Category: Central

Caroline Thomason Nutrition Consulting

Nutrition coach uses new business model for the win

Sales increased from a low six-figure to high seven-figure range in five months.

On a whim, Caroline Thomason called the Shenandoah Valley SBDC last year. Today, she’s operating a nutrition coaching practice in the five-figure range. “On paper, all the odds were against starting a business during the pandemic,” Caroline admits.

She decided to do it anyway. “Somehow I just knew the time was right,” she adds. “I’d always wanted my own business. My plan was to go full-fledged into private practice with nutrition coaching.”

Caroline called the Shenandoah SBDC, and Business Analyst Don Crawford returned her call the same day. “We’ve been talking every other week since then,” Caroline says.

Early on, Caroline learned not to follow her inclination to jump the gun. “From the start, Don hit home by emphasizing the importance of having an organized financial plan,” Caroline says. “He helped me lay the foundation for the systems I use in my business today.”

Starting a business during the pandemic, Caroline notes, did have one advantage: telehealth. “Virtual visits were very accepted at that time, which was amazing for me,” she marvels.

Caroline began by developing a plan she believes helped her business grow so quickly. “I started doing memberships — like monthly gym memberships,” Caroline explains. “That gave my clients a more personalized service, and it was more flexible for all of us.”

It was, in Caroline’s words, “a huge hit.”

“Don and I crafted the membership plan together,” Caroline relates. “The SBDC helped me understand the membership model and how it was used in other industries. With the SBDC’s help, I was able to grow my business from a low six-figure to a high seven-figure range in five months.”

“I really think the SBDC’s help with my membership plan allowed the business to take off so fast,” Caroline says. “I was able to leave my full-time job after five months.”

Caroline is happy to recommend the SBDC to others considering a business venture, and plans to continue her relationship with them for the foreseeable future. “I feel like Don Crawford at the SBDC is my best friend,” Caroline concludes. “The SBDC has been with me from the beginning; just knowing they are there is extremely comforting.”

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Great Harvest Bread Company

Baking A Miracle: Bakery brings hope during pandemic

Received a PPP loan and retained 29 jobs

The happiest day of Pablo Teodoro’s life was the day he was fired. “I was overwhelmed with happiness, because I was sure it was the beginning of something really exciting,” he says. “I had this strange certainty that I was going to start a business and that it was going to be amazing.” Little did he know that this day would lead him to giving life-saving help to his community in the midst of COVID-19.

Already seasoned in management and inspired by his own ideas, Pablo spent roughly two years focusing on running a small farm, learning about monoculture farming and sustainable agriculture, and exploring the ins-and-outs of selling his products to local farmers markets. Then fate led Pablo to discover the Great Harvest Bread Company. Founded in Montana by a free-thinking, free-living couple, according to Pablo, the company’s values mirrored his own, and the freedom and flexibility it offered its franchisees is what drew him.

“We get to become a community bakery. We get to sell food that people in Warrenton want to eat,” Pablo says. “We have a stone mill in the basement, and we mill our own flour. Just like eating a fresh apple or drinking a fresh ground cup of coffee, everything here tastes rich, full, and exciting in a way that other bakeries cannot reproduce.”

Pablo and his new franchise, Great Harvest, have developed a relationship with Lord Fairfax SBDC Director Christine Kriz, powered by mutual motivation and excitement. “Christine understands our struggles. She made a big difference by making practical and inspirational differences in our local business community,” he adds. She connected Pablo with Cort Maddox, a business advisor at the Lord Fairfax SBDC, and they meet monthly for business coaching. “I will give Cort an update,” Pablo explains. “He will point out things, provide statistics, and tell me if he thinks I am on the wrong track.”

When the pandemic hit, Great Harvest found itself in a very difficult spot. On the verge of closure, Pablo made a bold move: he continued to bake bread. Then a viral Facebook post opened the gates to a demand for over 5,300 loaves of bread for food banks and others in need. Donations to offset the cost of ingredients began to roll in, and things began to turn around for the small corner bakery. “We were baking hundreds of loaves of bread a day. Customers were coming in droves. People were also requesting the ingredients — which gave us the money to afford to bake bread for the food banks.”

Finding a warm heart in the midst of the strange times has grown Pablo’s business and especially his spirit. “Although I know that COVID is overall a tragedy in terms of illness and death, it has also provided unexpected miracles and unexpected blessing,” Pablo says. “We are on a better footing than we’ve ever been.”

