Category: Central

Knead Bread

Adding SBDC to the mix brings rising sales to Knead Bread

Opened brick-and-mortar location in 2023; expanded business to 10 employees.

Lenora Schmecko and her brother, Vincenzo Mazzone, opened Knead Bread in Winchester in May 2023 as a labor of love, bringing their lifelong passion for baking to the masses. But just as even the most well-kneaded bread will not rise without yeast, Lenora and Vincenzo knew they needed one final ingredient to make their bakery grow.

Enter the Laurel Ridge SBDC.

“Retail was a new concept for us,” Lenora says. “We needed advice, so we contacted the SBDC and met with Dale Maza, a Marketing Advisor. He helped with a business plan and provided analytics and projections. By the time we opened, we knew what to expect.”

Lenora and Vincenzo originally launched their business as an in-home wholesale bakery in Louisa County, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to cut the venture short…or so they thought. That delay turned out to give the business “proofing time,” and the brother-sister tandem opened Knead Bread’s brick-and-mortar location on May 20, 2023.

Sales quickly exceeded expectations as word spread about the new bakery featuring artisan breads and sweets.

“Business was a lot better than we thought it would be,” Lenora says. “In May and June, we were selling out by noon. We needed to hire more staff.”

Along with staffing resources, the SBDC suggested website and social media contacts. Currently Knead Bread has 10 employees and is looking to expand.

“The SBDC’s been with us every step of the way,” Lenora says. “They made everything a lot easier.”

Lenora believes every small business should start with a trip to the SBDC.

“The SBDC offers professional resources at no cost to you,” she concluded. “It’s worth it to reach out to the SBDC. They have a wealth of information and will use it to steer you in the right direction.”

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Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply

The SBDC builds on a dream for Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply

Earned approval for a $10,000 business loan; set up and received an $8,500 Kiva loan.

Tawann Scott always dreamed of being a business owner. When she discovered a need in Richmond’s Southside and Northside communities, she found her niche — a beauty supply store for African American customers. When she discovered the Capital Region SBDC, she turned her dream into a sustainable reality.

“After years of going to stores for products for my kinky hair, I wanted to pursue my dream of opening a beauty supply store,” states Tawann, a Southside Richmond native.

Tawann’s beauty supply store was self-funded from the start, but with one daughter in college, another planning a wedding, and widespread economic complications from the COVID pandemic, she was forced to push back her original opening timeline. However, an unwavering commitment to her vision allowed her to persevere and open the doors to Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply in October 2021.

And while that grand opening was a major milestone for a first-time business owner, it had an even bigger impact that led to introductions to the Metro Business League (MBL) and, later, the Capital SBDC.

Initially, the MBL helped Tawann secure a “KIVA” loan of $8,500 made up of contributions from unknown individuals, including family members. When she began working with SBDC Assistant Director Charese Chambers soon after, she gained access to more funding opportunities and, equally important, guidance on the next steps to take for her burgeoning business.

“From the start, Charese was on it,” Tawann recalls. “When she gave me an assignment, I knew I had to do it.”

Charese started by updating Tawann’s Quickbooks account, which included categorizing transactions dating back to 2021 and organizing her accounts. That provided Tawann with the necessary documentation to apply for a business loan of $10,000 through Bridging Virginia. Along with additional guidance from Bridging Virginia’s Michelle Jones, Tawann was approved for the loan.

“Thank the Lord for Charese,” Tawann adds.

From there, Charese and Tawann set their sights on marketing, beginning with a flyer for a braider. The response prompted Tawann to expand Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply’s offerings, which now includes two stylists who rent space in the store.

Tawann credits the SBDC for helping her business grow.

“The SBDC will shoot it to you straight,” Tawann concludes. “To me, SBDC is a necessity — as a small business owner, you need that support,”

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STEADY Academy

STEADY Academy scores success with SBDC on the team

Received an initial $50,000 line of credit to start her business; increased her coaching staff from seven to 20, and her player enrollment from 40 to 200.

