Area entrepreneurs continue to show they have a head—and a heart—for business.
The sixth annual Distinguished Entrepreneur of Southwest Florida Awards, which was presented by the Florida Small Business Development Center (FSBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University in May, recognized three local business leaders for their business growth, innovation and advocacy.
The Distinguished Entrepreneur awards are open to any small- to mid-sized business in the Southwest Florida area. This year’s number of nominees proved to be the largest since the event began, with almost 30 entries, says Lois Knox, regional director of the FSBDC.
A panel of five judges, including 2016 Distinguished Entrepreneur of Southwest Florida Award winner Christopher T. Spiro of Spiro and Associates, reviewed the nominations. This year’s recipients were: Distinguished Entrepreneur of Southwest Florida Dr. Anais Aurora Badia, owner of Florida Skin Centers; Innovator of the Year Guido A. Minaya, owner of Minaya Learning Global Solutions; and Advocate of the Year Brian Rist, owner of Storm Smart.
Giving these entrepreneurs their accolades is about more than recognizing their achievements, Knox says. It’s also about applauding them for all they do to build our community.
“They do so much for our area, and we just want to make sure that people understand that they are an economic driver, and that they’re a force to be reckoned with,” Knox says. “And if someone else has a dream out there, they can accomplish it.”
Distinguished Entrepreneur of Southwest Florida:
Dr. Anais Aurora Badia
A 2017 judge and past Distinguished Entrepreneur award recipient Chris Spiro calls Dr. Badia—a board-certified dermatologist and the only pediatric dermatologist in Lee County—“the full package.” He praised her client-centric approach to building her business and providing medical care, as well as her philanthropic efforts. “It’s her personal belief that you’ve got to be entrenched in a community and give back to that community in order to flourish in that community,” Spiro notes.
Company: Florida Skin Centers—Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Lehigh Acres.
Years in business: The first location—Fort Myers—opened in 2001. The company expanded into Cape Coral four years ago and to Lehigh Acres in September 2016.
Number of employees: Around 30
Successes: There’s no doubt Badia’s clients love her. Community opinion polls have named Florida Skin Centers “The Best” for the past three years, including in 2017, when she took the honor of “Best Dermatology Practice in Southwest Florida” in Florida Weekly’s “Best Of” issue. But it doesn’t take very long to realize this love is mutual: Badia continually strives to give her clients the highest-quality guest experience. “We want to transform the traditional patient-doctor relationship,” she explains. That starts with creating a top-notch waiting room, one complete with a juice and coffee bar, as well as Wi-Fi and educational videos. Because many of her clients are working and raising families, reducing office wait times is a priority, too. Badia also gives back to the community in a variety of ways, including free annual skin checks for children, first responders and members of the military. She also holds a 5K fundraiser to benefit the Melanoma Research Foundation. But Badia notes that none of this would be possible without her stellar staff. On that front, training and employee satisfaction is key. All staff undergo a 90-day training program, and Badia matches their 401(k) contributions.
Free aesthetic skin services for employees are another perk of the job. Her focus on client care and building a strong staff has paid off: After opening her third location in 2017, Badia is on track to grow her revenue by 20 percent. Also, Florida Skin Centers performs in the top 10 percent of all domestic dermatology practice for efficiency and revenue.
Challenges: Badia doesn’t just have brains; she’s got guts, too. She was finishing up her medical residency in New York when she decided to move to Southwest Florida, placing an ad in the Fort Myers yellow pages and scheduling patients for a skin center that wasn’t even open yet. On her first day in business, she saw 13 patients, even as she juggled answering her own office phone and calling in patient prescriptions. And did we mention this was her first try at operating a business? “There’s a lot of learning,” she admits. “I was lucky to have a lot of wonderful mentors.” Among what she’s learned is that it’s essential to find employees who share her mindset and vision. “You can always teach them different things, but you can’t teach them having the right priorities.”
Advice: Do your homework. Sixteen years ago, Badia researched the Fort Myers area and found there was a high demand for dermatologists— and also that there were almost no female practitioners, none who specialized in children and none who spoke Spanish (which she does). That meant she could fill several niches. “There was a big need in the area,” she says.
Innovator of the Year:
Guido A. Minaya
Minaya has built his corporate learning services company “meticulously and with elegance,” Spiro says. He’s responded to a changing marketplace and taken advantage of technology. Simply put, Spiro says of Minaya, “He’s a very smart guy.”
Company: Minaya Learning Global Solutions—Cape Coral
Years in business: 10
Number of employees: Three full-time, including his wife, Susan, who joined as chief operating officer and chief learning strategist in 2011. Up to 250 professional services contractors around the world.
