Category: Central

SD Solutions

SD Solutions

Finding solutions at the SBDC

With the SBDC’s help, SD Solutions is in a stronger position because they started the process of diversifying through international markets.

Finding solutions is all in a day’s work for Balaji Venkatesan. His company, SD Solutions, offers services ranging from cybersecurity and information technology (IT) to acquisition support and governance. The company, which currently employs 40, has served such notable clients as the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Election Commission.

Doing well domestically, SD Solutions wanted to enter the international market. There was one problem. “SD Solutions needed a way to make connections,” Balaji says. Enter the Virginia SBDC: solution found!

Balaji discovered the SBDC almost by chance. “They had a table set up at a small business conference I was attending,” he explains. “I went over and talked with them.” Balaji quickly realized the SBDC had the connections and resources he was seeking to help him enter the international market.

“Balaji initially reached out to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program to gain insight on international markets for SD Solutions’ broad range of services,” the SBDC International Trade Manager Aaron Miller says. “SD employees brought 20-plus years of experience in the federal space domestically and wanted to utilize this deep body of knowledge in dealings abroad.”

Balaji asked the SBDC to help him attain information on countries where internet and cybersecurity services were minimal, particularly in government and financial institutions. “We were also looking for breakout opportunities in the infrastructure protection and health industries on the international level,” Balaji adds.

The SBDC’s research was helpful in all of these areas. “Aaron was a big help with networking and making introductions for us,” Balaji notes. “He looked at competitors within the identified markets.” The SBDC also helped the company get into the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “Through VALET, SD Solutions was able to take numerous international trips to attend trade shows in Panama, the United Kingdom, and Peru,” Aaron says.

Since working with the SBDC, SD Solutions has increased its international visibility. “We’re definitely getting a lot of calls on marketing,” Balaji says. “We’ve had quite a few new leads.” SD Solutions’ possibilities for international business are also looking up. “SD Solutions is in a stronger position because they started the process of diversifying through international markets” Aaron says.

As to the chance encounter that brought international trade solutions to his company, Balaji says, “I absolutely plan to continue with the SBDC. I want to thank them for all their help. Hopefully more businesses will leverage the services we found at the SBDC.”

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Pop to the top: Gourmet popcorn brings dreams to life

With a Virginia Small Business Financing Authority (VSBFA) microloan of $15,000, new equipment was bought and production quadrupled.

Before her days as a successful entrepreneur, Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah sold gourmet popcorn for a retailer in her home town, and one thing was certain: “There was nothing you could do serving gourmet popcorn that could make anyone unhappy,” she says laughing.

This simple truth stayed with Tisha along the winding path that led her back to, of all places, her own kitchen. With an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Kansas, Tisha pursued a career in higher education, and today she is the Director of MBA Programs at James Madison University. But she never forgot the love of popcorn. She credits the SBDC with helping her take a dream and turn it into a delicious reality. She started creating endless combinations of gourmet popcorn from her own home.

In 2014, the Shenandoah Valley SBDC sponsored the “What’s Cooking” program, where local culinary artists like Tisha could compete for funding and learn valuable small business skills. Her business proposal for PrePOPsterous became a top-prize winner, and the business was officially established soon after.

Tisha’s ties with the SBDC were just beginning. Working closely with advisor Allison Dugan, she applied for a microloan from the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority (VSBFA) that enabled her to buy desperately needed equipment, so she could quadruple her production. Increased production is not without its challenges for this dynamic mother of two, who explains that it’s not uncommon to find her up and working hard at 2 AM, filling orders, making popcorn, or experimenting with new flavors. “You really have to have a heart for it,” says Tisha. And it’s clear that she does. PrePOPsterous encapsulates Tisha’s drive to succeed, grow, and learn, and it has been matched, step for step, by advisor Allison.

“Allison is so well connected,” says Tisha, “not just in the community but throughout the state. And every one of those connections are an invaluable resource to me,” she adds. “Allison has more ideas than I can keep up with. She’s constantly recommending people for me to talk to or new avenues of growth to explore,” adds Tisha.

Poised for the busiest holiday season to date, Tisha says the SBDC has played a critical role in PrePOPsterous’s existence. “They have been essential in the development and growth of my business. They are wonderful advocates for small businesses and have their pulse on resources available to help businesses grow,” she says.

