Meet Kalai Sankar, founder of Shiva Robotics

Woman standing next to a robotKalai Sankar is the founder of Shiva Robotics Academy, a robotics education institution for students in grades K-8. A Carnegie Mellon Certified Robotics Instructor and professional LEGO educator, she has introduced after-school robotics programs in 18 Title I schools in Jacksonville. She has partnered with organizations like Renaissance Jax, Communities in Schools, and Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, to help hundreds of Florida students compete in tournaments nationally and internationally.  Kalai is the recent recipient of Florida’s Best Robotics Coach award and Jacksonville Business Journal’s Innovator in Education Award.

Where did the idea for Shiva Robotics Academy come from?

I was a stay at home mom for a number of years and I slowly began to realize that while I was watching Barney, the world was changing and evolving around me!  As a mom with two daughters I had been blogging about my parenting experiences and taking on various part time jobs. The first time I took a full time job was in the summer, so I needed to find a camp for my girls where their minds would be engaged.  I realized quite quickly that it wasn’t making financial sense to pay for camp based on my income, so I gathered the friends of my daughters and started conducting the camp myself.  I guess you could say that necessity was the mother of invention!

What are some of the activities you provide at Shiva Robotics Academy?

We offer a whole range of activities. The daylong robotics camps are our most popular.  We also offer weekly classes that consist of an hour and a half one day a week where any level of robotics learner can learn to build and program a simple robot to see what all the excitement is about.  This is a three-month course – 12 classes, after which students take an online exam to confirm what they have learned.  When they pass we ask these students to try out for the Robotics Teams.

With spring break and summer around the corner, what are some of the events you have coming up?

Spring camp for grades K – 8 will run two different sessions – March 11-15 and March 18-22.  We will have a thematic activity each day. For example, the first day is about animatronics, so kids will build robots that look like animals – spiders, snakes, elephants, etc.  Starting in June we will again run Summer Camp over the entire summer with each week focusing on a different theme.

How has the FSBDC at UNF helped you take this idea from where you are now and help you build your dream?

The SBDC has been very helpful – from the moment I stepped in the UNF office there were so many people there to offer assistance.  I felt reassured that I could make it with their help.  I first met with Don Zavesky, PTAC, who initially showed me all sorts of government opportunities that we could bid for and contracts I could win – he helped me see the bigger picture where I could take my business and helped me envision what could happen 10 years down the road. He then referred me to Linda Teza Kulka.  Linda has been more like a therapist at times – our first session I was sharing all my anxieties!  She is helping me create a master plan and helping me understand all the functions of the business that I will need to pay attention to as the company continues to grow. Having no business background, this has truly been eye opening and with this level of support I have much more confidence in the future.  In 10 years I will remember that the SBDC helped me build the foundation that allowed me to reach my goal.

2019: The Year to Plan Your Company’s Export Strategy

aerial view of cargo ship at loading dockWe say it every year, but it’s hard to believe another year has come and gone. 2018 was a year of professional and private ups and downs for most, but as we usher in 2019 many businesses look for new and sustainable ways to find customers and grow sales.

Economists and investors largely agree that the United States is due for another economic slump in the coming years. With the threat of another recession ahead, a targeted export growth strategy now, could be what sets one business ahead of others in an economic downturn later.

History has shown that companies that export are hardier, meaning that their broadened portfolio of customers outside of the United States bolsters their ability to handle currency fluctuations, varying consumption trends, and flagging employment rates. This makes sense when one considers that a poor economic year in the United States does not often mean the same for other countries. This was made evident after the Great Recession, when it became clear that the Financial Crisis of 2008 impacted developed countries in North America and Europe much more significantly than developing nations such as India. During this period, businesses that were already established in the global marketplace had a much less difficult time making ends meet, often relying in whole or in part on their export sales department.

It is also worth noting that companies that export are typically more profitable and pay higher wages than their non-exporting counterparts. So even if the economists are wrong and the U.S. economy remains in a state of growth and full employment for many years hence, an export strategy is an effective and energizing way to bring in the bacon. What’s more, with the prominence of platforms such as Amazon proliferating the field of e-commerce, there are more and more ways to easily reach customers abroad.

A great way to get started with an export strategy is to contact your local SBDC. The Florida SBDC (Small Business Development Center) has a network of international trade specialists around the state that can assist you with the development and implementation of an export strategy that fits your business culture and your financial goals. You may even be eligible for an Export Marketing Plan grant, which covers the majority of the cost of having an Export Marketing Plan written exclusively for you and your business by a trade specialist with experience in the field.

