Army veteran Matthew Jeffries of Pensacola had a unique idea for a new tech business that could benefit the Department of Defense and young people dreaming of a military career.
But like a lot of budding entrepreneurs, he didn’t have a roadmap to help him navigate from idea to a working business. He didn’t know how to start checking off a myriad of “to do” boxes to launch his idea of Warfighters Fitness, an app aimed at preparing ineligible young people to be eligible for military duty.
In what he called a point of “desperation,” he launched a Google search that landed him on the Gulf Power Small Business Connect page, a one-stop database of free resources and organizations across Northwest Florida that support small business startups and entrepreneurs.
And just like that, he said his business plan shifted from idea stage to startup capital and proof of concept testing with potential military customers in less than six months.
“Without this site, honestly, I’d be in my living room still with a wall that looks like the one in ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ Essentially, my wall would be covered with Post-it notes, and it would have taken me a long time to figure all of this out,” Jeffries said. “This site has been a huge help.”
This is one way Gulf Power’s economic development team supports small business owners across Northwest Florida.
“We created the Small Business Connect Portal on our website to help entrepreneurs and small business owners like Mathew identify, connect with and navigate the many resources our community offers to those who are looking to start or enhance their current business operations,” said Gulf Power spokesperson Kimberly Blair. “Small businesses are the backbone of our region. We want this resource to make their journey easier and more successful.”
Jeffries idea for a tech-based program to address the looming problem military recruiters are facing blossomed when as a personal trainer specializing in helping people with diabetes, he took a deep dive into the impacts of the disease.
Through his research, he discovered that more than 70 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible for military service for a number of reasons, with nearly a third rejected because of weight problems, which can lead to diabetes. The light bulb went off with an idea for a specialized program that could help motivate young people who want to join the military but are unfit for duty to achieve lifestyle changes that would help them become fit for duty, in a short timeline.
“My idea is large,” he said. “I understood I needed management to help or someone to look at my work, but the Gulf Power site showed me things I did not realize, like incubator programs that were available here,” Jeffries said. “The only ones I knew of were in Boston and Silicon Valley. I thought about moving but, luckily, I found out these resources are here.”
He pored through the Gulf Power Small Business Connect site for more than a month mining the list of resources and mentors that led him to the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, Veterans Entrepreneurship Program, and Co:Lab, which works in partnership with Pensacola State College, searching for the ones that would say, “Yes, we can help.”
“When you’re trying to do something no one has ever done, you expect a lot of ‘no’s,’” Jeffries said. “What’s nice about the Business Connect portal, is it gave me access to a lot more people who potentially would say ‘yes.’”