JDI, TK Lamb, FSBDC at UCF, PTAC, Government Contracting


The Florida SBDC at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF) provides a broad range of services: expert, no-cost business consulting; training and seminars; access to extensive market research resources; and specialized services, for example how to do business with the government.

Behind all of these services, however, the FSBDC often plays a role that turns out to be critical to the long-term success of entrepreneurs and small business owners: that of being a mentor and partner. Building upon their experience and expertise, FSBDC consultants understand the challenges their clients face and have the answers clients need to make their businesses grow.

K. Lamb, the founder and principal of JDI, LLC, found a partner and mentor when he came to the FSBDC. Actually he found several of them. JDI is a consulting firm that specializes in helping organizations analyze and optimize their operations, and become high performance companies. It is not in the business of business start-ups however.

“I came to the FSBDC because I needed someone who knew more than I did about starting a business, and then managing and growing a start-up business” Lamb says. “I started with FSBDC consultant Pauline Davis, who helped me develop my business plan and understand my financial standing. Then I worked with FSBDC’s Government Contracting Services through its Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) to understand the government market, what I should be doing, what I could be doing.”

“We small business owners go through a lot, a lot of pain points and challenges. What we need most is someone to talk to, to talk through the problems, experts who understand small business. Steven South, my current FSBDC consultant, brings a wealth of information and experience to my situation. He’s gone beyond being just a resource to being a partner and a mentor,” Lamb states.

Early on, the FSBDC recommended that JDI, LLC become verified as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) to enhance its opportunities in the government contracting market. At first, Lamb was hesitant. “I had this irrational belief that everything is difficult with the government, that I’m too small to get over the hurdle and win contracts,” Lamb recalls.

“Well, I got over the hurdle thanks to help from the FSBDC. I got approved,” he continued. “And then everyone said it would be years before I won my first contract. Well, they were wrong. I actually won my first contract in just over a year. And, now, two years later my firm had its first contract renewed and has won its second contract both worth over $1 million.”

“The changes in my business since I started with the FSBDC have been transformational,” concluded Lamb. “They provided the consultative advisory services that my business needed. Today it is a corner stone component to making sure I’m doing the right thing and covering my blind spots. I know I can rely on the FSBDC to help me and be there for me.”

Micah Nordquist, The Five 50 Group, FSBDC at UCF, PTAC, Procurement Technical Assistance Center, Government Contracting Services, Department of Defense

The Five 50 Group

Making the transition from military service into the private sector is often a challenging undertaking, and even more so when the move is into a hyper-competitive industry like construction. Fortunately, being a veteran can mean opportunities if you know where to find them, particularly if the goal is to compete for government contracts.

Micah Nordquist is the founder and president of The Five 50 Group, a general construction and construction services company serving Central Florida and the Southeastern United States. He is also a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a field artillery veteran who served in the Iraq War.

As Nordquist was building The Five 50 Group, he looked for ways to distinguish his company from the competition. By its very name, the company sets itself apart. 550 (parachute) cord is well known in the military community for its versatility and reliability solving even the toughest problems, whether that be building an emergency shelter, securing equipment or fixing a field tourniquet. It is versatility and reliability that The Five 50 Group promises to every client: to do whatever it takes to see their project completed successfully and in a timely manner.

The Five 50 Group

FSBDC at UCF consultant Steve South (R)
with Micah Nordquist (L)

As he looked into diversifying his company by pursuing government contracts, Nordquist also identified the competitive benefits that come from being certified as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB). “I have known from the beginning that, whatever business I am in, being certified as a SDVOSB was going to set me apart. As I did my research, I learned quickly that my first step was to find my local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC),” Nordquist said recently.

“And so I turned to the Florida SBDC at UCF’s Government Contracting Services and Steve South, a Government Contracting Specialist through its Procurement Technical Assistance Center,” Nordquist continued. “”He partnered with me, educated me and prepared me for the application process from beginning to end: what I needed, literature to understand the process, tools to track collection and submission. Steve was there every step of the way.”

“Then, once my application was submitted and I was contacted by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Center for Verification and Evaluation about what more they needed, Steve South reviewed their requests, assisted me in creating a response startegy and helped me go through three rounds of review before the process was completed and my company was certified,” Nordquist went on to say.

