The trajectory of a career can take some unexpected and surprisingly fulfilling turns, which not only bring a sense of accomplishment to the one who makes the discovery, but in the case of Eunice Choi, to the thousands of lives she has touched through the Florida Small Business Development Center (FSBDC). Choi came to the area with her husband, Yoon Choi Ph.D., an associate professor at the UCF College of Business, and hoped for a similar position in academia. But on the recommendation of a friend, she joined FSBDC, which is hosted at UCF, as a part-time consultant.
That was in 1998. Today, she not only leads the staff in Orlando, but oversees the organization’s vital work through regional offices in Brevard, Flagler, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties.
“I wasn’t planning on staying this long,” she admitted. “I started to fall in love with my job because I was helping people and able to witness their growth and success.”
For those who have stepped into the arena of starting their own business, the professional acumen of Choi, her staff and volunteer team is the difference between success and failure, and for our region, scaling job creation or job loss.
Choi became the regional director of the center in 2006 and began expanding its reach while also garnering recognition from numerous quarters. These include the prestigious Excalibur Award, the CBA Impact Award for economic development and the State’s Star Performer Award, which is the highest recognition in the field.
“When I started, I was shown to my office and basically waited for the phone to ring,” she explained. “As the Small Business Administration better defined its goals and expectations, we were able to become a more performance-oriented organization.”
As a result, the FSBDC began actively seeking clients under Choi’s leadership by demonstrating and delivering its unique value proposition to potential clients. Choi has also honed the services the FSBDC offers in providing certified business professionals who can bring in-depth analysis and consultative skills to help businesses grow and succeed.
“This is one-on-one consulting, provided at no cost, by a growing team of certified business professionals with a very diverse background,” Choi said.
One company that kept her in this arena was Pegasus Transportation, which referred to her as its guardian angel. When the organization started with Pegasus, the transportation company had a 100-sq.-ft. office, one driver and a 15-passenger van. Today, it operates the largest fleet of 61 passenger luxury buses in the state, with offices in Orlando, Miami and Canada.
The list of additional companies it has helped nurture into multi-million-dollar corporations is equally impressive, including Dignitas Technologies, LLC and Power Grid Engineering. “Our consultants aren’t compensated up to the market value they could earn elsewhere,” Choi said. “But they are passionate about helping people, so their job satisfaction is extremely high.
“Our primary target customer is one with five or more employees and over three years in business,” she continued, “with about 40 percent startups and 60 percent small to medium size existing businesses with growth potential. We take companies with potential for growth to the next level.
But it is not just one company. According to a recent study, the annual impact of the FSBDC on the Central Florida region in 2016 was 6,696 jobs created, retained or saved; the generation of $980.4 million in sales; $92.7 million in capital formation acquired; $154.6 million in contract awards; and 120 new businesses launched. According to one study, statewide, for every dollar invested in the FSBDC program, $57 is returned to the state in tax revenue.
Thanks to Choi’s leadership, not only has the FSBDC become a source of help, encouragement and skill generation to countless businesses, it has also become part of the economic development and community relations arm of UCF, along with Eastern Florida State College, Seminole State College and Daytona State College, where they have sub-center locations.
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