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Next Generation Auto Body

Next Generation Auto Body

Auto body shop makes new turn

An SBA guaranteed loan allowed Jennifer and Chris to buy out their two partners, increase revenues, and create 1 new job.

Jennifer and Chris Wiser started the business in 2013 with two other partners and continued to build it over the following five years. Then the other partners decided they wanted to sell their portion of the business and pursue other interests. “We needed to get a loan to buy them out,” Jennifer relates.

Jennifer and Chris went to their bank to see how to proceed. Their commercial loan officer referred them to David Reardon, Business Counselor at the Lord Fairfax SBDC in Culpeper. “In order to get the loan, we had to present a three-year projection for our business,” Jennifer continues.

At that point David guided Jennifer and Chris through the loan process. David entered three years of company balance sheet and income statement records into ProfitCents, a financial software tool, to develop financial projections.

“After we applied for the loan, the Small Business Administration underwriter came back with a request for additional information that included a complete income statement for 2018,” Jennifer says. To meet this requirement David used ProfitCents again to enter six months of real data and six months of extrapolated data that tied into the 2018 projections. With the SBDC’s help, the applications were completed, and the SBA loan was approved, allowing Next Generation to continue to serve the Culpeper community. “It’s our busy season now,” Jennifer explains. “Cold weather and deer!”

Jennifer and Chris are grateful to the SBDC for smoothing out this hurdle in their business plan. “The SBDC did help us tremendously with the loan process,” Jennifer says. “We had to have these reports to get the loan we needed. I would not have been able to do it by myself.”

This is the first time Jennifer and Chris have used the SBDC. But it won’t be their last. The SBDCs have the tools and the talent to help solve problems that small businesses encounter. “We definitely will consider working with the SBDC in the future,” Jennifer concludes. “I would recommend the SBDC to other businesses.”

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Finding a formula for growth

PurSolutions was awarded a $225,000 NSF-SBIR grant, increased sales by 3 times, created 3 new jobs.

Beattie Sturgill, Emma Sturgill, and Prashant Singh can tell you all about the science of cytoskeletal proteins, but they learned that finding a formula for success in the world of small business is not so easy.

The three co-founders of PurSolutions started their bootstrapped venture in the complex life-science industry in 2015. Their focus was the manufacture of proteins used in cancer and disease research. Good science and good business, as the partners soon discovered, require different areas of expertise.

“In 2015 we went to see Betty Hoge, Director of the Central Virginia SBDC in Charlottesville,” Beattie says. “We needed help navigating the small business world.” In Betty Hoge, the PurSolutions partners found both a coach and a counselor. “We met one or two times a month,” Beattie recalls. “We would talk about problems we were having, and discuss solutions with Betty.”

Betty helped the partners navigate available resources, verify and refine their business model, and find ways to expand to new markets. “Being a small business with only three partners, we were extremely invested in our company, and that can cloud your vision,” Beattie notes. “We took our ideas and strategies to Betty and she would provide valuable insight. The SBDC provided a valuable third-party review of our business that helped us grow.”

Practical applications of these reviews were soon apparent. “For example, we had some hypothesis about some market trends we were seeing. So Betty had us do some customer outreach, and helped us to refine our hypothesis based on the data,” Beattie explains. The SBDC’s development tools were also helpful. “Tools like the Growth Wheel helped provide a forward looking review of our company,” Beattie says.

When PurSolutions applied for a NSF-SBIR grant, the SBDC was there to help. “Betty was definitely instrumental in helping us develop a strong application,” Beattie says. “She provided key facts and helpful feedback during our reviews with her.” The award rate for this grant is only 12% nationwide. “That we received that SBIR grant is a testament to the assistance and support provided to PurSolutions by the Central Virginia SBDC,” he adds.

The SBDC also advised the company on filing several patent and trademark applications and on expanding its workforce by employing talented professionals in multiple facets of the business. Future growth was also a topic at the SBDC meetings. “Company growth was the focus of almost every talk we had with Betty,” Beattie notes. “It was the heart of every meeting.”

