according to administrator Deborah Johnson. Its annual TechMatch connects employers to future employees and interns. “We have a blossoming ecosystem here of entrepreneurs in technology and also offer a pitch night for funding,” Johnson says. “We’re seeing young software developers growing out of a business and spinning off to form their own companies.”