Advantage Supply Center
For the majority of her professional career in information technology and process analysis, Celeste DeVaneaux has worked among teams of similarly knowledgeable and talented professionals.
However, when she moved solo across the country to open Advantage Supply Center, Inc., in Virginia in 2014, she found herself uncomfortably isolated.
“I cut my teeth on the West Coast, so one of my challenges in starting the business was being in Virginia and understanding the rules and the climate around here,” Celeste says. “I had trouble finding somebody who knows more than I do, and I’m not saying that to be conceited. I just had a big support group on the West Coast, but I didn’t have that here.”
Living in a new state as a first-time business owner without the safety net of trusted peers, Celeste’s leap-of-faith move to the Commonwealth quickly turned into a freefall. Her business model was to create a service that assists state agencies with purchasing necessary products at affordable prices — all within the confines of the state’s purchasing protocols. With a once-robust network of peers nonexistent in her new home state, Celeste began seeking out expertise anywhere she could find it, which quickly led her to the SBDC.
“I was used to incubators in California, so as soon as I started this up I started researching what was available in the state,” she says. “I found the SBDC through Virginia Highlands Community College, and they were very helpful in connecting me with the people I needed to be connected with and in areas like financial planning and cash management.”
Cindy Fields of the Virginia Highlands SBDC became Celeste’s point person at startup, but the SBDC’s assistance did not stop there. She has remained an ally throughout Advantage’s six-plus years of operation and has proven to be a valuable extension of the Micro SWaM company’s six-person staff. The company now supplies state agencies “with everything from farm animals to pharmaceuticals” and, with the help of the SBDC, successfully navigated a COVID-19 shutdown that significantly scaled back the purchasing power of Celeste’s clients.
“When the initial shutdown happened in March of 2020, our customer base dried up,” she says. “The SBDC was very helpful getting us through that. I spent a great deal of time in meetings and training, filling out grant applications and essentially jumping from rock to rock over the lava pit to keep the money flowing, so I could keep people employed.”
The SBDC assisted Celeste with a Payroll Protection Program loan and supplied her with necessary contacts when needed, including a new bank.
“I didn’t know where to go, and it was the contacts I had with the SBDC that pointed me in the right direction,” she says. “That’s really valuable. It’s not just the assistance they offered in applying for a loan; it’s the connections they have and how quickly they used those to help me when I needed them.”