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Preparing for Entrepreneurial Success with 21st Century Innovations

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Everyone knows that our world is changing so fast technologically that, as a business owner, one must keep up with the latest trends and innovations. Pasco Hernando State College (PHSC) is at the forefront of assisting entrepreneurs, especially those who are veterans, in meeting these challenges and utilizing them to make their businesses thrive.

On Friday, Oct. 27, PHSC celebrated the opening of their Entrepreneurship (known as Eship) Innovation Center with a ribbon cutting. Along with this, in honor of National Veteran’s Small Business Week, the college conducted a Veterans Entrepreneurship Symposium.

Their Innovation Center, also known as a Maker Space, is housed in the “A” building on the North Campus, located at 11415 Ponce De Leon Blvd., about three miles north of Brooksville. This classroom is like a “playroom” for lovers of technology. It contains four 3-D printers, a computer with the latest AutoCAD software, a machine for making advertising buttons, a 3-D printing pen kit, a t-shirt imprinting machine, and other “toys” that will keep a person busy for hours. However, these are not “toys.” They are state-of-the-art tools for anyone wanting to create something for their business or organization. The Maker Space will be open to the public as well as students. There will be a charge for the use of the machines and supplies.

Sonia Thorn, Assistant Vice-President of Academic Affairs, was one of the people involved in the creation of the Eship Innovation Center. The project began two years ago as a way for the college to connect with the community, and with the help of state grants, the idea came to fruition.

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“It’s a place where students and community members can come and ideate, build prototypes and develop their ideas into reality,” Dr. Thorn stated.

What’s exciting is that the college is bringing this program to the high schools by training some of the teachers in the counties that PHSC serves.

Dr. Chris Brantley, Assistant Dean for Workforce Development, remarked, “We’ve trained them [the teachers] in the new entrepreneurship skills and paradigm shifts because it’s different from what it was twenty years ago. This allows them to go back to their classrooms, take what they’ve learned and work it into their lesson plans and help their students get the mindset they need so when they get older, they’ll have the opportunity to think about opening their own business.”

Dr. Ashley Cobb, Director of the Bachelor of Applied Science program at PHSC, participated in a national summit on entrepreneurship and has Maker Space credentials.

Dr. Laurie Harmon has a background in business and management. Because she has experience in the workforce area, she was hired to run the Maker Space.

After the tour of the Maker Space classroom, PHSC staff and administrators; Reggie Wilson, Provost of PHSC; Bob Hatfield, aide to Congressman Gus Bilirakis; Andrea Brvenik, General Counsel and Chief of Staff for PHSC; and representatives from the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce, stepped outside to have the official ribbon cutting.

After the ribbon cutting, many of the people adjourned to B building for the Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Symposium. Several vendors geared toward helping veterans had tables with literature on display.

Omar Fuentes, an eight-year veteran of the Marine Corps, was the keynote speaker. After leaving the military, he got into the financial field, working in the investment and banking sectors. Fuentes has worked with organizations focused on veteran entrepreneurship and is now into healthcare technology that uses AI to help physicians with patient management. In his speech, he emphasized the importance of not giving up even when you don’t obtain your goals right away, using his own experiences as an example of multiple failures on his road to success.

Another speaker was Ricardo Foster, founder of Infinity Aero Club. Foster is a Navy veteran who grew up with a passion for flying. He attended flight school in the military but didn’t make it through the program. Instead, he went into naval intelligence. When he retired from the Navy, he started several businesses that failed. He learned from his failures and realized that having a business plan and adequate funding were two of the key ingredients to a successful business.

His main focus now is Infinity Aero Club, a non-profit organization he started in 2020 to introduce aviation to underserved young men and women through hands-on instruction in business operations, aviation maintenance, and even flight training. Foster funds much of the program himself, but he also runs the organization with donations, fundraising campaigns and through the fees charged for the program.

Foster is now working with some of the high schools to get an aerospace curriculum into the schools and in the spring, they’ll be launching an afterschool program for students to learn about flying drones. He’s a deeply spiritual man who “walks in faith,” as he calls it, to accomplish his mission.

Another Navy veteran who spoke on Friday afternoon was Daryl Hych, founder of the Switzer Hych Group, a consulting firm that specializes in helping new business owners. He is also the author of “Where Is The Chief,” a book on military leadership within the Navy and the Founder/President of the Hillsborough County Black Chamber of Commerce.

He told the story of how his entrepreneurial journey began as a child when his father was laid off from his job. His dad bought a supply of candy, potato chips and other snacks at wholesale prices and had his children sell them to the neighbors. That “can-do” spirit followed him through his thirty-year career in the Navy and up to the present time as a successful businessperson and mentor.

For more information on the Entrepreneurship Innovation Center, contact Dr. Laurie Harmon at [email protected].

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