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Florida SBDC at FIU helped launch more than 250 businesses in the last two years. Here’s how they did it.

The Florida Small Business Development Center at FIU, which was recently named the National SBDC of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration for its work supporting small businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, may be best known for its work helping established businesses grow larger, creating more jobs for the South Florida economy. But in recent years, while still helping established businesses, SBDC at FIU has put a bigger emphasis on also helping local entrepreneurs launch new businesses and guiding these startups on growing these businesses.

For example, between the center’s opening in 2014 through the end of 2019, Florida SBDC at FIU worked with entrepreneurs to start 190 new businesses.  By comparison, after pivoting in late 2019 to better assist pre-venture businesses, the center has launched more than 257 new businesses in just the last two years.  These businesses represented multiple industries, including retail, restaurants, hospitality, technology, financial services, logistics and international trade.

“Florida SBDC at FIU has seen a major increase in local entrepreneurs looking to start new companies – whether to take advantage of a market opportunity or to have a better work/life balance,” said Brian Van Hook, Regional Director, Florida SBDC at FIU.  “With that in mind, I am proud of our team’s efforts over the past few years to successfully launch more businesses in Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys.  We look forward to helping additional entrepreneurs in this area in the years to come.”

Let’s look at a few new small businesses and how Florida SBDC at FIU has helped them launch and grow.

Almara Beauty

Almara Beauty, a small business that sells a full line of all-natural skincare products, launched in August 2022 and is already enjoying strong sales and brand recognition. This is a family business made up of co-founders Wendy Llorente, her cousin Jenny Scorpo and her mother Rosemari Scorpo [pictured above]. Wendy and Jennifer, who grew up together, oversee product formulation, marketing and sales, and Rosemari oversees the financials.

“We wanted to join all of our strengths to make sure that we got this company up and running. Almara is a clean beauty skincare company. We are also working moms and we said we need to do something that not only generates income for us, but that also feeds our passion and that also teaches our children so we can be role models for them. That’s how Almara was born,” says Jennifer Scorpo.

Almara offers a product line, sold through their website, that includes a complete facial routine, from cleansing to toning serum and face cream, as well as body care products such as body lotion and body butter, and others. “All of our products are made 100% naturally, no fragrance or essential oils. They are truly safe to use and healthy for you,” says Llorente. “Manufacturing is the fun part. I think the challenge that we face is perhaps giving our clients the knowledge they need to trust us and try us.”

FSBDC at FIU has helped this young business every step of the way, including providing checklists for incorporation, licensing, and helpful information for researching their new industry. “They guided us on developing our website answering any questions that we had, and they’ve been very hands on and very helpful,” says Llorente, who is an FIU College of Business graduate.

FSBDC at FIU Consultant Frederic Bonneau, who specializes in pre-ventures, provided them guidance, including the steps for setting up their LLC, and reviewed the first draft of their business plan. He also helped them analyze their website, including what should be included on the front page and the layout, and provided an SEO analysis, in which they showed much improvement after just a month. It was a team effort as, in addition to working with Bonneau, FSBDC at FIU consultant Alina Matas worked with the Almara co-founders to prepare a full business plan and consultant Jose Monte also helped with capital access assistance. Almara looks forward to continued growth, responding to feedback from their customers, and launching new products, including a line for men.

Navis Pack & Ship

Another way to start a business is by buying a franchise. But evaluating franchise opportunities and finding the best fit is not easy – and a mistake will be costly. FSBDC at FIU consultant Mark Mungenast has seen more than a few mistakes, particularly when a client has come to Florida SBDC at FIU after they purchased the franchise.

But that is not what Jean Rodriguez did. When he was considering buying a franchise, Mungenast helped him evaluate the opportunity thoroughly.

When Rodriguez wanted to branch away from the corporate world – his background is in corporate finance – he considered several franchise opportunities but chose Navis Pack & Ship that specializes in transporting fragile, high-value items like art, medical equipment and electronics.

“Miami is a very competitive market in terms of transportation and ocean freight, but we found that there were market needs and it was a good opportunity, especially now in Miami that there’s a whole scene taking place with a lot of people coming here to buy art,” Rodriguez says.

Jean Rodriguez is the owner of Navis Pack & Ship in the Miami area.

Navis Pack & Ship would service art galleries and auction houses that are coming down to Miami, as well as people moving out and needing to get move their art and artifacts. “It’s going to be a business that is very well embedded in the local community,” Rodriguez says.

In December, Rodriguez began working with Mungenast. “I wanted to get that reassurance that what I was doing wasn’t something crazy because I’ve heard stories of people buying franchises, and it goes terribly wrong. He was instrumental in helping me develop a good business plan, understand the market and put together a concise market study to understand who my clients would be and have a better understanding of the demand for the services,” says Rodriguez.

In evaluating the opportunity, “We put together an action plan,” explains Mungenast. That included visiting art galleries and talking with potential future customers about how they were handling shipping now and if they happy with the services and the prices. “There’s nothing like talking to the customer before you even open a business,” Mungenast adds.

The action plan also included Rodriguez talking with other Navis Pack & Ship franchisees about their experiences getting going, what support they received from the franchisor, and whether their sales met expectations. “Mark leveraged all of his experience to help me understand the opportunity from all different angles,” adds Rodriguez, and was also a resource during negotiations.

Rodriguez signed the franchise agreement in April, and now Mungenast is helping him with a marketing plan and will be a resource for him through the different phases of the business. Rodriguez has also been meeting with potential customers, working on hiring an assistant, and plans to open the business this month.

Mungenast’s advice for others considering buying a franchise? “the advice is come to us first please. We can help you.”

Thrive Loop

Just getting started this year is Margie Valentin, owner of Thrive Loop, a new marketing consulting company.

Like many in this economy, Valentin was recently laid off from her position at a large tech company, where she was a project program manager for various companies  navigating the digital world and worked with a number of creative strategists. After a couple of months of job hunting, she decided to combine her professional experiences into a consultancy business. As most aspiring entrepreneurs do, she researched available programs, including the Florida SBDC at FIU.

Valentin met regularly with FSBDC at FIU consultants as she was setting up her business. Now she has her first client, officially launched her businesss on April 15, and is working to attract more clients.  “My role is a hybrid between creative, strategy and business, and it’s been a great journey,” she says.

Valentin also participates in FSBDC at FIU webinars. “I think people need to know that this program has been so good for me and people can leverage the resources they offer.”

Margie Valentin, founder of Thrive Loop

Bonneau, FSBDC at FIU’s Startup Specialist, has led the Florida SBDC Network in business launches the last three years, but he’ll be the first to tell you that starting a business isn’t for everyone. Whether it is business planning or obtaining necessary licenses and permits to operate their businesses, entrepreneurs have many key tasks to complete before they can make their first sale.

“When we have our first meeting to create a roadmap for their new business, clients do often realize it is more work than they initially anticipated,” says Bonneau.  “The good part is that they also find out that I am here to help every step of the way.”

Bonneau provides the client with all the steps of incorporation, licensing, and setting up the business for success. He also strategizes on additional FSBDC at FIU consultants that would help the client, for example setting them up with Matas for further help with business planning. As the business grows, the center has 18 consultants in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties with specialties in capital raising, business strategy, international growth, marketing, HR processes and more to help the entrepreneur take the business to the next level.

Ready to take the next step with your business idea? Reach out to FSBDC at FIU at or (305) 779-9230 to meet with a consultant.

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