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The Florida SBDC at FAU and SERCOTEC: A Business Attraction and International Learning Cohort in Collaboration with FAU College of Business

Success Story: SERCOTEC

The Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at FAU recently liaised with the FAU College of Business (COB) to provide technical assistance, training and best practices to promote business attraction and creation in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

The program sought to enhance confidence and readiness in business locations and relocation in Florida, market expansion and an ecosystem with resources, while supporting clients of the Chilean SBDC Network (SERCOTEC) and continue facilitating resources for a controlled launch of products and services, or soft-landing, into a new market in the United States.

The joint efforts between the Florida SBDC at FAU and the COB facilitated resources in innovation and business development to a number of Chilean companies. Clients of the Chilean SBDC also took part in a student consulting project program during the FAU spring semester, which connected those foreign companies with a team of undergraduate and MBA students from the COB. 

Since 2014, the regional director of the Florida SBDC at FAU, Dr. Sandra Marin Ruiz, has been a leader in the Small Business Network of the Americas (SBNA), a partnership between the Americas SBDC and the U.S. Department of State to transfer the SBDC model to entrepreneurial and business development networks in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2020, Dr. Marin Ruiz, brought the SBNA and the Chile SBDC (SERCOTEC) to FAU as the first network that would start the implementation of collaborative efforts to co-counsel Chilean business owners and facilitate exports for the U.S. business clients of the Florida SBDC at FAU, with the direct support from the FAU College of Business and using economic development resources available within the region.

This SBNA premier initiative was successfully directed by the Florida SBDC at FAU’s consultant in residence at the College of Business Dr. Sara Alshareef in collaboration with the faculty from the management programs department in the College of Business including Dr. Roland Kidwell, Dr. Patch Paczkowski, Dr. Siri Terjesen and the students in their Global Strategy and Entrepreneurial Assistance Project classes.

Together, they facilitated the engagement process among professors, students, SERCOTEC and SBDC Chilean clients. This is a continuous collaboration whereby, Dr. Sara Alshareef gathered qualitative feedback from clients, students and the professors to enhance students learning and utilize the client experience in the coming semesters. “We are again working in collaboration with the SBDC and four Chilean companies in the fall semester with new teams of students,” Dr. Kidwell said.

Outcomes of this collaborative consulting and experiential learning initiative included the companies to gain a better understanding about the market in the U.S. and the opportunities in Florida, whereby the students offered resources, customized market research and business assistance for the Chilean’s company. The companies, in turn, were able to offer hands-on experience to FAU students that developed students’ business consulting skills while elevating their understanding of entrepreneurship and international business attraction.

Take a look at some Chilean companies’ participants of this first cohort had to say about the program and the value Florida SBDC at FAU had to offer:

Founded in 2020, general manager Miguel López Rojas, described the business as service that offers digital solutions to copper mining companies. ABM provides tools that companies can integrate into their current systems and receive business intelligent reports that will further the optimization of the operations. They work with mining companies in Peru, Panama, Mexico and Spain, according to López Rojas. A year after they started the company, Miguel and John Rojas, the owner, connected with Sercotec, the Chilean SBDC, who gave them guidance and introduced them to the COB program.

Gaining access to U.S. markets has always been a goal for the company, Rojas said. “We thought this wouldn’t happen until five years after we opened. For it to happen within two years of us being open, that was the most helpful thing that could have happened to us,” he said.

During the program students created reports for ABM, they also provided assistance like scheduling meetings with a tax expert, giving guidance with IRS forms and other legal documents that would green light the company into the U.S.

“It didn’t feel like we were working with college students. They treated every meeting with professionalism, so it never felt like they were just doing a task for a grade,” Rojas said. “Their work gave us about a six-month advantage in terms of the paperwork needed to operate in the states.” The client admitted that the students went beyond the assigned tasks and this offered valuable insight and clarity for the client in considering Florida as a potential market for his Chilean company.

Founded in 2012, Octeto Studios is a game development studio that makes original games with unique artistic and narrative direction for PC and Consoles.

Julio Marambio, CEO has developed projects for Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon but while they’ve had international exposure, Marambio admits that marketing his company had its challenges. “Doing business only in Chile was hard because it’s a very small market,” he says.

During working with the CoB, Marambio worked with students who provided competitive analysis reports, given status updates and suggested professional changes to the Octeto Studio website layout and social media presence.

They’ve also compared how Octeto Studio compares competitively to similar specific U.S. companies, which was, “very useful for use because the students were in a sense completing the role of a customers that fit into our demographic so it was great to have like this honest feedback from them as a consultant, but also as a potential consumer,” Marambio said. “And the competitive analysis was interesting because it gave us some perspective on similar sized companies that we only knew but couldn’t see that kind of information until now.”

Since his initial meeting in the program, Marambio has already made changes to his website and given much thought onto how he wants to continue marketing new features he is providing in the company.

“The main value from working with the students was that we received a consultation from inside the market that reinforces what we are doing but also gives us clarity into our next steps of working internationally,” he said.

Victor Olave Sandoval, Founder and CEO of Café La Finca is excited to bring Chilean coffee to U.S. markets.

More than a cup of joe, Sandoval opened his coffee roasting company in 2015 to be a platform to also educate entrepreneurs about coffee and provide coffee machines for companies to rent.

