Friday, November 14, 2014

Client of the Month - Accessibility Services

"I knew that SBDC at UNF was the resource I needed to help me navigate the process of applying for a multi-million dollar government contract and assembling related financial contingency plans." 

Since 1989, Accessibility Services, Inc. (ASI) has been providing assistive technology and adaptive equipment for disabled individuals, hospitals, businesses, schools and universities throughout Florida and in recent years at a national level. They design and provide environmental control units (ECU's), sometimes called electronic aids, for daily living enabling their customers with physical or neuromuscular disabilities to gain control of their environment.

This family-owned company was started by Fred Thompson and is now operated by his wife, Maggie Thompson. When Maggie took over the operation of the company, she knew there was opportunity for growth but wasn't sure where to start in her expansion efforts.  She learned of the Florida Small Business Development Center (FSBDC) location in Citrus County and first met with consultant Mike Orlito in late 2011. During that initial meeting, Maggie learned the FSBDC could help her develop marketing strategies, compete for and win government contracts, assemble financing options and find qualified candidates for employment.

Early in the summer of 2013, new opportunities for increased capacity arose for ASI, so Maggie arranged a meeting with Mike to help her company determine how to make just the right preparations. With Mike's help, they developed a plan that would utilize the expertise of additional SBDC staff members throughout Northeast Florida.

Mike arranged a video conference with Don Zavesky, the SBDC's government contracting specialist. It was the first of many interactions between Don and ASI during this process. Regarding the services provided by Don, Maggie said, "Don guided us through a gauntlet of preparations before and after we submitted our application for the contract. It's uncertain if we would have been successful without Don Zavesky in our corner."  Mike also arranged for Peter Rivera, SBDC's Ocala area financial analysis expert, to conduct a thorough analysis of the company's financial records. Maggie was impressed by the depth and breadth of Peter's work saying, "Peter's analysis and presentation of trends in our financial history has helped us identify procedures to further strengthen our finances."
Maggie was impressed with how Mike arranged the right players among his colleagues at SBDC to meet all of her needs and more saying, "Mike left no stone un-turned in this process by engaging several SBDC consultants to help with technical aspects of applying for the government contract, providing detailed financial analysis, market research and industry benchmarks to support our application for financial assistance should we succeed in winning the contract."


Maggie Thompson and her staff at Accessibility Services are pleased to have been awarded the multi-year contract and secured the financing necessary to service the contract seamlessly. Since learning of the contract award, Maggie has added two full-time administrative positions and added two full-time technicians as well, a total of four new Citrus County jobs. They are looking forward to their next meeting with Mike at FSBDC is to discuss strategic planning and to revise their five-year business plan.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Businesses and Online Reviews: Understanding the Good and the Bad

Almost every consumer business is subject to online reviews that they can’t control. Depending on the industry, anywhere from 73% - 90% of consumers read online reviews before buying a product or service.

So, how can we make sure to leverage the good reviews and respond to the bad? To help us all better understand this issue, the SBDC will present a workshop presented by UNF professor Dr. Matt Corrigan, who will help business owners with the following issues:
   
   • Understanding online reviews and services such as Yelp and TripAdvisor
   • How businesses respond to online reviews
   • How companies should respond to online reviews
   • How companies can generate more positive reviews
   • How online reviews can reinforce your brand

December 9, 2014
Time: 
1pm - 3pm
Cost:  $20
Place:  UNF Herbert University Center
Register:  https://www.sbdc.unf.edu/register-workshop.php?workshops_id=336

For more information call 904.620.2476 or go to www.sbdc.unf.edu.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Be a part of a ground-breaking study on social media usage in small business

Research indicates a growing belief that Social Media may be the most beneficial to Small and Medium Enterprises.

The Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida is partnering with UNF faculty in a groundbreaking study to define strategies that optimize the use of Social Media. Such strategies can drive up revenues and lower costs for your business. The study looks at several factors including your entrepreneurial experience, risk-taking behavior, and your firm's profitability.

Your support will help advance research in this still nascent topic. As appreciation for your participation, we will share the results of the study, once completed, to assist you in the development of your firm's Social Media strategies.

Please note that  participation in the survey is completely voluntary. No personally identifiable data will be collected or reported. Feel free to skip any question in the survey that you are not comfortable answering. The survey has 27 questions, and will take roughly 15 minutes of your time. The deadline for participating in the survey is November 30, 2014. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Protect the Data! More Regulations on Businesses.

