Estero Economic Excellence Outreach Council: Partnership with FGCU and Schools
The EEEOC’s mission is “to engage as many talented and experienced businesspersons who call Estero their home, or their second home, to actively support the efforts of Southwest Florida institutions in order to grow and diversify the economy and otherwise improve the quality of life of the residents of the region.” To accomplish this mission, the EEEOC has established three primary initiatives:
- Entrepreneurship Support — partnering with FGCU
- Elementary and Secondary Student Support — partnering with Lee County schools
- Village Center Development and Implementation — partnering with the Village of Estero, Lee Health and the development community
The ECCL has a long history of involvement in local economic development initiatives. In 2010, the ECCL worked with the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce to form the Bonita Springs-Estero Economic Development Council (BSEEDC). In 2011, the ECCL collaborated with Lee County’s Economic Development Council (LCEDC) to create the Catalyst Club, a group of retired businesspersons recruited to help attract new firms to Lee County. After Hertz relocated its international headquarters to Estero in 2013, the ECCL encouraged Colliers International — one of the world’ largest commercial real estate firms — to develop a marketing plan to encourage the location of office and research facilities in Estero and Southwest Florida.
“Estero’s community leaders recognize a long-term need to diversify the area’s economic base by encouraging growth of current businesses while attracting to the area new businesses that are less seasonal and compatible with the existing community,” explained Vince Modarelli, a member of the EEEOC Core Development Team. This will be accomplished in partnership with the Village Council, other economic development organizations, local government bodies, FGCU, the School District of Lee County, Lee Health and other healthcare systems, utilities providers and financial institutions.
This ECCL Committee, like all our committees, will coordinate with the Village Council members who have liaison responsibilities with the major institutions and interest areas related to the committee’s scope. In this case, the Councilors and their responsibilities are:
- Jim Wilson, Bonita Estero Economic Development Council and the Estero Chamber of Commerce
- Bill Ribble, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU)
- Nick Batos, Lee Health and Lee School District
- Howard Levitan, Community Development, Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code
According to Dr. Sandra Kauanui, director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship at Lutgert College of Business, FGCU is one of just three universities in the nation offering an interdisciplinary degree program in Entrepreneurship, meaning it is open to students outside of the College of Business. Last year, 48 FGCU students participated in the university’s inaugural “Runway Program” housed at the ETI incubator off Alico Road. This is a semester-long program allowing students to develop a plan for launching a business while earning a degree in their chosen field of study. Students in the program get access to innovation labs, private offices and prototyping and business planning equipment. Perhaps most importantly, they are provided with knowledgeable and experienced mentors offering one-on-one advice and assistance. One student who completed the Runway Program is now running a business which is on target to generate $1 million in revenue!
This fall, FGCU launched an Entrepreneurship Major, and 85 students are currently enrolled. Additionally, Entrepreneurship is the largest minor at the university with 166 students. In addition to the programs for university students, FGCU partners with Junior Achievement to run CEO Academy, a summer entrepreneurship camp for high school students. FGCU also offers the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program, which, like the Runway Program, culminates in a “compassionate shark tank.” Through grants and donations, FGCU’s Institute for Entrepreneurship has awarded nearly $250,000 in seed funding to both veterans and students, Kauanui noted.
Councilman Bill Ribble has had considerable experience with entrepreneurial programs having been involved with Drexel University’s groundbreaking program during his business career. As a result, he has visited the Emergent Technologies Institute on several occasions and subsequently invited Dr. Kauanui and some of her students to make a presentation to the Village Council on December 6th.
The university is seeking mentors and competition judges to support its many entrepreneurship programs. “The students need the expertise and advice of mentors as well as potential connections to manufacturers or experts in the field,” Kauanui said. “We also need speakers to share their experiences with our students. In addition, we need judges for all of the competitions we do each year.”
Elementary and Secondary Student Support
Mentors and speakers also are needed for high school, middle school and elementary school entrepreneurship programs. Longtime ECCL member Jim Shields began volunteering with Junior Achievement in 1978 while living and working in Indianapolis. He mentored a group of ninth graders in financial literacy and work readiness. Now, four decades later, Shields is again volunteering with Junior Achievement, sharing his “real world” experiences in small business at Estero area schools.
“Junior Achievement is the nation’s largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their own economic success, plan for their future and make smart academic and economic choices,” he said.
The School District of Lee County also welcomes business and community volunteers to serve as mentors and tutors, to serve on District advisory committees, or to help at the school level with special events.
“The School District is always looking for volunteers to strengthen our education system,” said Communications Director Lauren Stillwell.
School District officials have been meeting with Estero Village Manager Steve Sarkozy and Councilman Nick Batos, the Council’s liaison for schools. A potential partnership is emerging, Stillwell said. “Together we have discussed sharing services, facilities and equipment, creating and co-hosting community events and activities, and co-locating resources such as academic buildings, athletic facilities, community centers and High Tech & Career Training Centers.”
To learn more, please plan to attend the EEEOC meeting Wed., Dec. 13, at 1 p.m. at the Emergent Technologies Institute, 16301 Innovation Lane — off of Alico Road east of Ben Hill Griffin Parkway.
Members of the EEEOC Core Development Team are: Vince Modarelli (Stoneybrook), Dr. Shawn Felton (Rookery Pointe), Jim Shields (Grandezza), ECCL Chairman Don Eslick and ECCL Community Planning Director Jim Tatooles (Rapallo). If you are unable to attend the Dec. 13 meeting, please take this short survey on volunteer interest for the EEOC and one of the Development Team members will reach out to you.