AppleTree Connection

AppleTree Connection

Translating deep knowledge and expertise in a scientific field into a successful business is not an easy undertaking, even if you have identified a significant opportunity in the marketplace. Tara Zeller, with degrees in psychology, applied behavior analysis (ABA) and management, recognized the challenges facing career seekers in the behavioral sciences, particularly for college psychology majors and others in the social science field. In response, two and a half years ago she pivoted AppleTree Connection, a clinical ABA company, to a career and leadership organization dedicated to preparing and connecting entry level practitioners with meaningful treatment roles and leadership positions. From the beginning, Zeller sought assistance from the Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF), and its government contracting affiliate the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center at UCF (FPTAC at UCF), and their help has paid off for her.

Under Zeller’s guidance, AppleTree Connection has evolved into a leader amongst providers of training and mentoring for Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) specialists. RBTs, once certified, work in schools, clinics, and privately with individual clients to provide life-changing behavior support and therapy for various diagnoses such as: autism spectrum disorders, intellectual and developmental disabilities, or traumatic brain injuries. Certification based upon an exam given by a professional oversight organization is mandatory to practice as an RBT. “We are a quality provider,” explains Zeller. “We are hands on and accessible. We train, mentor, and empower and really like to work with our students to help them uncover their passion and guide them to finding work that is meaningful to them.”

“I sought out the services of the FSBDC and FPTAC because I started my company on my own,” recalls Zeller. “I needed support with the business strategy side of things. It started with a strategic business plan seminar, then to working with Steve South (FSBDC consultant and FPTAC manager) who coached me on running a business. As a solopreneur, you wear all the hats, so it was meaningful to have Steve’s assistance and someone like him to turn to who could guide me in the ways of a business owner. It’s been great, really great.”

“Since I’ve been working with the FSBDC and PTAC, the major changes I have seen in my business start with me as a now confident CEO and business owner,” remarks Zeller. Her confidence was exhibited prominently when she pivoted her clinical ABA business to create a UCF-branded RBT Certification Course that prepares students to become RBTs and places RBTs with employers; an attractive career pathway for UCF graduates seeking a meaningful career and making an impact in their communities.

To her credit, Zeller and her team developed the program and have been teaching the classes since inception with outstanding results: The UCF RBT Program (Zeller’s program) was recognized as the #1 training provider in the country and AppleTree Connections itself ranks as the #3 provider by the Behavior Analysts Certification Board (BACB) based upon its student’s RBT Exam success rate. Building upon that success, she is looking to expand, add instructors, partner with other universities, and duplicate the model throughout the U.S.

“My advice for a business owner considering working with the FSBDC or FPTAC is: Do not hesitate. Go for it,” Zeller concludes. “The services that they offer are truly invaluable.”

For information about AppleTree Connection, please visit

Cybserec Investments Logo

Cybersec Investements

Recognition can be hard to come by for a small business. Given that reality, imagine the pride you would feel if the White House chose you and your business for the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Fernando Machado, Chief Information Security Officer and owner of Cybersec Investments, experienced exactly that honor when he and his company were recognized for their service in developing standards for the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). Machado will tell you that this achievement would not have been possible without guidance from the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center at the University of Central Florida (Florida PTAC at UCF), the government contracting affiliate of the Florida SBDC at UCF.

Department of Defense (DoD) contractors have long been responsible for implementing critical cybersecurity requirements, but the CMMC changed this paradigm by requiring third-party assessments of DoD contractors’ compliance with certain mandatory practices, procedures, and capabilities that can adapt to new and evolving cyber threats from adversaries.

Enter Machado and Cybersec Investments, at the urging of the Florida PTAC at UCF. As the new certifications were evolving, both Machado and PTAC recognized opportunities. For Cybersec, it was to contribute to the development of the CMMC standards and to leverage Machado’s over 10 years of DoD cybersecurity experience. For the Florida PTAC, it was the prospect of launching a resource that could help its DoD government contracting clients achieve CMMC compliance. These were clear Win-Win opportunities all around.

