The Entrepreneurial Imperative

Three Southwest Florida startup founders share how and why they launched their businesses.

So, you’re dreaming of starting a business. Congratulations, and join the club. Roughly two-thirds of working Americans have the same aspiration, according to a 2018 study conducted by Atomik Research commissioned by the UPS Store.

Beyond the common entrepreneurial desire, though, are the questions of what drives company founders to start their firms and how they turn dream into reality. In search of answers, we turned to three individuals who launched startups in Southwest Florida. They are:

Melody Rose Augustin, who developed a makeup line for women of color. She sells the product at her retail operation, Makeup Mansion, at the Edison Mall in Fort Myers.

Eddie Barnhill Jr. and his wife, Jamie, who started an ice-making plant after red tide destroyed their stone crab and fish business on Pine Island.

And Doreen Lehner, a U.S Navy and Merchant Marine veteran, who restored a historic Fort Myers home in downtown Fort Myers and opened it as an Airbnb rental.

Each has a story of ups and downs that he or she encountered during the launches. They’re sharing so that others might learn from their experiences.

Implore Cosmetics and Makeup Mansion

Owner: Melody Rose Augustin

Year Founded: 2012, Implore Cosmetics; 2015, Makeup Mansion

Number of Employees: 5

Description of Business: She has developed a makeup line (Implore Cosmetics) for women of color; the product is sold at her retail operation, Makeup Mansion, at the Edison Mall in Fort Myers.

THE DRIVE: At age 15, Augustin surprised her mother by setting up a glamour shot for a family portrait. The studio offered makeup services, but to save some money she used her own products. “By the time I was done they were impressed. They said, ‘Wow, we really need someone to service our African-American clients, would you like a job?’” She was hired on the spot and spent her teens working there. In her 20s, she worked as a freelance makeup artist, and in her 30s, she set out to start her own business at the same time she taught at Eden Autism Services. She decided to go full-time with Implore Cosmetics because she realized it would be more financially lucrative.

THE BIG IDEA: When Augustin would shop for makeup, it was difficult to find products that matched her skin color and that of other African-American women. “There was a gap in the market,” she says. “Undertones were so wrong when 
it came to ethnic skin.” Augustin worked with chemists in Miami to create the right formula.

FINANCING: While at the school and anticipating her new business, she sold her car for $5,000—forcing her to ride her bike to work—and borrowed $2,000 from her brother. Plus, she generated some capital by selling her new products on social media. She’s never taken out a loan and is debt-free.

EXECUTION: Augustin opened a retail location, Makeup Mansion, where she could sell her line, which included foundation, cleanser and concealer, and where she could offer makeup services for special occasions. “We’re making that girl feel beautiful, the prettiest girl in the room.” she says. “Who doesn’t want to feel important and look good?”

THE PRESENT: After grossing $100,000 last year, she expects to double that in 2019. She has more than 6,000 people on her clientele list.

THE FUTURE: She will rebrand Implore Cosmetics and Makeup Mansion in the coming year as she introduces her new organic line.

ADVICE: With a brick-and-mortar operation, “don’t go into debt before opening the doors.” She also recommends getting help. She worked with the Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University for help with accounting, marketing and business management. “They have been a tremendous resource.”


Eddie and Jamie Barnhill Jr. Photo by Brian Tietz

Got Ice

Owners: Eddie Barnhill Jr. And his wife, Jamie. Eddie is a third-generation fisherman whose grandparents were among the first five families on Pine Island.

Location: Off Mallory Parkway in St. James City, Pine Island

Founded: January

Number of Employees: 4

Goods and Services: Produces cubed ice, from purified water, mostly for marinas, events and 24/7 emergency deliveries to restaurants whose ice-making equipment has failed.

