By Nancy Dahlberg The Miami Herald.
Look up and down the row of colorful Art Deco hotels along Miami Beach's Ocean Drive and you will see dozens of brightly colored awnings and shades from Cristina Mistri's small business.
A year ago, though, the future did not look so sunny to Mistri.
Her company, Under One Umbrella, had plenty of local customers -- including about 20 restaurants and hotels along Ocean Drive.
Yet sales had plateaued for her 11-year-old small business. She said she was also losing interest, and she didn't think she had the skills to take the company to the next level: "I was stuck."
A friend at Chamber South suggested she apply to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses at Miami Dade College. Today, Mistri and 72 other small business owners will be honored at the first graduation ceremony for the Miami Dade College program.
Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses is a free 16-week classroom-based practical business education program that gives entrepreneurs valuable skills for growing their businesses, powerful networking opportunities and access to financial capital.
Small businesses selected for the program are producing revenues and in growing industries or markets. The $500 million Goldman Sachs program is now in 20 cities around the country, including Miami, and four in the United Kingdom.
Mistri was part of the first cohort at Miami Dade College that finished last May. Since then, two more classes have graduated, and a fourth cohort began last month. The local program, funded with a $5 million grant from Goldman Sachs Foundation, is accepting applications for Cohort 5 and a sixth class is planned for the fall.
The curriculum was developed by Boston's Babson College, rated No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report and the Princeton Review for entrepreneurship education. It includes one-on-one advice as well as full-day and evening clinics and workshops led by subject matter experts trained in the curriculum by Babson. The small business owners selected for the program, known as "scholars," learn to identify and evaluate opportunities, understand financial statements, hire, retain and lead employees, negotiate successfully, present their businesses to potential investors and partners and, perhaps most importantly, create a comprehensive growth plan.
"This is a community of small businesses. Miami does not have a large corporate base, and our future here very much depends on small business growth and entrepreneurship. Having an opportunity to get a first-rate program that has been proven, has incredible potential and money behind it, that is a winning opportunity," said Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, in an interview late last month. "When I reviewed the model -- education for business growth plus a network of support that results in revenue growth and job creation -- it doesn't get better than that."
And the need is real. Although immigrant-rich South Florida always ranks highly in entrepreneurial indexes, the great majority of these businesses are micro-businesses that remain tiny. According to a recent study by the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, 94 percent of businesses in Miami-Dade have five or fewer employees, more than the state's rate at 91 percent and the nation as a whole with 88 percent. If just one in three of these micro-businesses nationwide hired just one additional employee, the United States would be at full employment, the report said.
Goldman Sachs Chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who is also co-chair of the national 10,000 Small Business Program with Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffett and Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, said last week that the program was inspired by Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women, an entrepreneurial support program for female small business owners in emerging markets. In the case of 10,000 Women, more than 10,000 have already been helped. "But it helps to have a goal so you can see if your scale will get you where you want to be in five years," he said.
When choosing locations, Goldman Sachs looks for "committed" and "entrepreneurial" colleges and local governments, Blankfein said. Goldman Sachs also has a number of professionals in South Florida who act as mentors in the program. Blankfein said he has been heartened by reports on the number of qualified small business applicants to the MDC program -- 471 for the first four cohorts.
"We feel bad we have to turn people down because it looks like we have many, many more applicants who look like they can benefit from it and do well in it compared to what we can take," said Blankfein, who will address the graduates at Monday's ceremony along with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and other officials. "Miami is a great city, a city with a lot of hardworking immigrants who are trying to capture their little corner of the American dream."
In fall of 2013, Miami Dade College called for applications and selected its first cohort, which got underway in February of last year. Cohort No. Three concluded in December, bringing the total number of graduates to 73 business owners and a 100 percent graduation rate, said John Hall, executive director of 10,000 Small Businesses at MDC. "Significant revenue and job growth has already been reported by many of the recent graduates. Several graduates have reported that revenues have more than doubled since entering the program," said Hall, who has served at the helm of five businesses, including a venture capital fund and a publicly-traded commercial bank.
The selected businesses represent the diversity of Miami's small business community. Companies ranged in size from $150,000 to over $9.5 million in annual revenues and had at least four employees. Represented sectors and industries include export/import firms, technology companies and a wide range of hospitality services such as restaurants, hotel suppliers, ice cream shops, specialty clothiers and souvenir stores. Also included were construction companies, franchisees, manufacturers including for marine equipment, belly dancing and yoga training companies, wholesale distributors, healthcare providers, marketing firms and a range of professional service providers including attorneys, architectural and engineering companies and CPA firms.
"The more remarkable characteristics of the program, however, have been the dynamism, determination, enthusiasm and energy of the entrepreneurs," Hall said. "The graduates have embraced rapid revenue growth, have already begun to work together, to regularly meet together, attend alumni classes together -- and many began to do business with each other even before graduation. Collectively, these business owners are representative of the strength of Miami's future economic growth."
The MDC program will measure revenue and job growth of its 10,000 Small Businesses graduates, and reports from the first cohort will be released later this year. But nationally, 45 percent of graduates of the program created new jobs within six months while 64 percent of graduates increased revenues within six months, according to a progress report prepared by Babson College.
To put these numbers into context, in the years of 2012-2013, 18 percent of U.S. small businesses surveyed by the National Small Business Association added jobs, and 37 percent increased revenues, the report said.
"Frankly, it is all about outcomes and results, and if you are able to measure that, that is a source of confidence and inspiration for the cohorts because they see the possibilities," Padrón said.
Miami Dade College's early cohorts are already showing results.
Take Armando Morales, president of Assisting Hands Home Care Miami. Before he purchased the franchise, he had worked at Lexmark, P&G and Unilever. "I had always worked in the corporate world, and you always have people with expertise in different areas. When you start your own business, you have to do everything yourself. 10,000 Small Businesses gives you basic expertise in all the aspects of a small business from finance to operations to human resources, even how to create the company culture that you want," he said.
Morales, a graduate of the first cohort, has been so successful that his business has become the training facility for all the new franchisees in the United States.