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USF center in Brooksville has help for small businesses

Published Mar. 17, 2012

BROOKSVILLE — Launching a new business isn't an easy proposition.

Just ask Dr. Natalie Ellis. Although she had been practicing medicine mainly in hospitals, the thought of opening a solo practice in Weeki Wachee gave her pause.

"Business just isn't my forte," said Ellis, a family practice physician who specializes in holistic medicine. "I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I didn't know what I needed to do to get it started."

There is one thing Ellis knew she needed: a business plan that would enable her to apply for a small-business loan.

A call last May to the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce put her in touch with Jerry Karp, a consultant with the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida.

Karp worked one-on-one with Ellis to develop a financial spreadsheet detailing her estimated income and expenses. In addition, he helped guide her through strategies that would market her services in the community.

Ellis, who officially opened her practice last July near the Heather on U.S. 19, said Karp's assistance pointed her in the right direction early on and likely saved her money and hassles in the long run. In addition to meeting with Karp, she received counseling at USF in Tampa.

"I was really glad I went," she said. "Medicine is different from any other business because you're so busy dealing with patients. There aren't a lot of chances to network and learn from other people on how to run your business. You're pretty much on your own."

Funded in part by the Small Business Administration and the chamber, the SBDC at USF is located in the chamber of commerce building on Aviation Loop Drive in the Hernando County Airport Industrial Park. It has offered one-on-one counseling to new and existing business owners in Hernando County since it opened in 2010.

Karp, a certified business analyst and former small business owner himself, described launching an enterprise as something akin to running through a maze.

"It can be very confusing for someone who hasn't been through it before," he said. "If you don't know much about things like marketing, business plans, taxes and banking, it can be a tough learning curve. People who have knowledge of those things are much more likely to succeed than those that don't."

Karp said he sees anywhere from 20 to 25 business owners each week individually. In addition, he hosts group workshops. Many of the seminars are offered free.

Valerie Pianta, program coordinator for the Hernando County Office of Business Development, said that the addition of SBDC has greatly enhanced the county's business potential, in that training is offered on a variety of topics, including Internet strategy, international trade, business taxes and certification for contractors run by minorities, women, veterans or other groups.

"It's been a huge convenience for local business owners who used to have to drive to Tampa or Orlando to attend workshops," Pianta said. "Now it's right out their back door."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or