“We wanted to educate new entrepreneurs which is why we have courses on how to start a cafeteria, the basics of being a barista, an introduction into the world of coffee and more. It’s the main value I believe that we provide to this industry,” Sandoval said.

Joining the COB and SBDC program, and meeting with U.S. companies is a first for Café La Finca. His business model Sandoval says he hopes to scale and expand into other markets. Through the student collaboration he gained information on taxation, the best distribution channels, the fees for applying for permits and more.

“Yes, you can read and learn information on the internet but there is something more tangible about talking to the people who live and work in the places you want to be,” he said.

Sandoval’s biggest takeaways from the program included, gaining a focus on which location in the U.S. to land, specifically five different spots in Mami to open the coffee roasting shop where his ideal audiences reside. He was also able to connect with coffee suppliers in the states to learn the differences and similarities of his own business.

“They helped open the door to the industry which meant a lot because through that I learned that the process to open a business in the U.S. isn’t as hard as I originally assumed. It gave me the green light to take the next steps,” Sandoval said.

Cristian Rivadeneira began Rivadeneira Y Collao Limitada in Chile in 2012 with a focus to manufacture and industrialization Metalpol panels, which is a dry modular construction system.

Rivadeneira wanted his materials to be more economical, thermal, acoustic, fast, with the greatest resistance in the shortest possible time, compared to traditional systems, he says.

While they’ve had working operations in Ecuador since 2019, and materials being used in Argentina, Columbia and Panama, his main goal is to expand operations to Florida.

Joining the SBDC and COB program allowed him to gain industry reports, and study the U.S. market. “We saw how the economic status for our materials would be, the taxes we would need and most importantly which states we could operate in,” Rivadeneira said. “It gave us a sense of what coming to the U.S. could mean for the company.”

As the owner of Comex GYP, Alexis Guevara Fuentes, says he’s excited to enter into the U. S. market because his products are very similar and expanding only seems fitting. The company sells fabrics and linen from home and furniture to sports and fitness.

His interaction with the COB students gave him clarity into how he should operate logistically and who his competitors would be.

“The most value part of the report was how they explained the structure of the business could work the U.S.,” Guevara Fuentes said. “And now towards the end of 2023, my goal is to begin moving operations and expanding services to the states. There are many possibilities to grow the business and I’m looking forward to it.”

The sweets, treats and chocolates of Productos Artesanales Dlilis Spa are making their way to the states. Owner and CEO, Liliana Maier, joined the COB program right when he began connecting with the Food and Drug Administration to export into the country.

Handmade from in the family since the 198, Maier currently works with one of the biggest supermarket chains here in Chile, but he says he was excited and ready to expand to a larger market.

“We were ready to export but we knew we had things to work on since it was our first-time doing business outside of Chile,” Maier said. “The most valuable information for us was that the students had the direct contact with a supermarkets and other contacts. And the other was that they gave us a step-by-step process that we have to follow; they made everything very, very easy to understand and we right now know what to do.”

Since then, Maier has made changes to his packaging, built connections with Amazon and updated his expiration dates.

“The students had very good ideas and they gave us confirmation that what they were doing is right. The information was valuable because we now know that our products have a place in the country.” he said. “It’s a motivation to continue working to send our products out, to keep working with our new contacts and hopefully make more in Florida.”

Read more about the program below:

A part of the mission at the SBDC at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) is to promote regional development through business attraction. This program focused on that aspect, and provided students "A certificate of participation in the Florida SBDC Global Chilean Firm Consulting Project" upon completing the project.

Comments from Professors

“Certainly, this has been an excellent activity for our MAN6721 Global Strategy course to give our MBA students the chance to help Chilean firms get a better foothold in the South Florida and broader US market,” said Dr. Terjesen, an associate dean, research and external relations and Phil Smith Professor of Entrepreneurship in the COB.

Dr. Paczkowski, , Instructor, Management/Entrepreneurship shared, “My entrepreneurship class had the pleasure of working with two separate businesses from the SBDC Chile this past spring semester. The entrepreneurship students certainly learning a great deal from the business owners, and the students were able to help forward the goals of the businesses as well. In particular, the bakery company, Productos Artesanales D’Lilis (known as D’Lilis), worked with the students to understand the market in South Florida and how to best introduce their products. Most importantly, the student team found success in making connections with Publix, Whole Foods, farmers markets, and potential future outlets – including on the FAU campus – so that D’Lilis can immediately pursue opportunities to expand their markets. The second company, Octeto Studios, was successful in forging a strategy in entering the South Florida market in software development, specifically with the distribution of their upcoming videogame “Sky Oceans: Wings for Hire”. Overall, it was mutually beneficial for the students and businesses to work together, and I look forward to a continuing relationship with SBDC at FAU, the FAU College of Business and SBDC Chile. I would very much enjoy working with Dr. Sara Alshareef again.

The students in the entrepreneurship classes not only obtained a grade and valuable experience working with the companies but they also received 50 hours of service learning credit. “Our class worked with six Chilean companies in teams of four students each,” said Dr. Kidwell, DeSantis Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship, department chair of Management Programs and director of the FAU COB Adams Center for Entrepreneurship. “The concept, execution and results obtained in conducting these projects were so successful that we are again working with four Chilean companies in this semester’s class along with five companies from South Florida.” There were few difficulties in the process, which was conducted entirely over Zoom, but any problems were easily smoothed out by Dr. Alshareef and her Chilean counterpart, Kidwell said.