After working with the SBDC for three years, Beattie and his partners are confirmed fans. “I tell other business associates about the SBDC,” he concludes. “Even if they’ve been in business for years, I still recommend a visit to the SBDC. It’s like having a checkup with your doctor — it’s a good business practice.”

PurSolutions was awarded a $225,000 NSF-SBIR grant, increased sales, and

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Birch Studio Graphics

Creative Solutions

Became profitable through focused marketing and financial management, despite adverse effects of the 2009 recession. Increased revenues by more than 35% in the past year with substantially more growth in net income.

Birch Studio Graphic became a client of the Central Virginia SBDC in 2004 when the owners, David and Jenny Robinson, sought assistance in developing a marketing strategy.  It quickly became apparent that the firm needed assistance in marketing tactics, including prospect development, pricing, as well as overall financial and human resource management.  The company, which is now positioned as a branding firm, provides graphic and web design services to small and mid-sized businesses.  The company sought guidance from the SBDC on purchasing and financing their office site, human resource management (staffing, job descriptions, hiring/termination practices), and annual budgeting and financial management to improve profitability.

The Center assisted the company in analyzing profitability at the firm level and productivity at the worker level,  as well as providing recommendations on prospect development, sales calling tactics, pricing, and process management within the firm to improve profitability. It also assisted in looking at expansion into new markets for its directory of alternative health care providers, which generates revenue for the company through advertisements in the directory. The company experienced a serious decline in revenue during the recession and refocused its marketing direction.  In the past few years, the Center has assisted the owner in his development of an annual budget and recommended refinancing of existing debt to improve cash flow.

Results Include:

  • Became profitable through focused marketing and financial management, despite adverse effects of the 2009 recession.
  • Increased revenues by more than 35% in the past year with substantially more growth in net income.
  • Re-hiring staff (1 added in 2012).
  • Acquisition of the office space that owners operate and successfully refinanced in 2012 at the recommendation of a bank referral by the SBDC.
  • Most importantly, development of owners into proactive business managers compared to graphic designers with no plan or strategy which was the initial situation.

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Taste Oil Vinegar Spice, Culpeper

Taste Oil Vinegar Spice

A Hint of Spice

The Culpeper store opened in October, 2011, and the response was so overwhelming that by early spring of 2012 George and Janet had repaid their savings accounts and made plans to open a second store in Fredericksburg, VA. Today, the product uniqueness of the two stores attracts a healthy clientele. The stores employ seven part-time staff in addition to George and Janet.

“Taste Oil Vinegar Spice is dedicated to providing only the highest quality ingredients to enhance your favorite dishes and bring out the best flavors of nature’s bounty. At Taste, we believe that ‘Fresh trumps everything.’ That’s is why we offer only the freshest olive oils and organic spices from around the world, complimented by the most flavorful balsamic vinegars imported from Modena, Italy.”

This statement highlights the home page of Taste Oil Vinegar Spice which is located on East Davis St. in Culpeper, VA.

The owners, George Farrar and his spouse Janet Davis, are both retired Navy veterans. After second careers, they moved to Amissville, VA, and decided to start their own business. The idea for the oil, vinegar, and spice shop came to them during visits to Maine and Paris where they wandered into shops sampling vinegars and oils.

George and Janet first visited the Lord Fairfax SBDC at Culpeper in the summer of 2011 to pitch their idea and to get information and advice on what they should do as far as registering with the federal, state, and local jurisdictions. At the meeting they expressed interest in securing financing through SBA’s Patriot Express Loan program. Ultimately, they decided to self fund the start-up costs and initial operating expenses from their personal savings.

They opened the Culpeper store in October, 2011, and the response was so overwhelming that by early spring of 2012 they had repaid their savings accounts and made plans to open a second store in Fredericksburg, VA.

Today, the product uniqueness of the two stores attracts a healthy clientele. The stores employ seven part-time staff in addition to George and Janet.

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Savvy Rest

Savvy Success

Sales have increased over 30% and the client is now exporting to Canada. The company was listed for a third consecutive year in Inc. magazine’s fastest growing 500 small companies.

Savvy Rest. Inc. became a client of the Central Virginia SBDC in November 2010, when the founder and owner, Michael Penny, was referred by a local economic development official.  The company initially sought assistance to refine the strategic direction of the company and marketing tactics to continue to expand its sales growth.

