Malanda Douglas had just graduated from business school at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg, but the owner of the Top Nauts boat charter service still learned plenty about doing business in the real world through the Tampa Bay .
CATCH is a 15-week “training camp” for small-business owners in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Tampa designed to round out entrepreneurs’ knowledge of how commerce actually transpires and develop their skill set for success. The investment corporation is certified as a community development financial institution by the U.S. Treasury.
CATCH, which started in July 2016, is an abbreviation for participants who are “coachable, action-oriented, time-sensitive, collaborative and helpful,” according to the business investment corporation’s literature. The curriculum is developed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in conjunction with the federal Small Business Adminstration. After completion of the program, participants receive ongoing business support for two years, through networking, coaching and more.
Its most recent class wrapped up its learning sessions with a commencement ceremony in September, at the Moore Eventful facility in Clearwater. Nearly 30 Pinellas County business leaders, representing 26 organizations, took part in the most recent class.
One of them was Douglas, who said the most influential piece of the program was being able to hear from expert paid instructors who are successful in their fields, having overcome the specific business challenges they discuss. Many participants in the CATCH program face similar challenges, and the speakers are able to help them create solutions.
“Things like pricing models and [sales] forecasting—these are things you might not understand until you’re actually faced with them,” said Douglas, who describes her business as still in growth mode. “You learn from these people that you have to understand your business through the eyes of other leaders.”
Douglas discovered CATCH’s existence through an advisory email from USF’s Small Business Development Center and says she was the last accepted registration. She recorded a two-minute video introduction—a requirement for her application—in which she discussed her company and what she hoped to achieve from the program, and quickly found herself in the cohort.
She’s glad she did.
“If you’ve never been to business school, [you should] take advantage of this,” she says. “This was you can see it [and learn] for yourself, and you have accountability to other people in your group, as well.”
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