Connecting the dots
Conference speaker urges entrepreneurs to seek out resources
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
A lot of the suggestions that Jeffrey Robinson gave during his talk to business owners at the Advantage Conference came straight from his first-hand experiences.
He specifically addressed entrepreneurs in the room at the Turnbull Center last Wednesday. The gist of his message was about the importance of knowing how to “connect the dots.”
The “dots” are resources that could save a business born out of an entrepreneurial spirit from going under, said Robinson, PhD, Prudential chair in business at Rutgers Business School.
“It isn’t a straight line,” he said of being an entrepreneur. “It’s a little bit of ups and downs. There could (however) be lots of positive things if you have the right surroundings; the right environment.”
Robinson’s presentation was the culmination of the two-day conference put on annually by the Capital City Chamber of Commerce. An estimated 200 participants registered, some representing out-of-town businesses.
During his talk, Robinson referenced his early days as an entrepreneur when he and a friend started a next-day service for selling vinyl records on campus. Their niche was students who couldn’t find their desired songs in record stores that were popular at that time in the early 1990’s.
The desire to be an entrepreneur never left Robinson, who is part owner of BCT Partners. The firm provides management, technology and policy consulting to agencies that include government and non-profits.
He talked about that success, but also shared that he’s had some failures — like the time he and his wife started a business that had a specific clientele. They let go after about six years.
The way to avoid such setbacks is to have a business plan and know the market that will keep producing revenue, Robinson said after his speech.
“That’s something you have to put some thought into,” he said, “because after you have sold to all your friends and family, that’s not enough and then you’re out of business in 18 months.”
Having a support base is one move that could help entrepreneurs sustain, he said.
“When entrepreneurs have people they talk to who can help them, (and) give them some guidance as mentors, then they have much less chances to fail,” Robinson said, adding that is part of connecting the dots.
“The entrepreneurs get it because they realize that in some cases they’d been trying to be an island and not connecting the dots,” he said.
The idea of finding resources resonated with Carlette Smith and her husband, Brian. They own Bryan Smith Cleaning Services, which was a challenge to keep going in the early years of operation.
“We did a lot of things by trial and error,” said Carlette. “We did a lot on our own. It was a challenge to us being out there on our own and not having anyone to help us. We had to do a lot of reading.”
The couple was the only two working with the company when it started 20 years ago. Today they have 25 employees. Their growth was sparked after they discovered resources like Women’s Wednesday, Office of Economic Vitality and later joined the Capital City Chamber of Commerce.
“You have to connect those dots,” Carlette said. “You have to plant those seeds because each dot is a seed. Once you plant a seed it will grow.”
Driving home the importance of finding resources became a focal point because of its importance to survival of a business, said Katrina Tuggerson, president of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce. Collaboration, one of the key points mentioned by Robinson, is also important for entrepreneurs, she said.
“The dollars might not be there, but how do you collaborate to make sure this business doesn’t go into the hole,” she said. “That’s what we mean by connecting the dots. Securing that finance is not just money but helping each other out by connecting the dots within the community.”
Another highlight of the conference was a rundown of new developments and what’s coming to Tallahassee in the near future. That was presented by Edward Murray Jr., president of NAI TALCOR.
He touted the recent opening of Amazon Fulfillment Center, which has become the city’s biggest employer. More than 1,000 people work in the 6025,000 square feet, five-story building, located off Mahan Drive near Interstate 10.
“It’s just massive,” Murray said. “That’s fantastic.”
He went on to explain the coming of several Wawa convenience stores and others like Four Points, which is already open on West Tennessee Street, along with Cumberland on North Monroe. There is the coming of additional Circle K stores as well as more 711 stores. These are sprinkled around the city and county.
After mentioning a series of developments on the north side of town, including a new Publix supermarket, Murray said the former Khol store near Bannerman Road will be repurposed to become storage space.
Recently opened or restaurants that are in the pipeline include Social Kitchen, a take and go type restaurant, and Cookout.
Murray also mentioned in his presentation redevelopment of Orange Avenue Apartments and Somo Walls as future economic divers on the Southside.
Somo Walls is “a wonderful project, which took a lot of nerve and a lot of capital,” Murray said.
Apartments and restaurants are also planned or under construction around Gaines Street. The biggest of those projects is the FSU Business School, which Murray said is part of “billion-dollar” developments planned by FSU.
“That is economic development at its finest,” he said. “We all know contractors, sub-contractors (and) people that are hired to make these things happen.”
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