“My certification was just the beginning of the influential role the FSBDC’s Government Contracting Services through its PTAC has played in the growth of my small business. Their services have provided me with business networking opportunities, partner matchmaking events, training and workshops. They have been key to me taking my next steps.”

“I would encourage anyone looking to win government contracts to seek out the FSBDC at UCF’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center and its outstanding consultants. It’s so amazing that there’s a resource like this and you don’t want to miss out,” Nordquist concluded.

Jillian Rowe, Higher Learning Development Center, SBDC, Child Care

Higher Learning Development Center

Being an entrepreneur is not an easy road. Starting a business with limited resources and without a formal business education is an uphill climb. So when an individual, against all odds, starts a business from scratch and builds it into a successful, going concern, it is cause for celebration.

Jillian Rowe, founder and owner of Higher Learning Development Center, is deserving of such a celebration.  At full capacity with an enrollment of 66, Higher Learning Development Center provides quality care and education for children ages 6 months to 12 years in Winter Park, FL.

When she began her venture, Rowe had almost nothing except a vision and determination. “When I started out, I had no money. No clients. Not great credit. But I had a dream,” she says. “And I needed a small business loan to purchase a childcare facility. But when I went to the bank, the first requirement was to complete a business plan and do financial projections. Those things were all new to me. My first thought was the FSBDC.”

Higher Learning Development Center

Assistant Director Pauline Davis (L) with Owner of Higher Learning Development Center Jillian Rowe (R)

Rowe contacted the Florida SBDC at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF) and one of its consultants, Pauline Davis, for its no-cost, unlimited consulting and mentoring. “I met with Ms. Pauline. She explained everything to me. But she wouldn’t do it for me, especially the projections,” Rowe says today. “She said to me: ‘I’m not going to do it for you. I’m going to teach you and that way you will always know how to do it for yourself.’ ”

Davis and Rowe set about to produce a business plan and the financial forecasts. “Those were challenging days,” Rowe says now. “The FSBDC was my only cheerleader and support system when I started out. They were always there. And that assistance has made the difference for me.”

“So far, I have been able to attract wonderful students and families, offer job opportunities in the community, grow my business to capacity and even buy my building,” Rowe says of her success in the past few years. “I didn’t have all of this when I started out. And look at me now.”

“As my business has grown, I never lost contact with Ms. Pauline and the FSBDC,” Rowe continued.  “Anytime I progressed or achieved a goal or had an obstacle, the first person I called was Pauline Davis. She has been awesome. She believed in me. She kept pushing me to go forward. She motivated me to keep going. Thanks to her coaching and mentoring me all the way, I can write a business plan. I can do forecasts. I can negotiate a deal.”

“The FSBDC is a great resource,” Rowe concluded. ”It’s a business education institute. My consultant is always there, always available and able to help me dissect a situation and show me the best way to go. Their guidance is awesome.”

SharpTurn Consluting, Carol Sumter, FSBDC at UCF, Government Contracting, Small Business Assistance

SharpTurn Consulting

‘Good’ consultants have one quality that distinguishes them from their competitors: they help their clients improve performance and get better results. Not only do they identify and then define the problems their clients are wrestling with, but they then propose solutions and map out the ways to accomplish them.

Carol Sumter is just such a ‘good’ consultant. She started and has built her business, Sharp Turn Consulting, into a success by focusing process improvement, change management and training best practices on its clients’ challenges and then partnering with them to achieve the desired outcomes.

“My plan is to grow slowly,” says Sumter. “I’ve told my clients: I have a model. I have proprietary analytics, processes and procedures that I have standardized and that work. I tweak them to meet the needs of my clients. And then they get results.”

Like most entrepreneurs, Carol Sumter didn’t build her business alone. She’s had partners and found resources to help her. One of the most important resources she found is the Florida SBDC at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF).

“I never thought I’d have my own business,” Sumter reveals. “I never had the desire. I’m a big organization, guaranteed paycheck type of individual. But then I saw an opportunity to use what I know to help people. I went online. I found the Small Business Development Center, first in Texas and then here in Orlando when I moved to Florida. I took their seminars. I used their consulting. I wrote a business plan. It all helped me to get Sharp Turn Consulting off the ground.”