For more information about getting started with your own export strategy, please call (904) 620-2476 or reach us on the web at /sbdc-services/international-trade/.

by Julia Montgomery, International Trade Specialist, Florida SBDC at UNF



Tax Efficient Sales of Your Business

So you’ve decided it’s time to turn that lifetime of sweat equity accumulated in your business into cash to support your dreams of traveling around the world, or at least around a few golf courses. You are convinced that it is worth millions, but when that first offer comes, you find that at best, after a broker’s commission and income taxes, you will see a third or more evaporate before you have the chance to find a broker to invest those few remaining bucks.

Here are a few suggestions to consider:

1 – Allocate as much of the sale to the sale of goodwill, not toward non complete agreements or asset sales. That will maximize the portion of the sale to be taxed at capital gains rates.

2 – Consider selling under an installment agreement, meaning that you hold a note for a few years from the buying instead of taking it all in cash. That defers the income tax over the life of the note keeping your annual income down. It also will pay you a rate of interest somewhat higher than you would get at a bank. It might even get you a better price, because they can better afford to pay more over time than in a lump sum. It could save the buyer some closing costs over bank financing.

Continue reading here.

A Christmas Carol, or not…

Image of open laptop with new blog post typed on screenAs noted in my previous blog, Santa and the Elves, at the request of a number of long-time readers, I am bringing back updated versions of two of my Christmas fables for December. In this blog, business owner Dale Wright is visited by the spirits of Business Past, Business Present, and Business Future and learns some valuable lessons. Apologies to Charles Dickens…

Business owner Dale Wright awoke from a troubled sleep to see what appeared to be his former CPA standing over him. But Michelle Lerner was a ghostly apparition, he could see right through her! Sitting up in bed, he cried out “Who are you?  What do you want?”  “Don’t be an idiot Dale, didn’t you ever read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens,” replied the apparition? “Of course,” said Dale, “and I’ve seen several movie versions. But what do Scrooge and Marley in 1843 have to do with you?”

“I,” uttered the apparition, “am part of version 2.0, the updated story adapted to your business. I came here tonight to save your bottom line, which you have squandered away after my untimely death at the age of 93. Clearly, in the 32 years I was your CPA you did not learn how to project cash flow or write a business plan! And look where your complacency has gotten you…” Dale considered this. It was true. Since Michelle had passed away three years ago he did without a CPA, using software to file his tax returns, while ignoring all the management reports that could be printed. He was running his business by the seat of his pants, or to be more correct, it was running him… around in circles!

Continue reading here.

Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

Santa and the Elves

No, it’s not a new rock group. Santa and the Elves are successful entrepreneurs who employ good management practices to have an effective business model. Let’s take a closer look at some of those practices:

Branding, Public Relations, and Co-Branding: Santa and the Elves have established a world-recognized brand, promoted it to families with children and to the world in general in multiple forms of media. Those include verbal stories, songs, print and motion media, and even in dreams along with sugar-plum fairies. They have co-branded products from Coca-Cola to shampoos in order to achieve greater brand acceptance. A quick scan of product announcements will show that Santa is as popular as ever. Unless you brand your business and promote the brand, you will not stand out in the consumer’s mind.

Business Continuity: As Santa and the Elves must make their deliveries on a specific day and time, regardless of weather, they have developed a business continuity plan. By investing in a Reindeer with the latest in technology, the Nose-So-Bright option, Santa has ensured that even in fog he will be able to navigate the world and make on-time deliveries. If you identify the critical functions in your business and develop an alternative or can mitigate their impact, your business will be able to function as planned when it would otherwise be impeded.

Customer Relations: Santa and the Elves have created multiple pathways for boys and girls though out the world to contact them. They employ written mail addressed to “Santa, North Pole” via e-mail, by texting, contact via multiple Facebook and other social media sites set up regionally and in large cities, in-person with local representatives in branded outfits, and wirelessly by plain old-fashioned prayers. Unless customers and potential customers can easily reach your business by the contact of their choice, they will not be able to ask questions, share ideas and place orders.

Continue reading here.


Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF


More than the cheese is moving…

wedge of cheeseHericlitus of Ephesus (circa 535BC – 475BC) was a Greek philosopher who is credited with creating and documenting the phrase, “Change is the only constant in life.” In the Handbook of Organizational Change and Innovation, edited by Marshal Scott Poole and Andrew Van de Ven [2004 Oxford University Press; ISBN 0-19-513500-8], a number of scholars examine how organizations react to change. A number of contributors discuss how businesses that have a perspective of strategic planning that includes adaptation and champions change are more likely to be sustainable.