The company, which manufactures natural latex mattresses and organic bedding products and accessories, had distribution through independent retailers, one company-owned store in Ivy, VA, and an online sales presence.  The company was also seeking financing sources and has since sought guidance from the SBDC on a facility acquisition, company credit policy and procedures and human resource/organization planning.

The Center formed a team of counselors covering financial and marketing expertise to assist the company in analyzing their profitability and capabilities by expanding its dealer network and retail operation. Over the past two years, the Center provided over 35 hours of counseling to this second-stage business.  The Center recommended more focus on marketing through the dealer network with improved tactics to help the dealers grow sales.   The Center referred financing sources which resulted in a line of credit.  It has also provided counseling assistance in considering a facility acquisition and credit policies and collection practices as well as on organization and staffing training and development.

As a result:

  • Sales have increased over 30% and the client is now exporting to Canada.
  • Employees increased by over 35%.
  • A permanent trade showroom was added at the World Furniture Market.
  • A second retail location was added in Vienna, Virginia.
  • A four-acre commercial parcel in Nelson County was acquired for future planned   relocation.
  • The company created an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).
  • Company was listed for third consecutive year in Inc. magazine’s fastest growing 500 small companies.

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Showalter Orchard & Greenhouse, Timerberville

Showalter Orchard & Greenhouse

Growing Success

Gross sales for this business have increased 53% since 2010, they have added 3 new jobs, and are well-situated for continued expansion.

In 2003, Sarah and Shannon Showalter purchased Showalter’s Orchard & Greenhouse in Timberville, VA, from Shannon’s parents, who had started the orchards in 1965. The greenhouse provides wholesale and retail bedding, vegetable, and fruit plants, plus container gardens. The orchard was mostly retail for about 20 varieties of apples. They made and sold sweet apple cider through retail outlets locally and through distributors in Virginia. The commercial cider sales were limited due to no UPC code on the packaging.

The Showalters knew they had potential to expand and diversify but were not sure how to go about it. Dealing with the day-to-day tasks while working harder each year just to maintain sales did not allow them time to focus on long-term planning or to step back and assess the profitability of their various enterprises. They knew the farm, the orchards, and their market, but they lacked confidence that they knew what was best for the business. They came to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC in July 2011 for assistance in setting strategic goals and making concrete plans to achieve them.

At the SV-SBDC, Sarah and Shannon explored their options. One was to expand into grapes as a commodity and to add a winery to take advantage of state incentives being offered at that time. Betty Hoge, SV-SBDC Business Advisor, suggested that rather than branching into an unknown crop and new production methods, they look instead at a product they already knew well – hard apple cider. The Showalter family has been making hard cider for personal use for generations, and the market in Virginia was just opening up. The SV-SBDC provided them with market research, and they quickly learned about the requirements and regulations. They began production of Old Hill Hard Cider in the fall of 2011 and applied for a USDA Value-Added Grant for $300,000 marketing project for Old Hill.

The Showalters met on a regular basis throughout 2012 at the SV-SBDC and began to identify specific activities as revenue centers for their business. They wrote new mission statements, set clear goals, and established budgets for each segment of the business. Their traditional fall festival changed from a simple activity to a popular full-day event of local food, artisans, and activities (including “pick your own”) with more than doubling attendance and increasing revenues by 50% in two years. They introduced the first bottles of Old Hill Hard Apple Cider at their Spring Festival and quickly sold out.

Today, the Showalters are primed for growth and success. “Our SBDC counselor has become a trusted, necessary part of our business management team. The SBDC has offered us access to resources and expert advice that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford at this point in our business development,” they said.

Gross sales for this business have increased 53% since 2010, they have added 3 new jobs, and are well-situated for continued expansion.

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Service Center Metals, Prince George

Service Center Metals

Service Center Metals: Servicing Success

Service Center Metals has approved funding to add an 80,000 square feet state-of-the-art, environmental friendly Cast House, requiring 16 new employees in 2013.

