The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is interviewing the four finalists for the honor of Distinguished Entrepreneur for 2015. Learn more about each finalist, and get some entrepreneurial advice and inspiration, by reading the two posts dedicated to each before the big awards day on May 19, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Estero. You can register for the event by clicking here. https://clients.floridasbdc.org/workshop.aspx?ekey=900350028
Profile written by Jacqueline Aaron, The Wordsmith Company
Entrepreneur: Gary K. Mart
- Business: Global Tech LED; a light-emitting diode (LED) lighting design and manufacturing company
- Year founded: 2008
- Location: Bonita Springs, Florida
- Number of employees: More than 60 employees
What inspired you to start your company? Mart describes his journey from starting a property management company in Southwest Florida, to starting a lighting business that focused on energy savings for condominium and homeowner’s associations around the country. One day in 2007, he received a package containing a LED light for a single light fixture from Jeffrey Newman, a lighting colleague in New York, asking him what he thought of the product. That was the year the LEDs started coming out, explains Mart.
Mart was impressed with the new LED light, but saw room for improvement. The two brainstormed ways to make the mailed prototype, which was being used at the Time Warner building in New York City at the time, better. “The juices started flowing. I told him ‘we need to make something that goes into every fixture [not just one].’ So we designed it, patented it, and manufactured it. It was like it was meant from God because it all fell into place — all my experience came together.” Mart and Newman are now partners at Global Tech LED.
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it? “The recession caused us the biggest heartbreak. Real estate busted. The stock market crashed. No bank would lend us any money…There were no customers because no one was willing to take a chance a on a new technology. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.” Mart now calls the many obstacles the company faced from 2008 to 2011 a “godsend.”
Since banks weren’t lending money at the time, inventors were going to angel investors to get funding. But he describes that option as a “real-life Shark Tank,” whereby investors were asking for large percentages of equity in the company, something the partners weren’t willing to give away. “So our only option was to earn it, to work hard. We worked one customer at a time, making sure they were happy. Then we moved from customer one to customer two.” Thanks to this strategy, Mart says the company is debt-free.
“We’re in a much better place now. If the banks had worked out, we probably would have accumulated a lot of debt, or sacrificed ownership and equity [referring to the angel investors].”
What one thing would you say was instrumental to your success over the years? “The work ethic.” He attributes his work ethic to his parents. “The work ethic is from them. We have a very strong work ethic as a family.” Mart then adds that having faith — in a higher being and in one’s self — is also important.
*Profile post have been randomly selected based on the date received. Stay-tuned to read more about the other final four finalist and their stories.