SBDC at USF Empowers Veteran-owned Businesses

TAMPA – Annually, 250,000 service members transition from active duty to civilian life. Many of these veterans have the training, experience and leadership skills to continue serving their country by transferring these skills into strong, job-creating businesses. As the economy continues to strengthen, it has never been more important to employer veteran entrepreneurs and small business owners to succeed.

“America’s veterans deserve every opportunity possible to benefit from resources that could help them start and grow successful businesses,” Michael Myhre, State (Interim) Director of the Florida Small Business Development Center Network, said. “The Florida SBDC Network is committed to empowering them with the tools and professional expertise they need to succeed.”

Last year, the Florida SBDC Network served 1,800 veterans through no-cost consulting, low-cost training, and information. Representing 13 percent of all clients served, these veterans significantly contributed to the FSBDCN’s resulting economic impact of 47,845 jobs created, retained and saved; $6.3 billion in sales growth; $235.2 million in capital accessed; $588.4 million in government contract awards; and 744 new businesses started.

With the help of the SBDC at University of South Florida, veteran Michael Bilello, owner of Centurion Strategies, LLC in Weeki Wachee, is growing his business.

“One of the things that most entrepreneurs are bad at is sitting down and making sure you’ve got a good plan on paper, and the SBDC sat me down and took the time to really hold me accountable to putting together a proper business plan,” Bilello said. “That was essential when I applied for my service-disabled veteran-owned business certification through the federal government.”

Bilello learned the importance of communicating the right message to the right target by working on public relations campaigns for former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. His time in Tallahassee led him to a media relations position with the U.S. Marine Corps where he escorted national and international reporters to cover Iraqi Freedom.

At the age of 27, Michael Bilello decided that the best opportunity for a lively career was the one created by his own making. In setting out to form his own destiny he opened Centurion Strategies, LLC. Through careful planning and a service-disabled, veteran-owned business certification, Bilello grew Centurion Strategies nearly 60 percent in five years. The company is now a $1.5 million operation with a team of 21 professionals who provide marketing, public relations and advertising solutions for professional athletes, Fortune 500s and small businesses.

A year after Bilello started Centurion Strategies in 2008, he reached out to the Small Business Development Center at USF (SBDC at USF) by participating in the service-disabled Veteran-owned Small Business and Veteran Owned Small Business Technology Conference. This conference connected him to U.S. Special Operations Command and other area businesses also owned by fellow veterans. Later on, Michael took advantage of the Women, Minority & Service Disable Veteran Certification and Government 101 trainings at the SBDC at USF. With the guidance received from SBDC consultants, Centurion Strategies obtained a service-disabled, veteran-owned business certification, which provides credibility with potential clients.

“The SBDC helped me put together a solid business plan, – a solid working document,” he said. “It’s essential in helping to get you revenue down the road.”

Bilello goes even further regarding the work of the SBDC at USF, saying, “They also plugged me into an entirely new community of veterans who run their own businesses and it’s been amazing.”

By the time Michael reached 29, he was named one of PR Week’s 40 Under 40 Professionals. He has also received numerous recognitions from other public relations publications.

About the FSBDC Network

The SBDC at University of South Florida is a member of the Florida SBDC Network, a statewide service network funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.