Mike Pornovets, owner of Everything Kayak (www.everythingkayak.com) on the Gulf Coast, started paddling when he was only about 11. But what he likes most about his business that he launched on Sept. 10, 2011, isn’t that he gets to be involved promoting a sport that he loves. What he likes the most is creating jobs.
Pornovets, the 2016 recipient of the Mississippi Small Business Person of the Year Award, employs nine people at his full-service retail kayak and outdoor recreation supply company located at 15240 Creosote Road, Gulfport. He also works with the Small Business Administration (SBA) Mississippi Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) to help counsel other veterans about how to be successful launching and running a small business.
“Job creation is the best part of the work,” he said. “It is rewarding knowing we are helping to provide income for struggling families and people trying to do something with their lives. With the economic times we have had, we lost a lot of jobs. The Gulf Coast has seen devastation from hurricanes and oil spills. We are part of that rebuilding process and quite proud of that actually.”
As the war in Iraq wound down, hundreds of thousands of veterans transitioned out of the military with many finding it difficult to find work. Veterans have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. For some vets, starting their own business is the best way to have a job. VBOC helps the veterans with “small business 101,” what is needed to start a business include creating a financial and business plan, proper legal structuring of the business and how to obtain financing. VBOC includes a collaboration agreement with Mississippi State University, and helps veterans in the states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee.
Pornovets grew up in a military family living in many different states before joining the Navy himself. His nine years of active duty include two tours of Afghanistan and one in Iraq. He served as a bodyguard to the Chaplain Corps administering last rites to the dying. Part of their mission was facilitating the morale and welfare of troops on the front lines.
While the military service was very stressful, launching your own small business and making it successful is also challenging.
“Business itself is not something that is the easiest thing in the world today, especially with all the rules and regulations,” Pornovets said. “It requires constant learning, and is a constant battle. This is not the easiest of times to own a small business or have a startup business. Even when you are successful, growth can have its challenges.”
He believes his military experience was valuable training to become an owner of a small business because the military instills in soldiers early on a strong work ethic and a “can do” mentality.
“They teach you that when you are in the field, the mission has to get done,” he said. “You get it done with whatever resources you have. Small business don’t always have everything available. You have to boot strap, be creative, and find ways to put a square peg in a round hole.”
Pornovets has expanded his store offerings. They sell low end to high end kayaks, and have a 1,000-square-foot pool to try out products before purchasing them.
“We don’t want you to waste your money,” he said. “We also provide rentals people can take from the store to try before buying that type of kayak.”
The store carries many different types of kayaks. Some kayaks can cost over $3,000. They sell kayaks designed for fishing, and the standup paddleboards that have become popular. They specialize in just about anything needed for water recreation including roof racks, trailers, fishing equipment, safety equipment and water recreation clothing and shoes. Any clothing they sell is moisture self-wicking, and dries quickly. That isn’t just more comfortable, but also important from the safety standpoint as traditional cotton clothing can be heavy and binding when you fall into the water. They have also recently expanded into bicycles.
The Mississippi SBA chose Pornovets as a winner based in large part on Everything Kayak’s staying power, growth in number of employees, increase in sales, current and past financial reports, innovations of product or service, responsiveness to adversity and contributions beneficial to the community, said SBA Mississippi District Director Janita R. Stewart.
Pornovets, an active reservist with the 4th Marine Surgical Battalion in Gulfport, is also on the board for the Innovative Center, the Gulf Coast business incubator designed to foster small businesses.
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