Award preview: Distinguished entrepreneurs nominees feted
Some of the best and brightest business people gathered at the offices of Spiro & Associates in downtown Fort Myers on Wednesday for drinks and hor d’oeuvres to celebrate being nominated for a special honor.
Nearly 60 people came for a cocktail party as nominees for the Distinguished Entrepreneur Awards, to be given out by the Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University on May 10.
Among those in attendance were several Cape Coral businesses that ran the gamut from dry cleaners to demolition specialists.
Chris Spiro, whose company won the award last year and serves as a judge this year, said he was asked to put on an event as a way to congratulate the nominees, of which there was a record number.
“We have 30 nominees, city and county officials, and I’m honored to provide the venue,” Spiro said. “We love community stewardship and being part of the community fabric. This is Southwest Florida and this is an impressive list of companies.”
The nominees can’t be franchisees, out of market or an absentee owner. They have to be active in the business and community. They are also innovators and trailblazers who pulled themselves up by the bootstrap to have gone from one employee to 100.
Amanda Stirn, of the SBDC, said this is the sixth year of recognizing small businesses. The Distinguished Entrepreneur is one of three awards, the others being advocate and innovator.
The event has come a long way since 2011, when the economy was still severely depressed.
“When we started, we wanted to say that we’re still in business and pay attention to us down here. Now, we’ve almost doubled the number of nominees we had last year,” Stirn said. “People are starting to pay attention to this.”
Among the guests were Rachel Busch of the Lee County Economic Development Office, which has directed its attention toward small businesses to create jobs through the Lee Entrepreneur Assistance Resource Network (LEARN), of which the SBDC is a part of.
“It’s connecting the business community with the resources to be successful. Eighty percent of community economies is coming from the small business and create 80 percent of job growth,” Busch said. “Our business community is growing and it’s strong.”
Cape Coral had its share of nominees. David Mulicka of Honc Destruction said it was quite an honor, especially when he learned he had been nominated by Suzanne Specht from the SBDC.
“We have always tried to be entrepreneurs in our family for many generations. Some of the innovations we’ve been able grow, we’ve revolutionized demolition that others haven’t,” Mulicka said. “We can destroy anything.”
Barbara and Andreas Dolleschal of Smargasy, a company that does business phone solutions, security consulting and IT development, said she had no words at that point.
“I was surprised and honored,” Dolleschal said, who moved her company from Austria to the states in 2011. “It was lifetime dream to live in the United States, so when we got the visa, we started over again.”
Dan Puleio of Cape Cleaners, which has been in business since the 1970s, said his secret to being nominated is simple.
“I took over four years ago and have increased business by 50 percent. It’s all about customer service and quality product,” Puleio said. “We use the right cleaning products, keep our equipment in good condition and if a customer has an issue, we take care of it.”
Beth Charles of Ladycakes Bakery, which specializes in wedding cakes, said she was humbled to be mingling with the best in business, especially with being in business only three years and starting out at home.
“We have a lot of humanitarian efforts throughout the year while keeping that homeknit family feel,” Charles said. “Shoot for the stars.”
Carleen McIlveen, of Imagine by Carleen, a wellness spa for skin, massage and wellness, said her business has grown rapidly and was stunned to be nominated.
“When I see people who have been around for quite a while with their businesses, it’s definitely an honor,” McIlveen said.