As a star soccer and lacrosse athlete, sports have played a pivotal role in Nora Maguire White’s life, instilling lessons that molded her into the person she is today. Following her playing career, she founded STEADY Academy with a vision to use soccer as a tool to empower girls with life skills on and off the field.

After Nora added Shenandoah Valley SBDC Business Advisor Barry Henderson to the team, her vision became reality with the opening of STEADY (Striving Towards Educational and Athletic Development of Youth) Academy.

STEADY Academy is the result of nearly three decades of coaching experience for Nora. She is a 1992 graduate of James Madison University and a two-sport standout who was inducted into the JMU Athletics Hall of Fame. After her playing career, she embarked on the traditional path of coaching, beginning as an assistant soccer and lacrosse coach at Loyola University in Maryland and moving on to stops as head soccer coach at Illinois State University and assistant soccer coach at the University of North Carolina.

However, after five years in the college coaching ranks, which included winning a National Championship at North Carolina, she took a timeout to revisit the real reasons she got into coaching.

“Over 18 months I wrote a 26-page development curriculum for girls,” she relates. “Initially I contacted the SBDC in Chapel Hill [N.C.], then let it rest awhile.”

That plan outlined her vision to bring the lessons she learned and personal growth she experienced through sports to local youth. STEADY Academy was the result.

After returning to Harrisonburg, Nora completed a business plan and started building her team. One of her first additions was Barry at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

“I think it was an act of God I was assigned to Barry,” she comments. “I would never have known how to get the capital I needed on my own. Barry’s experience in banking, contacts in the community, and passion for getting me over the end line led to a $50,000 line of credit.”

A good coach, Nora believes, makes all the difference.

“Many factors in starting a business can shut doors,” she adds. “Without someone to guide you, those doors won’t open.”

STEADY’s line of credit allowed for expansion of the coaching staff from seven to 20 and a player enrollment increase from 40 to 200, which has led her to plan for a national launch of STEADY this October. Going national with her program, Nora believes, will be a game-changer.

“I would not be where I am today without the SBDC,” Nora concludes. “The personal touch of the SBDC is what really put STEADY Academy over the edge.”

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Laser Thermal

Laser Sharp Success: Laser Thermal Hits Million Dollar Milestone with the SBDC

Raised $6.5 million in equity investments; created 16 new jobs; licensed two patents; filed two patents; achieved over $1 million in sales from October 2022 to October 2023.

When it comes to small-scale thermal measurements, Laser Thermal serves a need that hasn’t been fully realized in the market for decades: testing the thermal conductivity of items 1,000 to 10,000 times smaller than the average diameter of a human hair.

“We’re the definition of a niche market,” says Laser Thermal CEO and Co-Founder John Gaskins. “We are the only people doing what we’re doing.”

Until John launched Laser Thermal with Patrick Hopkins in February 2020, that kind of measurement science wasn’t available commercially — meaning that John and Patrick were literally designing their business model from scratch. In October 2020, John sent a consultation request to the Central Virginia SBDC, and the next day, he met with Director Rebecca Haydock on Zoom.

“There are a million different things that you can’t research when it comes to starting a business,” says John.

That’s where the SBDC offered assistance. As John’s main advisor, Rebecca connected him with specialists who helped support Laser Thermal in different areas, including finances, bookkeeping, web development and marketing. Laser Thermal also worked with both the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) and the International Business Development Program (IBD).

“I could send an email and ask, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this. Am I off base?’ Or ‘Is there anybody I can talk to about this?’” John says.

For the large industrial and academic companies Laser Thermal works with, information is everything, especially regarding optimization, performance, and cost cutting. The Laser Thermal team takes lab scale equipment that, for most people, is very unapproachable and packages it so that anyone can use it.

“You come into our applications lab, and I can teach you how to use our tool in 30 minutes,” says John.

