Education Resources

Santander again offers 12-week Cultivate Small Business program for early-stage food entrepreneurs. Apply now!

South Florida food entrepreneurs, listen up: If you crave knowledge, individual coaching and capital to help you grow your early-stage small business, here’s an opportunity you’ll want to apply for today.

For a second year in a row, Florida SBDC at FIU Business has partnered with Santander Bank, N.A. to help woman-, immigrant- and minority-owned early-stage food businesses in the South Florida and Miami-Dade County grow and thrive. The program, called Cultivate Small Business, is fully funded by Santander and free to entrepreneurs who are accepted into a cohort. The program was created by Santander with support from Florida SBDC at FIU, Babson College, and CommonWealth Kitchen.

Like last year, the program is a 12-week mini-MBA for eligible entrepreneurs.  Along with a food-focused curriculum by Babson College, the program provides mentorship, coaching, networking opportunities and small capital grants. Cultivate Small Business is virtual and open to anyone in Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

Applications are now open and you’ll want to apply. Just ask an entrepreneur who went through the program.

Darren Mendoza, owner of two Lutong Pinoy Filipino Cuisine restaurants, said he learned so much in the program last year he wishes he could participate in the program again. But he knows of course there are a lot of other entrepreneurs that need this kind of training. To prospective applicants, he wants to say, “It’s been really, really, really helpful.”

Mendoza has recently finished a rebrand on his Pembroke Pines restaurant and now is working on a rebrand for his original North Miami location. Each restaurant will have different menus targeted at the demographics he’d like to attract. Both restaurants offer tasty Filipino favorites and are thriving.

Because of the program, he’s learning more about the accounting side of his business. He has more ideas on how to grow revenue, such as selling the restaurants’ popular sauces and condiments as stand-alone products. And he’s been able to think strategically about his target customers and how he will reach a larger millennial demographic. He also wants to expand locations in the future and use the rebrandings as a model for them. Best of all, Mendoza has been receiving Florida SBDC at FIU support all along to implement and execute upon what he learned in the program.

Darren Mendoza and his mother, Meddy Mendoza, in the Lutong Pinoy restaurant. His mother helps out with operations. Darren Mendoza was part of the last Cultivate Small Business cohort,

Last year, over 70 small businesses applied to the Cultivate Small Business program and Mendoza was one of approximately 30 entrepreneurs that participated in  the program. In addition to the courses, trainings, mentorship and SBDC at FIU assistance, Mendoza said he has benefited greatly by learning from and sharing with fellow food entrepreneurs in the cohort.

Here is the lowdown on the upcoming Cultivate Small Business program:

Program dates: September through November, 2023. Graduation will be in December.

What the program provides:

  • Virtual classes taught by Babson College professors;
  • Connections with industry experts who can help the small businesses with the challenges they are facing;
  • Learnings about how to pitch your business and creating an action plan;
  • A network of fellow food entrepreneurs;
  • Capital grants ranging from $2,500 to $10,000 for participants who complete the program.

Cost: Free

Who should apply?  Participants should reside in or represent a business located in a low-to-moderate income area in South Florida.   They should have gross/net revenues of $25,000 to $1,000,000 in the most recent full calendar year and have been at least one year in operation as of March 1, 2023.  They should also employ 1 to 10 full-time equivalent employees in food-related industries, including processing, technology, manufacturing, and food services.

Where to apply:

Application deadline: June 1, 2023. But don’t wait! Apply early because interviews are limited.

Find out more: There is an info session on Tuesday, May 16th.  Interested clients can register here.

Questions? Reach out to Jesus Padilla at

“The pandemic has shown us that businesses with a strong financial foundation and strategy can survive and thrive. This is especially true for early-stage food entrepreneurs, who benefit greatly from education, networking and mentorship in these key areas,” said Brian Van Hook, Regional Director, Florida SBDC at FIU. “For this reason, Florida SBDC at FIU is proud to again partner with Santander, Babson College, CommonWealth Kitchen, and ICIC to continue this excellent program in Miami-Dade and South Florida.  Cultivate Small Business provides more resources at a pivotal time for our dynamic food entrepreneurs.”

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