Category: Hampton Roads

Dominion Psychological Associates LLC

Counseling was “heaven sent” for Dominion Psychological Associates

Started a new business and received a grant.


Michelle Lankford-Johnson was ready to launch Dominion Psychological Associates (DPA) in 2021 — pandemic or not. Fortunately, the Hampton Roads SBDC and Associate Director Debra Farley were on hand to help her establish that business.

“Debra Farley and the SBDC were heaven sent,” Michelle affirms.

In actuality, it was an earthly messenger, Michelle’s sister, who pointed her toward the SBDC after attending a class at Thomas Nelson Community College. “My sister told me the person teaching that class could tell me everything I needed to know about running a business,” Michelle notes. “I called Debra, made an appointment, and that was it!”

Michelle’s initial meeting with Debra began with crafting a plan. “Debra told me, “Number one is always a business plan,’” Michelle recalled. “Debra was very direct about that and a lot of other things — that’s what I like about her.”

Along with discussion of a business plan, Michelle received practical advice on how to get started. “We talked about how to register a business with the city,” Michelle explains. “Debra also made sure I knew who was important to have on my team — a banker, lawyer, CPA, and bookkeeper — things like that.”

Following the SBDC’s advice, Michelle registered her business last September. “From September to June 2021, I worked with the SBDC doing webinars and getting the groundwork done, so I could launch the business,” Michelle explains. “In grad school, they taught us a lot about social work but, then when I got a license, I suddenly realized — there’s a business part to this. I feel blessed to have help from the SBDC.”

Currently, Michelle is working with the SBDC to complete her business plan. “With Debra’s help, I’m going through the business plan to make sure I’ll be able to explain it,” Michelle says. “Once that’s done, I plan to apply to the city for funds to help with the set-up costs.”

Recently, Debra introduced Michelle to the SWaM (Small, Women-Owned, and Minority-Owned) business program. “I qualify for each area of SWaM,” Michelle notes. “There are benefits in that program, and I plan to take advantage of them.”

As a counselor herself, Michelle especially appreciates the business counseling she’s received from the SBDC. “When you hit that brick wall and don’t know which way to go next, having someone there to tell you the right way to go is extremely helpful,” she adds.

Michelle is already spreading the word about her number one resource — the SBDC. “You need a good foundation when you start a business,” she concludes. “The SBDC is an excellent resource to get you through those important first steps and be confident about the future.”

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Virginia Aquarium

A lifeline to grant funding for the Virginia Aquarium

Received a $4.5 million Shuttered Venues Operators Grant (SVOG).

Since 1986, the Virginia Aquarium has offered a uniquely personal view of the marine environment. In 2020, when COVID challenged the aquarium’s mission, Director Cynthia Spanoulis wisely turned to the Hampton Roads SBDC for help.

Cynthia, who holds a master’s degree in public administration, started her career in economic development. It was her work for the Department of Economic Development that led her to the SBDC. “That’s where I met Jim Carroll, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC,” Cynthia relates.

When the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant for entertainment, museum, and theater venues was announced, Cynthia called the SBDC. “We’re a government entity and that made the process of applying more complicated,” she relates. “For example, they asked for a tax return, but the city of Virginia Beach doesn’t have one. Another challenge was to document payroll. What documents could I print from the city’s payroll system? I had a whole list of questions.”

The SBDC provided clarification on all of those questions. “Jim helped me with the nuances in language in the grant application,” Cynthia says. “We lost significant revenue due to COVID, so the SBDC’s help in applying for that grant was especially valuable.”

The aquarium received a grant for $4.5 million in July 2021, which presented an accounting problem. “July was the start of a new fiscal year, and I had to figure out which expenses to report in which fiscal year,” Cynthia adds. “Jim walked me through the accounting with that as well.”

Cynthia views the SBDC as the lifeline that connected the aquarium with much-needed grant funding to continue operations and implement COVID-related changes. “COVID did have a few shining lights,” Cynthia says. “With COVID, our educational programs all went virtual, so now we’re able to get programs into more school systems across the state. That’s always been a goal of mine.”

With the end of the pandemic not yet in sight, the aquarium plans to maintain its relationship with the SBDC. “I recently found out about another federal grant for entities that provide STEM education,” Cynthia says. “I plan to reach out to the SBDC about that as well.”

Cynthia enthusiastically recommends the SBDC. “If SBDC doesn’t have the information you’re looking for, they’ll find someone who does,” she concludes. “Whether you’re starting a new business or applying for a grant, SBDC’s advice and one-on-one assistance is invaluable.”

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Barbara H. Smith LLC

Business basics add to corporate trainer’s success

Income increased 40%

Everyone is familiar with having their boss or company CEO lead a training, but who do they call when the boss or CEO themselves need the training? Cue Barbara H. Smith of Barbara H. Smith, LLC.

Barbara had been employed in workforce training for various companies and educational institutions for over 20 years. In 2012, she decided to strike out on her own. Known as “the celebrity speaker and masterful presenter,” Barbara launched a speaking, training, and coaching business to help company leaders. “My background was in information technology, but I also had a personality,” she explains. “Basically, I was a geek with personality.”