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Local Eats

Foodies in Fluvanna feast on local foods

Increased sales by 40%

Amy Myer wanted to open her own local food store and restaurant in Fluvanna County, but she knew she needed help figuring out the details. She connected with the Central Virginia SBDC and Diane Arnold, an experienced SBDC Business Counselor, who helped Amy with market research, resource connections, and acted as someone to bounce ideas off of. “She was awesome,” Amy says. “She knows her stuff, and she wants to see her people succeed.”

Diane helped Amy make her dream a reality. She reviewed the lease, visited the prospective site, and helped Amy write her business plan. “There were so many little things I wouldn’t have known,” Amy enthuses. “She knew all the ins and outs.”

Local Eats, which carries locally-sourced foods from Fluvanna and across the region, has definitely become a success. Amy has developed quite a following among the foodies in Fluvanna, particularly in Lake Monticello, the major subdivision nearby. She now has two part-time employees, and has even expanded to delivery service. 

Even after the intensive support in the start-up phase, Diane continued to add value for Amy. “She has all the connections,” Amy says. “Anytime she comes across opportunities or gets her hands-on information that can be helpful, she always reaches out to me.” That included scheduling Amy for a meeting with a retail specialist from the Virginia SBDC State Office and connecting her with the SBDC Quad County Pitch Competition. 

Amy continues to refine her vision of expanding, and when the time comes, she plans to call on the wise advice of Diane and the resources of the SBDC.

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Rappahannock Hunt

Getting a good rapp

Received over $40,000 in SBA loans

Baying of hounds rings out across a rich, green field. A deer and her fawn, surprised, raise their heads from a nearby stream, before quickly slipping into the woods. From the forest, a pack of yelping and panting dogs splash into the stream, followed shortly by riders on horseback dressed in scarlet coats and small black hats.

You haven’t been transported in time. The year is 2020, and this is one of Rappahannock Hunt’s regular hunts.

Rappahannock Hunt (RH) was formed in 1926, and the year 2020 marks its 94th birthday. Officially considered a 501(c) (7) social club, RH includes Culpeper, Madison, and Rappahannock counties in its territory of about 384,000 acres. According to club treasurer Mary Foley, “The club was formed in the Old English tradition. It meets several times a week to ride our horses and work the hounds.”

Even without a formal brick-and-mortar location, costs are involved. RH leases space on a large farm to house and feed all the hounds. They also pay a full-time caregiver to look after the animals.

The hunts themselves are held throughout the breathtaking foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. “We hunt on various land at the invitation of the landowner,” Mary explains. “We are always careful to follow the boundary of the plowed land. We only go where we are invited to go. We have established ourselves as a familiar sight to landowners, and we want to make sure that they want us to continue to come.”

Mary says the fox hunting rituals of the club are a huge part of the draw for many. “We have traditions and certain apparel that we wear. It’s organized and civil. Fox hunting follows a very specific protocol. Because it’s a club, people are of like background and enthusiasm.” 

Despite its outdoor, socially-distanced nature, COVID-19 still delivered a savage blow to RH by debilitating its capacity to hold any fundraisers. In a typical year, the club’s income would be comprised of half club dues and membership fees, and half fundraising from events. But with the rise of COVID-19, events like the hunter pace, trail rides, and even the signature steeplechase event had to be called off. 

RH reached out to the Culpeper SBDC and Advisor David Reardon for a much-needed lifeline. Dave helped Mary and Rappahannock Hunt successfully apply for Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster (EIDL) loans.

Mary says the sense of relief and reassurance she has felt working with Dave was palpable. “It was a relief and a godsend to be able to participate in those loan programs,” Mary says. “Dave and his family are grounded in the community. He is just a delightful man. The leadership he brought was appreciated, and we enjoyed the soup-to-nuts service. He was truly a real godsend.” 

Knowing that 50 foxhounds will be well kept in their kennels and cared for because the ongoing monthly expenses are covered is no small thing for Rappahannock Hunt. “To have the SBA loans in the bank is a godsend. Because there are too many unknowns in the future, we are not taking any of this for granted.” 

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Mercury Communications LLC

Connect the call: Communications company sees success

Increased sales by 284%

You could say that Norman Thompson is used to having his head in the clouds —  it’s his specialty. 

