By Matt Algarin

Based in Fort Walton Beach, Venture Hive is a business accelerator program for military veterans and entrepreneurs.

The Emerald Coast is known for its sugar-white beaches, emerald blue waters and top-notch fishing, but for those who call this area home, it’s also known for a thriving small business community.

Whether a small publishing company, a flower shop or a seafood restaurant along the Gulf of Mexico, the local business community is as varied as its counterparts in much larger metropolitan areas.

For the business owners, the ability to meet and network with colleagues is just as important as running their day-to-day operations. Fortunately, there are plenty of networking opportunities and groups along the Emerald Coast.

American Business Women’s Association Emerald Coast Chapter

More commonly referred to as the ABWA, the American Business Women’s mission is to “bring together business women of diverse occupations and to provide opportunities for them to help themselves and others grow personally and professionally through leadership, education, networking support and national recognition.”

The group’s Emerald Coast Chapter (#1579) is based out of Fort Walton Beach and can be found online at or can be reached by email at

Emerald Coast Professionals

Career Source of Okaloosa and Walton counties offers individuals with a bachelor’s degree and two years of professional experience, or eight years in a professional, managerial/supervisory or technical field, to join its Emerald Coast Professionals (ECP) group, which offers both networking and career support. Services include: access to computers, resume writing, employment leads, career counseling and visibility with employers currently hiring.

To learn more about ECP, visit

Mastermind Emerald Coast

Mastermind Emerald Coast (MMEC) is a local group whose mission is to “build a spirit of generosity in the business community of the Emerald Coast.” The group brings together a wide variety of professionals from along the Emerald Coast, regardless of their networking affiliations to collaborate, not compete, in the name of generosity amongst business leaders so they can make a difference in the community.

Stay up to date with MMEC on their Facebook page at

Referral Leaders International

Referral Leaders International (RLI) has chapters located throughout the United States, which includes chapters in Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Niceville. RLI brings representatives from a variety of business groups together on a weekly basis so they can share ideas and refer business to their colleagues. At the heart of RLI is a focus on its members and providing them with new referrals on a weekly basis.

To learn more about RLI, or to find a local chapter, visit

Venture Hive

Based in Fort Walton Beach, Venture Hive is a business accelerator program for military veterans and entrepreneurs. Robert Foster, Venture Hive’s director, says the program is an entrepreneurship education company supporting entrepreneurs and innovators at different stages.

“From ‘what is entrepreneurship,’ through growth and scaling, Venture Hive provides entrepreneurs and corporate innovators tested and validated content and the training and resources they need to build businesses with a solid foundation on process and structure,” he said. “We work with top experts to create best-in-class content adaptive to different learning styles and business stages. Venture Hive has provided education to entrepreneurs and innovators from more than 50 countries, providing a global perspective with culturally appropriate content.”

To learn more about Venture Hive and its programs, visit

Women’s Network of the Emerald Coast

The Women’s Network of the Emerald Coast is a group for “driven, enthusiastic, and savvy young women in Okaloosa County.” The group encourages networking, volunteerism, socializing through monthly get-togethers, sharing resources amongst colleagues making a difference in its members and others.

The Women’s Network of the Emerald Coast was founded by Helene Choi in 2012 and holds regular gatherings and events for its members.

You can follow the Women’s Network of the Emerald Coast on Facebook at or by visiting their meet-up website at

In addition to exploring these local networking groups, Shane Moody, president and CEO of the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce, says planning and marketing/advertising are key for a new business.

“Without a plan, you won’t succeed,” he said. “You have to advertise and you have to market your business. If people don’t know about you, they can’t do business with you.”

But don’t overlook the importance of building relationships in the community either. The key is to make face-to-face connections, Moody said, and to make them personal. As for other suggestions, Moody said business owners should know the difference between their market and their target market, which are two very different things.

“Get out in the community and be involved as much as you can; give where you can,” he said. “Join the local chambers and use their services to build success.”