“Before working with PTAC, I was not aware of the CMMC initiative. PTAC brought it to my attention, and it was an avenue where our business goals aligned,” Machado recalls. Today, Cybersec Investments is in the business of managed security, risk assessment and compliance services, specifically CMMC assessment, planning and remediation. Thanks to Machado being a CMMC Provisional Assessor and the company being a candidate CMMC Third-Party Assessment organization, he states “We bring value to clients by giving them ‘the answers to the test’ by providing consulting services through the eyes of a CMMC assessor and knowing what they would be looking for.”

Machado and Cybersec benefited from multiple services from the Florida PTAC beyond identifying the CMMC opportunity. They assisted him with obtaining his Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) certification, developing his capabilities statement, and registering for the federal government’s System for Award Management (SAM) as well as with the State of Florida. In addition, PTAC has helped by connecting Machado with valuable networking events and presentations.

“Working with PTAC has been great,” Machado concludes. “When we first started, we were operating at a loss. Since starting with PTAC, we’ve become profitable and have multiple clients seeking us out. My experience with them has been fantastic. Kara Vernon (PTAC Specialist) and Steve South (PTAC Manager) have been amazing. They both are very knowledgeable with years of combined experience. If you are thinking about possibly working with PTAC and feel hesitant, I would say ‘Lose that hesitancy at the door’. I highly recommend them as a resource.”

For information about Cybersec Investments, please visit

CCI Group

CCI Group

The beauty of entrepreneurship is often in the creation it involves. The creation of building a company, of meeting customer needs in a new way, of creating new jobs, of contributing to the community. Indira (Indy) Vega, CEO of the CCI Group, an interpretation and translation company, has made all of that happen and credits the Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florda (FSBDC at UCF) with helping her.

The CCI Group provides interpretation and translation services with a difference. Offering in-person and remote service in over 200 languages, the company has used the quality of its team and today’s technology to transform itself and the immediacy of the results its clients can achieve. CCI Groups clients span the private and public sector, serving law firms, medical providers, and school districts across Florida. Recently, they have gone nationwide with new clients in Georgia and Texas.

“We do more than replacing words,” Vega says. “We enable true communications across languages and cultures. We can do so much. For example, we offer over-the-phone interpretations that allows clients access to an interpreter in as little as 48 seconds,” Vega is proud to state. “And with our remote simultaneous interpretation, you can make an event or webinar truly inclusive with a multi-language presentation, in English, in Spanish, in Creole, in Portuguese, all at the same time.”

Vega came to the FSBDC at UCF to take her company to the next level of growth. Offering no-cost consulting, business training and workshops, and access to expansive market research resources, she took advantage of them all. “I have used so many services from the FSBDC” Vega continued. “One of the programs was the Business Recovery Team (a CARES Act-funded consulting service) which was fantastic. They were with us six months. I think we had almost weekly meetings. They helped us with budgeting, with planning, with marketing. You name it. Every aspect of my company was touched by the FSBDC at some point. They were a game changer for us.”

“I can’t even describe the impact the FSBDC has had on the growth of our business,” Vega states. “I was a solo practitioner with one part-time employee when I started with the FSBDC. Now we are up to 10. Not just here in Central Florida but overseas. Its something I never thought I was going to be able to do. Recently, the company went on a company retreat to show our appreciation. It all wouldn’t have been possible without help from the FSBDC.”

“Th SBDC also opened my eyes to community involvement,” Vega went on. “I always thought that was only for the big boys.” But today CCI Group is involved with THE CENTER, a non-profit assisting the LGBTQ community, as well as the Orlando Center for Justice which helps immigrants here in Central Florida. “I think this is thanks to my involvement with the FSBDC.”