The Florida legislature has decided to take a more aggressive approach to identity theft. A new law that went into effect on July 1, 2014, the Florida Information Protection Act of 2014 (“FIPA”), places more stringent notification obligations on most businesses and increases the fines and penalties for non-compliance.

FIPA is at the same time broader and simpler than the Health Information Portability and Protection Act (“HIPAA”).  While HIPAA applies to businesses that deal with protected healthcare information, FIPA applies to virtually all businesses that have access to or store certain personal information of individuals in Florida. 

What is that “personal information”?  There are two categories:

Category A    A person’s last name and first name or first initial PLUS one of the following:

ü  Social security number
ü  Driver’s license number
ü  Identification card number
ü  Passport number
ü  Military identification number
ü  Other identification number on a government document
ü  Financial account number AND security code, access code or password
ü  Credit or debit card number AND security code, access code or password
ü  Information regarding medical history
ü  Information regarding mental or physical condition
ü  Information regarding medical treatment or diagnosis by a health care professional
ü  Health insurance policy number/ identification number/ or other identifier

Category B     A person’s user name OR email address PLUS a password OR a security question answer that would allow access to an online account.

Because the definition of personal information is so broad, most businesses will find that FIPA applies to them.  For example, a business that takes credit card payments will have a person’s credit card number, the expiration date and the access code on the back of the card.  In addition, all businesses that have employees will have the employee’s name, social security number and identification number(s), because that information is required on Form I-9. 

PROTECTING THE DATA

FIPA requires a business to protect the “personal information” stored in electronic form by taking “reasonable measures.” FIPA does not define “reasonable measures” but businesses should implement certain common sense policies and procedures.  At the end of this article are some basic suggestions. 

In addition, FIPA has requirements for the disposal of records once the data is no longer needed.  A business must shred, erase, or otherwise modify the personal information in the records so that it is unreadable or undecipherable through any means.

REPORTING A BREACH OF SECURITY

While FIPA does not give much guidance on how to protect personal information, it is very detailed when it comes to a breach of security.  Once a breach or suspected breach occurs, certain notification requirements are triggered. 

Required notices may include personal notices to affected individuals, notice to the Department of Legal Affairs, notice to law enforcement, and notice to credit reporting agencies.  In some circumstances, detailed reports must be submitted in the notice.  In any event, a breach or suspected breach of security will cost a business a significant amount of resources. 

If your business suffers a breach or suspects a breach of security, it is prudent to address the situation immediately. There are strict time limits for reporting and issuing notices.  Failure to comply with the requirements in FIPA can result in fines and penalties up to $500,000.00.

While FIPA does not authorize a private cause of action for an individual to sue, lawsuits could potentially be filed against a business for breach of security on the basis of other causes of action, including without limitation, negligence, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty.  Therefore, the advice of a qualified attorney is recommended.

RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR VENDORS AND SERVICE PROVIDERS

If you hire a vendor or service provider to maintain, store or process “personal information” on your behalf, you are still responsible for its protection.   As far as FIPA is concerned, your vendor or service provider has an obligation to notify you of any breach.  Then it is your responsibility to make the required notifications mentioned above.  The fines and penalties would apply to you if you fail to meet FIPA’s requirements.

Therefore, it is very important that you choose your vendors and service providers carefully and make sure that you have a written contract that obligates the vendors and service providers to protect the personal information.  Ideally, the contract should set out specific actions that the vendor or service provider is required to take, including meeting the notification deadlines in FIPA.

SUGGESTED POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

The following is a list of basic suggestions that, at a minimum, every business should implement:

1.      Develop written policies and procedures for handling personal information.
2.      Implement and monitor compliance with those policies and procedures on a regular basis.
3.      Limit access to personal information to those employees who have a legitimate business need to know.
4.      Set restrictions on the use of personal electronic devices that can access the business’ systems.
5.      Inventory and monitor computer devices to make sure they are password protected.
6.      Implement cyber-security programs on computer devices and keep them updated.
7.      Have strict record disposal procedures.
8.      Develop procedures for reporting when a breach or suspected breach occurs.  (Include phone numbers, timelines and other details.)
9.      Check your insurance policies to see if they cover cyber-security.
10.   Have written contracts with your vendors and service providers obligating them to protect personal information and report any breaches or suspected breaches of security.  (You can obligate them to report to you sooner than FIPA requires.)

IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER

It is important to remember that the size of a business does not matter.  FIPA applies to every business that collects, accesses or stores “personal information.”  It does not matter whether the business is based in Florida or has a presence in Florida or has any connection to Florida.  What matters is whether the business has personal information of an individual who is in Florida. 

While FIPA may seem short and sweet at a glance (see Section 501.171 of the Florida Statutes), its reach is broad and its penalties for non-compliance are steep.  In time, we are sure to see how FIPA is implemented, enforced and eventually challenged or interpreted by the courts.  For now, businesses need to be aware of the requirements and implement the necessary policies and procedures to comply.


This article was written by Laurie Lee, member of the Small Business Resource NetworkLee is a business law attorney at Brennan, Manna & Diamond, PL in their Jacksonville, Florida office.  She can be reached at (904) 366-1500 or lmlee@bmdpl.com.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New program for businesses ready for growth!

ScaleUp North Florida is a new SBA program designed for growth-oriented small business and high-potential entrepreneurs who want to create jobs, increase sales and access capital for business development.

Participants will receive entrepreneurial education customized to the needs of Stage 1 companies. Recognized experts will deliver 24 hours of proven, existing curriculum focused on strategic planning, financial management, human resource management, leadership, marketing and brand strategy development.  To qualify for participation in ScaleUp North business owners must: 
  • Be in business at least three years 
  •  Generate $150,000 to $500,000 in annual sales
  • Have a desire to grow and expand their business
  • Be located in Baker, Duval, Nassau, Putnam, Clay or St. Johns counties in Florida
Graduates of the educational component will then receive a comprehensive business assessment to determine next steps in achieving their growth goals. Recruitment of qualified firms will begin in October. Up to 50 business owners will be accepted into the two entrepreneurship education programs scheduled to begin in early 2015.


Interested? To request an application or receive more information go to www.scaleupnorthflorida.com and enter your details in the form at the top right of the page.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

FSBDC at UNF Client of the Month: Master Kill Pest Control

“SBDC is just awesome! I went to SBDC scared about purchasing a business and left confident and happy.  My SBDC consultant worked with me every step of the way.  She is the reason I was able to get through the entire process and now I’m a business owner."

Master Kill Pest Control is an established pest control company started in 1992 and recently acquired by John Norton in May 2014. John has an illustrious career in the pest control sector with nearly two decades of industry experience.  He worked for a regional pest control company for over 18 years, starting as a technician and working his way to management positions.  During his most recent employment he won numerous awards, from “Technician of the Year” to the “Presidents Club,” which is the highest honor within the company. He has been included on two “Top 10 Employee” lists in the last two years, with over 1200 employees working in the company.

In the fall of 2013, John came across a turn-key opportunity to purchase a well-established business in the Northeast Florida region -- Master Kill Pest Control.  He decided it was time to reap the benefits of his hard work for himself as a business owner and hang up his hat as an employee.  At the suggestion of a local banker, John sought the assistance of the Florida SBDC at UNF to guide him through the acquisition process and preparation of a loan package. 

Most business acquisitions are fraught with challenges, and this one was no different.  John and his SBDC consultant, Tracy Nazzaro,  worked hand-in-hand to develop a company valuation and multiple purchase counter-offers, in addition to the completion of a lengthy due diligence process. 


Once all terms were agreed, the FSBDC assisted John in the identification of resource partners and preparation of a business plan inclusive of financial projections to complete the loan package for an SBA 7(a) guarantee loan.  The acquisition and borrowing process was quite a journey lasting nearly eight months.  However, in the end John is now the proud owner of his own pest control company and he intends to continue to grow the business both organically through new customers and through the acquisition of additional established businesses.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Get to know our consultants. They are here to help!

Katie Arroyo has worked at the University of North Florida (UNF) Small Business Development Center since 2013.  As an International Trade Specialist and Certified Global Business Professional she works with Florida small businesses to develop comprehensive, tailored export marketing plans as well as advises clients on every aspect of international market development and compliance.  Katie also leads the Center’s International Trade Certificate Program, Export Basics series, and has made several public speaking appearances across the state during the Florida Chamber’s Trade and Logistics Plan roll-out events. 

