Sebastian leaders discuss hosting small business ‘dance’ to spark new shops

SEBASTIAN — In an effort to help spark economic growth in the City of Sebastian, council members discussed the possibility of hosting forums within the community that could help pair entrepreneurs with investors and property owners.

Mayor Richard Gillmor likened the forums to a dance — that the city could host the dance but it would be up to the participants to pair up.

The forums would serve as an opportunity for residents who have ideas and business plans for new businesses to meet with potential investors or commercial property landlords who could provide space.

“They either kiss and go home, or go their separate ways,” County Commission Chairman Peter O’Bryan told the Sebastian City Council, building off Mayor Gillmor’s analogy. He added that the government would only be able to take the would-be business owners so far.

Both Mayor Gillmor and O’Bryan voiced support for using the forums as a way to screen and assess potential business owners — setting up a “casting call” similar to that of the hit TV show American Idol.

O’Bryan said that they could hold an event during which aspiring business owners could come with their ideas and plan and go through an evaluation process. That process would identify the idea’s strengths, the business plan’s viability and the owner’s skills and knowledge base. If needed, the prospects could be referred to small business programs to learn more about bringing their ideas to market.

O’Bryan said he believes the results of the casting call would reflect a bell curve, with some non-viable ideas at one end, numerous ideas and business plans that need a bit more work, and a few “wows” that are ready for the next level — funding.

Those businesses could be fast-tracked, he said, and sent before venture capital groups and other potential lenders where the parties would try to work out a deal.

From start to finish, the process could take six months for those potential business owners who are fast-tracked, O’Bryan said.

The events would also lend support to aspiring business owners who need help developing a business plan or need a push to take their business to the next level.

Mayor Gillmor’s idea for the small business start-up forums came out of a December meeting with the county’s mayors. During the meeting, the mayors discussed ways that they could promote job growth in their towns.

Both Vero Beach and Sebastian have vacant commercial and industrial space, while Fellsmere has vacant, undeveloped land. Indian River Shores has no available space, but instead offers people with money looking to invest.

Whether any of the island residents would want to invest in start-up mom-and-pop type shops Sebastian leaders have in mind remains unknown.

Indian River Shores Mayor William Kenyon had expressed at another economic meeting last week that those he spoke with are more interested in investing in high-tech and intellectual property, O’Bryan said.

Gillmor’s forums could also be used as a way to promote various small business programs already available to those looking for assistance in setting up their own company.

Indian River State College has its Corporate and Community Training Institute, which offers classes that include “The Basics of Starting a Business” and “How to Start (or Grow) Your Own Business.”

Other state and national programs could be available to business start-ups as well and could be featured at the forums.

Council members decided at the end of the discussion that it had merit but needed to be investigated further.

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