By Mike Ensley, Special to Innovation Coast
More than 50 would-be entrepreneurs gathered at the University of West Florida Conference Center on Thursday, Nov. 12, to learn more about how to start and grow a small business.
VentureIN Northwest Florida was aimed at connecting “veterans, women and minorities with entrepreneurial opportunities in high-tech,” but welcomed all interested business people.
“I want to welcome you,” Lawson said. “(Florida) Gov. Scott recognizes that it is important for us to continue to offer opportunities to our veteran, women and minority entrepreneurs if we want to create business in our state.”
The first session of the day focused on “How to Make it in High-Tech in Florida.” Moderated by UWF College of Business Professor Dr. Ed Ranelli, panelists Niels Andersen of KontactIntelligence, Dr. Donovan Chau of the Center for Research and Economic Opportunity and Innovation Coast and Dr. Lawrence Tinker, of the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public research, each addressed both specific and overarching questions on entrepreneurship.
Andersen, whose Web-based software company provides “the most comprehensive online suite of tools for providing recruitment and retention metrics in the health care industry,” according to their website, said that early on, he built his business on advice his grandfather had offered him.
“He always stressed loyalty as the key to success,” Andersen said. “I followed that for 48 years as a guiding principle.”
But as he dug deeper and began to share his ideas for his business, he discovered that there was another element that was missing.
“I recall presenting my idea to a group of people and while everyone nodded their heads in agreement, when the presentation ended, one person said to me, ‘I don’t believe it,’” he said. “That struck me and going forward, I began to listen to songs and commercials found that word stuck out to me: believe. If you are going to be successful, you have to convince others to believe in your product.”
Tinker’s advice focused on how to gain funding for your project. His first piece of advice: bootstrap your way up.
“Start with people you know. It’s a tactic startups like to call ‘friends, family and other fools,’” Tinker said. “Also, there are other funding options out there, including grants for specialized businesses or regions through government agencies and angel investors, who specialize in making small scale capital investments in startups.”
Chau focused on market research; discovering if there is a viable market for your idea or product.
“When starting a business, you have to ask the right questions,” he said. “Know your audience – they are human beings and what they feel today could change tomorrow. As an entrepreneur, you have to be adaptable.”
“You have to listen to the customers,” he said. “If you listen and understand, when you say something to them, they will listen and your words will be much more profound.”
The second session of the day focused on “Opportunities, Training and Knowledge in High-Tech.” The session featured featuring Chau as moderator and guests Lloyd Reshard, co-founder of Cognitive Big Data Systems Inc., Sharon Triplett, associate director and consultant at Florida Small Business Development Center SBDC at UWF, and John Dantzler, of business incubator Venture Hive.
For tech businesses, Dantzler offered one key piece of advice: stay connected.
“Leveraging your knowledge and experience are crucial, but you also must keep up with the trends,” he said. “You can spend a lot of time marketing your product on Facebook, meanwhile your audience may have already moved on to Instagram.”
Triplett said she also sees connections as important, but in a different form.
“Small business owners must network and stay involved in their communities,” she said. “It’s not a matter of only finding resources locally; it’s really all about how you use them.”
Reshard stressed that it’s important to have a good base in fundamentals before entrepreneurs tackle the day to day of running a business.
“Learn the concepts first before worrying about the practical,” he said. “It is that conceptual thinking that will allow you to solve problems and carry your business forward throughout its life.”
Other speakers and panelists included: Marianne Arbulu, small business programs manager with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity; Dr. Tim O’Keefe, dean of the UWF College of Business and Center for Entrepreneurship; Dr. Susan Amat, founder and CEO of Venture Hive; Thomas Hermanson, associate manager and consultant at the Florida SBDC at UWF; FSBDC; Matthew Johnson, of Florida Angel Nexus; Dr. Thom Park, principal with the Prescient Consulting Group; and Mark Anderson, of the Greater Pensacola Entrepreneur Fund.