“My experience working with the FSBDC has been amazing,” Vega concluded. “If you ask me in 10 years, I will say the same thing: the FSBDC was part of CCI Group and we wouldn’t be here without them, that’s for sure.”

For more information about The CCI Group, please visit

RTW Photography

RTW Photography

Three friends came together, each with different backgrounds, to start RTW Photography. One was an engineer, another a CPA, the third an educator. None had owned a business before, but they had goals and aspirations to become entrepreneurs and photography was their calling.

The company enjoyed early success but the partners – Derrious Robinson, Founder & Director of Business Operations; Lavell Monger, Director of Marketing & Communications; and Walter Tre Idlette, Director of Finances – wanted more, and sought ways to grow and expand. It was then that they turned to the Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF) and its affiliate, the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center at UCF (FPTAC at UCF), for guidance.

RTW Photography is a full-service photography and videography company serving individual, commercial, and government clients. “What separates us from our competitors is that we offer so many services within the camera photography world,” says Monger. “Videography, photography, photo booth, live screens – we capture anything and everything that can be captured in front of a camera, and we do it with style and professionalism.” There are many satisfied customers who will testify to their high-quality work.

Seeing opportunities to grow is one thing, knowing how to implement is another. For that reason, the team at RTW approached the FSBDC for its no-cost, expert consulting, business training, and access to market research. In addition, they called upon FPTAC to assist with obtaining government contracts.

“The main reason we reached out to the FSBDC was for guidance and mentorship,” recalls Monger. “In fact, the FSBDC has been instrumental in helping us grow our business,” adds Idlette. “They have helped us with organizing our finances, pursuing government contracts as well as marketing our company.” Further, says Robinson, “we realized that, in order to be really successful, we needed to figure out a long-term plan for how we could grow our business. Working with the FSBDC has been a real partnership doing that. They have been there guiding us on how to chase government contracts, grow our commercial client base, redesign our website, budget and forecast our finances. We’re very grateful to the FSBDC for that assistance,” he concludes.

With the assistance of the FSBDC and FPATC, RTW has achieved significant results. “We’re blessed. Our business is growing,” says Idlette. “With the Pandemic, we had a slow start but the FSBDC and team really helped us focus and prioritize on what to do next.” With the assistance of Kara Vernon, PTAC Specialist, RTW bid on and won a 10-year contract for school photography with Hillsborough County Public Schools and is positioned to bid on other government contracts. Thanks to assistance from an FSBDC Business Recovery Team of five consultants led by Pauline Davis, an Assistant Director and consultant herself, the company pivoted to focus on commercial and corporate clients and was able to grow revenues by 40% in 2020.

“It’s been a great partnership with the FSBDC,” founder Robinson said in closing. “We look forward to continuing to work with them as the years go by.”

For more information about RTW Photography, please visit

Eagle 6 Technical Services

Eagle 6 Technical Services, LLC

John Burns is an accomplished leader. He is a retired United States Army Colonel with a distinguished military career, including as a commander in combat. He built a successful IT consulting business after the Army. It was then he saw a government contracting opportunity he thought he could win. And win it he did.

But now what? Transforming from being a one-person consultancy to building a company with multiple employees that could service a multi-faceted government contract is a tall order. That’s when Burns turned to both the Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida (FSBDC at UCF) and its government services partner organization, the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center at UCF (Florida PTAC at UCF).

“It was time to make a major pivot,” recalls Burns. “I needed help. I needed expertise on how I could scale up a company and identify the processes and systems necessary to do so. That’s when I sought out the FSBDC and PTAC. My consultant Steve South was superb. We laid out a game plan to get all the pieces I needed to have in place – employee hiring, insurance, worker’s comp, payroll, benefits – to jump start my business. Then I did it.”

Today, Burns’ company Eagle 6 Technical Services, LLC is a multi-million dollar Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) specializing in cybersecurity, command & control and logistics & maintenance systems. It is currently expanding into managed security services for the commercial health care sector as well as for government clients, and has broadened itself into being a full-fledged security integrator, providing physical security, information security and personal security solutions.