Change, whether natural, man-made, or coming about a result of social changes and perspectives will always affect business. The increasingly violent weather and natural events, from hurricanes and floods, to earthquakes and volcanos, both causes tragedies and opportunities for businesses. Businesses in affected areas that did not at a minimum have a continuity plan will suffer, while those that did or were fortified have the opportunity to return to the market faster.  Each disaster event will spawn new business opportunities to provide a product or service to customers that will mitigate or prevent future damage. Continue reading here.


Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

Cybersecurity: The Dark Side of Technology

shield protecting mobile phoneWith October being Cybersecurity month we have a few tips to share from our SBRN Member BoxMeta:

Email & Web Security

  • NEVER enter your password if prompted by a link from email or a redirected website, regardless of the sender.  91% of cyberattacks start with phishing.
  • Don’t trust emails from well-known brands such as Microsoft, Adobe, Google, DocuSign, Facebook, LinkedIn, Delta, Amazon, FedEx, etc.  They are likely fake.
  • NEVER accept Facebook or LinkedIn invitations from email links or accept shared documents unless you are expecting or verbally verified.
  • Use business class email, such as Office 365 or Google Business.
  • Enable Private browsing.
  • Don’t use your business email account for personal communication.
  • Keep 2 or more separate personal email accounts to isolate important email.

Mobile Security

  • Beware of Public Wi-Fi.  Wi-Fi networks are very easy for hackers to duplicate
  • Use cellular service if on a mobile device. Use your mobile device as a hotspot for your laptop.

Protect your Bank and Credit Cards

  • Avoid using Debit Cards unless absolutely necessary.  Use Credit Cards.
  • Shield the pin pad when entering your pin code (could be a micro camera).
  • Beware of Skimmers & Shimmers.
  • Use 2 Factor authentication for your bank, financial sites and email. A compromised email account can be used as vehicle to reset passwords to your financial sites.
  • Establish an isolated checking account for electronic bank transactions (PayPal, automatic withdrawals, etc.).

Mobile Security (Mobile phones, tablets & laptops)

  • Apple iOS is more secure than Android but use the same amount of caution.
  • Encrypt laptops (I recommend this be done by a professional).
  • Use webmail instead of an email program on your laptop or tablet.  Don’t select ‘remember password’.

Data Security Best Practices

  • Password Management
  • Have any of your accounts potentially been compromised as part of a vendor data breach?
  • Never connect an unknown USB device into your computer or network.

Business Network Security

  • Business Class Firewall
  • Monitors unusual traffic on the network.
  • Isolate Guest/Internal Wi-Fi.
  • Require a VPN/Gateway to bypass the firewall for any remote connections.
  • Intrusion Detection/Protection.  Proactive monitoring of malicious activity on the network.

Antivirus, Antimalware, Security & Software Updates/Patches.

  • Implement an internal system for automated management and monitoring of these processes.
  • Hire an outsourced IT provider to centrally monitor & manage your systems maintenance.
  • Remove access for staff to authorize or process software updates and patches. If not outsourced, assign a single person internally to approve and process software updates.

Password & Security Policies

  • Enforce Complex passwords on all systems. Complexity is more important than frequent changes.
  • Password management programs are also subject to breaches. Exclude the most sensitive and valuable passwords.
  • Create phrases instead of passwords for greater complexity.
  • Implement a BYOD policy for managing password policy and remote wipe of personal mobile devices that contain company data.
  • Use webmail on laptops instead of Outlook. Don’t select ‘remember password’.

Network Access & Controls

  • Procedure for disabling of systems and network access for terminated users.
  • Remove user admin rights from workstations.
  • Limit data, software & application access only on an as needed basis.
  • Block data transfer on USB ports.
  • Physical Security – Maintain access controls& especially vendors or guests who are unattended or after hours.

Business Continuity & Backups

  • Not all backups are appropriate: Consider
    • The type of data you are backing up (different requirements for QuickBooks, sql, etc.)
    • How long will it take to recover? Is that acceptable?
    • Where will I put it when it’s recovered?
    • Allowable downtime for each business process and application.
    • Recovery & Retention of emails that are deleted & purged, either by a rogue employee or inadvertently.