“The game changer was working with Patricia Simpson, my FSBDC at UCF Procurement Technical Assistance Center consultant and government services expert,” continued Sumter. “I had all of this information but no one to focus me on how to best use it. My business is about helping clients collect information and use it. But what I’d received from the FSBDC was so vast it was overwhelming.”

“Patricia helped me identify what was important for my business. She guided me towards using the right information, better prioritizing my time and attending the most promising events. It made all the difference. It led me into valuable business partnerships, into pursing new markets and winning new clients.”

“And all at no cost,” Sumter went on.  “When you are a small business, you are stingy with your dollars. It’s great to have access to all this expertise and knowledge, and be able to talk to people who’ve already done it, who’ve proven they know what it’s all about, who’ve been successful.”

“‘Valuable’ is the way I’d describe the FSBDC, in every sense of the word. They have given me the ability to take the steps I have and make my business into what it is today. It’s been great working with them and I look forward to continuing to benefit from their support”.

Nutritious Lifestyles, Inc.; Janet Mckee; FSBDC at UCf; Small Business Assistance

Nutritious Lifestyles, Inc.

The transition from entrepreneur to manager isn’t always easy. Especially when you have a company that, after hitting some early potholes, has hit its stride and is now growing fast.

But that’s the challenge that Janet Mckee was facing. Her company, Nutritious Lifestyles, Inc., provides nutrition and food service consulting services to the healthcare community, including skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, children’s medical services, behavioral facilities, assisted living facilities and more. Its combination of cost-effective solutions, superior customer service and positive patient outcomes has been winning new clients and fueling revenue growth in the past few years.

Nutritious Lifestyles, Inc.

Owner of Nutritious Lifestyles, Inc. (L) and FSBDC Advisory Board Council Program Manager Jill Kaufman

It wasn’t always that way, though. Early on, Mckee experienced major challenges. “I needed help,” she recalls today. “We were experiencing human resources problems. We had lost a lot of business. I’d gotten the company to a certain level but was uncertain about where to go next. I felt like I needed people who had more experience to help guide me.”

Fortunately, the Florida SBDC at UCF (FSBDC at UCF) had a program tailor made for established, second-stage companies like Nutritious Lifestyles and for CEO Mckee: the Advisory Board Council (ABC). The Advisory Board Council is a no-cost board of experts providing advice and counsel to help businesses grow.  It acts as a matchmaker between established local businesses like Mckee’s and area professionals who volunteer their expertise as members of an advisory board, with the volunteers selected to address the specific needs of the FSBDC client.

“As an entrepreneur and the founder of a woman-owned business, I’d learned the hard way that you can’t do everything yourself,” says Mckee. “The FSBDC and the ABC program manager Jill Kaufman put together a board of advisors that was a great fit for my business. They were knowledgeable and experienced. I could bounce ideas off of them. I got honest feedback that I may not have always liked hearing but always helped me. But they guided me in setting growth parameters, establishing an internal infrastructure and forming my management team.  From there, my board has helped me create plans to expand into new markets and facilitate further growth.”

With the assistance of the FSBDC and her Advisory Board Council, Mckee has embraced her role as a manager and taken Nutritious Lifestyles to its next level of success. The company has grown by 25% over the past two years. It is negotiating a contract with a new client worth almost $1 million. It is hiring and training new team members every day.

“When you are experiencing this kind of growth, you need to have people and systems in place to ensure the quality of the product and of your customer service, and that you are meeting or exceeding customer expectations,” says Mckee. “We’re accomplishing those goals today and I feel like the future of my company is very bright.”

“The FSBDC and my Advisory Board have been very helpful getting us to this point,” Mckee concluded. “They have been extremely flexible and a wealth of information and guidance, a huge resource. It’s been a total win-win for Nutritious Lifestyles and me.”

Popcorn Junkie, FSBDC at UCF, Lake County, Economic Development

Popcorn Junkie

Minetta and Neal Crosier were just such entrepreneurs. Building upon successful business careers and a passion for popcorn, they had a vision for a gourmet popcorn company like no other, one with extraordinary flavors found nowhere else, made with the highest quality ingredients, and handcrafted and made fresh daily. Their question was: where to start?