From the start, Burns has taken advantage of all that the FSBDC and PTAC have to offer, including the high value, no cost, expert business consulting he receives from South; business training seminars and workshops; and access to expansive market research resources. He went on to participate in two of the FSBDC’s Services for Leaders programs, the Advisory Board Council (ABC) and the Small Business Institute® (SBI®).

FSBDC at UCF’s Advisory Board Council is a no-cost board of experts providing advice and counsel to help businesses grow.  The FSBDC acts as a matchmaker, creating a customized board of volunteers selected to address the specific needs of the FSBDC client. The Small Business Institute® connects small businesses to the resources and management expertise of UCF’s College of Business Administration through consulting projects overseen by the FSBDC and performed by UCF MBA and other qualified business students.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the help I received from the FSBDC over the past four years,“ concluded Burns. “They helped me put processes and systems in place where, as a small business, I could manage the cash flow that was critical to growing the company.”

“The results speak for themselves: we’ve increased revenues about 200% in the last three years; we’ve hired new employees and raised headcount; and we’ve expanded and won additional government and commercial work. Working with the FSBDC and PTAC has been an awesome experience for Eagle 6.”

For information about Eagle Six Technical Services, please visit

Maryland Electric

Maryland Electric

For small and medium sized businesses, there is nothing better than getting in front of one or more of their “dream” clients – the ones who can award a contract or buy a service that takes their business up to new heights of success. It was exactly that goal – the desire to take her business to the next level – that prompted Rita Dancey to come to the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center at the University of Central Florida (Florida PTAC at UCF) for assistance with government contracting.

Dancey is the CEO of Maryland Electric Company, Inc., a commercial and industrial electrical contractor serving a wide range of customers on a variety of projects including commercial and retail construction, industrial facilities, data centers, universities, hospitals, military bases, airports and more. Headquartered in Clarksville, Tennessee, the company is licensed to do business across the Southeast and is focused on growing in Florida.

“I came to PTAC to get us from where we are – our business has sort of plateaued – to the next level,” recalls Dancey. “While we already do government contracting work, they have helped us fill in a lot of the gaps we had related to topics we hadn’t been exposed to. And they helped me brush up on some of the things we are already doing. With help from our PTAC Specialist Kara Vernon, we learned how to facilitate our proposals a little bit better, how to make sure we dotted all our i’s and crossed our t’s and really delivered a professional product.”

Dancey also took advantage of PTAC’s Government Contracting Reverse Trade Show, an annual networking event with a twist. The PTAC at UCF turns the tables and gives small businesses the opportunity to market their services and products directly to government agencies and prime contractors! At a reverse trade show, suppliers come to meet with buyers as opposed to the other way around.

“The Reverse Trade Show is probably the best event that I’ve attended yet with PTAC,” says Dancey. “Out of 28 different agencies and primes, I was able to interview with 11 of them, delivering my elevator speech and Capabilities Statement. I targeted the clients and it was a true success. Of the 11 companies or agencies I saw, 7 have contacted us to talk about doing business together.”

“The people you get to network with at PTAC’s Reverse Trade Show are amazing,” continued Dancey. If ever there was a room of people you wanted to walk into to do business, theirs was the one. I was exposed to some of my dream clients – NASA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin — thanks to PTAC at UCF.”

“‘Endless opportunity’ is what PTAC has provided Maryland Electrical Company,” concluded Dancey. “They will assist you with all the resources that you could possibly use to enhance your business and make it more successful. Since starting with them, we have seen a plethora of new quote requests come in. I’d encourage anyone to work with PTAC. The depth of resources is wonderful.”

