Small Businesses are Ready to Serve on Small Business Saturday
With increased staffing challenges, an evolving economy, and a nagging fear that customers may shop elsewhere, how are Hillsborough County small businesses surviving? Although many entrepreneurs start their business with little guidance, others gain an advantage by seeking assistance from Hillsborough County's Entrepreneur Collaborative Center (ECC).
Established in 2014, the ECC provides business owners easy access to service providers, resources, mentorship, and specialty training. In fact, the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough, the ECC's anchor partner, is housed at the ECC. Since its opening, the ECC, in collaboration with over 90 partners, has hosted nearly 7,000 programs providing business guidance to over 97,000 participants.
Arlene Brooks is one of those people. After losing her mom in 2016, Brooks wanted to build a business to keep her mother's memory alive. Brooks was inspired by her mom and their long talks over hot coffee. Taking a leap of faith, Brooks opened the doors of Coffee Speaks N Tea Talks in 2019.
Although Brooks spent many years in the corporate world, she sought out the small business experts at Hillsborough County's ECC to guide her through the process. There, she met Janette Blanco, assistant director of the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough, who led her through the entire startup phase. Brooks says Blanco was instrumental during the COVID-19 pandemic and kept her informed about available SBA disaster programs, local grants, and ideas on ways to pivot.
Parents of two small children, Eggs Up Grill co-owners Priscilla and John Conyers were looking for a business model to bridge their love of delicious food with their desire to have a normal family life. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch and is proving to be the right model for them. It has become a staple in the Riverview area.
Like Brooks, the Conyers turned to the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough. Eggs Up Grill opened in 2020 and the Conyers continue to reach out to their contacts at the ECC for guidance.
Business owner, Christina Sweet, needed to get healthy. She searched for a store in her neighborhood that offered healthy ingredients at an affordable price. A store where she could buy a cup of this or a tablespoon of that when trying a new recipe.
Finding nothing in her area, Sweet was determined to build a business and make healthy ingredients available to Tampa residents. In 2018, The Main Ingredient, a healthy food grocery store, was born.
Now, bulk bins and large jars offer scoopable ingredients with no waste. There is an entire line of herbal teas for healing and the coffee beans are roasted weekly.
Sweet sought assistance from the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough for everything from crafting a business plan to marketing, insurance, and more. She still consults with Blanco on business decisions.
Like Sweet, Liliana Perez, owner of Nutri Truck, always had the goal of healthy, delicious food. She immigrated from Venezuela to the United States six years ago and simultaneously put her mission into action. Like the above entrepreneurs, Perez worked closely with the SBDC at Hillsborough to create a business plan and to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic. Nutri-Truck is now more than a healthy food truck. Perez offers nutritional counseling, catering, and meal plans.
As Small Business Saturday approaches, what are the hopes of these entrepreneurs? Brooks wants the community to know how fulfilling it is to own your own business. To connect with people daily and connect them to your brand is a marvelous feeling.
The Conyers hope to serve. Their website says they are truly a place where neighbors are serving neighbors, and they are a part of their community. The couple looks forward to serving the Tampa Bay community a hearty meal on Small Business Saturday and the busy holiday season ahead.
And Perez and Sweet hope people shop local all over Hillsborough County and go back to the gifts and food made with hard work and passion. Sweet shared, "There's a world of talented people ready to give you great customer care and products made with love."
To connect with the Entrepreneur Collaborative Center and its partners, or to schedule a no-cost, confidential consulting appointment with the Florida SBCC at Hillsborough, call (813) 204-9267. And for additional information, sign up for the ECC newsletter today.