After 17 years in the Air Force as a Satellite Communications Craftsman, Norman worked 13 years as an engineering manager for satellite giant Echo Star. It was clear that Thompson had found his niche, but he “just didn’t want to stagnate,” Norman recalls. “I really wanted to figure out a way that I could go my own way with the skills and abilities that I had.” 

Norman began to explore the possibility of starting a business. He sought help at the Lord Fairfax SBDC, where he was connected with Center Director Christine Kriz. With so much technical knowledge in so many areas, Norman struggled with which services he should highlight. During a conversation with Christine, Norman hit on what would become the true focus of Mercury Communications LLC.

“Christine was saying something about how poor her cell service was and how it was like that for many of her friends and neighbors. She says ‘If you can do something about that, it would be huge,’” Norman relates. Installing passive Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) in residential, commercial, and areas with large-scale operations became Mercury Communications’ business model. Passive DAS systems are essentially cellular-signal-boosting infrastructures that are built on-site. During COVID-19, with thousands learning and working remotely, this moment has been well-timed for Norman. “It’s caught on fire,” he says. “Christine helped me to focus on what the client wanted and needed.”

Christine provided what Norman calls a “very flexible way of thinking” that was quite helpful. As a result, Mercury Communications has increased sales by 284% in 2020. Christine also helped Mercury establish critical GSA contracts. 

In addition to residential and commercial, both the government and military felt the brunt of COVID-19 in unexpected ways. It became another area where Norman has stepped in. He enthusiastically describes installing a DAS system on an aircraft carrier where soldiers were quarantined, which provided working cellular connections to the outside world for servicemen and women who were away from their families. 

When he reflects on life before Mercury, Norman says, “I wasn’t feeling challenged. Satellite communications is more like Formula One, and cellular is more like NASCAR. There’s more passion in it.” 

As the modern world rushes toward a more virtually-integrated society, the sky remains the limit for Norman Thompson and Mercury Communications. Since he’s a pro at navigating the sky from below, he’ll be ready for what comes next. “We’ll see what the future holds,” Norman says with a smile, “and go from there.”

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Springbok Analytics

Springing to muscle mastery

Received grants and investment capital, totaling over $1 million, as beta customers converted to sales

Springbok Analytics is at the leading edge of revolutionizing how the world views human muscle. To build the necessary infrastructure for the business to launch and assess the market opportunities nationally and internally, they turned to the Central Virginia SBDC.

Founded on technology invented by an interdisciplinary research team at the University of Virginia (UVA), Springbok Analytics developed a first-of-its-kind, AI-driven platform to visualize and analyze individual human muscles. “Our technology replaces the manual and subjective nature of reading and analyzing MRIs through a patented AI and machine-learning-based approach,” explains CEO Scott Magargee. “The result is a better-than-human analysis of musculature that helps health experts make more informed decisions about individual care.” 

These dynamic visualization options give groundbreaking insight to support strength-and-conditioning coaches and trainers, surgeons, physical therapists, and researchers. An extremely valuable tool, it can reduce the risk of injury, guide personalized physical therapy and rehabilitation, and optimize performance. “Our singular goal is to give people previously unavailable insight and organize it in different but easily digestible ways, supporting healthcare’s transformation to precision medicine and personalized care.” Scott says.

The UVA Licensing and Ventures Group referred Scott to Rebecca Haydock, the SBDC’s Executive Director. “Rebecca and her SBDC colleagues have been an invaluable resource for Springbok,” Scott says. “Each counselor with whom I’ve interacted has been very engaged and truly enthusiastic in their support, whether in making introductions to potential investors, connecting us with other public and private resources, or providing guidance on different aspects of the business.” 

“One of the biggest value-adds for us,” Scott continues, “has been the research and analysis provided by Aaron Miller, Director of the Virginia SBDC’s International Business Development Program, and his team. They produced a comprehensive market research report on the international clinical trial opportunities available, and potential strategic partners for Springbok that would have taken us several months and a lot of money to replicate. I could not have been more impressed with their work product. As a result, we are well-positioned to launch formal business development efforts on a global scale in the coming months.”

Scott summarizes, “From my perspective, the SBDC does an incredible job identifying where the organizational gaps are and where they can add the most value — whether it’s a mom-and-pop shop or an emerging tech company trying to get off the ground. Any small business, whether mature or early stage, should leverage all of the resources the SBDC has to offer.” 