The Quadrants of Time

alarm clockOMG! Has it really been a month and a half since I posted my last blog? How did that happen? Where did the time go? Could it have fallen into a “black hole?” Somehow I had lost track of time (a cardinal sin for someone of German descent). As penance, I will focus this blog on a discussion of time and time management.

John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) was a native of Jacksonville, Florida, an eminent theoretical physicist who collaborated with Albert Einstein, and interestingly the originator of the words “black hole” and “wormhole.” In his studies of space-time continuum, he mused, “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.” I will propose adding a corollary to that phrase, “Lost time is what prevents anything from happening at all.”

Small business owners have many demands on their time; they usually fill the CEO (Chief Executive Office) role of planning strategy for their company, which is not an easy task in an uncertain economy. They also wear the COO (Chief Operating Officer) role of overseeing day-to-day operations. There are also the roles of Chief Financial Officer, Chief Information Officer, and they usually administer the functions of human resources, advertising and marketing as well. Then there are the needs to be a worker or perhaps the delivery driver if an employee is absent.  Continue reading here.

Speaking of Business Blog by Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF


Use Your Head to Serve from the Heart

Headshot of Mindy Barker in suit with arms foldedMindy Barker CEO of Mindy Barker & Associates is just one of our featured speakers at our 8th Annual Nonprofit Conference on Friday, October 5, 2018. She will be speaking on financial sustainability for nonprofits.  Here’s a summary of how she will be helping nonprofits at our event: 

In an environmental context, “sustainability” generally means finding a way to use resources in a manner that prevents their depletion. For charitable nonprofits, the phrase “sustainability” is commonly used to describe a nonprofit that is able to sustain itself over the long term, perpetuating its ability to fulfill its mission. Sustainability in the nonprofit context includes the concepts of financial sustainability, as well as leadership succession planning, adaptability, and strategic planning.

In order for a nonprofit to be sustainable, the nonprofit’s leaders need to know how much it costs to deliver the nonprofit’s programs and services, so that the nonprofit can raise enough money to cover those costs. When a nonprofit is always catching up, but never has enough resources to cover its costs AND invest in its own infrastructure

This session will help nonprofits gain insight into the techniques they can use to get a handle on financial activities within their organization to help raise more money. By adapting processes and infrastructure appropriate to the size of the organization, you can effectively manage financial information.  

Mindy Barker is the CEO of Mindy Barker & Associates. In this role, she works with not for profits and business owners to empower them with tools and financial information to improve company value, profitability and cash flow. Prior to founding Mindy Barker & Associates, Mindy was the chief financial officer for OptaComp, a workers compensation company and subsidiary of Florida Blue. She also served as controller of Kemper Services Group and was principal and chief financial officer of Chartwell Capital, a private equity firm. Mindy’s diverse background also includes management positions in the industries of property and casualty insurance, distribution and manufacturing and consulting. Mindy began her career in public accounting with Price Waterhouse Coopers and Ernst and Young.  Mindy holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Accounting from Converse College and is a certified public accountant in Florida and North Carolina. She is a member of the American Institute of CPAs, the Association of Corporate Growth, Women Business Owners and the Jacksonville Women’s Network. She also serves on the board of directors of the Children’s Home Society.  Click here to learn more and to register for the conference.


3 Ways to Kill the Value of your Business

Many business owners are so focused on running their business and putting out daily fires, they often don’t consider the long term ramifications of a few small decisions. What might seem like a quick fix today, could end up destroying the value of your business!

As we review small businesses (under $10M sales) to sell, here are 3 of the most common ways that business owners have devalued their business.

1. Not reporting cash.
We had a bar owner that would take the cash out of the register every night. It was his “pocket” money. He didn’t see anything wrong with this. It was “his” money. Sadly, when that is not the way the IRS or buyers look it at. When all the revenues are not reported to the IRS, a buyer become suspicious of how the seller is doing their books and starts to question what else is not being reported. A buyer will often say to us, “If they are willing to lie to the IRS, I am sure they will lie to me.” Since many businesses are valued based on a multiple of profits (or sometime revenue), when both values are artificially low from cash being removed. This reduces the value of the business and can make the business unsellable at any price turning it into a liquidation of assets, sold for pennies on the dollar.
TIP: Report ALL income in the business on your P&L and tax returns. It is better to pay the 30 cents in taxes, than loose the $2.50 that the buyer would have given you!  Continue reading here.

By Kimberly A. Deas, Murphy Business & Financial Services, Exit Stage Left Trusted Advisor


Next Page »
SBDC Footer Shadow Background