John notes that the SBDC played a key role in helping him design his business model.

“A lot of our structure came from those early days talking to the SBDC, Rebecca and various mentors that we were plugged into.”

Ultimately, John points to mentorship as the most valuable resource he gleaned from the SBDC. Throughout the product development process and growth of the business, he notes that it would have been easy to feel like he was making decisions in a vacuum. Rebecca and the SBDC provided a sounding board that allowed an idea formulated in a University of Virginia lab to grow into a thriving small business boasting 17 employees, two granted patents, two additional filed patents, and over one million dollars in sales.

Today, Laser Thermal continues to scale with commercial tool sales, testing and contract services, and three government grants, including funds for new product development through the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. As John looks to 2024, he predicts plenty of growth and innovation, and he knows it will happen with the SBDC by his side.

“I’ve probably recommended the SBDC to half a dozen different businesses I’ve run into since we started working with them.”

The SBDC has also helped connect John to the entrepreneurial community, an essential support for all aspiring small-business owners.

“The entrepreneurial community in general is very giving,” he says. “They’re giving of advice. They’re giving of resources. They’re giving of connections to other people. Be willing to take advice, and let it inform how you choose to grow your business in the future.”

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Afton Scientific

Afton Scientific expands international foothold with SBDC as a guide

Expanded business to two international markets, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

With an established business, high-quality products, and sound processes, Charlottesville-based pharmaceutical contract manufacturer Afton Scientific, a 30-year-old business, was primed for growth.

Afton Scientific was seeking information on expanding their existing export efforts in the international pharmaceutical marketplace. Specifically, they wanted to develop a plan to gain a greater footing in traditional direct sales to customers as well a tap into and maximize e-commerce sales. Marketing Sales Manager Katherine Brandt and Business Development Specialist TJ Kliefoth turned to the Virginia SBDC Network where they connected with Senior International Trade Specialist Dulce Zahniser and the Virginia SBDC’s International Business Development (IBD) office.

Afton Scientific had long excelled as a manufacturer of pre-sterilized vials and small-batch filling of pharmaceutical products but faced a different set of challenges in expanding their export target market. The SBDC’s IBD programming is tailor-made for businesses like Afton, providing training, resources, and contacts for everything from distribution to region and industry-specific regulations.

“The SBDC initiated a three-part IBD program for us,” Katherine says. “We needed assistance with market research and export regulations.”

That program included participating in the International E-Commerce Program/Accelerator, Trade Compliance Cohort, and International Business Plan Cohort.

“During that program, the SBDC gave specific feedback,” TJ notes. “For example, the E-Commerce Program showed us how to move our inbound marketing strategy to a more strategic outbound marketing with websites in target market areas.”

Following that advice, Afton established websites in Germany and the United Kingdom, which lead to an increase in Afton’s presence in those two international markets.

“These websites helped us reach potential new customers,” TJ says. “The SBDC’s advice definitely paid off for us.”

The International Business Plan Cohort offered additional guidance and mapped out specific steps, goals, and metrics for the expansion.

“Our marketing strategies have been very reactive in the past and this helped us become more proactive,” TJ notes. “Walking through the business plan process with experts was very helpful.”

Afton also took advantage of the IBD’s International Trade Research to explore target markets. This was especially crucial for Afton, whose industry includes an array of highly-specific consumer needs and heavy regulations that vary by country and region.

“We’re not a typical retailer,” Katherine relates. “Our target customers range from small biotechs to large pharmaceutical companies, research labs, hospitals, and universities.”

The IBD Program’s market research helped find those international customers. Employment numbers at Afton Scientific have increased from 50 to 85, which has helped the business meet the increased demand from the international expansion.

“Dulce has been phenomenal and is always there when we need advice,” Katherine says.

“We love working with the SBDC,” TJ adds. “We had heard about the SBDC but had no idea they offered so many programs at no cost. We’re so glad they found us!”

