Striking out as an entrepreneur is a challenge under the best of circumstances. During a global pandemic it can be overwhelming. But help is on the way.
The Coastal Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute brainchild of Howard Holley, CEO and Publisher of EVOLVE and Parent Magazines and Joe Roy, Editor of EVOLVE Palm Coast Region, was officially launched earlier this year and offers budding entrepreneurs and start-ups advice, assistance and a helping hand for business owners looking to make their mark.
Roy, whose previous experience includes a stint in the U.S. Army, work as a senior vice president of supply chain for Bath and Body Works and time spent as the former area manager of the Palm Coast Business Assistance Center and Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida, brings years of experience in the business world to Palm Coast and Flagler County and has already hit the ground running, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.
“With the SBDC gone and everything happening, businesses will need help,” Roy said.
Based at Office Divvy in Palm Coast, a business accelerator and office sharing company, Roy said he has already met with two clients.
“Most everything we’re doing is virtual,” he said. “I also get out and around to meet them personally and work with them, as long as everyone is comfortable with it.”
Roy said the Institute is modeled on the work he did with the Small Business Development Center, but it is tailored for the needs of Palm Coast business owners and would-be entrepreneurs.
A healthy entrepreneurial landscape can be a vital part of a local economy, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, an effort to track and analyze the state of entrepreneurship around the world.
In its 2019-2020 report, the group said entrepreneurship “is an essential driver of societal health and wealth, and a formidable engine of economic growth.”
For Roy, the mission is even more fundamental. He sees the Institute as a vehicle to not only encourage entrepreneurial growth in the community but also broaden and diversify the economic landscape.
“We want to engage underrepresented groups to get everyone involved in the economy as it continues to grow back,” he said. “We are really looking at age, race, gender, orientation and at-risk students to look at how we can help them live out their dream.”
One of the organizations’ first clients was Olivier Wagenheim, owner of a company called Spark-Air that makes sanitation machines using ultraviolet technology.
Wagenheim had been a client of Roy’s at the Palm Coast Business Assistance Center several years ago and reconnected with Roy earlier this year for help with his new venture.
“My background is more in engineering,” Wagenheim said. “Joe helped me to guide my business and to find the proper resources to start this business successfully.”
Wagenheim said Roy provided assistance with developing a business plan and with marketing as well as with product development.
“The problem was we had to choose from all the ideas which to do first,” he said.
Wagenheim said with the help of the Coastal Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute, Spark-Air has taken off.
“Things are going great,” he said. “My company will in the future be able to hire more people and maybe help with the unemployment in the area and take advantage of the unfortunate situation we are in right now.”
Roy said while existing businesses are a prime focus of the effort, he is hoping to encourage the next generation of entrepreneurs as well.
“We want to bring more technology to the area and get involved with the schools and Junior Achievement,” he said.
Roy said he has been thinking about the idea of the Institute for a while and the impact of Covid-19 provided even more impetus to get it off the ground.
“We looked at the small-business needs and they would say ‘I can’t wait until we are back to normal,’ and I say, what is normal?” he said. “Business the way you have done it before, that is probably not the way it is going to happen going forward.”
Roy said one of the changes he sees is an extension of the reliance on and use of technology.
“What we do know is happening is there is more technology out there and work-at-home or having a business at home is going to be the new normal going forward at some point,” he said. “Technology is changing the way Flagler County’s small-business community actually grows.”
The move to virtual meetings and technology is also likely to have an impact on entrepreneurship in the future, according to Ky Ekinci, co-founder of Office Divvy and a force behind the Entrepreneur Night events that have become a staple of Flagler County’s business landscape.
“The type of entrepreneurship I think we are going to see is going to be these little areas on the gig economy, people utilizing existing platforms but also a version of people using other platform marketplaces and getting into a business through them, such as Amazon,” he said.
Another shift Ekinci sees for budding entrepreneurs is a throwback to the early 2000s when a lot of displaced professionals became consultants.
“Where that leaves the true entrepreneur who starts something from scratch, putting their blood, sweat and tears into it and fighting against all odds to come up with an original groundbreaking idea and then scaling that, how much of that we are going to see – I‘m not sure,” he said.
Ekinci said Palm Coast and Flagler County is in a good position to take advantage of the new virtual economy with the remote tools available and said Roy’s effort will be a boon to that transition.
“It’s going to be an interesting four to eight years to observe in terms of these shifts,” he said.
Assistance from the Coastal Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute will be free, Roy said.
“I want to call it an extension of service, helping others achieve their dream,” he said. “That is why we want to talk to underrepresented people.”
Roy said a website is currently under construction and the organization is seeking non-profit status.
While there are other organizations that offer help to small-business owners, such as SCORE, Roy said he does not see the Institute as competing with them.
“I think there’s been a void with the SBDC gone,” he said. “SCORE is still here, but I don’t see us competing at all. I think we actually complement each other.”
Roy said he also anticipates working closely with the new Palm Coast-Flagler Regional Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.
“We want to work with the different organizations to make sure we are serving them,” he said.
Roy said he envisions the Institute as an entity that business owners and start-ups can use as a resource if and when they feel a need for assistance.
“Mostly now I am getting referrals,” he said. “Ours is going to be more of an outreach. We want to see how we can help other organizations, and more importantly, how we can help businesses. It can help everybody.”