Prior to working at UNF, Katie was an International Trade Specialist at the Oklahoma State University (OSU) International Trade Center-SBDC in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  In addition to advising Oklahoma businesses on international trade, she represented OSU at an official visit to the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso of Chile. Katie also developed and facilitated the Center’s first Certified Global Business Professional online course, assisted to research and write grant proposals, and coordinated with various departments to host international guests. 

In 2011 Katie established a limited liability corporation, called Gondwana, which sells a variety of international curios to raise funds for OSU student-led community development projects in Sierra Leone.

Katie earned her undergraduate degree in International Studies with a focus in Spanish and Business from the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL. She later earned her Master of Science degree in International Studies with a focus on International Trade and Development from Oklahoma State
University. Her area of interest is economic development in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa.

Katie’s passion for international began when she lived in Chile for six months as a high school exchange student. As a college student, Katie studied abroad in Iceland (2000), Cuba (2002), and Sierra Leone (2010).  In 2009 she worked in Costa Rica’s Foreign Trade Zone of the Americas and has also traveled to Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Holland, New Zealand, Paraguay, Puerto Rico and St. Thomas.


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Naturally Smart Foods Gets Its Product On The Shelves With The Help Of The FSBDC

When Mark Patterson, founder of Naturally Smart Foods, LLC, first came to the Florida Small Business Development Center at UNF (FSBDC) he sought assistance in establishing a presence in the Jacksonville market for his product – a gluten free, high protein dessert with an appeal to those looking for a healthy alternative to traditional ice cream.  Mark already had begun to offer his product at local natural food markets, including Grassroots II and Bio Max, as well as Thin Centers and other health and fitness-conscious establishments. He had received such positive feedback; he knew the product’s potential if only it were available in more accessible places of distribution. Toward that end, FSBDC consultants Paul Arrington and Kevin Monahan provided assistance by reviewing Mark’s business plan, discussing development of an overall marketing strategy, advice regarding developing and maintaining financial records and projections and pitching his vision to investors. 

Paul offered a chance for the business to become the subject of a UNF Coggin College of Business marketing class instructed by FSBDC consultant and UNF instructor Diane Denslow.   Mark jumped at the opportunity and was able to benefit from the marketing strategies developed by College of Business student teams.

When One Spark 2014 came around, Mark decided that this crowdfunding festival would be an excellent opportunity to showcase his product. As a part of his preparation for the event he took advantage of an entrepreneur’s round-table forum designed by FSBDC consultants Kevin Monahan and Jared Bailey to help festival participants make the most out of their One Spark experience.  Mark’s tireless efforts at One Spark paid off, with Naturally Smart Foods becoming one of the most highly noticed festival entries, attracting continuing media recognition:


It was while networking during an annual Small Business Week awards celebration event hosted by the FSBDC at the UNF in May 2014 that Mark was able to attract the financial interest of an investment group.  Now having the backing of an investment group that realizes the huge potential offered by Mark’s business, Mark has been able to turn that investment into a Jacksonville area success.  The frozen dessert product has become is available at multiple mainline retailers, including Whole Foods, Fresh Market – including a new, premier Fresh Market location, and most recently in 27 Winn Dixie locations.  Additional approved locations for product placement include Earth Fare, Lucky’s Natural Food Store and Hitchcock’s Markets. 


“I’m excited about how my business has been able to take off and grow,” says Mark, “and the help I have received from the SBDC has been an important part of that.”

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Business Highlight: Jacksonville's Best Caregivers



Our client Rosalind Marshall has grown her care giving business with a full steam ahead approach.  Lately, she's taken her quality services to the next level by adding patients, employees, and even exploring government contracts with our consultants.  And to top it off she's taken to social media like a moth to flame, reaching tens of thousands of people in just the last few months alone.

Rosalind's compassionate spirit and interest in helping others shines through in the way she assists her clients.  She's what makes Jacksonville's Best Caregivers the special business that it is today.

Rosalind had this to say about the SBDC:
“We are only as good as the people around us.” Connecting with Don Zavesky and Jared Bailey through FSBDC has developed my innate understanding of how to respond to the market needs of my customers.

Due to the lack of resources (mostly time) this partnership helps me tackle objectives and barriers other small business owner’s face during the start-up phase. If I weren’t associated with FSBDC I probably would have closed by business. I am truly grateful for this resource that has become a friendship.