For information about Maryland Electric Company, please visit

Patriot Government Partners

Orlando, FL – Resolve. If there’s one trait that distinguishes successful entrepreneurs and their small businesses from the rest, it is their determination to accomplish their goals, undeterred by the obstacles they must overcome. Ashley Green, the founder and principal at Patriot Government Partners, a business specializing in government contracting, has proven she has the necessary tenacity and, when assisted by the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center at the University of Central Florida (Florida PTAC at UCF), the needed support to be successful.

Major Ashley Green of Patriot Government Partners with PTAC Consultant Steve South

Major Ashley Green of Patriot Government Partners with PTAC Consultant Steve South

Ashley Green has served for almost 20 years, and is a newly promoted Major and Company Commander, in the United States Army Reserve. Patriot Government Partners launched in November 2018 with a mission to leverage the founder’s military background –– and her healthcare experience and knowledge of small business ownership to provide information technology and project management services, centered primarily around healthcare, to government contracting clients.

“I knew I wanted to build a business, but I wasn’t sure how to formulate the plan and the steps I needed to take,“ recalls Green. “So I came to the Florida PTAC at UCF for help. I did everything – from soup to nuts – through PTAC.”

“My Procurement Specialist and the manager of the Florida PTAC at UCF, Steve South, worked with me practically weekly,” Green continued. “First on my project plan, then on pro forma financial statements and marketing plans. He gave me the checklist I needed to become a government contractor. He connected me with Jean Hill, a PTAC Coordinator, who helped set me up in Bid Match – an extensive database of federal, state, local, and international contracting opportunities – and with Kara Vernon, also a PTAC Specialist, who has guided me through utilizing the U.S. Department of Defense’s Wide Area Workflow (WAWF) system, a web-based application that allows DoD Vendors to submit and track their invoices, receipts and acceptance documents electronically.”

Once Patriot Government Partners opened in November, with the help of the Florida PTAC at UCF Green registered her company as a woman-owned and veteran-owned business within the U.S. Government Services Administration’s (GSA) System for Award Management (SAM). She began watching the daily feed of opportunities from the Bid Match system. And she found one!  But time was short.

The Florida Air National Guard had put a contract for bid to project manage a Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program event where airmen and their families are provided information and services prior to a deployment. It was scheduled for late January. Unfazed by the short time line, Green pursued the contract with assistance from the Florida PTAC at UCF. In just a few short weeks that included two major holidays and a partial government shutdown, and despite being new to government contacting, Green overcame delays, doubts and uncertainty, and Patriot Government Partners won their first contract three months after launching. If that’s not resolve in the face of long odds, then nothing is.

“Excellence is what I found at the PTAC,” concluded Green. “Everyone who works there is more helpful than the next. Their only goal is to help me grow and build my business the right way. The Florida PTAC at UCF has been so beneficial to me and my company.”

For information about Patriot Government Partners, please visit



Doing business with the government can be challenging for a small business. But it can also be extremely rewarding. Once the choice has been made to be a government contractor, often the largest hurdle is identifying and then meeting the many requirements set by government departments and agencies. Fortunately, the Florida PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center) at UCF – in partnership with the Florida SBDC at UCF – is available to help.

Florida PTAC at UCF is where Jeannette Coronado and husband Richard Coronado turned when they decided to move their business away from commercial customers and into the government sector. Their company, JIRACOR LLC, had been successfully offering services to businesses, but they saw a bigger opportunity in government work.

“When we started in our new direction, we didn’t know about doing business with the government, about their requirements and expectations” recalls Jeannette Coronado. “That’s where the Florida PTAC came in. They helped us. They educated us. They guided us.”

“At the beginning, working with government, in our case the U.S. Department of Defense, was scary because the requirements they have are very specialized,” she continued. “To be in the game, you need to get security clearances, have approved accounting systems, speak their language and understand all their acronyms. Then you have to know how to find contract opportunities, how to bid on them, and what to do when you win. It can be overwhelming.”

