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Small Business Success Stories

(Florida Small Business)

CCI Group
Orlando | myccigroup.com

Building a brand-new business from scratch is never easy. But imagine what it’s like to take that step in a foreign country where you are unfamiliar with many business customs and your command of the native language is less than fluent. How long would you and your company survive?

For Indira (Indy) Vega, the answer continues to unfold. Indy came to Florida from Colombia fluent in English and able to work as a 911 operator and, later, as an interpreter in the county courthouse, helping immigrants navigate the paperwork of relocation to Florida. Along the way, Vega got to thinking … and in 2012, she launched CCI Group, offering interpretation and translation services in more than 200 languages for private and public sector clients, including the one she’s most proud of – American Sign Language.

Among the firm’s capabilities: phone meetings that allow clients to access an interpreter in as little as 48 seconds and webinars featuring multilanguage presentations in English, Spanish, Creole and Portuguese.

“We do more than replace words,” says Vega. “We enable true communications across languages and cultures.”

As CCI Group celebrates its 11th anniversary in 2023, Vega can’t say enough good things about SBDC at the University of Central Florida and the help she has been given.

“I was a solo practitioner with one part-time employee when I started with FSBDC. Now we’re up to 10 and growing – in Central Florida and overseas.”

“My experience working with the FSBDC has been amazing. We wouldn’t be here without them, that’s for sure.”

Nervous Nellies
Fort Myers Beach | nervousnellies.net

Business owners across Florida know hurricanes happen here. Not every year, but with enough regularity to make Lee County business owners like Len Lemmer remain serious about hurricane preparation.

On September 28, 2022, Lemmer was the owner/operator of Nervous Nellies, a waterside restaurant on Fort Myers Beach catering to tourists and locals when Hurricane Ian blew through as a Category 4 storm.

Fast forward one day: Lemmer still owned Nervous Nellies, but to be frank, there wasn’t much left.

“That next day,” Lemmer recalls, “the first thing we saw was a line on the window indicating how high the water rose inside. Everything below the line that water touched — dry wall, kitchen equipment, walk-in coolers, a thousand pounds of fresh seafood — had to be tossed.”

Even now, looking at what’s left of Fort Myers Beach seven months later, Lemmer’s son Tyler says, “It’s devastating.”

But Nervous Nellies has no intention of tossing in the towel thanks to nearly non-stop help from SBDC consultant Suzanne Specht at Florida Gulf Coast University. Says Tyler, “She cares about small business and how we can use the various recovery programs available.”

Says Lemmer, “Just filling out all the applications can be a daunting task. But having Suzanne here to help drops my stress level. I know she’s going to make sure it’s all done correctly.”

Sadly, many of the homes and businesses torn apart by Ian in Southwest Florida won’t recover, and that concerns Nervous Nellies’ general manager, Danny Timothy.

“There are many irreplaceable things in the restaurant — some we could save, some preserved in pictures. But we are determined to rebuild, so our guests can continue to enjoy ‘the best waterfront view’ year after year.”

A & G Marketing Group by Proforma
Lake Mary | marketingbyproforma.com

Jennifer Herrera and Pablo Prahl weren’t what you might call brand-newcomers to the hard work of owning a business when they teamed up in 2010 to launch A & G Marketing Group by Proforma in downtown Lake Mary. On their own, each had established impressive credentials in the business of high-level promotion.

But they still had a lot to learn.

“We sought assistance from the FSBDC because we wanted to know how to improve our internal processes and work together better to take the next step to growing our business,” says Herrera.

And it has paid off.

“It’s easy for us as business owners to get so involved in our daily tasks, we don’t take the time to work on our business. With the support of the FSBDC, you’re going to find time and you’re going to see positive results.”

So, together, step by step and with help from Florida SBDC at Seminole State College, Herrera and Prahl continue to grow their business by improving processes, increasing operational efficiency, enhancing the effectiveness of their internal and external communications and adding new staff.

“The improvement we’ve seen in our business since we started working with the FSBDC has been great,” says Prahl.
And Herrera agrees, adding, “If you’re a business owner needing help, make time to approach FSBDC. You’re going to see benefits.”

AREHNA Engineering
Tampa | arehna.com

It’s a pretty good bet that geotechnical engineer Jessica McRory is not a person who fears change. Fifteen years ago she left a large consulting firm, and with a partner, launched AREHNA Engineering, a geotechnical engineering and construction materials testing firm located in downtown Tampa. As the firm continued to thrive and the work poured in, AREHNA expanded to include new locations in Orlando, Coral Springs and Miami, providing geotechnical and materials testing services for a wide a variety of project types, including transportation, land development, water treatment facilities, telecommunication and utilities.

But that wasn’t all.

With the onset of COVID-19, McRory wanted to learn more about federal opportunities for her business, and so she reached out to the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at the University of South Florida for additional information. She was paired with procurement specialist Karen Krymski, who helped her understand complicated government opportunities like the Paycheck Protection Program loan process (no longer available) and assisted in the application process for obtaining the woman-owned small business certification.

As McRory works on new projects and seeks opportunities to grow her business, she plans to continue utilizing the resources provided by Florida PTAC at USF and to call on Krymski for additional help.

Says McRory, “She just has her finger on the pulse of a lot of federal opportunities and contacts that I might have missed.”

“I’ve come a long way in this process,” she adds, “but I’ve still got a long way to go to properly position myself for this type of work. I’ve found a lot of value in PTAC and I hope to continue using it.”

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