The Crosiers turned to the Florida SBDC at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF) in Lake County, near where they lived. Minetta Crosier is a UCF graduate and had heard about the FSBDC’s  no-cost consulting, business seminars & workshops and market research resources, all focused on the needs of small-to-medium sized businesses. It was just these services that the Crosiers decided to access at the FSBDC.

Popcorn Junkie

FSBDC Consultant Eddie Hill (L) with Neal Crosier

It happens often. An entrepreneur has an idea but is uncertain about how to turn their vision into a real business. And then how to make that business a success.

“When we first started out, we had no idea how to do what we wanted to do or exactly where we wanted to do it. What we did know was what we wanted to do,” says Neal Crosier. “So we went to the FSBDC for help with taking our concept to an actual business.”

With their Lake County consultant Eddie Hill, the Crosiers rolled up their sleeves and started to work. They attended business education seminars about starting a business and using social media to market that business. The relied on Hill’s expertise and experience for business guidance and consultation. And, using the FSBDC’s databases, they accessed extensive market research and industry information.

Further, as the Crosiers progressed toward launching their business, the FSBDC helped them find professional assistance with retail interior design, branding, legal issues, bookkeeping and store build-out construction.

With the FSBDC at their side, the Crosiers were able to make major course corrections in their business plans. They abandoned their original idea of operating from a mall kiosk in favor of a retail store. They adjusted their choice of location from I-Drive in Orlando to the Church Street Station downtown area. And the results have been excellent.

Popcorn JunkieTM, the Crosier’s wonderful new store, opened on Church Street in May 2107 and has been enjoying terrific success. They have been helping customers from all over ‘Get Hooked on Good” with an amazing selection of gourmet popcorn flavors, featuring Classic, Cheese, Sweet, Nutty, Chocolate and Seasonal Varieties. They are close by the downtown sports venues and see extensive foot traffic on game days. And they are building a loyal downtown Orlando following in nearby office buildings and apartments.

“The FSBDC was there when we needed them,” Neal Crosier concluded. “I take my hat off to them. Every time I reached out to them, I received an immediate response or, if they didn’t have the answer, they found it for me fast. They gave us excellent, really excellent service. I didn’t imagine it would be that good. But it was, and helped us a lot.”

FSBDC; Across Borders Management Consulting; Lake County

Across Borders Management Consulting Group

Humility is not a quality always associated with entrepreneurs. Especially if theirs is an IT services and solutions company with a goal of delivering “Innovation through Strategic Thinking.” But when a self-effacing attitude is present, it can be an important part of a formula for long-term success.

Vijay Krishnan and Arathi Rajagopalan, husband and wife and co-founders of Across Borders Management Consulting Group, recognized early on their situation as they sought to grow their company. Then they allowed their clear-eyed assessment of the challenges they faced in building their business to guide them to seek assistance from the Florida SBDC at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF).

“We didn’t know what we didn’t know” is Arathi Rajagopalan’s frank take on the early days of Across Borders. “We were a growing company with limited resources. That’s why we came to the FSBDC there we found a wealth of knowledge and services tailor-made for a company like ours,” she states.

“Since starting with the FSBDC, we have used every service they have to offer because they fit so well into where we want to take our business and how we want to grow. And all at little or no cost to the company,” Vijay Krishnan added. “It has made a big difference for us. We were a $1 million revenue company when we started with them; today we are closing in on $5 million.”

Both Vijay and Arathi Krishnan credit the FSBDC as helping shape the company that Across Borders is today. Initially they sought and received assistance regarding their sales and business development efforts from their FSBDC consultant Stan Austin. That was followed by an in-depth business and financial analysis by the FSBDC’s Roger Greenwald as part of the FSBDC’s Growth Acceleration Services. With that as a starting point, Across Borders was able to develop their first three-year strategic plan.

Meanwhile, the company and cofounders became part of the FSBDC’s Advisory Board Council program, a next-level, business-support service matching them with experienced business professionals with a diverse range of skills who volunteer and work together on a “custom-fit” advisory board. Further on, Vijay Krishnan joined the FSBDC’s CEO XChange, an executive roundtable program offering a confidential setting for top executives to discuss vital business issues, opportunities and trends with a group of peers. Most recently, Across Borders worked with the FSBDC’s International Trade Services team and gained a ready-to-implement Export Marketing Plan.

