Updated: Nov 26
The Lakeland-Winter Haven area is the second fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 232,000 households account for almost $20 billion in annual economic activity. More than ever, people specifically entrepreneurs and corporations- want a piece of that pie. Large global entities continue to build profitable franchises, warehouses, and extensions in Lakeland. Still, the ambitious, passionate small business owners put distinctive handprints on how our city looks, feels, and tastes.
The exciting part of living in Florida is that in 2021, 632,105 applications for new businesses were submitted. The harsh reality, though, not just in Florida but nationally, is that 1 in 5 companies do not survive a year, and almost 50% of businesses close within five years. One priceless asset that Lakeland has is many successful businessmen and women willing to share their wisdom and point other entrepreneurs to resources and development opportunities that can help them beat the odds.
The Lakelander sat down recently with four savvy local business minds with a wealth of knowledge and experience to unpack some of their best advice for hopeful and existing small business owners.
So You Want To Start A Business Or Further Grow Your Business In Lakeland. Now, Where Do You Start?
Dixon. Chamber of Commerce: "When [a business owner] comes in. I ask them, 'How can I be a resource to you? What resources do you need?' And they are very excited about being informed about what they may not know just yet and updated on the new trends. I see enthusiasm and hunger for wanting to be more informed so that they can advance their business.
Abbott. Catapult: "In] 2022, we found our purpose, mission, and momentum in our offerings. We have shifted away from a cohort-based education program, getting people together to go through a class; now, it's focused on one-on-one attention. 'What do you need to learn? What does your business need? How can Catapult create that connection for you or create that educational opportunity for you?" Catapult now offers many one-on-one mentoring opportunities, connecting entrepreneurs with field and industry experts willing to provide their time to answer questions and confer wisdom.
Long. BRIDGE Local: "I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all entrepreneur or small business idea or venture. So, realizing that those (people) that feel like Catapult is the solution for them, those that go to the Chamber and say, This is for me,' those that are Hispanic and can find the resources they need (at the Puerto Rican Hispanic Chamber)- there are still gaps. And so where social media can fill those gaps, BRIDGE Local seems to have an opportunity to do that." BRIDGE Local moderates a community Facebook group of nearly 12,000 members and is constantly working to connect people with local businesses and train local businesses in lead generation and online marketing.
Takiyal Dixon Director of Business Resources at Lakeland Chamber of Commerce Takiyah spent 18 years in education, working with every age group, from VPK students to college students, and her primary focus for the past decade has been teaching life skills and workforce development. She is also the founder and owner of D&G Mixed Media Art and Design. In her role at the Chamber, she is incredibly excited to help address skills gaps for traditionally underserved populations and connect entrepreneurs with potentially life-changing resources. "When the opportunity arose at the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce, it was a perfect opportunity for me to come and make a great impact on not just youth but also business owners," she said.
How Would You Describe The Local Business Climate In Lakeland?
Long, BRIDGE Local: "We're the rockets, you know, the practice rockets that go up and down and up and down, and then we're going to launch. This is a legitimate launch that we're getting ready to take off. The world's just going to start to take notice of the entrepreneurial community of Lakeland because of all of the people who began to step in and become leaders in our city. Abbott, Catapult: "The national headlines that Lakeland has received for its growth, for its proximity to resources and the port and logistics and operations...is such a massive benefit to many entrepreneurs or outside businesses looking for another headquarters or base of operation. We are positioned in a fantastic time and an amazing geolocation.
Christian Abbott Workspace Director at Catapult Lakeland, Inc. Christian has traveled the world as a professional dancer and theatrical professional and pitched billion-dollar ideas to the CEO of Disney as part of a 20-year run with Disney Cruise Line. He has lived in Lakeland for 12 years but admits that it wasn't until the pandemic forced him to work from home that he developed a genuine appreciation for the city. When he learned about the Workspace Director position at Catapult, he was intrigued by the opportunity to be intimately involved with the development and growth of the city by sharing his expertise and network of connections with entrepreneurs. "These people will give my sons awesome jobs when they're dreams. Come true," he said. "And as well, just being a footnote in somebody else's story, helping somebody else's dream come true, is a worthwhile cause that pulls on my heartstrings."
What Characteristics Of An Individual, Do You Believe Are The Most Telling Of Whether Or Not They Will Be Successful As An Entrepreneur?