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Pearl Island Foods

A showcase of Caribbean flavors

Received a $146,500 loan from the SBA and increased sales by $650,000

Sober Pierre initially came to Charlottesville to get his MBA at the University of Virginia’s Darden School. This, along with his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, made him a very desirable candidate for corporate America. He held positions at Emerson, Caterpillar, and John Deere. After some reflection, he recognized that his passion wasn’t for the corporate world; he wanted to follow his heart and do something on his own terms.

In 2013, Sober founded Pearl Island Foods to showcase his Haitian culture, make flavorful Caribbean food accessible to the Charlottesville community, and to one day create job opportunities in his family’s beloved country of Haiti.

The company began with the production and sales of a unique brand of spicy coleslaw known as Pikliz. Since then, Sober has joined forces with Executive Chef Javier Figueroa-Ray and successfully launched Pearl Island Catering and Pearl Island Cafe, featuring authentic Caribbean cuisine accessible to the Charlottesville area.

Pearl Island’s success didn’t come without growing pains. Sober sought help from the Central Virginia SBDC along the way. Over the years, Business Advisor Dillon Franks has provided research and business-strategy advice and has assisted Sober with obtaining angel funding. In the wake of the 2020 pandemic, the SBDC’s Business Communications Advisor Greg Dorazio assisted Sober and his team as they pivoted the business to a food-delivery strategy. To help Sober with personnel challenges caused by COVID-19, Sober leaned on Yolunda Harrell, an SBDC Business Advisor.

Sober has also found time to give back to the local community, serving on the Heal Charlottesville grant fund review committee (part of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation), and on the board of City Schoolyard Garden. He is also a graduate of the Board Development Academy, a program of Charlottesville’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

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Your Dinner

Success to-go with the SBDC

Invested $45,000 in equipment, created 3 jobs and retained 2 jobs

When Diane Roll hit the streets with one of the first food trucks in the Rockingham/Augusta county region in 2011, her first stop was the Shenandoah Valley SBDC. “Just because you’re a good cook doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good business person,” Diane says. “The SBDC helped me find a bank that would give me the small business loan I needed when I first got started.”

Diane’s original plan included “grab-and-go” dinners prepared in advance and sold at nearby factories for $6. The idea never took off. “But during that time, I built relationships with companies that would pick up the tab for us to come in and cook,” Diane relates. “That led us into catering.” Another opportunity came when the town of Dayton approached Diane about opening a restaurant. “I was lucky enough to open Dayton Tavern, a full-service restaurant,” she adds. “We had a higher-end clientele there — not to mention the best steaks in 100 miles!”

Diane’s restaurant and catering business continued to expand and prosper, until, as she puts it, “2020 happened.” “COVID temporarily closed the restaurant,” she explains. “We had zero catering and $250,000 in canceled events.” Undeterred by this downtime, Diane began to think about her original idea of “grab-and-go” dinners. She started selling freshly prepared family meals through the Dayton Tavern, a business venture that quickly became popular. “I don’t care how much money you have, everybody likes meatloaf,” she says.

With the “grab-and-go” dinner concept (renamed Your Dinner) now off the back burner, Diane went back to the SBDC for advice. Advisor Don Crawford met with Diane to discuss management, operations, financing, and marketing. The SBDC team also arranged for Diane and her staff to meet with the SBDC’s Retail & Restaurant Advisor Marc Willson.

“We already had a rental space for our catering business,” Diane says. “I decided to rent the whole building for the Your Dinner business. Since we didn’t need all of it, I contacted several other small business owners I knew about sharing the space.” Diane invested her own money to purchase display cases and appliances and to hire three employees to launch Your Dinner. The commitment also allowed two other small businesses to re-locate there and expand. “We now have gourmet popcorn from PrePOPsterous and produce from Radella’s in the North River Marketplace.”

Your Dinner offers everything from fresh soups, salads, and sandwiches to pre-made dinners to take home and heat up. “When you take our food home, put it on your own plate, and heat it in your own microwave, it feels like you made it. There’s a good feeling to it.”

Diane believes in down-home hospitality. It works for her, and she’s happy to pass it on. She is also appreciative of the help she’s received from the SBDC. 

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AquaFloat & Charlottesville HyperBaric

Water and air: Finding success with the basics

AquaFloat saw a 20% increase in sales between 2018 and 2019, plus a $400,000 capital infusion. In addition, BB&T Bank provided a loan of $300,000 for Charlottesville HyperBaric.