THE BIG IDEA: Last year’s protracted red tide destroyed the Barnhills’ stone crab and fish business. They went from annual revenues of up to $2.5 million to relatively nothing. Disappointed but undeterred, Eddie approached the challenge this way: “Fishermen don’t give up. When things get rough, you’ve got to keep moving forward.” So they decided to con- vert most of their 5,000-square- foot warehouse, which had been built for their wholesale fish operation, into the ice factory and stor- age facility. They also purchased commercial-sized ice bins and refrigerated trucks to deliver the bagged products. Eddie no longer fishes, but he and Jamie still buy the dwindling catches of stone crab claws from the few remaining fishermen on the island.

HOW WAS IT FINANCED? By selling 8,000-plus traps for $25-35 each, along with his 45-foot fishing boat for about $245,000.

SETBACKS: Delivery of the ice-making equipment was delayed to five months, up from the original estimate of five weeks. That meant the financial cushion the Barnhills had saved declined. Also, the couple didn’t know anything about the ice business. (But, Eddie says, he knows business and he can sell—essential skills for an entrepreneur.)

OTHER CHALLENGES: They have a major competitor, a local distributor for Reddy Ice, whose footprint covers the country.

GOALS: First, to learn more about marketing so they can spread the word of their product and services and grow the customer base, revenue and employee count. They also want to position their bins outside of businesses such as marina and convenience stores. “I promise you right now, my reputation in the ice business in two years will be A-plus,” says Eddie. “Customer satisfaction is our goal.”

As the business builds its profit (and if Mother Nature cooperates), the Barnhills may be able to return more to their first love. “I’ll never quit the fishing business,” Eddie says. “It’s in my blood.”


Doreen Lehner. Photo by Erik Kellar

The Mizner Estate on First

Owner: Doreen Lehner. She served as a corpsman in the U.S. Navy for 25 years and then in the Merchant Marine for five. In 2017, she was inducted into the Surface Navy Hall of Fame for saving the life of an Iraqi worker who was on an oil platform in the Persian Gulf that exploded in 2006.

Location: 2572 First St., Fort Myers

Founded: May 2017

Number of Employees: 1

Description of Business: Airbnb rentail located in the Alderman House, a 1920s-era Spanish Revival home designed by renowned architect Addison Mizner.

THE BIG IDEA: “It really started as a small idea,” she says. While still at sea in the Merchant Marine, Lehner was web surfing and came across the Fort Myers property. She instantly fell in love with it and made an offer, sight unseen. She initially intended to restore the house, using income from renting out the cottage behind the main dwelling. But the cost, which she first thought might be about $75,000, kept increasing, so she realized that she needed to change her strategy. “I said, ‘I need to generate some income.’ I didn’t have investors,” she says. “So, I sold my two houses [located elsewhere in the country]. And I already had some capital.” She eventually hooked up with Airbnb. “I was kind of an accidental entrepreneur.”

STARTUP COSTS: She purchased the home in December 2016 for $645,000 and then invested another $400,000 to complete the renovations (although her own bedroom still needs work).

CHALLENGES: “I wasn’t a business woman. I wasn’t a contractor. I wasn’t an interior decorator,” she says. Also, she faced the difficulty of finding dependable craftsmen with the skills to restore the historic property.

THE LEARNING CURVE: Despite her lack of business and contracting experience, Lehner dove in and learned along the way, employing her military discipline. When
it came to aesthetics, she recalled visits to European countries such as France and Portugal and certain institutions—the Louvre and the Vatican, for example—where she studied their architecture and works. She also lived in Japan for seven years, during which she soaked up design tastes and acquired art, which she moved into the Mizner house.

Lehner also sought help through the Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University. Counselors there taught her the basics, including marketing and accounting.

LESSONS LEARNED: “Everything costs more [than expected],” Lehner says. “I am busy every day. I’m always tweaking something in this house and on the grounds.”

THE RESULTS: After tackling the massive rehab that included fixing rotted wood and crown molding, refinishing floors, re-tiling and painting, she’s fully operational. Last year, she grossed $75,000 and in 2019 she expects to turn more than $100,000. “I came in on the bottom floor of Airbnb, and it’s skyrocketed,” she says. “And now I’m a brand.”