South Florida’s known as a retirement haven and vacation destination to most, but it’s also a place where some entrepreneurs find inspiration for business startups.

Several tri-county business owners are proud to call South Florida their headquarters. Many have roots in sunny South Florida that have weathered some rough years and are now continuing to grow.

Converting sea water by the seaside
Water Makers, a Fort Lauderdale-based company, designs and manufactures reverse osmosis machines, which convert saltwater into fresh water. The 30-year-old company sells the products to resorts and yachts all over the world, said director of sales Chip Edmonds.

“We’ve always been based in Fort Lauderdale, that’s one of the reasons for our success,” he said.

The company has a full laboratory in South Florida where it develops the machines that can convert as much as 50,000 gallons of water at a time. Prices range from $5,500 to $300,000, per size of the machine.

The company has a major presence in the Caribbean, where island communities with limited fresh water have a greater need, Edmonds says. The company’s Fort Lauderdale proximity “gives us an edge on our competition,” he said.

Food for Fido
The Maverick Pet Foods Company started out as two business partners making a type of natural frozen dog food in the kitchen of their Hollywood home, said founder Mike Smarkusky.

The 15-month-old company quickly grew from selling their products at local farmers markets to being distributed in 19 different states. The Maverick Pet Foods Company now makes their all-natural frozen dog food product in a facility in Hollywood, not far from where the recipe was first created.

“South Florida is our home, we started out at the local markets around town, then started selling to local stores,” Smarkusky said. “We’re surprised at how fast it’s selling.”

The dog food is made with 80 percent meat, and includes other vitamins and minerals. There are two kinds to choose from and a brand of health dog treats. Maverick is continuing to expand and hopes to be carried in major pet food stores soon. The company is finalizing plans to distribute in California in the coming weeks.

Spice up your wedding
When Dennis and Sylvia Lai got married in 2008, they struggled to find affordable, unique wedding favors for their friends and family. So they created their own.

Their company, Spicy Wedding, morphed after the creation of their own wedding gifts. The couple makes unique spices, bottles them and designs labels that match the colors and personality of the couple getting hitched, all from out of their Tamarac home.

Spice combinations range from an Italian seasoning mixed with sun dried tomatoes to a garlic and onion combined powder. The Lai’s design the labels themselves, transforming the couple-to-be into cartoon-like characters on each bottle.

So far they’ve shipped 3,000 bottles and have been featured in a wedding blog. They also attend wedding conventions and sell their products on Etsy, an online platform for selling homemade goods.

“We ship these bottles to couples all across the country,” said Dennis Lai. “We’ve been so surprised by the enthusiasm we’ve received so far.”

Designs for sea lovers
Cotton King Inc. is a promotional marketing company that focuses on screen printing and embroidery out of a facility in Pompano Beach. The 11-year-old company designs and prints T-shirts and embroiders polo shirts, hats and other promotional items for companies that need a uniform design.

The company has seen 30 percent growth over the last three years, said 27-year-old founding partner Weston Cotton.

“We started printing shirts for marinas and fishing companies in my partner’s garage,” said Cotton, a former professional wakeboarder. “Then it’s just morphed into what it is today.”

Cotton King Inc. has printed designs for local surf shops that include Island Water Sports in Deerfield Beach, Red Bull and Rybovich Marina in West Palm Beach. Although 70 percent of the company’s business is based in South Florida, Cotton said they are looking to expand.

“Florida is a great market for us to be in,” he said. “Wouldn’t have wanted to start anywhere else.”