Area small business owners and leaders gathered Thursday to celebrate National Small Business Week.
Warren Brown, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based retail bakery CakeLove, headlined the 18th Annual Small Business Week Awards at the University of North Florida.
“I’m just like you guys,” Brown told the crowd of more than 300, “fighting every day to make sure things get done.”
Brown, the 2006 U.S. SBA Small Business Person of the Year for Washington, D.C., shared stories of his transition from working in the federal legal field to pursuing and succeeding in starting his own business in 2002.
Brown received national attention for his achievements, but said it didn’t happen without hard work.
While Brown said he’d been a good cook during college, he didn’t know the first thing about baking until he pursued the skill following a New Year’s resolution. All the while, he was still making a living in the legal field while crafting confectionary creations at night, much to the delight of co-workers and friends. Then it all caught up with him and he suffered bouts of clinical exhaustion. Faced with the choice, he went with what made him happiest.
“Every business decision is filled with lots of different emotions, even the difficult ones,” he said. “And I kind of like all of them.”
Brown said he’s always pursued the kind of life he wants to live, which now consists of running his business, speaking to groups such as Northeast Florida’s small business community and being a husband and new father.
“I like getting out and speaking to people,” he said. “We don’t often give voice to what tells us to pursue our own individual goals. I like encouraging people to get into their business.”
Following Brown’s stories, several area business owners and advocates were honored for their contributions to the small business community in Northeast Florida.
The 2010 Small Business Week winners include: Joanne Kazmierski, Jacksonville Port Authority manager of community outreach, who received the Minority Small Business Champion of the Year honor; Helga Langthon of SOHO Network Solutions, who received the Small Business Exporter of the Year honor; Pegine Echevarria of Team Pegine, who received the Women in Business Champion of the Year honor; and Rear Adm. Kevin Delaney of Delaney & Associates Consulting, who received the Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year honor.
“It’s a day to celebrate the culmination of all their efforts for small business,” said Wilfredo Gonzalez, U.S. Small Business Administration North Florida District Office district director. “They really go the extra mile and they do their jobs extremely well.”
Several of the award winners were emotional during their acceptance speeches, which Gonzalez said shows the passion they have for their efforts given the economic climate.
“They’ve succeeded,” he said, “and it’d be a crime not to honor them for their efforts.”