Successes: Ever wondered how Fortune 500 companies keep their employees on top of their game in a constantly changing world? Organizations such as Verizon, T-Mobile, IBM and Mercedes-Benz have a secret weapon: Minaya’s staff and his team of global consultants, who work to create and provide customized corporate learning strategies for their staff. Those strategies can range from leadership courses to management, teaching new products and technologies, and much more—delivered either virtually or in person. Minaya’s business also assists universities in developing online curriculum; one of the company’s recent projects is developing a nonprofit leadership curriculum for a California university, one that’s designed to help board members who hail from a for-profit background to transition more easily their skills to a nonprofit situation. Regardless of the client or the project, the aim is often the same. In a world that’s increasingly global and a workplace that’s always looking to be on the cutting technological edge, “How can you get your workforce up to speed so you can uniformly provide that quality of service? The changes just continue to accelerate,” he says. “And many industries are being transformed by these changes.”
Challenges: Minaya isn’t new to this line of work; he once handled corporate education for AT&T. But it wasn’t until he was pursuing his MBA from Vanderbilt University that something clicked: “That’s when I charted a new course to becoming a chief learning officer.” And although he works with big-name clients around the world, he hasn’t let it go to his head. “We’re a small, global family business. Twenty years ago, that would have been extremely challenging. We, from Cape Coral, are able to manage operations around the world. Technology has allowed us to apply our expertise.” But there are still plenty of entrepreneurial puzzles to solve, especially when it comes to balancing the practical sides of a business: Those Fortune 500 companies have the leverage to set the terms of their contracts, such as payment, and most work on 90-day schedules. His contractors, though, need to be paid on 30-day schedules. One of his greatest challenges has been figuring out how to grow but still be sustainable, he says.
Advice: Get professional help. Minaya praises the team at the FSBDC, noting how the center has been involved at each stage of his company’s growth, and given him much-needed advice about how to get business funding when it was necessary. “They’ve got great services and resources they bring to the table,” he says.
Advocate of the Year:
Spiro describes Rist as inspiring to be around. “He is proof that working hard and reinvesting in the community and your people, and giving back to your community, will build your business as an entrepreneur,” Spiro says.
Company: Storm Smart—Fort Myers
Years in business: 21
Number of employees: 145
Successes: Storm Smart offers a wide variety of hurricane protection products, but without a doubt, its biggest win has been its innovative “Storm Catcher” fabric screens, which Rist pioneered in the early 2000s. Rist, who lived on Florida’s east coast during the devastating Hurricane Andrew in 1992, believed fabric could provide better protection than traditional shutters, and was inspired by such futuristic materials as Kevlar and what appeared on the Space Shuttle. Now, the patent-pending Storm Catcher fabric has helped to propel the company to new heights, including being named four times by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States. The year 2016 proved to be Storm Smart’s best sales year ever, Rist says, and 2017 sales are already up 14 percent to date over 2016. Earlier this year, the company opened their first licensed Storm Smart dealer on the east coast, too. But these successes aren’t what give the advocacy-minded Rist his biggest satisfaction, he says: “Owning a business, you learn over the years that it’s not about the money. It’s about the people that you help along the way.” To that end, he’s devoted himself to an array of community initiatives, especially those that aim to get youngsters ready for college and the workplace, such as the Lee County Public Schools Continuous Systematic Improvement and the Lee County Superintendent’s Executive Round Table. He’s also thrown Storm Smart’s support behind such community charities as the Harry Chapin Food Bank Hunger Walk, the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida and Good Wheels. He also serves on as the chair of the Southwest Regional Manufacturers Association and is the chairman emeritus of the Lee Building Industry Association.
Challenges: Ever tried to grow a hurricane protection company during one of the busiest storm seasons in recent memory? Rist did, and it almost put him out of business. He was getting ready to roll out Storm Catcher in August 2004—the same month Category 4 Hurricane Charley raked across Southwest Florida. Almost overnight, Rist went from having 13 employees to having more than 100. The boom only intensified, with 2004 and 2005 being record-breaking storm seasons. “There was good and bad,” Rist recalls. “I learned that more companies fail from rapid growth than lack of it.” One day in 2005, Rist passed one of his own trucks on the highway and realized he didn’t know the employee who was driving it. He wondered if that person knew what Storm Smart stood for, or shared its values. He decided it was time to step back, and to reform their customer service mission. Rist also took that downtime to fix what the company was doing wrong and get to know his employees better. “It was a very expensive year to take a break,” Rist says. “But in the end, we’ve had 12 great years after that.”
Advice: Don’t give up. Rist remembers a lesson from years ago, back when his business was struggling to find itself. It was a piece of advice given to him by someone more savvy: “Businesses don’t fail. People quit. And if you don’t quit, your business will never fail. And in the darkest of days, I refused to quit,” he says.