The Florida PTAC provided an extensive list of services to the Coronado’s, including no-cost consulting, training, assistance with obtaining key certifications and registering with the government’s SAM (System for Award Management) system, not to mention offering matchmaking events and strategies for working with the government. “There are so many boxes you have to check to win government contracts,” says Jeannette. “The Florida PTAC explains it all and makes it possible to check them all off.”

Thanks to the Coronado’s hard work and the help of their Florida PTAC specialist, today JIRACOR is an established government contractor.  With Jeannette as CEO and Richard as President, the company offers training & logistics support, manufacturing and fabrications services and depot-level maintenance and repairs. They are an SBA 8(a) and woman-owned certified business and have met ISO 90001 and AS9100 quality management systems standards.

“When we first went into the Florida PTAC, we were not procurement ready,’ states Richard Coronado. “From their mentoring, their classes, their consulting, their advice on our business plan, now we are winning contracts and ready for more. The Department of Defense could award us a multi-million-dollar sole source contract tomorrow and we are ready with the people and infrastructure to execute it. As it is, we have seen our revenues increase by more than 200% since we started consulting with the Florida PTAC.”

“If it weren’t for the Florida PTAC, we at JIRACOR probably wouldn’t be here,” he concluded. “Our experience has been awesome! They have great consultants. They have great services. They have great training. All at little or no cost. Getting all of the certifications, advice, knowledge and support from PTAC has made the difference for us.”

Gina Wightman of Wightman & Associates

Wightman & Associates

For Gina Wightman, being the founder and now president of Wightman & Associates, LLC (W&A) was only the start. Under her leadership, her company was a success with a broad client base. With the assistance of the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) entrepreneurial support ecosystem, including the Florida SBDC at UCF, the UCF Business Incubator and the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) at UCF, W&A was established and looking to grow.

Wightman & Associates is in the business of helping government, public service and other organizations optimize their effectiveness. “Workforce Excellence through Innovation and Technology” is its mission. W&A helps those enterprises analyze training needs and provides mission-focused training development and consulting services. They specialize in assisting public and private entities focused on natural hazard mitigation, emergency preparedness, disaster response and recovery, environmental health, epidemiology, safety, & environmental and radiological protection.

Doing business with the government is an especially significant opportunity for small- and medium-sized businesses, but is too often overlooked. For Gina Wightman, because of a long and successful career working in that arena, it was her sweet spot. And she pursued it aggressively using the Government Contracting Services offered by the Florida PTAC at UCF.

“The training seminars, consulting and business tools made available to me through the Florida PTAC at UCF have been invaluable,” Wightman says today. “I can’t emphasize enough how important working with the Florida PTAC has been. At the start, they helped us obtain certification as a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) which makes us more competitive for government contracts. We were turned down initially but our Procurement Specialist coached us through our appeal and we were approved!”

From there, the Florida PTAC at UCF introduced Wightman and W&A to the PTAC Bid Match database. Built to help clients like W&A find government contracting opportunities with just one click, the PTAC Electronic Bid-Match system enables companies to receive targeted federal, state, and local solicitations via e-mail daily. To populate this exclusive database, the Bid Match service monitors hundreds of procurement Web sites around the clock.

“Florida PTAC has been the source of consistent and solid support and help” continued Wightman. “They have reviewed and contributed to our capabilities statement and contract proposals. They have taught us how to access and use the PTAC Bid Match database – and we have won a contract thanks to it! I am so much more knowledgeable about all things government contracting, like GSA schedules, DUNS numbers and so much more. All thanks to the guidance of the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center at UCF and its specialists.”

“Since starting with UCF’s programs, we have developed a broader range of services and a more focused pursuit of business development, especially thanks to being part of the PTAC Bid Match system” concluded Wightman. “It’s enabled us to increase our contracts by 20% year over year. If I had to use one word to describe all that we have gained from the UCF Business Incubator, Florida SBDC and Florida PTAC, it would be ‘Helpful’. Not the most dynamic description, but exactly what every small business needs: help.”