Spice company, health care firm among big winners in area awards
Score Southwest Florida recently honored four companies.
Business Observer Staff
| 8:42 p.m. November 18, 2020
FORT MYERS — Score Southwest Florida, a local chapter of the national organization that mentors and counsels small business owners, recently presented virtual accolades to four area businesses that achieved strong successes after working closely with volunteer Score mentors. The winners include:
• Business of the Year: Burma Spice
Owner Edward Brakus Jr. started operations for his gourmet exotic spice ecommerce company in his spare bedroom, according to a statement. His business model is based on working with Florida farms to produce and deliver high quality spices in days, compared with waiting five to six months to receive the same products from overseas. This farm-to-table approach helped Burma Spice, based in Glades County, to create its own successful brand, the release states.
Together, three SCORE mentors — Len Hendrickson, David Hamblett, and Raymond O’Brien — were helped Brakus secure a $250,000 SBA guaranteed loan for manufacturing equipment within seven days, the release adds. “My SCORE Mentor team helped me navigate through financial restructuring decisions and acquire substantial SBA-backed funding through Anchor Bank which supported strategic growth options,” Brakus says in the release. Burma Spice was also recently named the SBA Rural Small Business of the Year.
Entrepreneurs of the Year: Fieldr
Owners Connor Firmender, the CEO, and Natalie Finazzo, the COO — Florida Gulf Coast University Entrepreneur alum — targeted the gap in how students connect with employers. They also wanted to provide students with meaningful, experiential opportunities to help them find career path, the release states. The result, Fieldr, is a web-based application that streamlines the student-employer connection by allowing high school and college students to safely create profiles, register and apply to posted positions on an exclusive job board. Employers also register, create profiles and post a variety of positions ranging from volunteer work to internships to full-time jobs. Within six months of launching the platform, Fieldr had about 500 users, the release states.
When these young entrepreneurs launched Fieldr in 2019, they knew that they wanted to bring in a strong business mentor, so they reached out to SCORE to ask for help with business planning and marketing. “Our SCORE mentor Rob Grabel is a phenomenal listener and advisor,” says Firmender in the statement. “He really helped in the early stages of shaping the business model, especially helping shape our pitch deck.”
Startup of the Year: Omeza
Sarasota-based Omeza, founded in 2016, uses leading-edge biotechnology to help people to better deal with chronic wounds. In 2017, founded Thomas Gardner began working with Score and collaborated with a graduate student group to develop an initial financial forecast. That group of students included Sarah Kitlowski, now president and COO of the firm. The firm opened its first office in 2018 with one employee; the company has grown to nine full-time employees and is organizing clinical trials in preparation for anticipated FDA clearance in early 2021.
Score Mentor Pat Loftus remained connected with Omeza, including a seven-month mentoring relationship assisting with strategic planning, key relationship building and preparations for a second capital raise. “Our Score Mentor Pat Loftus has provided tremendous support during this start-up period,” Kitlowski says.
Family-owned Small Business of the Year: Exceptional Aluminum Sales & Service
Exceptional Aluminum Sales and Service, founded by husband-wife team Dennis and Scarlet Britton, opened its doors just a few weeks before Hurricane Irma struck Fort Myers in 2017. Dennis brought in an experienced team and Scarlett worked the back office. The Brittons, however, were new to the business side and approached Mentor Eileen Buchanan at Score in 2018 for help in managing the financial side and running a stronger operation. By 2019, profitability had increased, and established processes were in place to help the company to run smoothly.
“Eileen has been the greatest asset that our company has,” says Scarlett Britton in the statement. “Her guidance and advice, her gentle pushes, and her encouragement have been, without a doubt, the best thing that has happened to our company.”
Score Southwest Florida has more than 35 volunteer business experts. The national Score organization, funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the SBA, has helped more than 11 million aspiring entrepreneurs since 1964.