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Dinamic Cuts

From old school to top of the class with the SBDC

Received $13,000 in grants; created 1 job.

Diane Madden began her career as a hair stylist going door-to-door with a portable hair dryer.

“I was laughed at, but I was determined,” she recalls.

However, those early difficulties helped Diane strengthen her resolve, and in 1995 she opened her hair and barber salon, Dinamic Cuts, with little more than word-of-mouth advertising and determination.

“I was old school,” says Diane, who recalled that her salon didn’t even have a phone when she first launched.

Diane’s relationship-driven business model survived for decades through personal grit, but in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to close. However, that setback proved temporary, as Diane tapped into her personal fortitude and took steps to reopen, including advising from the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

“That’s when I met Business Advisor Diane McCarthy,” Diane Madden relates. “I needed to connect with someone who saw my vision; Diane [McCarthy] really did.”

With updated business tools and techniques, McCarthy took Diane’s business from old school to top of the class in two years. First, McCarthy helped Diane acquire a small local grant to purchase touchless soap, sanitizer and towel dispensers. Next, the SBDC offered Diane support to apply for a Comcast RISE grant.

“The RISE grant gave me $10,000 that provided a desktop computer, a year of internet service, two phone lines, a fax line and iPad,” Diane says. “I also got a Square POS system to take card payments and manage sales, inventory and appointments.”

The SBDC offered more ideas on updating the salon, including lighting and a new sign. Diane procured another local grant – for $3,000, awarded in September 2022 – that she will use for the new outdoor sign.

With help from McCarthy and the SBDC’s webinars, Diane learned how to build a website and market on social media. McCarthy also helped restructure Dinamic Cuts into an LLC.

“When I got my computer, Diane [McCarthy] sat down with me and showed me how to use it,” Diane relates. “I keep all the webinars so I can review them. If you take the knowledge presented and apply it, things will happen for your business.”

Previously the sole employee at Dinamic Cuts, Diane recently added a barber. Her optimism, paired with the SBDC’s expertise, point toward the hiring of new employees in the near future.

“I’m living testimony to what the SBDC can do,” Diane concludes. “Help is there at the SBDC. All you have to do is listen — and not give up!”

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Blue Dragon Publishing, LLC

The Virginia SBDC salutes Small Business Veteran of the Year

When the Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year Award was established 22 years ago, the SBDC had someone like Dawn Brotherton in mind — a veteran whose business ownership has made a significant contribution to the economy and a difference in the community.

Comments Jolie Spiers, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC, made during the 2022 Virginia SBDC Veteran of the Year presentation, summed up the award’s criteria.

“Dawn Brotherton, owner of Blue Dragon Publishing, is a decorated veteran,” the SBDC Director noted. “She is also a distinguished business owner and a dedicated citizen of Hampton Roads who supports our community organizations.”

As an employer, Blue Dragon Publishing, LLC., is a certified Virginia Values Veterans (V3) company and champions hiring veterans. She takes on interns through the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, the College of William and Mary, Christopher Newport University, and James Madison University. Dawn also supports community organizations such as the summer reading program in Newport News; Bacon Street Youth and Family Services; Williamsburg Book Festival; Richmond Book Lovers’ Festival; and Rappahannock Writers’ Conference.

Dawn, who retired as an Air Force colonel, transitioned into the publishing business in 2010 for a practical reason — she wrote a book and wanted to publish it.

“During my first duty assignment in the Air Force, a stalker broke into my house,” she explains.

That experience inspired Dawn’s first book, The Obsession, which sparked the start of her publishing business. She didn’t want to simply self-publish; she wanted to create professionally published books. The recent release of her fifteenth book attests to the focus on professionalism and shows how much her company has grown since she launched it more than a decade ago.

“A few years after I started my company, people started coming to me for advice,” she notes. “When I decided to take on clients, that’s when I went to the SBDC.”

