First SMECE conference helps Latin American small and medium-size business entrepreneurs sharpen their competitive edge.

Site visit to Miami Free Zone

Established by the College of Business Administration and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the newly-created Small and Medium-size Enterprise Center of Excellence (SMECE) is dedicated to helping small and medium-size businesses compete more successfully in international commerce.

By all accounts, the first SMECE conference held in Miami at the Sonesta Hotel, Coconut Grove, from June 6-8, 2006, indicates that the program is off to a strong start.

Rich conference agenda offers in-depth knowledge and real-world experiences.

Thirty-four participants from small and medium-sized businesses in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Panama attended the three-day event, which was the culmination of a six-to-eight week self-paced online training program.

Site visit to Miami Free Zone

The agenda focused on relevant topics such as understanding market intelligence and market entry, ways to develop markets, trade policy and negotiations, best practices for exporting, and business plan development. The conference also included site visits to the Port of Miami, Sedanos Supermarkets, Goya Foods, the Miami Free Zone, and Starboard Cruise Services.

“We offered participating entrepreneurs an up-close look at the dynamics of international commerce—from marketing to financing to developing a viable business plan and placing a product successfully into the marketplace,” said Jerry Haar, associate director of the Knight Ridder Center for Excellence in Management and professor in the college’s Department of Management and International Business.

As CEO of the SMECE program, Haar played a leading role in developing and organizing this first conference and the associated curriculum. He also made a presentation, as did Carl Cira, director, Summit of the Americas Center (SOAC) and Marcos Kerbel, adjunct professor, Department of Finance. Deanna Salpietra, who serves as the program coordinator, attended, and Ed Glab, director of the Knight Ridder Center, also participated in events leading up to the conference.

More to come: Participants finalize business plans.

Presentation by Marcos Kerbel, College of Business Administration

Following the conference, attendees returned to their home countries and began work on completing their own business plans. Final plans are due in early July. Course professors and a team from Regions Bank will review the plans and provide feedback.

Kudos are in order.

According to Haar, the senior U.S. government official from USAID who attended the conference was very pleased with and supportive of the conference’s proceedings. Participants’ post-conference evaluations were equally positive.

Jerry Haar

One attendee said, “This was a great program that helps businesses extend their vision toward international trade and provides the knowledge and tools needed to create a successful business plan in order to realize that vision.”

Another saw immediate benefits, noting, “We will take maximum advantage of the knowledge acquired during this program to begin exporting to the United States or to another country.”

A third was especially pleased with the course structure, commenting, “The program is well designed and the modules provided valuable learning with audio and visual techniques that kept my interest from the first module to the last one. It has been an interesting experience and the knowledge I gained will be applicable to my work.”

“The feedback we are receiving validates our best thinking about what international entrepreneurs want and need to improve their business performance in international markets,” Haar said. “I can assure you that the next conference will be even better!”

A fall offering already is being planned. Like the first SMECE course, the next one will be in Spanish and will include the online courses followed by a three- or four-day conference in Miami in November, 2006.

The registration and coordination of SMECE is being transferred to the college’s Executive and Professional Education (EPE) office, headed by Robert Garcia. Local universities throughout Latin America will market this program.

More information about SMECE currently can be found at

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