TAMPA, Fla. — Spend just a few minutes with Stephaniee Matthews at her business off North Nebraska Avenue, and you’ll feel the infectious happiness of Tampa’s newest notary.
“I’ve gotten to know me very well just by writing my name,” she laughed, as she signed page after page of a document for a family refinancing its home. “I realize that I wish my mom had shortened my name.”
She’s grateful to be the owner of K.I.S.S. Notary, because back in 2020, the pandemic shuttered her previous business, a hair salon.
“When the announcement hit that all hair salons and barbershops were having to close — not really knowing if it was going to be a day or two. We were okay at first, but then, to find out that it was kind of indefinite until we got further notice, and it just really didn’t work out so well, so I ended up closing the salon just so I wouldn’t be in debt, right,” she remembered.
Back then, facing unemployment, Matthews found a new path and a new life, thanks to Hillsborough County. She was one of the inaugural students of the county’s new Self-Employment Workshop Program (SEWP).
“I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Matthews said. “I am forever indebted.”
The free three-month online workshop, available only to county residents, helps budding entrepreneurs who are unemployed or underemployed launch their big ideas into full-blown businesses. At the end of the workshop, it even provides them the capital to kick-start their dreams.
So far, about 19 entrepreneurs have “graduated” from the SEWP. When that happens, it gives immeasurable joy to Carol Minor, who runs the county’s Small Business Development Center and is instrumental in the program.
“What we’re helping them to do is to take that leap,” she said. “Those folks who have an idea, and they want to flush it out. They want to move to the next level.”
Now, she’s looking for her next batch of future business owners. Those interested can apply to be a part of the next class at this link. There are 15 slots available. Minor said applicants must be serious about attending the free online classes.
“We’re looking for people who are typically your folks who would kind of pivot into owning a business. They’re unemployed or underemployed,” she explained. “Mostly, you need to be solving someone’s problem. Every product, every service is solving a problem. What problem are you solving?”
She hopes to give them the training and confidence to do what Matthews did.
For Matthews, her participation led to a transformation that changed her life and gave her new skills, new freedom, and new happiness.
“Every time I put the key in the door — just the fact that I get in the car and I have a place to go — and I put the key in the door — it’s like, alright, this is what dreams are made of,” she said.
Additionally, the SEWP program is also looking for more community partners. Donations are appreciated. Minor said even small ones can help the new businesses get off the ground. However, she also hopes attorneys, marketing firms, and other business professionals will reach out and offer pro bono support and consultation.