Miami Dade College collaborated with a community improvement collective to host a business conference at the Carrie P. Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center on Friday.
The seven-hour event, “Business Breakthrough II Small Business Conference,” focused on developing small businesses and promoting entrepreneurship in an effort to transform Miami’s 79th Street from a crime stigmatized area to a financial asset to the city, spearheaded by the 79th Street Corridor Sustainable Development Initiative.
“With so much attention focused on businesses in the technology sphere, it is important to also focus on the small businesses, which have shown a tremendous ability to sustain themselves and serve their markets against the odds,” said H. Leigh Toney, executive director of the MEEC. “This type of collaboration expands the resources available to our community, our students and business owners. The conference is a part of a wide range of educational and training opportunities we offer the community we have served for more than 30 years.”
The MEEC is the only higher-learning facility in the Liberty City area. The center offers college-credit courses and vocational and certificate programs that prepare students and job seekers for immediate hire. The 79th Street Corridor initiative is led by four non-profit organizations: The Urban League of Greater Miami Inc. Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida Inc., Dade Employment and Economic Development Corporation and the Center for Neighborhood Technology but operates through a community advisory committee. All who share the MEEC’s goal of supporting small business and economic growth in the neighborhood.
With help from local entrepreneurs, educators and industry experts, attendees learned the best practices and strategies to flourish in the marketplace.
The conference included breakout sessions on the basics of entrepreneurship, investment and trade opportunities as well as other business growing techniques. Self-made culinary connoisseur, Ernisha Randolph, and local business mogul, Carole Ann Taylor, talked about their business journeys at the event.
Randolph, who is the CEO of JK Catering, a million-dollar catering company, president of Juanita’s Kitchen and founder of up and coming restaurant, Sweet Butter, said she started off by selling food from her kitchen. She urged the business owners in the audience to get out their comfort zones in order to move on to the next level.
Taylor, the CEO of Miami To Go, a chain of souvenir shops, also encouraged the audience to take advantage of every opportunity and take risks.
Taylor opened her first shop at Bayside Marketplace 30 years ago without any business training and now owns four stores at Miami International Airport. She also opened a Cuban store in Little Havana without learning one word of Spanish. Taylor said she saw the potential for a tourist hub in the neighborhood after frequenting there for lunch. Taylor ignored all the barriers and focused on the return on investment which was $4.9 million in 2016.
“There are still haters, we have had chickens in front of the store and all kinds of other things,” said Taylor. “But we just look past that.”
Taylor, who volunteers on the board of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, said there is a gap in the tourism industry waiting to be filled by Black businesses. Minority business owners should also take advantage of the gentrification that she believes inevitable in Overtown, Little Haiti and West Grove, said Taylor.
Other openings for small businesses were also discussed during breakout sessions on hospitality and international trade. One session was also on improving customer service in businesses which educators state is one of most important elements of business, but it is often overlooked.
“Most businesses are customer-focused environments which have different segments,” said Teddie Laing, chairperson of MDC’s School of Business. “How well you communicate with those different segments can help you achieve customer excellence.”
There are also opportunities for small businesses in the solar and renewable energy industry, said Natasha Campbell, attorney and former Obama Administration appointee to the Department of Energy and Clean Energy consultant, to the audience.
As a consultant to the HBCU Community Development Coalition, Campbell is working with 14 institutions, including Florida Memorial University, to introduce solar energy technology in order to fill the void for minority students in the industry.
“You don’t hear about federal-anchored labs at HBCUs, and when looking at the statistics in energy, diversity is not in the model,” said Campbell. “But by using HBCUs, we can create access to the industry and career paths for students.”
Many MDC students attended the conference between classes along with local small businesses owners including Eveline Pierre, executive director of the Haitian Heritage Museum and Antoinishe Sands, CEO of Achernar Entertainment Inc., an event coordinating business in Liberty City.
Sands said she enjoyed the event and the chance to network with other business owners.
“I think the information was accurate,” said Sands. “It was inspiring as well. I think we all need to be re-inspired from time to time.”