For attendees, EntreCon offers chance to learn from others

Tia Robbins talks about her company during the networking social at EntreCon in Pensacola, Florida. (Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO)

Mention the name Tia Robbins in the two-county area, and you might get a nod of recognition – especially from fitness enthusiasts.

Two years ago, Robbins started Bombshell Fit, a series of exercise classes and training sessions designed for moms and moms-to-be. While Mommy trains, children play, and someone supervises.

“I saw a need, and I filled it,” Robbins said. “Now, I want to launch a business.”

To learn how to get started, Robbins attended EntreCon, a business conference sponsored by the Studer Community Institute and the University of West Florida Center for Entrepreneurship.

Robbins wasn’t alone. About 200 other attendees learned about necessities such as marketing plans, hiring practices, and consumer research at the two-day event that wrapped up Friday.

“The message I got was that you need to find a mentor,” Robbins said. “Someone has got to look at your business plan and make suggestions based on what they have experienced … you can’t be nervous about approaching people and talking to them.”

Annina Dahlstrom and Andrea Skarbecki take a selfie during EntreCon in Pensacola, Florida. (Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO)

Annina Dahlstrom and Andrea Skarbecki take a selfie during EntreCon in Pensacola, Florida. (Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO)

More than 30 local and national experts spoke and conducted panel discussions at EntreCon. Sessions took place at two venues in downtown Pensacola.

Rachael Gillette, director of professional development with the Studer Community Institute, said many attendees expressed concerns similar to Robbins’.

When Gillette moderated the question-and-answer portion of Thursday’s “Start, Get Smart and Get Noticed” presentation, panelist Emily Ley said, “At some point I had to decide I wanted it more than I was afraid of it.”

Gillette said she typed Ley’s sentiment into her smartphone and shared it with others throughout the afternoon.

Ley is a Pensacola native who founded her namesake stationery and gift company with more than 300 outlets worldwide, in 2008.

“I needed to hear that,” Robbins said of Ley’s recollection. “I had to set aside my fear.”

Sanders Payne, a credit analyst in Pensacola, also appreciated the candor of the speakers. He said he came to EntreCon looking to learn from the successes and failures of the speakers, and to find someone who can help him throughout his career.

“I came here looking for a mentor,” he said.

Like many aspiring business owners, Robbins did not know where to start. But by lunchtime the second day of EntreCon, she had scheduled an appointment to visit the SBDC at UWF, chatted with an attorney who could help research copyright issues about the Bombshell Fit name, and swapped stories with dozens of other people determined to launch or expand a business.

“It’s like everything you need to know is in one place,” Robbins said.