What's cooking at the Immokalee Regional Airport? (Submitted photo/Travis Anderson)
Recognizing that small businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy, Collier County leaders approved the development of two Accelerators with the goal of helping small business owners expand into new ventures while helping others get their business off the ground. Jace Kentner, Interim Director with Collier County’s Business & Economic Development Office, said that the Immokalee Accelerator differs from the Naples Accelerator in a number of different ways. While the Naples Accelerator will focus on the providing office space for small business startups, the Immokalee Accelerator will focus on providing commercial kitchen space primarily for organizations and individuals looking to get started in the food business or expand their food-based business venture. Kentner mentioned that there is a misconception with what the intended purpose of the Accelerators is. He stressed that businesses and individuals who seek out and are approved for assistance through the program, will receive help with getting a business plan together and marketing their product. The ideal candidates are expected to spend 18-24 months in the program. The Accelerators are not intended for long-term use and truly means of helping small businesses succeed by gaining independence in Collier County. Kentner was forthcoming with the fact that the Naples Accelerator was opened sooner than the Immokalee Accelerator due to a number of different factors. Primarily, the Naples location provides office space only. There was minimal effort needed to get that location up and running whereas the Immokalee Accelerator needed significant improvements in the way of commercial kitchen infrastructure as well the need to obtain the necessary permits. The original appropriation of $2.5 million, approved by the State of Florida in 2014, arrived later than expected. As the 180-day deadline approached, County leaders asked for an extension, but that request was vetoed by the Governor. Therefore, the original $2.5 million went toward getting Naples Accelerator started. This time around, officials received $2 million in funding along with a $125,000 USDA grant. Another $1.5 million has been requested from the Economic Development Agency. Kentner said that he’s optimistic that the Immokalee Accelerator will be open by next June. When asked if the Immokalee Accelerator will provide assistance for any other small business ventures not related to the food industry, Kentner said that while he would like to see the Immokalee Accelerator services expanded, thus far he’s not seen a demand at a level that warrants the prospect of expansion. For those interested in utilizing the Immokalee Accelerator, which will be located next to the Immokalee Airport, the best option is to fill out the User-Needs Survey at http://www.colliergov.net/doing-business/catalyst-accelerator-network-collier/catalyst-culinary-facility-immokalee. The survey is available in English, Spanish, and Creole. The Business & Economic Development Office will then review the survey information and reach out to those interested in using the facility.
For some, owning their own business is the ideal American dream. However, making the leap from idea to conception is sometimes the most difficult hurdle to overcome. Learning how to create a business plan and approaching investors can be an intimating process.