Treasure Coast business owners receive credentialed consulting from local SBDC

Emily McHugh and Ricardo Amaral

Emily McHugh of the Florida Small Business Development Center at Indian River State College reviews an export marketing plan with Ricardo Amaral, executive vice president of Aluma Tower Company. MICHAEL SPOONEYBARGER PHOTOS


Since the end of last year, Florida and the rest of the world have been caught up in the throes of the coronavirus scare. While health is obviously the primary concern, COVID-19 presents just one more challenge for small businesses in the state.

According to the State of Small Business report 2020 from the Florida Small Business Development Center, there are 2.5 million small businesses in the Sunshine State. Eighty-eight percent of them have fewer than 20 employees. In total, Florida small businesses employ 3.4 million – or 41.6% of all private sector employees.

Small businesses support half of the state’s economy and generate three-quarters of all net new jobs. So, the health and continued prosperity of small businesses is vital to the state’s future.

That’s where the developmental centers come in. There are eight regional offices throughout the state. The network is the only statewide provider of entrepreneurial and business development services.

Network centers provide no-cost consulting services, training and research resources and offer a tool kit for growth acceleration, access to capital, advice on international trade, government contracting opportunities and business continuation.

Simply put, SBDC provides a support system for small business owners and creates an “entrepreneurial ecosystem” for them.

By 2030, Florida is projected to add 4 million more residents, wrote Florida SBDC Network CEO Michael Myhre. We will need 500,000 new small businesses to help service that growth. Those new businesses are expected to add another 1.2 million jobs.

Frank Fink of the SBDC meets with Rudy Kirchner

Frank Fink of the SBDC meets with Rudy Kirchner, owner of Doctor Kirchner’s Natural Weed Killer to review his business plan.


Paul Chung is vice president of Hot Pie Island Joe’s in Fort Pierce. 

“We are the proud manufacturers of Jamaican-style beef, chicken and vegetable patties,” Chung said. “We met Emily McHugh of SBDC at IRSC and she introduced us to the resources at the college. The company has grown 25 percent over the past two years. Emily has helped us with our international marketing and exporting. With her help, we now ship pies to Belize, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

Michael Bernard of the SBDC discusses plans for expansion with Matt Black

Michael Bernard of the SBDC discusses plans for expansion with Matt Black, CEO of Ben Franklin Plumbing.

The Treasure Coast Florida SBDC center is housed and hosted at Indian River State College. Tom Kindred has been its director since 2015.

SBDC offers expertise to both emerging and established entrepreneurs, but on the Treasure Coast, Kindred noted, his center supports more existing businesses [70%] than new ones [30%].

“That’s our sweet spot: Businesses that want to expand,” Kindred said.

The center at IRSC offers the advice of seasoned local consultants and gives small business owners access to workshops and other training and an array of financial tools to help their businesses thrive. 

Kindred spoke about his office’s ability to access various databases for marketing and demographics that would be impossible or extremely expensive for individual business owners to gain access to. His team also offers information on financial ratios for determining food cost or profit margins, and a host of other analytical tools. 

In Kindred’s experience, the two most common missteps for entrepreneurs are a lack of capital and management experience and expertise.


Ed Ciampi is vice president of sales for Chicago Stainless Steel Equipment in Martin County, an 80-year-old manufacturer of industrial pressure and temperature gauges used in a variety of industries including food and beverage, pet food and pharmaceutical companies. 

“I have a long history with SBDC,” Ciampi said, “dating back to when I was a Martin County commissioner from 2008 until 2012. I met with a lot of companies over the years and many had become acquainted with SBDC and sang its praises. 

“For my company, we have only about 12 people total, so SBDC is a real benefit. We don’t have the personnel or resources to handle some of the things we need to handle.”

Spike Schultheis reviews designs for new products available with Al Coffey

The SBDC’s Spike Schultheis reviews designs for new products available with Al Coffey, owner of Dragonfly Graphics.

“Owners often get passionate about a good idea [for a company], but they don’t really understand the big picture,” he said.

“I owned and operated small businesses for 25 years,” Kindred noted. “If I’d had access to all that expertise, I’m certain I could have increased my operations and profitability.”

Kindred is especially proud of his office’s outreach efforts.

“Our center is pretty innovative,” he said. “We have a weekly radio show and a podcast, Small Biz Florida. We aggressively promote SBDC. I was once a business owner who didn’t know about this program and I want to make people aware of what we have available at the college.

“Most of our referrals come direct via word of mouth,” he said. “We work very closely with all the economic development agencies across the Treasure Coast.”

It’s a sad fact, according to the Small Business Administration, that only 50 percent of businesses that open in 2020 will still be around by 2025. Only one-third will still be in business by 2030. The vast majority of small businesses fail because of the lack of knowledge of their owners or managers.

The Small Business Development Network offers a low- or no-cost support system dedicated to keeping businesses healthy and profitable. Contact SBDC at IRSC at to find out what they can do for your bottom line.

Treasure Coast Business is a news service and magazine published in print, via e-newsletter and online at by Indian River Magazine Inc. For more information or to report news email [email protected]