Rivera. Puerto Rican Hispanic Chamber: "Do not be afraid to take criticism. And I have many members that [say], I used to do this before, and I want to open my business as this. And I say, 'OK, this is what you did before, but did you do it for yourself? Did you do it for someone else? And if you did it for someone else, did you learn something from that [person]?"
Abbott, Catapult: "Successful entrepreneurs embody a level of credibility. They know their business, or they've spent time in their business, and maybe their boss didn't let them do it, so they went off and did it themselves. But they've had time in that industry and can go off and execute it their way or survive somehow. And then I think the credibility also comes with a bit of persuasiveness as well because you have to be able to articulate your vision and persuade employees to go along for this startup ride or persuade an investor that they're going to get their money back or that it's worth the risk."
Long, BRIDGE Local: "I'm going to quote a Ted Lasso quote: Be a goldfish. You have to remember your mistakes and learn from what you've done. But don't carry that hurt when it comes to relationships and someone hurting you. Don't become embittered. Don't become cynical. Because things are going wrong, people will screw you, use you, take advantage of a situation, or steal an idea. And at the same time, that sucks; that's a part of the marketplace. So get ready and embrace the competitiveness of it, but keep the reason why you started in the first place.
Dixon, Chamber of Commerce: "Successful entrepreneurs take risks, and you have not to be afraid to fail repeatedly because it may happen. Also, just being consistent and being around a supportive group." Ana Rivera Semi-retired / Founder of Puerto Rican Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Polk County Ana says she is semi-retired, but her schedule is still filled with meetings and lunches centered around helping bring sustainable businesses to Lakeland. She knows what it's like to be a corporate leader, working for years with Marshall's and IC Penney, and she has operated successful businesses related to fashion design and product development. When you fuse that with the fact that the Puerto Rican native is a bold and seasoned advocate for helping guide Hispanic entrepreneurs, it's no surprise that in 2007, she founded the Puerto Rican Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Polk County. "The Chamber has been able to help at least 70% of our members to start, continue and maintain their businesses here." she said."If you drive around, you know, not only Lakeland but throughout all of Polk County, you will see on every corner either a Spanish church or a Spanish restaurant, a Spanish barbershop, a mechanic, a dentist, etc." Crissanne Long CEO of Maximize Digital Media / Founder of BRIDGE Local Chrissanne comes from a family of teachers. She was a Polk County Schools teacher for nearly a decade- but eventually, she found her unique path. She is the CEO of a digital marketing agency and the founder of several business networking organizations, and she loves to help people build successful businesses. "I feel like my existence started when I became an entrepreneur," she said. "When I became an entrepreneur, I realized that I had a God-given purpose, and I just stepped into it, and that's what I'm doing."
What Industries Are Ripe For Growth In Lakeland?
Abbott, Catapult: "The number one business started in Florida is a landscaping business because that business will always be needed. You find a company that can serve people retiring in this area and those coming out of college because those kids want to live in a cool, hip place that is affordable. So the restaurants, the bars, the experiences... It will be gold if you can wonderfully start a business with graphics. Services one of those two demon
Long, BRIDGE Local: "I'm not going to speak on specific industries, but on finding a systematized business that can be repeated so that you can create something that can scale. Many times, people get into business with a service business, for example, and it's like they're going to do the service, and then they get busy, and then they know that they need to hire somebody, but they don't have a system to bring somebody on. /If you begin with the end in mind, the systems will be what can take you to a successful business.
Dixon, Chamber of Commerce: "There's a teeter-totter back and forth. If you look at what education is doing, they prepare students for trades. The medical industry is also booming, so I guess those are some primary areas where you would be successful if you want to start a business.
If You Could Pick One Song As Your Theme Song For The Career You Have Had, What Would It Be And Why?
Abbott, Catapult: "Um gosh, that's hard. A Horse with No Name by America? I have wandered through my career and ended up in places I didn't expect. And so I was trying to think of a song I embodied, like accepting where you are and being open to the opportunities in front of you...and I just stayed open to it all... and I'm glad I did." How Do You Define Success?
Rivera, Puerto Rican Hispanic Chamber: "Success is (learning something valuable from every single experience you go through, whether it's a good one, bad one, a mediocre one; it is part of your fabric. And that fabric of you, you're sharing it with everyone you serve, and that's something no one can take and teach.