COVID-19 Pandemic Broadens Access to Training for Entrepreneurs

TAMPA (March 5, 2021) – With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Florida SBDC at University of South Florida immediately halted all of its in-person events.

The center typically hosts between 80 to 100 events each year at its Channelside Drive location, in downtown Tampa. This includes eight to 12 face-to-face seminars per month covering topics such as starting a business, using social media to market a business successfully, and government contracting. It also includes larger events such as its Annual Small Business Awards Celebration in May, the Basic Economic Development Course in November, and monthly government contracting networking breakfasts.

While buried in disaster relief assistance related to the pandemic, marketing and communications officer Stacey Dadd took the opportunity to reevaluate how training was being delivered.

“We sat still for a few months as we were trying to work through the thousands of requests we’d received for disaster assistance, and in May I started researching a variety of platforms we could use to deliver our services online,” Dadd said.

The center resumed its training schedule, albeit slightly altered, in July 2020, and the results have been impressive. The center now offers eight to 10 one-hour webinars each month, featuring a variety of its professionally-certified consultants as speakers, giving business owners the opportunity to connect and ask questions in a live, virtual environment. The results have been positive.

“In all of 2019, we hosted 89 events at our Channelside location with just 984 attendees,” Dadd added. “Even with taking a three-month hiatus in 2020, we served 1,176 attendees in just 44 events and as a bonus, because of the wonders of technology, 500 more have watched the recordings in our online portal.”

The trend has continued into 2021, with 50 percent of all registrations present in the live webinars. Dadd says the center is on track to serve nearly 4,000 entrepreneurs via its webinars, based on the current data.

“We really couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” Eileen Rodriguez, regional director at the Florida SBDC at USF, said. “We have talked about adding a virtual component to our training for a few years but were initially resistant to the change. Even when we’re able to go back to face-to-face services, we will still keep an online component to our training events.”

All Florida SBDC at USF consulting and training opportunities continue to take place virtually, until further notice. To register for one of the upcoming webinars, go to SBDCTampaBay.com/training-calendar.