Business goes from natural disaster to new growth

Happy Paddler Kayak Tours & EcoVentures of Manatee County

Happy Paddler Kayak Tours & EcoVentures of Manatee CountyFrom hurricanes, to tornadoes, to hail and sometimes unbearably high heat indexes, Florida is no stranger to environmental risks. Sometimes these natural phenomena can have a dire impact on local business owners.

When red tide hit the Gulf shores in 2018, Happy Paddler Kayak Tours & EcoVentures felt that impact. Owners Holly Rolls and Shane Catts compared it to the business entering a dark age. “It was a tough few months; more so emotionally and mentally,” Rolls said.

The husband and wife team turned to the Florida SBDC at University of South Florida where they met business consultant Pat Gordon, She helped the duo obtain a State of Florida Emergency Bridge Loan worth $30,000.

“[Pat] was extraordinarily helpful,” Rolls said. “From the beginning she helped us apply for and secure the emergency bridge loan. That really was such a comfort. It did help financially, of course, but really it was just nice to know that we had that support. Pat was extremely helpful and she made the process just seamless from start to finish.”

After weathering that storm, the company made a quick comeback due to the bridge loan. So much so that the pair discovered a new opportunity earlier this year that they wanted to pursue. Catts said they knew right away they would need the help of Gordon to achieve this new goal.

“Pat was the one to go to for guidance on the first baby steps and how to approach this new opportunity,” Rolls said. “We needed to apply for a loan, which we had never really done before other than the bridge loan, and we didn’t know how to do that. So, we called Pat and she, again, was right from the start. She was realistic and practical about everything and was very straightforward and encouraging every step of the way.”

Catts said that they wish they would have known about the Florida SBDC at USF when they first started the business. “There would have been a lot of headaches avoided,” he said.

The pair grew up in Longboat Key and have built Happy Paddler Kayak Tours & EcoVentures based on a shared passion for Florida wildlife and ecosystem and are heavily involved in marine research and conservation efforts.

“We merged our passions for being outside in nature and sharing that with other people, and educating other people about the marine ecosystems,” Rolls said.

With the help of Gordon and the Florida SBDC at USF, they are able to keep that passion alive no matter what Florida natural disaster may come their way.