“Once a month, an SBDC advisor came to the Williamsburg Launch Pad, a place dedicated to working with new business owners,” Dawn recalls. “It was really helpful to bounce ideas around with him.”

Those idea sessions bounced back with benefits.

“To date, I’ve helped over 80 authors through Blue Dragon,” Dawn says.

When Dawn was ready to expand, she went back to the Hampton Roads SBDC for advice. They talked her through the paperwork required for payroll and best hiring practices.

“When COVID hit, I decided to shift gears and offer coaching to people who wanted to publish instead,” she relates. “I don’t have a marketing background and honestly hated that part of the business. Now I’m having much more fun helping writers become authors.”

Combining her coaching skills with her military background, Dawn recently launched a new project on behalf of the Women Veterans Alliance titled “Sisters in Arms: Inspiring Future Generations.” Dawn says the goal of the anthology is to inspire women veterans to share their experiences with women joining or considering joining the military.

For the writers, it’s about more than getting published. It’s about learning how to be an author, and that includes working with a writers’ group to give and receive feedback.

“Being part of a team is an absolute requirement,” she says.

From her time in the Air Force to her work with the SBDC, a team-centered approach has been a constant throughout Dawn’s career. It’s a valuable asset, Dawn says, and one she encourages others to pursue.

“I’ve recommended the SBDC many times,” she concludes. “The SBDC is a great resource when you need them.”

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Dogma Grooming + Pet Needs

Mission possible: From employees to business owners with the SBDC

Received $180K loan; retained 13 employees.

Megan Solomon and Rhiannon Gamble, dog groomers for 13 and 17 years respectively at Dogma Grooming in Richmond’s Carytown district, considered owning a business to be little more than a dream. However, with help from the Capital Region SBDC, their dream became reality in August 2022.

“We both worked at Dogma and loved the small business feel there — we’d found our niche,” Megan says.

That niche was obvious to Dogma’s owner, who looked to Megan and Rhiannon when she decided to sell the business.

“The owner mentored us for a year,” Megan continues. “She was the one who recommended the SBDC.”

It was good advice; helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams is the SBDC’s mission. The business partners contacted SBDC Business Advisor Charese Chambers, who offered encouragement, business basics, and financial projections.

“Charese was wonderful,” Megan says. “She was in constant contact throughout the acquisition process and showed us the ins and outs of getting started. She helped with our business plan, explained lease renewals and put us in contact with the right people.”

Following the SBDC’s pointers, Megan and Rhiannon were approved for a $180,000 bank loan and added $20,000 in owner investment.

“Charese showed us ways to raise funds for our investment as well as how to deal with loan details,” Megan notes.

The business came with 13 employees,. “Fortunately we had employee experience and looked at our employees as family — some have been here over 10 years,” Megan says. “We do have a bookkeeper, and Rhiannon helps with payroll.”

Future plans include taking SBDC classes to add to their business ownership knowledge.

“We plan to hold steady for a year or two before expanding,” Megan adds. “If we stay on the same path we’ve been on, we’ll be fine.”

Megan and Rhiannon don’t hesitate to recommend the SBDC.

“We didn’t know an organization like the SBDC existed,” Megan concluded. “It’s an awesome resource for employees like Rhiannon and me who never thought we could own a business. I hope we can inspire other women to do the same.”

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Coffee Hound

Welcoming Connections Fuel Coffee Shop Success

Secured $25,000 Harrisonburg Economic Development Loan

Coffee Hound Facebook Page 

For entrepreneur Hailey Rogers, owning a coffee shop is about creating an environment that encourages interpersonal connections and being the best local small-batch roaster serving a variety of specialty coffees. At the Coffee Hound on South Mason Street in Harrisonburg, you will feel welcomed and so will your canine companion. The dog-friendly space is a nod to Hailey’s love for dogs and an additional way to make customers feel at home.

“I was inspired to open a coffee shop because of how the coffee shop environment brings people together. I wanted to have a neutral space where anyone and everyone could feel welcome,” says Hailey.