“Across Borders has done everything right,” remarked Stan Austin. “They are the perfect FSBDC client. They listen. They get involved. They make decisions. They implement. It’s no wonder they have been an Orlando Business Journal  ‘Fast 50’ growth company two years running.”

“The FSBDC has become a critically important strategic partner for Across Borders,” states Vijay Krishnan. “They have worked with us every step of the way. Their services are at the top-most professional level. And their only focus is on helping us grow to the next level. That is the best kind of partnership possible. We’re very happy and thankful for the FSBDC.”

FSBDC, ASBDC, Midstate Caulking, Osceola County

Midstate Caulking & Construction Services LLC

Managing a small- to medium-sized business is all about challenges: some big, some small, some harrowing, some pleasing. But whatever size or shape they come in, they are still challenges and must be met or consequences will ensue.

Midstate Caulking & Construction Services LLC, and its founders and principals Brenda and Leon Clement, faced a major challenge in 2014. Fortunately, it was the good kind. The company they had started in their garage – really – was exploding and growing faster than they could finance.

Midstate provides caulking, waterproofing, fire stopping, stucco, and deck coating services for commercial buildings in Central Florida and across the state. Their construction contractor customers find that work quality, scheduling and safety are as important to the company as they are to its clients. Midstate understands the need for timely project completion, working with other trades, shift work, and accomplishing zero (0) punch list. It’s a formula that has meant exceptional growth and success for the company.

“We expected to be small and stay small,” says Brenda Clement. “But this is a niche market that started growing faster than we could ever have expected. As a small business with low overhead, we came out of the ’08 recession in good shape. When the economy started to grow again, demand for our services did too.”

And that’s where the challenge for Midstate arose. “In construction, you pay your people and expenses before you get paid. When you are growing fast, it can be tough to manage that float,” Clement continued. “We needed to know where to go to get more money to finance our growth.” That’s when she turned to the Kissimmee office of the Florida SBDC at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF) and it’s Area Manager, consultant Rafael Martinez-Pratts.

Clement and her bookkeeper met with Pratt-Martinez to develop a financing plan. Together, they identified Midstate’s financing options, who might provide the needed funds, what information they would want and what kind of questions would need to be answered by the company. In the end, Clement was ready and fully prepared when she approached the bank she had selected for financing, and was successful in getting the funding that Midstate needed to pay for its continued growth.

“I recommend the FSBDC to any business owner,” concluded Clement. “If you have questions or need information, ask the FSBDC. If they don’t have the answer, they’ll lead you to someone who does.”

“Rafael and the FSBDC have let us know we are not alone in this. They care. They let you know you are supported. They have worked to build a relationship with us and have been a great resource for our company,” says Clement. “Along with helping us deal with our financing needs, their seminars and workshops have been very valuable. We’ve been able to learn new things and network with other, local business owners. We’ve gotten assistance with human resources issues and recruiting. I don’t see us outgrowing the need for them in any way, shape or form.”

My Nona's Garden; Chuck Wheeler; Amber Harmon

My Nona’s Garden

Finding the work-life balance you seek inevitably means making choices. Sometimes there are hard choices and sometimes not so hard choices.

For Amber Harmon, the founder and owner of My Nona’s Garden, her choices weren’t so hard. Yes, she gave up a lucrative career. But it required extensive travel and time away from the young family she and her husband were building. Instead, she gained the life she wanted with her young children and the opportunity to follow her passion: gardening.

The challenge she faced was how to make a living pursuing that passion. And so it was, with the help of the Florida SBDC at UCF, that Harmon’s company was born. My Nona’s Garden is in the business of selling and servicing 2 x 8 foot low-maintenance, elevated cedar vegetable box gardens for both business and residential customers. The company makes a fresh, organic, non-GMO vegetable garden possible and its goal is simple: “to bring health into our communities, one garden at a time.”

