There’s no escaping the pandemic’s pounding when you own an events company. Just ask Yesenia Leon.
She runs Pandora Events, along with her co-founders Allison Burgos and Amy Alonso (pictured above). For more than 20 years, they have been putting on events large and small in South Florida and the Orlando area for the lesbian community.
Pandora’s events were shuttered last year – except for a few virtual events to bring the community together – and only later this year has the company begun to put on live events again. Indeed, Pandora’s massive signature event, “Girls in Wonderland” held annually in Orlando, was postponed three times during the pandemic until it finally took place in mid-October this year.
Leon said Girls In Wonderland – which takes a year to plan — had been growing every year, and now attracts 5,000+ to the multi-day festivities. “Every year, we’re booking more hotel rooms or selling more tickets and all that is great,” Leon said. But the three postponements took a toll on the company.
“We do a lot of LGBTQ events. Most of them are parties, festivals, weekend events, and we also do Making Babies, which is our free webinar or in-person on how to start your family. We’ve been doing that for over five years,” Leon said about Pandora Events. A key challenge of the past 18 months was making sure they were being sensitive to everybody’s needs, as some people are ready to go out again and some people are not, she said. “We were very flexible with the pandemic as far as refunds for a long time or transfers. We gave our attendees a lot of different avenues and we are still doing it.”
Leon wanted help with applying for the Shuttered Venue Operator Grant (SVOG) Covid-19 relief program offered by the SBA. She reached out to Florida SBDC at FIU, the small business development center within FIU’s College of Business. FSBDC at FIU provides no-cost business consulting and training for small businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Together with her FSBDC at FIU business consultant, Tak Takasu, they worked through the details of the SVOG and prepared an application.
“What was great about working with Yesi was that she wasn’t sitting around and waiting for answers. She went through a lot of information herself, researched, and she networked to find more clarifications where things were vague. Bottom line, we at SBDC at FIU are advisors, and it is up to the clients to make things happen. Clients like her who are committed and hard working can do this – and it was wonderful working with her,” said Takasu, who specializes in competitive analysis and data analytics.
Pandora Events did receive the $125,000 SVOG grant, as well as a second supplemental grant of $75,000. Leon also asked for Takasu’s help with aspects of professionalizing the business, and they are working on putting more systems in place, including a data-based decision-making process.
“She helped me with finances, getting the company a little more organized, getting QuickBooks, and starting to just focus more on what’s coming up and where our sales are coming from,” Leon said. “She did a whole financial analysis that really helped me understand what events need more help than others.”
This included a web traffic analysis on the Girls in Wonderland website, which gave Leon and her team a better view on the event site traffic so they could tweak their digital marketing and monitor performance. That gave Leon a desire to better understand more data inside the company so the co-founders can make decisions based on the data trends instead of doing things by gut feeling or just because that’s how it’s been done before. Takasu is helping her with that as well.
“I am so grateful that there’s a program like this to help us get these grants offered that we might not know enough to get on our own,” Leon said about FSBDC at FIU. “The support has been great, also for the research. Sometimes I have business questions and it’s nice to be able to speak to someone – they are part of our team.”
Looking ahead, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, Leon said. “My attendees are asking for more events, including more outside events. We’re planning more recreational events, such as picnics later in the year. We’re also getting together with other promoters like us to collaborate on some free events. … You know, bring your blanket, bring your dog, let’s play some sports and be grateful that we’re still here.”