The road to small business ownership was a whirlwind for the Harrisonburg native, who took over the former Shenandoah Joe in November 2021.

When Hailey, the manager of Shenandoah Joe, was unexpectedly offered the opportunity to purchase the café, she knew it was a path to fulfilling her dream of being her own boss. But she quickly experienced several obstacles; including needing to secure adequate, immediate funding to make purchasing the business possible.

Enter Allison Dugan, a business advisor at the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, who helped Hailey with the necessary steps to make Coffee Hound a reality.

A high-interest personal loan got Hailey started, but becoming an SBDC client helped her work out the kinks of business development.

Allison helped Hailey form a business plan in order to apply for a loan through Harrisonburg Economic Development.

Hailey says, “Allison Dugan provided me with every necessary document I needed to complete my loan application. I found the cash flow projections she provided and helped me fill out to be extremely helpful.”

Hailey, who emphasizes the personal touch as part of her business philosophy, found that a personal connection with Allison was a definite plus. “Allison was always professional and able to answer any questions I had. She worked with my schedule to find time to meet with me via Zoom and give necessary feedback on my work. Her dedication to my success was apparent throughout every conversation we had.”

She goes on to recommend that other small business owners take advantage of the one-on-one counseling available through the SBDC, “Having an advisor right there with me to give input while I worked through what my business needed was crucial to my success.”

When you visit Coffee Hound, make sure to say hi to Gatsby, the Italian greyhound that inspired the name!

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InHealthRVA facilitates functional medicine with support from the SBDC

Received a $25,000 line of credit and a $50,000 term loan; 1 part-time and 2 full-time jobs.

Home | Functional Medicine | Richmond, VA (

When Tressa Breindel was 14, her pediatrician diagnosed her with a severe autoimmune disease. By her early twenties, all conventional medical treatments had failed. These frustrations with her care sparked an idea.

Tressa knew what she needed: medical practitioners who provided her with options for understanding her chronic, complicated condition. She took matters into her own hands and by January 2016, she launched InHealthRVA, a clinic that specializes in integrative and functional medicine.

“Functional medicine is really about understanding the body from a physiology and biochemistry perspective and then applying that understanding clinically to give people better health,” says Tressa. “Functional, integrative medicine should be primary care.”

In 2021, as Tressa worked to grow InHealthRVA, she connected with Capital Region SBDC Executive Director Rodney Williams. Rodney quickly became an essential advisor, helping her set goals and stay on track – even if that just meant checking in periodically.

“Having the accountability of knowing I had to report to Rodney was very helpful,” she says.

The SBDC and Rodney helped Tressa secure capital for her growing business. When she needed a small business loan, the SBDC walked Tressa through necessary steps. Rodney helped her edit her business plan and referred her to a QuickBooks expert.

“That was really instrumental,” Tressa notes. “When my business was small and simple, I could just focus on cash in and cash out, but that’s no way to run a business as it grows.”

The SBDC also introduced Tressa to M&T Bank, which resulted in a $25,000 line of credit and a $50,000 term loan. This financing allowed her to expand, hiring a nurse practitioner, a full-time customer care specialist, and a part-time administrative assistant.

As she looks to the future, Tressa hopes to add another practitioner to the clinic, and, eventually open a second location. However, she has more ambitious goals as well.

“InHealthRVA is an experiment to dial in the business model. When it’s dialed in with several practitioners, then I’ll be able to replicate it in other locations,” she explains. “My mission and vision is that everyone who has a tummy ache, a headache, a chronic illness, or an autoimmune disease should be able to access this type of medicine.”

Tressa cites the SBDC as key in growing InHealthRVA, and readily recommends it to fellow entrepreneurs. In fact, just recently, she referred a physical therapist to the SBDC.

“She wants to grow. She wants to hire and improve her marketing, so I gave her the SBDC’s website!”

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