Ted O’Neill launched AquaFloat in October 2014. Ted had been a practicing pharmacist for almost 23 years before he discovered float therapy for sensory deprivation. He was intrigued by the seemingly endless application of the treatment, which involves floating in highly salinated water in a completely dark tank. Since floatation therapy was a rapidly expanding market, Ted wanted to explore the business opportunities. He knew that Charlottesville would be an ideal place to launch his new business.

A fellow business owner connected Ted with Betty Hoge, Director of the Central Virginia (CV) SBDC, who charted a tailored plan of action for Ted that proved successful. “Hearing Betty’s objective suggestions and advice were very much welcomed. I spent one or two sessions with her providing the details about AquaFloat — its history, current status, and my vision for the future,” Ted explains. “She began collaborating with me to achieve the goals I had set.”

AquaFloat opened to an enthusiastic welcome from the Charlottesville market. In the past six years, the business, which also offers specialty massage and infrared sauna sessions, has grown, thanks in part to collaborating with Betty. Between 2018 and 2019, AquaFloat saw an approximate 20% increase in sales, thanks to the partnership with the CV SBDC.

As AquaFloat thrived, Ted turned to Betty for assistance with a second closely entwined business endeavor, Charlottesville HyperBaric. This facility will focus on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which research shows works as a primary or complementary therapy for autism, strokes, PTSD, enhanced wound healing, pre- and post-surgery recovery, and more than 40 common conditions.

Once again, Betty readily assisted Ted with the “humongous” business plan for the sister company. “I made Betty aware of CHB early in our relationship but didn’t begin working on a business plan until 2018,” Ted says. “Betty was essential to the creation of the business plan for Charlottesville HyperBaric. She coached me on its structure, syntax, and necessary financials. After a lengthy process, we are excited to announce a March 2020 launch date.”

According to Ted, Betty has been the key to Charlottesville HyperBaric’s successful materialization. The business received a $300,000 SBA 7(a) loan through BB&T Bank in October 2019. Ted feels Betty’s coaching gave the team greater credibility with the bank because of the long-standing relationship between BB&T and the CV SBDC.

“This would never have happened without her help,” Ted says. “Betty is an unbelievably competent and enthusiastic supporter of small business. She has helped me beyond measure.”

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The Rooms Up There

Up and away: Rooms at the top in Marshall

Dan Moore received a $100,000 bank loan to expand The Drawing Room and develop a commercial kitchen.

In a world flooded with ubiquitous hotels, motels, and unfiltered Airbnbs, Dan Moore envisioned offering something different. “I only see what will be when I look at space,” Dan says with a nod to his irrepressible designer eye. When Dan saw the stately building on Main Street in Marshall, he knew it would be home to The Rooms Up There. Three rooms to be exact, as well as Dan’s successful design business located on the first floor along with another small shop.

The structure that houses The Rooms Up There is over 200 years old. Portions of the building have previously housed a fabric shop, a stone storehouse, and a two-story log house. Dan explains, “Now, it is best described as an inn.” The “rooms” themselves are located over the first floor. Guests access them via a private courtyard and then through a coded side entrance upstairs to one of three upper rooms. Each room has a king-size bed and a private bath featuring Italian marble.

For Dan, the beauty of The Rooms Up There lies in how seamlessly it blends into Marshall’s quaint scene. “You would never know we were here. We have rehabilitated and renewed existing space which I think is appropriate in a town like Marshall,” he says. With over 27 wineries in the area, it’s an ideal getaway location for folks looking to enjoy a weekend away from the Northern Virginia and DC traffic.

The Lord Fairfax SBDC was there when Dan needed help with financial projections, market data research, and a marketing plan. “Christine Kriz is sort of like a celebrity here in Marshall,” Dan explains. “She and her team got me out and introduced me to the community. She not only holds seminars, she attends them too.”

The Rooms Up There was named Best of Fauquier 2019 in the hotel/lodging category. Dan feels certain that his business would not have received this recognition without the support of the Lord Fairfax SBDC and Christine Kriz. “I would definitely credit that to the SBDC,” he says. “Christine is ground zero for me. I couldn’t have done it without her help.”

The Rooms Up There also offers space for private events and catering in its banquet hall, The Drawing Room. Dan hopes to expand this space over the coming months with the development of a commercial kitchen. He has his eye on going after Best of Fauquier for another year. “I want to see if we can do it again,” he says. “In April we will go into our fourth year, and I’m excited to see what’s next.”

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