Open for Business

by Joyce Edelstein

How Palm Beach State College became the one-stop resource center for  entrepreneurs of all ages and stages

It’s late afternoon on the Boca Raton campus. Students are packed into a classroom. They’re not there for a lecture or exam, but a free workshop on how to start a business. Notepads and iPads are out, extra chairs have been brought in, but it’s still standing room only. Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.

Palm Beach State students aren’t the only ones discovering what the Center for Business and Entrepreneurship has to offer. Members of the community – veterans, boomers, women, seniors and even teenagers – are turning to CBE for training and guidance on how to start and grow a business.

In 2009, the Small Business Development Center – Florida’s state-designated provider of small business assistance – needed a new host institution after 22 years in residence at Florida Atlantic University.  Dr. Dennis Gallon, Palm Beach State president, and Dr. Bernadette Russell, Boca Raton campus provost, saw not only a change of address for SBDC, but also the opportunity to build an entrepreneurship center to benefit both students and the Palm Beach County business community.

Once Palm Beach State became the home for SBDC, Russell looked for what the College, as the county’s largest higher education institution, could contribute to the mission.

“We saw the need to teach our students to be entrepreneurial, to be innovative and creative,” says Russell. “We also wanted to be an agent of economic change in the county and a resource for those starting a business.”

Creating the Umbrella

What evolved was an umbrella of services and education options, developed by a staff fired up by the challenge. “Now entrepreneurs can find all the resources they need in one place,” says Russell. “Everyone can come to CBE and fill their toolbox with knowledge and skills.”

Taking Care of Businesses

SBDC at Palm Beach State College is one of 1,100 centers nationwide (34 in Florida) started in 1976 by the U.S. Small Business Administration. “Because of Dr. Russell, we are very much a part of the College and not simply in name only,” says Ted Kramer, SBDC regional director. “She wants us to be involved in the functions, she wants us to be part of CBE – and that’s very important to us.”

SBDC helps aspiring entrepreneurs and newly minted businesses, as well as more mature “second-stage” companies through its new Growth Acceleration Program (GAP). In addition to offering free workshops, SBDC’s certified business analysts meet one-on-one with clients at no charge, providing expertise in business planning, marketing, operations and more.

Serving thousands annually, SBDC works with people of all ages; their oldest client is 91 years young. A remarkable example is high school senior Shea Gouldd, the owner of Shea’s Bakery. This SBDC client turned one amazing cheesecake into a made-to-order bakery operation in Delray Beach that gives 10 percent of its profits to charity. Statewide in 2011, SBDC clients opened 1,026 businesses and created or saved 16,914 jobs.

Palm Beach State students are being helped, too. “We see 3-4 students a month,” says Phil Scruton, a certified business analyst who also leads the campus workshops. An example is A.A. student Joseph Lahuerta. After attending a workshop, Lahuerta started not one, but two businesses with Scruton’s help. “SBDC and Palm Beach State allowed me to realize my passion. This is something I’ve wanted to do since high school,” says Lahuerta.

Winning Contracts

Once up and running, many businesses turn to PTAC or the Procurement Technical Assistance Center. Established in 1985 as a specialized program of the SBDC network, PTAC works with owners of any size business interested in having the government – city, county, state or federal – as their customer.

“We are not a formal matchmaker between government agencies and businesses,” says Carole Hart, certified business analyst/procurement specialist, “but in Palm Beach County last year, our clients were awarded over $100 million in government contracts. We know that the roadmap we are providing them is working!”

Teaching Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is on the rise and Florida ranks among the top ten states in startups over the past decade, according to the Kauffman Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing entrepreneurship. The foundation also reports that about two-thirds of U.S. colleges and universities have at least one course in entrepreneurship.

Palm Beach State is no exception. The College has launched an Associate in Science degree and College Credit Certificate in Business Entrepreneurship, with classes beginning this fall. Faculty from the Boca Raton and Lake Worth campuses collaborated over a two-year period to build the best programs. “Even people who are not ready to start a business will find the programs worthwhile,” notes Dr. Nika Coleman-Ferrell, associate dean of academic affairs in Boca Raton. “When students learn to think in an entrepreneurial way, they become successful in whatever career they choose.”

Sharpening Skills

The Center for Business and Entrepreneurship also offers a large selection of continuing education courses for those who don’t need college credits, but do need to enhance their knowledge and skills. The short-term courses range from “Entrepreneurship: Getting Started” to classes in marketing and branding, taxation and bookkeeping, hospitality and culinary arts, international trade and much more.

“We aim to offer courses not found elsewhere,” says Isabel Karimi, program director for CBE continuing education. Among Karimi’s plans: customizable training that allows students to choose from a menu of courses and receive an award of completion in entrepreneurship.

Coleman-Ferrell adds, “You simply don’t see our level of comprehensive offerings across the state of Florida. You see pieces of it, but not the whole concept housed in one college – that’s why CBE is so unique.”

Energizing Careers

When the College’s Boca Raton Career Center was brought under the CBE umbrella, manager Courtney Trzcinski initiated campus SBDC workshops, which were previously held only at county libraries. She also seized the opportunity to help students find internships with entrepreneurs and promote the Career Center’s job board at CBE events. “The big workshop turnouts showed that we really had a large student interest in entrepreneurship,” says Trzcinski. “It started this whole energy going on campus.”

Starting Young

Say “goodbye” to the lemonade stand and “hello” to Lemonade. com. Today’s 8-14 year olds are embracing entrepreneurship, and Palm Beach State’s Summer Youth College is working with CBE to teach them the ropes. The first entrepreneurship camp was a big hit last summer and has been expanded to include 15-18 year olds. In addition, a Youth Entrepreneurship Conference held during spring break produced budding CEO’s like Sean, a fifth grader who plans to sell all things reptilian on his Reptile River website; Noemi, a fourth grader who calls her pet-sitting service Happiest Pet; and middle schoolers Christian and Christofer, partners in Hoops Basketball Academy. “I wish you could see these kids,” says Eileen Robinson, Summer Youth College director, “they’re ready to go!”

Networking for Everyone

This past spring, over 100 women (and men) gathered for CBE’s first Summit for Women Entrepreneurs. With Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor as keynote speaker, the summit offered breakout sessions with SBDC certified business analysts and women entrepreneurs. The summit is just one example of CBE forums that address the business concerns of diverse populations, including veterans, seniors, boomers and minorities.

The summit also served as the kick-off for CBE’s new Women Entrepreneurs Network, a group that meets monthly to exchange ideas and learn from experts. At a recent meeting, SBDC certified business analyst Sharon Geltner spoke about web and social media strategies, her specialty. Attendees included Geltner’s SBDC client Melinda Rosenthal, whose guides Boca Raton parents to the best enrichment programs for kids. “Kudos to CBE,” says Rosenthal. “This meeting was phenomenal. There was so much energy in the room. Everyone is so passionate about what they’re doing and so eager to share with everybody else.”

Toby Saval, another client and owner of Saval Insurance Group, which helps individuals find health insurance, agrees. “I think the world of this College. I’m surprised more people aren’t taking advantage of all these resources right in our own backyard.”

If the folks behind CBE get their way, more and more Palm Beach County entrepreneurs – and Palm Beach State students – will take full advantage of these resources and find all the support they need.