Successful businesses still need them.

IGNITE grads: Jeanne Whitman, owner of Achieve Beautiful Skin, and Sherri Akanfora- Ruohomaki, owner of K-9 Kampus, both based in Melbourne.

The older we get the more some of us realize just how little we know. We understand the value of learning new things (and perhaps have even been “humbled” by a few challenges at this point in our lives).

In business — especially small-to-midsize businesses — owners may not always have access to the resources they need to take their companies to the next level on their own.

While there are many educational workshops sponsored by local, state-funded workforce agencies and organizations like the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Small Business Development Councils (SBDC) — there are few mentoring programs that cater to the more advanced business owner.

So what about the small business that has been serving the local community for years — those that have a business model showing sustainability and measurable profit? Where do they go for support?

When you’ve been in business for at least a handful of years and know how to survive in a tough economy, the level of mentoring you need isn’t tied to the basics. For a second-stage business (typically as many as 100 employees and between $500,000 to $50 million in revenue), your challenges may lie in figuring out how to further diversify your revenue streams, perhaps how to more efficiently manage your accounting and HR functions, or how to create a near-term succession plan or exit strategy. Perhaps you need legal expertise on how to best position your business to better address recent changes in LLC laws. Or maybe you simply don’t know where to start when it comes to refreshing the marketing of your products and services to better address today’s fickle, impatient, electronically based marketplace.


In Central Florida, we are beginning to see a new type of mentoring program — one tied to more advanced-staged businesses — and they are showing some serious benefits.

At the Florida Institute of Technology’s Women’s Business Center for example — the “IGNITE 360” program was developed specifically for growing businesses. With locations in Melbourne and Rockledge, the program is different than most offerings, but the results have been remarkable.


“The concept behind the IGNITE 360 program is to focus on companies that are committed to moving to the next stage of growth, development and profitability,” said IGNITE 360 Director Jeannette Kraar. “To date, we’ve worked with 21 companies that range from three to 30 years and have as many as 50 employees. In the two years the IGNITE program has been in existence, clients have seen an average 30 percent increase in revenues, 47 percent increase in job creation and at least 25 percent increase in margins.”

To date, the IGNITE 360 program has assisted owners of businesses tied to everything from family counseling to boat sales, government engineering contractors to public relations agencies. Depending on the business model, IGNITE executives select a senior team of mentors (typically three to four mentors and a facilitator) that have specialty areas of expertise and are able to address to unique needs of that particular company.

At the beginning of the intensive six-month process, mentors meet with the company principal(s) to review existing business and marketing plans, determine near and long-terms goals for the company and begin to develop step-by-step action plans to meet those intended goals.

“The business owners that participate in IGNITE are serious about achieving the next level of business growth,” said Women’s Business Center Executive Director Beth Gitlin. “There was a real gap in the marketplace for advanced mentoring geared toward second-stage companies and we are so pleased to help fill that niche.”


The Florida Tech Women’s Business Center assigns an “advisory board” to each mentee company/business owner. These teams meet monthly to discusses objectives, create a strategy for growth and develop an action plan tailored to the participating business owner’s specific needs.

Small businesses are the economic engine of our country. Providing ongoing ways to support them is critical to increasing new jobs and spending in our communities.


Women’s Business Center to Open in Orlando

The Florida Tech Women’s Business Center will be opening its first Orlando office in early 2015. The location of the new office will be announced in January and will serve business owners in Orlando and surrounding counties with unique resources and tailored mentoring programs for first, second-stage and advanced businesses.


Beth Gitlin has been named executive director for all of Florida Tech’s Women’s Business Centers (Orlando, Melbourne and Rockledge locations) and will lead strategic partnership and fundraising activities for the organization. Wanda Lipscomb-Vasquez has been named director of the Melbourne and Rockledge centers and will focus on developing unique programming at these locations.

Editor’s Note: For information about the Women’s Business Center or the IGNITE 360 Program, visit