Mindset as the First Step to Small Business Success
Location: Hillsborough County, Florida
Number of consultants: 5
Number of subject matter experts: 8
Number of workshops in the first six months of 2022: 100+
Total number of people who attended: 1,300
Number who complete each 8-session Ice House series: 10-12
Number who have completed the 39-hour Self-Employment Workshop Program since it launched in 2021: 30
Each year, thousands of Tampa-area entrepreneurs and small business owners enter the orbit of Hillsborough County Economic Development Department for confidential, no-cost consulting and professional training through the Florida SBDC at Hillsborough County (FSBDC at HC). Its main office is in the Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, which the department established in 2014 to provide one-stop access to business services providers, resources, mentorship, and specialty training in all business stages and across all industries. In addition, the ECC connects with more than 80 business and community partners and consults and trains thousands of clients per year from its state-of-the-art office and meeting space in Tampa.
The FSBDC at HC started offering Ice House courses in 2017; after FSBDC at HC Center, Director Carol Minor attended the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative’s facilitator training. Her class project eventually became a 39-hour Self-Employment Workshop Program, which Hillsborough County launched in 2021. It starts with eight sessions based on the Ice House model. It instills an entrepreneurial mindset to buttress participants against common barriers to startups’ success.
“Everything we do starts with how we think,” Minor said. “We either think it’s hard or it’s easy. We think $1 million is a lot of money or no money at all.”
The Ice House component lays a realistic foundation about self-employment. Through the lessons as well as requirements like attendance thresholds, it teaches participants that they will need to be dedicated and make sacrifices. It helps them determine if their idea is feasible and if there is a market for it. Additionally, it explores the many reasons startups fail, from timing to location to poor management to inferior products. And under Minor’s guidance, it frames all of this potentially sobering information within a supportive, encouraging community.
The Self-Employment Workshop Program provides in-depth business training to lower-income Hillsborough County residents at no cost; the county funds the program and purchases the supplies. Content includes business studies, marketing, bookkeeping, financing, credit, and business plan creation. Those who complete all 39 hours receive a small chunk of startup capital toward licensing and other costs provided by financing support partners.
As a facilitator, Minor is relentlessly energetic—but not unrealistic. She starts by knighting the class members as finishers. It’s a lighthearted way to acknowledge the level of commitment required to attend the sessions and complete the coursework. These include assignments, an out-of-class survey about the viability of their idea, and a final presentation. Minor doesn’t grade assignments, but she gives copious feedback and endless encouragement.
“Every time I see them, I say, ‘I’m so proud of you guys! Look what you’ve done so far.’ It may sound kiddish, but people need to be encouraged—and when they know the journey is difficult, you have to encourage them even more.”
After the program, participants can continue to consult with the staff and pursue additional education through the FSBDC at HC. Minor said her team typically works with non-tech startups and established businesses with sales between $0 and $25 million.
About 30 people have completed the entire Self-Employment Workshop Program since 2021. Minor expects some to launch small businesses with an aspiration to do one thing particularly well and grow their companies. For example, Minor recalled an individual who pivoted from a career in hair care to become a notary. It is a complex but rewarding field. After she was featured on a local television station, their office saw a sudden surge in people looking to start notary businesses.
Other participants will take a more entrepreneurial route. They’ll start businesses but continue to keep an eye out for opportunities to diversify and expand into new revenue streams. Or, perhaps they’ll sell the company and create something totally new. For example, the owner of a construction company noticed an unending demand for trucks on worksites. So, he added truck rentals to his business line to generate additional revenue.
A third group may decide self-employment isn’t for them.
MORE THAN A BUSINESS STARTUP
“One thing I like about the program is the fact that we’re helping people become entrepreneurs, but we’re also creating better employees,” Minor said. “When a person is not able to go into business for themselves, they absolutely have a better appreciation for what it takes to run a business.”
Regardless of what path participants take, Minor takes great satisfaction in boosting people’s belief that they possess valuable skills and knowledge they can use to take care of themselves and their families. Her own 20-year career as a small business owner gave her confidence. She loves having the opportunity to start others on that path too.
“I love [teaching about] the locus of control because it helps you understand what you can control and what you can’t,” Minor said. “But you find out you have more control than you thought. And, if you don’t have control because of the circumstances you’re in, you learn what you need to do to change it.”