Held annually during Global Entrepreneurship Week, the third eRising Convention took place on Nov. 15 at the CareerSource Suncoast Event Center in Sarasota. As a partner, New College of Florida’s Center for Career and Engagement Opportunities (CEO) sponsored a field trip for students to eRising, where a panel of entrepreneurs shared their success stories.
After a complimentary breakfast, President and CEO of CareerSource Joshua Matlock opened the event by introducing the presenting sponsor, Fifth Third Bank. This year’s speakers came from a range of backgrounds including banking, publishing and nonprofit work. Each speaker took the stage for about 30 minutes to present their company, how they came to work there and what their journey thus far has taught them about business.
First in the lineup was Jared Autrey, who is currently the Regional Retail Manager of Fifth Third Bank. He has been with the company for more than 13 years. Autrey talked about the importance of getting to know one’s banker to gain financial insight. He described how the new financial center locations Fifth Third Bank is opening can help accomplish this goal. “They’re a blend of an Apple store and Starbucks, pumping in white noise and music to give a more relaxing vibe,” he said.
Next up was Kevin Phillippi, founder and CEO of Prime Audio Video. Being very upfront that he was speaking without a script, Phillippi delved into his backstory—from selling crayfish to running an audiovisual (AV) company. When asked how the pandemic impacted his business, Phillippi confidently replied, “The traffic was great!” He explained that although some businesses suffered, he took measures so his team would be able to continue their services, such as shifting more of the bank’s employees’ responsibilities from in-person to online.
Joe Eckstein, founder of Imagine Studios, took the stage to focus on marketing. Eckstein has worn many hats throughout his career. Beginning as a “starving artist,” he has done freelance work in graphic design and website building. Now he has multiple businesses in the realm of helping authors illustrate, publish and market children’s books. He made the point that building trust with customers is the way to get them to keep using a product themselves and recommend it to others.
Dave Charest, Director of Small Business Success at Constant Contact, joined the event virtually after a short break. From his home in Chicago, he lectured the audience on email marketing strategies that allow customers to feel like individuals. He also spoke about how artificial intelligence can make writing these emails quicker and more efficient.
Heather Koester, founder and CEO of Invigorate Nexus, followed Charest. She named her segment “My Network is My Lifeline,” as her main message was how one should never attempt to start a business alone. Seeking mentors, building a strong team and cultivating a community of customers is the formula for how to get a business to thrive, she said. At the end of the event, Koester signed copies of her new book, Energy Audit: A Six-Week Guide to Revitalize Your Life, which were made available free to attendees.
The final presenter was Tracie Troxler, founder of Sunshine Community Compost. She spoke about nonprofits. “Nonprofits tend to have a strong vision, but lack that planning which will ground them,” she said. Troxler emphasized education outreach so that a community can understand why they should support a particular business.
A “Networking Lunch” hour ended the event, making it possible for attendees to converse and make connections. The Catalyst spoke with second-year Domenica Valencia about what she believed she gained from the event. “The main takeaway for me was that the future is uncertain and that it is good to meet people, develop new skills and work toward an idea or goal because you never know when you will meet someone who can become your business partner and help you bring your idea to life,” Valencia said.
Another student who attended, second-year Bilge Akyol, shared her thoughts on the experience. “I wanted to attend the conference to learn more about becoming an entrepreneur; it is one of my goals,” she said. “One of the takeaways from the conference was that going with the flow is important and will be successful as long as you have intention. I used to think that successful entrepreneurs knew it all and worked towards the startup early on. I saw that most of them were curious and focused on the process of learning, ultimately pursuing the right action.”
From job fairs to mock interviews, the CEO strives to introduce students to jobs and encourages them to begin building towards a career from the first day they step on campus. A monthly newsletter containing events they host is sent directly to student emails and there are regular updates to their Instagram @careercenterncf.