College of Business students learned firsthand about the tough road to entrepreneurship.

FIU 2015 Hall of Fame Alumni Panel

Entrepreneur. Being your own boss. Independence. The words sound fabulous and easily roll off the tongue, but getting there isn’t a smooth road. In fact, four local entrepreneurs and FIU alumni told College of Business students, it’s a long-term work in progress.

Representing businesses in the technology, office furniture, bakery and real estate industries, the panelists offered an eye-opening reality check before a room full of students and alumni.

“It takes blood, sweat and tears,” said Lorenzo Perez Jr. (MSIRE ’07), CEO of Premier International Properties. “You need to have a vision of what you want. Be persistent, persevere and be passionate. The rest are traits that you can acquire.”

Perseverance and passion were cited as key components for success during the October 22 Alumni Panel, part of the FIU College of Business’ 2015 Hall of Fame events.

Jose Manuel Diaz (BBA ’86), CEO of office furniture dealer Compass Office Solutions, recalled how his pursuit of business ownership began as an intern while enrolled at FIU. A three-month internship at a furniture retailer turned into 12 years managing the company followed by the launch of his own business.

“It was an industry I knew nothing about; I just knew I wanted to own my own company,” said Diaz, remembering more than one holiday spent sitting in a showroom waiting for customers. When that company was sold, Diaz resigned and Compass was born.

FIU 2015 Hall of Fame Alumni Panel

Identifying opportunities and taking action.

For Misha Kuryla-Gomez (MIB ’04), founder of Misha’s Cupcakes, the will to become a business owner was driven by the financial need to get a job and the desire to be a stay-at-home mom. Today she owns five bakeries in South Florida.

“My opportunity was about grabbing an idea, ignoring the naysayers and telling myself that there’s no room for failure,” said Kuryla-Gomez. “You need to have something inside of you that says: I can do anything.”

Moderated by FIU professor and entrepreneur Seema Pissaris of the Department of Management and International Business, the Alumni Panel examined the challenges of attracting talent; the importance of having a mentor; and if being an entrepreneur has provided the independence that many seek.

College of Business student George Rodriguez, a communications sciences major, attended the event in search of insight and guidance. He plans to launch an e-commerce business, but hasn’t defined what its focus will be.

“One of the most notable pieces of advice was the importance of hiring up, to get people that are smarter than you. It was good to hear it stated so blatantly by the panelists,” said Rodriguez, who began his current job at kitchen appliance retailer La Cuisine as an intern in 2014 and is now a full-time employee. “Their emphasis on the importance of the organizational skills needed to start a business was also important.

From left to right: Jose M. Aldrich, Jose Manuel Diaz, Seema Pissaris, Lorenzo Perez Jr., Andres Campo, Misha Kuryla-Gomez
From left to right: Jose M. Aldrich, Jose Manuel Diaz, Seema Pissaris, Lorenzo Perez Jr., Andres Campo, Misha Kuryla-Gomez

Guidance and relationships are key to success.

Andres Campo (BBA ’00), owner of Axxis Solutions, a management and technology consulting firm, stressed the importance of relying on “people that are smarter than you.” During the development of Axxis, he turned to experts in law, finance, marketing, and sales to help validate the vision and direction of the company.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for help, surround yourself with individuals who can provide you with objective advice and who want to see you succeed,” said Campo. “That person can help you look at something you may have overlooked and they’re going to push you when you’re tired.”

How do you find those mentors? You ask them.

“The number-one skill as an entrepreneur is relationship building,” said Diaz. “Your capacity of building a network of people you can rely one, leverage and lean on has to start very early on.”

One of the key topics of the presentation was freedom, the independence many feel they’ll get by being their own boss. But how achievable is it?

“When I was at the university I said I wanted to be my own boss… and now I have 18 bosses because I do consulting work,” said Campo. “Owning your own business isn’t being at the beach all day, but the hard work does bring great personal satisfaction.”

Kuryla-Gomez pointed out that being an entrepreneur “isn’t a walk in the park,” but despite the hard work and sacrifice there are other factors that make it rewarding.

“Independence is a misnomer. If it means that you can take certain trips, enjoy more time with spouse or take your son to school in the morning, then being your own boss allows you more flexibility,” Perez added. “But you also have responsibility for your employees, for making payroll.”

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