Entrepreneurship in South Florida region is very healthy. But it also is struggling.
There is no doubt South Florida is having an entrepreneurial moment. Since the Great Recession millions of dollars have been spent by nonprofit groups, colleges, universities and others to stoke the entrepreneurial engine of South Florida. It is paying off with people starting new companies, but less than half of those companies will survive to celebrate their fifth anniversary. And fewer still will grow fast, according to the Kauffman Foundation.
To get a sense of navigating the environment, we asked Brian Brackeen to share his schedule of the course of a week in mid-May with WLRN. Brian is the CEO of facial recognition software company Kairos. It is based in Wynwood.
How South Florida’s entrepreneurial environment stacks up:
Nancy Landi hopes to beat the odds of startups. Her previous new company effort didn’t make it to celebrate its fifth anniversary. That was in the scrap metal business and her newest effort grew out of that — dumpsters.
Landi became an entrepreneur after 22 years as a lawyer. She runs MST Dumpsters with her husband out of a small building in an industrial area just north of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. It’s nothing fancy, but neither is renting dumpsters. However, it’s a growing business.
She said they started with one truck and five dumpsters a year ago and hope to have seven trucks and 200 dumpsters by the end of this year. “It is growing at a very fast pace, sometimes a little too fast it seems like,” she said.
In it’s first year, revenues totaled $830,000, according to Landi. She expects sales of $1.3 million this year.
A knock against the South Florida entrepreneurship environment has been the lack of capital. In the first three months of this year, less than $200 million of venture capital was invested in Florida. That is 11th in the nation, ahead of Illinois and just behind Utah. Put another way, of every $100 in venture capital invested nationwide, only about $1 came to Florida.
Nabyl Charania hopes to change that. He leads Rokk3r Labs and in March announced the launch of the Rokk3r Fuel Venture Fund. He and his partners plan on eventually raising $150 million to invest in companies that come through the Rokk3r Lab business co-building program and other initiatives.
“We know there is talent here,” he said. “The idea with us creating the fund was we’re not going to wait for someone else to solve the problem for us. We’re going to come up with a solution because we know there is a need.”
“If you were to create a city from scratch and you were to try to give it all the ingredients it needed to be successful in entrepreneurship,” said Kairos CEO Brian Brackeen, “Miami has all those things in spades. To teach an entire city to take risks and become an entrepreneur is a very difficult thing to do. We do that naturally.”
Sometimes life takes us places we never imagined we would end up, but in the end, we are glad we did. That’s exactly what happened to Nanci Landy, who began her career as a lawyer and later found her passion as a business owner in the construction debris hauling industry.
As a successful lawyer since the late ‘80s, Nanci began feeling burned out and unsatisfied with her career. Not quite sure of her next move, she retired in 2011 and soon thereafter began dating someone interested in launching a scrap metal commodity company. After helping him to get the business off the ground in Florida, she soon became the owner of the company in 2012 and very quickly grew it until the steel market crashed last year. Equipped with dumpsters and trucks, Nanci got resourceful and found a great opportunity to transition her business into construction debris hauling. Fast forward to today, Nanci has been successfully growing MST Dumpsters since April with her six employees (one of which is her now husband), four trucks and 90 dumpsters, serving clients in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties throughout Florida. Much of that success she credits to the company’s unrivaled customer service and turnaround time.
While the jump from law to debris hauling may seem extreme, Nanci explains that the challenge of starting something completely new was just what she needed. “It was fun. As most entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s fun starting a business,” she says. “I wore dirty shorts, a tank top and boots to work instead of a suit and it was interesting learning something new and developing something from scratch.”
A member of NAWBO since 1995, she has been active in the Broward County chapter and has served as President and in leadership positions on the board. She notes that NAWBO has helped to teach her many lessons throughout the years, even when she was practicing as a lawyer. “Initially, I thought I was a lawyer opening a law firm. NABWO taught me that I’m a businessperson who happens to be a lawyer. A lot of running the business side, I learned from people in NAWBO.”
That sense of unconditional support in NAWBO has also helped Nanci, especially when she was making her career transition. “It’s a big support group because no matter what kind of problem you’re having, there’s someone in the room that has had that same problem and is willing to help you with it,” she says. “Even if they can’t solve a problem, they would be helpful in listening.”
Looking to the future, Nanci is forging ahead on her new path and applying her expertise in customer service and operations management to bring MST Dumpsters to new heights.
What are some of the things you do to achieve wellness as a busy woman entrepreneur?
I am a workout nut. I do 45 minutes of cardio every morning and then after work I lift weights and I’ve been doing that for 25 years. That’s huge for me in terms of feeling good.
Any advice for other business owners on ways to achieve wellness?
Sometimes you need to disconnect. For instance, you don’t have to answer all your e-mails when you’re on vacation. You should really be on vacation, not working from a different location.