A young entrepreneur ventures into non-traditional territories and successfully builds an exporting business
Six years ago, Julian Montenegro came to the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida (SBDC at USF) with a clear business idea: buy heavy equipment in the United States to export to his native country of Colombia. He started as an industrial engineering graduate working on a master’s in engineering management at USF. But, instead of seeking a traditional career path, Montenegro followed his family’s entrepreneurial roots. As he transformed Heavy Auto Parts, Inc. from an idea into reality its exports didn’t only reach Colombia, but also unexpected markets, like Nigeria, Ghana and Russia. He continues his dream as Heavy Auto Parts’ growth has kept pace at an approximate 30 percent increase, each year, for the past three years.
“While exporting heavy equipment and parts is a common U.S. export, Julian is very far from the traditional markets in which most American companies feel comfortable competing. Most businesses initially choose markets that are perceived as low risk and in close proximity to the United States,” said Maria Yepes, SBDC international trade consultant. To put things in perspective she added, “In 2011, U.S. vehicles and parts exports totaled $120 billion, but more than 54 percent of these went to Canada and Mexico and less than two percent of Florida-origin exports went to African countries, while 50 percent went to Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Before reaching success, Montenegro’s journey started with family support and a visit to the SBDC. After receiving nearly 55 hours of SBDC assistance in the areas of starting-up, accounting and taxes, marketing and international trade he was on his way to business ownership as an exporter. But, the path wasn’t easy. He was only able to export five trucks in the first three years.
“I’ve always believed that opportunities are everywhere, and the more difficult those opportunities are, the more money there is to make,” Montenegro said.
This open-minded attitude allowed him to persevere while he slowly began building the right connections and began braving non-traditional markets like Ghana, Nigeria and Russia. Now Montenegro’s exports to his native Colombia account for only 5 percent of his sales. He continued his exporting journey by obtaining industry accreditation as a Certified Global Business Professional after taking the SBDC’s advanced importing and exporting course, the International Trade Certificate Program.
When asked what the SBDC means to him, Montenegro says this:
“Having the SBDC at our side is like having a reliable consultant for free or at very low cost. The SBDC’s experts have been a fundamental resource for Heavy Auto Parts, Inc. They have guided us step-by-step from the beginning and still guide us today while we grow.”