“My Nona’s Garden is my first time as a business owner. I was going out on my own and didn’t know where to start. That’s why I turned to the Florida SBDC at UCF for help,” Harmon says. “They offered seminars that set me on the right path from the beginning. I learned the basics, received the templates and resources I needed, and was able to get my business plan in order.”

“Then I took advantage of the FSBDC’s unlimited, no-cost consulting services,” Harmon continued. “My FSBDC consultant Chuck Wheeler gave me the guidance I needed. I got in depth assistance on my business plan. He helped me test and validate my ideas about my business concept and my product and services. He enabled me to strengthen my financial projections. And he provided me with ideas and resources to manage important business functions, like obtaining insurance and finding the employees I needed. Chuck was there for me every step of the way.”

Launched in September 2016, My Nona’s Garden is off to a good start. The company had its first customer the day it opened its doors! Along with advertising and exhibiting in the Lake Nona area, she is partnering with a major local developer to promote its community gardens with a gardening workshop series. She is also working with the U.S. Veterans Administration Hospital to teach veterans about the rewards of gardening. Another workshop series is planned for a local retired-living community. And Harmon continues to serve local and metro-Orlando clients interested in purchasing the company’s raised gardens as well as having them serviced by My Nona’s Garden.

“I’m happy with the progress we are making,” concluded Harmon. “I would definitely highly recommend the Florida SBDC to anyone building a business. Whatever stage your business is at, the FSBDC can help. It covers all the bases and can answer all your questions. I’m looking forward to their assistance as I add structure to my business and start to manage its growth.”

For more information about My Nona’s Garden, please visit www.MyNonasGarden.com or www.facebook.com/MyNonasGarden.

VAMP, The Vocational Academy of Makeup and Prosethics, FSBDC, UCF

Vocational Academy of Makeup & Prosthetics (VAMP)

You have a passion. You have creativity and skills. And you have a vision of how others can become experts in your chosen craft in the RIGHT way – with in-depth training built upon a unique curriculum taught by industry professionals. With all of this in hand, what do you do next?

If you are Heather Fildes and Kimberly Spratt, you set to work to open a school teaching modern special effects and beauty professional makeup artistry. And you start in the right place: by writing a business plan.

It was there that Fildes and Spratt found themselves in 2015. With a clear view of the business they wanted to be in, a sharp definition of the kind of training they wanted to offer and a keen understanding of how their experience in special effects and beauty makeup could be used to turn makeup enthusiasts into professionals, writing their business plan was an exciting opportunity to articulate their ideas, and turn them into a blueprint for realizing their dreams and business success.

Producing the financial plan for the school presented challenges, however. With neither having a background in accounting or finance, Fildes and Spratt were in unfamiliar territory. That’s when they turned to the Florida SBDC at the University of Central Florida and consultant Hunt Dawkins.

“We were OK until we got to the budgets and financials,” recalls founder and owner Kimberly Spratt. “We thought we had to take everything down to the penny and our progress stalled. So we turned to the FSBDC and thank goodness we did. We met with Hunt Dawkins at the FSBDC’s offices. He made the financials easier. He simplified it all. He guided us through the process.”

And very successfully it turns out. First, Fildes and Spratt completed their business plan, and at Dawkins’ urging, entered and became finalists in the Orlando 2015 Business Plan Competition of the National Association of Woman Business Owners (NAWBO). They used their plan as the basis of their successful application for school certification by the Florida Department of Education’s Commission for Independent Education. And it served as their road map for beginning their business: finding a location for the school with proper zoning, forecasting startup costs and working capital needs, designing the school’s construction buildout and building improvements and launching their marketing efforts.

Today, The Vocational Academy of Makeup & Prosthetics (VAMP) is off to a great start. It offers a special effects makeup laboratory and a beauty applications classroom that are both state-of-the art. A respected faculty of experienced professionals is in place and the school has graduated its first Modern Effects Makeup Artistry class; the next one is starting soon. And a Beauty Professional Makeup Artistry class is forming. The FSBDC is now working with them on their second stage marketing campaign.

“We would absolutely encourage everyone to work with the FSBDC,” commented founder and owner Heather Fildes. “Being a business owner takes so much more than we expected. I don’t know if we could have done what we’re doing now if we hadn’t had their help. The FSBDC is a great resource.”