Service Center Metals (SMC) incorporated in 2001 and began operations in 2003 with their first aluminum extrusion line. They expanded again in 2006, adding their second extrusion line. Their growth rate has exceeded 15% per year except in 2008 and 2009 when the market for aluminum extrusions slowed down due to the recession, which required a workforce reduction. By 2011, the market for aluminum extrusions had fully recovered, and SMC was able to return the business to full employment with 118 employees.

2012 was a record performance year. They have developed a manufacturing model that has made them the most competitive and efficient aluminum extrusion manufacturer in the world. They developed a world-class employee incentive program where the production employees receive bonuses they have earned on a daily basis and management staff on an annual basis. SCM has an excellent safety record and a system of communications that demonstrate the effectiveness of a “high performance team,” creating excellent quality products and services. They have developed and promoted an excellent Innovation Program rewarding their employees for their excellent ideas. SCM has a richly diverse innovative workforce focused on being the best. They treat them well with excellent salaries, benefits, and recognition. Service Center Metals’ product quality and delivery service are the best in the industry, satisfying the most critical of clients. They have proven that they have staying power and are focused on growth.

Service Center Metals has approved funding to add an 80,000 sq-ft state-of-the-art, environmental friendly Cast House, requiring 16 new employees in 2013. It will convert scrap aluminum from operations into new billets that will go back into manufacturing.

The Founding Partners abilities are demonstrated in their market share, the number of companies that want to do business with them, and the growth rate of their business. Service Center Metals is truly a gazelle company with a very bright future and is a good example of a solution for putting our nation back to work with excellent quality jobs that create a thriving economy. They have become a real asset to the Greater Richmond Region. A business that has survived “The Great Recession” and returned to growth in such a short period of time is very special.

GRSBDC role has been an advisor for SBA financial options, for VDBA options for workforce training that expands businesses, and for creating public recognition with nominations for The Greater Richmond Chamber’s Impact Award (2005, 2006) and SBA Small Business Person of the Year Award (2011, 2012).

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Faye’s Office Supply, Orange

Faye’s Office Supply

Faye’s Office Supply: Ordering Success

Today there are nine team members, and she will celebrate her 20th anniversary as Faye’s Office Supply.  Faye’s is a member of the Orange, Culpeper, and Madison Chambers of Commerce.

Faye Gish runs a busy office supply business where she explains earnestly, “I don’t have staff or employees, I have a fantastic team.” Today there are nine team members, and she will celebrate her 20th anniversary as Faye’s Office Supply.  Faye’s is a member of the Orange, Culpeper, and Madison Chambers of Commerce.

She started out by doing bookkeeping and renting a third of her father’s building in Locust Grove; she poured her earnings into buying inventory for the office supply business she wanted to build. Faye comes from a family of entrepreneurs.  Her father mentored her and her four siblings, each of whom owns a business along with a lot of her nieces and nephews.  Office supply appealed to her personal bent for organization.  In six and a half years, she grew into half her father’s building and then occupied all of it.

During this time, Faye had become friends with a woman who owned the office supply store in Orange.  When she was ready to sell, she asked if Faye was interested in buying it.  Within two days, Faye had two locations, but eight months later she consolidated her business in the Orange location  She is part of a buying group that allows her pricing to be competitive, and the Central Virginia SBDC helped her to identify her best customer targets so she could more effectively focus her sales and marketing efforts.

Now her team includes her husband, son, and daughter along with five others dedicated to customer service, the quality Faye sees as 95% essential to her success.  At team meetings, insights and suggestions are shared, including observations by their delivery driver, Faye’s son.

When she had questions, Faye turned to the SBDC, and she has taken advantage of a number of SBDC workshops, including a retail program that was part presentation and part on-site visit. As a result of the “fresh eyes” and the expert’s evaluation, she made changes in the store’s physical appearance and signage.  She appreciates the range of SBDC programs, from meeting the needs of start-up companies to those of older, growing businesses like hers.  As the recent recession hit, the SBDC produced a useful checklist about how to cut costs, a document she shared with fellow Chamber members.

Faye notes that “the hard part is working in your business while also working on it.” Clearly she finds it energizing to take webinars and SBDC trainings while also managing her team, serving her clients and building her business. She laughs that her duties include “sales, accounting, deliveries, promotion, and bathroom cleaning.” And clearly, she’s looking forward to the next twenty years of her business and counting on the SBDC to be there for her.

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