BY DR. BARBARA J. MCLEAN-SMITH
ORLANDO – The National Entrepreneur Center (NEC) under the leadership of Jerry Ross, President, is a conglomeration of sixteen non-profit partners located in the Fashion Square Mall in East Orlando.
NEC has been in existence since 2003 and was formerly known as the Disney Entrepreneur Center. The National Entrepreneur Center beats at the heart of Jerry Ross. He has been an entrepreneur most of his adult life. His mission has been and continues to be to help others to become and to remain entrepreneurs as well as maintain small businesses. His creativity as a young man led him to develop and promote a lighting business known as “Sky Tracker”. Whenever you see “night lights” at Disney, Universal, or Cape Canaveral, think about Jerry Ross.
NEC as it is known has sixteen non-profit partners who call “The Center” home. This group is comprised of well-established entities such as: Ascendus; African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida (AACCCF); Asian American Chamber of Commerce (AACC); Central Florida International Trade Office (CFITO); Florida High tech Corridor Council (The Corridor); Florida State Minority Supplier Development Council (FSMSDC); GrowFL; Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Metro Orlando (HCCMO); National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO); National Black MBA Association Central Florida Chapter (NBMBAA); Pride Chamber of Orlando; Prospera (formerly HBIF); Score Orlando (SCORE); Small Business Development Center at the University of Central Florida (SBDC); University of Central Florida Business Incubation Program (UCFBIP); and the Veterans Entrepreneurship Initiative (VEI). Any and all of these businesses are available at the NEC to offer free “one on one” business coaching.
The NEC is funded, in part, by Walt Disney World Resort, Orange County Government Florida, City of Orlando, Regions Bank, University of Central Florida (UCF), Florida BLUE, the 5/3 Bank, Wells Fargo, Seacoast Bank, Orlando Magic, The Corridor, Orlando Utilities Company (OUC), Bank United and Valley Bank. Resources from these “financial investors” allow the NEC to provide invaluable services to budding and struggling new entrepreneurs and small businesses, presently in Orange, Lake, and Seminole Counties. Entrepreneurs and small business owners in all six counties in Central Florida may access the services of the NEC.
Services range from business plan development to business advocacy. At the NEC one can find coaching for every aspect of a successful entrepreneurial journey. Networking and the “building of strategic alliances, coalitions and affiliations” are some of the services provided by NAWBO, to name one of the resource partners. Writing an effective business plan is tantamount to having a successful business. The NEC will help with the incorporation of your new business through growth management; assist with marketing strategies and any other service that will allow your business to grow and flourish. Growing your business above the money line will provide a baseline to help with small business operations and spending management. Understanding this concept early on allows an entrepreneur to avoid failure which results from a “lack of planning, lack of money and lack of time” according to Jerry Ross.
Each of the aforementioned agencies lend experiential expertise to each other as well as to The NEC as a whole. Groups of any and all ethnicities and persuasions may find assistance at the NEC. Neighborhood groups throughout Orlando, Orange County and all counties surrounding Orlando can benefit from the offerings of this multi-faceted and multi-experienced group of entrepreneurs, mostly free of charge. The impact of the NEC is far reaching. According to Orange County Mayor, Jerry Demings, “Orange County is home to some of the most innovative and hard-working business owners in the world,” said Demings. “Orange County Government was a founding sponsor of the National Entrepreneur Center, and this new tool provides the next step for connecting business owners throughout Central Florida to the resources that will support their growth. This initiative benefits our entire region.”
Free entrepreneurial and small business training are offered throughout our community at “no charge”. The NEC wheel continues to turn as more and more people have the desire to own a small business; to begin and maintain the fruits of their ideas and labor. In the words of Jerry Ross: “Entrepreneurship is a wave of the future. COVID has changed the framework of many businesses. There is an emergence of a ‘New economy’ surfacing which will be “employee-centric”. Employees with their ideas and autonomy will be central to the success of most businesses. More and more businesses will operate remotely and digitally to meet the needs of their employees. Entrepreneurship will be exemplified within an environment that exudes creativity, open communication, and a move away from traditional ways of doing business. Employees will be integral to the design and operation of a business.
Jerry says: “Female entrepreneurs are on the rise as a result of the Pandemic. One such success story is that of Vel Johnson, Founder and CEO of Vasaj Communications, a public relations firm.” Jerry Ross states that “Vel used to be one of our clients, now we are one of hers. She takes care of much of our Public Relations work”. Vel has been showcased in the Orlando Business Journal, Today’s Black Woman, IMMPACT Magazine, The Florida Sun, The Orlando Times, and has appeared on several television broadcasts. Towards the start of her entrepreneurial journey, she was honored with the Emerging Business of the Year Award, presented by the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida. She received early assistance from the NEC. There are many other success stories like this one. You, too, can become one of them.
Jerry Ross, one, with much experience and many wise quotes has a motto that underpins his entrepreneurial spirit. Jerry reminded me of my entrepreneur potential by saying: “To become an entrepreneur you must ‘monetize your experiences’ and an entrepreneur may be born”. After 16 years as president of the National Entrepreneur Center, Jerry plans to retire at the end of 2022.
The NEC is located at The Fashion Square Mall, 3201 E. Colonial Drive, Suite A20, Orlando, FL 32803 – 407-420-4848. For more information, you may contact: www.BizLinkOrange.com
BY DR. BARBARA J. MCLEAN-SMITH