Florida Small Business Development Centers celebrates its 45th birthday

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There are 2.8 million small businesses in the state of Florida — 99.8% of the state’s businesses, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2021.

Since 1976, the Florida Small Business Development Centers have assisted entrepreneurs in all aspects of the business cycle. Funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Florida SBDC offers professional expertise and business training essential to develop, innovate, restore or transition a small business.

While the Florida SBDC recognizes its 45th anniversary this year, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create unparalleled challenges for small businesses. Headquartered at the University of West Florida with locations at universities and community colleges across the state, Florida’s SBDC fulfilled 162,516 consulting hours with small businesses throughout this year alone.

Florida SBDC is the largest continuous SBDC in the country, covering 18 North Florida counties, including Marion, Ocala, Clay, Alachua and Putnam counties. According to Dianne Gross, strategic communications manager at Florida SBDC, the network has more than 250 employees within the state.

“We come in as that unbiased partner,” Gross said. “We as the SBDC exist to help small businesses navigate common entrepreneurial stumbling blocks that can trip up businesses and make it difficult for them to grow.”

Those new to starting a small business may understand what steps need to be taken but might not know explicitly how to do so. Called a small business’ best-kept secret by Michael Chung, the Assistant Area Director for the Florida SBDC Network, the SBDC also acts as an experimenter for entrepreneurs concerning their tactics and ideas. 

Gainesville entrepreneurs can use their local satellite SBCD office at the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center to turn an idea into a local business. 

Steven Kay, owner of Ally Family Medicine, knows how hard it can be to get a Small Business Administration loan and to construct a business plan. During a consultation with a staff member at Gainesville’s SBDC office, Kay learned about loans and how to find the most influential lenders.

“Once the business plan was complete and the loan application submitted, the SBDC would regularly check in with me to see how the loan process was going,” Kay said. “Anyone seeking out a loan would be crazy not to take advantage of this free service.”

Amanda Alexander, owner of Stretch Performance Psychology LLC, reached out to the SBDC for guidance about relocating her practice from Texas to Gainesville. 

“The SBDC is a valuable resource that I recommend entrepreneurs take advantage of,” Alexander said. “In fact, I always recommend to anyone who asks me how I started my business to first begin with a call to the SBDC.”

Tina Miller, owner of Walkabout Outfitter, says keeping her business afloat in the pandemic has been beyond challenging. At one point, business was down 90%. (Courtesy of Tina Miller)

Businesspeople can visit the University of North Florida’s regional SBDC, located at the Adam W. Herbert University Center. In the spring of 2017, Michael Zaffaroni, owner of Liberty Landscape Supply first contacted the SBDC for business expansion consulting.

Zaffaroni received data and consulting for new locations, became acquainted with potential business partners and hosted assistance with leadership development amongst his team.  — at no cost.

According to Zaffaroni, since Liberty Landscape Supply first started working with the SBDC, the business has grown more than 600%.

“We continue seeking advice and assistance from the SBDC and plan to do so in the future,” Zaffaroni said. “We wish more small businesses knew about the SBDC services.”

In 2020, the Florida SBDC experienced a 129% increase in businesses help and a 43.3% increase in advising compared to its previous year. Since March 2020, the network helped small businesses access more than $210 million in state and federal disaster aid. 

Due to the ongoing pandemic, the Florida SBDC chose to not hold a larger celebration to honor its 45 years of service. Instead, the network launched its “45 stories for 45 years” social campaign, featuring accounts from small business owners who obtained help from a Florida SBDC. 

As the assistant director of marketing for Florida SBDC at the University of North Florida, Marice Hague collaborated with colleagues to showcase the success stories.  

“Because of COVID, we just wanted to focus on our success stories,” Hague said. “Highlighting not only our small businesses, but recognizing that the SBDC is part of that, and we were able to support them in these successes.” 

Additionally, the network held its first virtual, client-based event, which featured keynotes and words from Senator Marco Rubio. 

The center started hosting virtual consulting appointments and will continue with online options while reopening back to in-person consulting appointments. Additionally, the network will carry on with providing online workshops and webinars. 

Though retaining nearly half of a century’s worth of service, Florida SBDC is proud of its success during the past year above all, said Greg Britton, chief executive officer of the Florida SBDC. The pandemic posed unprecedented repercussions on small businesses beyond what the SBDC has encountered in its history.

“Florida’s small businesses continue to face new hurdles as we navigate the new normal,” Britton said. “Together, we [Florida SBDC] have proven our ability to rise to the challenge during a time of unprecedented change.”

About Samantha Inselberg

Samantha is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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