Nesi Solutions, a small business founded in 2007 by Flor and Alfredo Utset, designs, implements and maintains HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) systems and building automation solutions for its commercial clients, using today’s technology to improve performance and energy savings while providing clean, comfortable air. Among its many services, NESI Solutions can install UV-C light units in the air handler of commercial HVAC units to reduce airborne biological contaminants, a top of mind concern during the pandemic.
The Miami-based small business serves both international and local clients today, but that wasn’t always the case.
Amid the rising political and security problems in Flor’s native Venezuela, the couple left there in 2006, immigrating first to Puerto Rico and moving to Miami a year later.
In Venezuela, Flor was a research and development manager for Kraft Foods and Alfredo was a general manager for Johnson Controls, in which HVAC was one of their main divisions.
“We decided to put together the knowledge we both had in those areas to start the company in Miami,” said Flor, CEO of NESI Solutions. “We started the company as an export company. Our first natural market was Venezuela, and then Central America, and soon all the countries in the north of South America like Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, and we sold air-conditioning equipment, accessories, ventilation equipment and building automation systems mainly for commercial purposes.”
But Venezuela companies and property owners were a huge chunk of their business, and in 2018 as the political and security crisis in Venezuela escalated, the Utsets knew they needed to target the local market in Florida. NESI went through the process to get licensed in the State of Florida and Alfredo is a Certified Mechanical Contractor in the state.
By early 2020, NESI had its license and was certified to not only sell supplies, as it had been doing in its export markets, but also to be installers. But then the COVID-19 pandemic dealt another blow,
While 2020 was a difficult time for the business, the Utsets focused on its pivot to the local market. The Utsets were clients of Florida SBDC at FIU between 2016 to 2018, when they first started receiving help with researching and expanding their export business. FSBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business, offers no-cost consulting to small businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Last August, the company was referred by Prospera back to SBDC at FIU for further assistance under a joint project supported by the Miami Foundation’s Building Prosperity Initiative. FSBDC at FIU linked the Utsets up with the StartUP FIU Procurement program for hands-on help with government contracting. StartUP FIU Procurement’s 3-month-long incubator offers capacity building, business tools and networks to help small businesses become procurement-ready for both government contracting and in the private sector. They are taught by FIU’s faculty and facilities experts, as well as consultants with FSBDC at FIU and the private sector. The Utsets participated in a cohort that specialized in the construction industry.
Going through the program “has been a really life changer because it is much more oriented to the construction side, and we are able to, in a short period of time, understand the market, be strategic and make some quick decisions to improve the situation — and be able to focus on the future,” Flor said.
The size of the procurement program — just 12 companies in the cohort – and the fact that it was focused on the construction segment was perfect for the Utsets because they needed to break into local and state contracting, which means navigating a whole different world of bidding for work with government agencies and anchor institutions.
“It’s not simple to contact the government, it’s not simple to get a contract, it’s not simple to navigate the system,” Flor said. “This program has helped us to be prepared for contracting financially and structurally. We weren’t aware of all of this until we did this program.”
As part of the program, the Utsets developed a strategic action plan for NESI, Flor said.
“With the program, we could see the difference of each segment — business to consumer, business to business, commercial private sector and the government. Every single market has very specific characteristics, and going through this process, we are now much more focused. We know what we should do. We’re trying to devote all of our resources and energies in these things that we believe are going to produce more revenues in the future.”
The strategic planning process was even more dynamic during COVID, she said. “We needed to change fast to adapt. When you’re strategic, it is easier to see the gaps and the opportunities and the need for improvement, and where we can find new options, and how we can organize the business. The action plan is really oriented on that purpose.”
NESI also pursued minority business certifications, such as one for work for schools. It is also in the process of gaining minority certification for the Florida Department of Transportation.
Key learnings? “We don’t have strong past experience locally. We understand that we need to build this, so we are researching for the right bids. That’s something that the FIU program is also helping us with — how to identify those bids to start building experience and trust with the customers in the government.”
Flor also said it’s a benefit to be able to network with a group of like-minded business owners. She is grateful for the opportunity to participate in StartUP FIU Procurement at no cost to the business and she says she hopes the high-quality program lives on to help many other small business owners. “We put in a lot of effort to participate and do whatever is required, because we are really grateful to have this available at no cost to us.”