Barbara previously connected with the Hampton Roads SBDC while working for a construction firm. “I needed to learn about government contracts at that time, and Debra Farley [Associate Executive Director] from the SBDC advised me,” Barbara recalls.

That SBDC connection would help Barbara as she started her new company. “I was working in my business, but I didn’t know how to work on my business,” she relates. “Debra sat down with me and talked about things like cash flow projections and marketing strategies — stuff I’d never thought about. She really guided me through the process,” Barbara recalls.

Barbara’s business specializes in helping small business, corporate, and government clients with their training needs using technology. “These clients use the technology but sometimes do not understand that technology is only one tool for training”. Understanding how to get results with training using the technology is where being a liaison helps,” she relates. “My business had really taken off. At the start of 2020, I had just set a date for sexual harassment training for the Coast Guard — a $30,000 contract.” But the pandemic took a savage bite out of Barbara’s newly gained momentum, wiping out existing contracts and making new work difficult to find. “That contract evaporated along with others — at that time my contracts were all face-to-face,” Barbara says.

Not one to despair, Barbara turned to her specialty: technology by turning a face-to-face business into something workable for these new times. “I knew how to do use Zoom,” she says. “Because of my technology skills, 2020 turned out to be my best year ever.”

As the nation enters the COVID recovery phase, Barbara’s speaking business is growing by leaps and bounds. Recently, she was selected as one of 13 speaker delegates to represent the United States in Kenya, she has her own TV show (The Barbara H. Smith Show) streaming on the IBMTV network, Amazon Fire, and Roku, and is looking forward to a corporate training session on Excel in Las Vegas.

Barbara credits the SBDC with helping her achieve much of this success. “My income has increased at least 40 percent as a result of guidance from the SBDC,” she notes. “Debra has connected me on so many levels — those connections allowed me to work with platforms and companies that I otherwise could not have accessed.”

Barbara readily recommends the SBDC. “Because of the SBDC, my small business stayed in business during COVID,” she concludes. “I know I can count on them to always point me in the right direction.”

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Captain Groovy’s Grill & Raw Bar

Staying afloat during the pandemic

Secured over $1 million in COVID-related SBA loans and grants


Less than a mile from the harbor, Captain Groovy’s Grill & Raw Bar has been serving fresh, local seafood to residents and tourists in the Norfolk area since 2007. Captain Groovy’s is named after Owner Sandy White’s late first husband, who passed away in 2000. Sandy is the majority owner while her husband David Watts, a trained chef, runs the kitchen.

Boasting a menu that Sandy says appeals to everyone — with burgers, sandwiches, specialty cocktails, and a rotating “blackboard” menu in addition to all manner of maritime munchies — Captain Groovy’s has enjoyed a consistent run of success since its first year of opening. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, not even Captain Groovy’s was spared its effects.

“We shut the restaurant down,” Sandy says. “We laid everybody off. We had to figure it out.”

Compounding those unforeseen financial hardships was what Sandy classifies as an uncharacteristically slow 2019 that dug into the restaurant’s “rainy day” account. With their reserves depleted and business grounded for the foreseeable future, Sandy turned to the Hampton Roads SBDC for guidance, both financial and operational.

“We put a lot of effort into [our recovery],” Sandy says. “I took every webinar that [the SBDC] and our local SCORE group put out there — anything I could find that I thought would help. I signed up for everything so I could learn how to do it and do it correctly.”

Over the next few weeks, Sandy and David leaned on guidance provided by SBDC consultants like Mike Austin to plot a course that would keep Captain Groovy’s afloat. To keep customers coming in the door, the restaurant operated on a to-go basis and also established a general store, selling local fare and gifts. They received more than $1 million in COVID-related loans and grants, the majority of which went to rehiring employees.

“I honestly don’t know if we would still be here if not for the [Paycheck Protection Program] loans and the help we got,” Sandy adds.

Now with mask and social distancing mandates lifted in the Commonwealth, Captain Groovy’s is operating at near full capacity five days a week and serving plenty of chatty locals and tourists.

“Customers are coming out. They want to be out,” Sandy says. “The big topic of conversation is their shots — I got mine, did you get yours, how did you react? We’re doing well. We’re proceeding cautiously, but we’re doing well.”

And while Captain Groovy’s may not be full steam ahead quite yet, Sandy says she is happy to put the worst of the pandemic in her wake.

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Walker Seafood

Call of the coast

Received a $5000 grant and increased sales by 120%

Revel Walker always knew that being a waterman was in his blood. Stretching back to 1889, Walker Seafood represents six generations, each of whom worked the waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They sell whole in-shell clams and oysters, both farm-raised and wild-caught, to suppliers throughout the country.

Due to careful planning and years of practice, Revel can grow and harvest oysters and clams throughout the entire year, which makes his business invaluable to distributors, who resell to upscale restaurants and grocery stores in New York, Boston, and other metropolitan areas.

The oysters are grown in the temperate waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. With a grow-out time of about a year and a half, timing is everything. “What’s important to my customers is that I have a year-round supply,” Revel says. “Planning digs is important, because we dig 30 to 45 bushels at a time.”

After working in the family business for years, Revel navigated a lot of change when he took the helm in 2013. Then he went full time (became a “co-oper”) and stepped into the lead at Walker Seafood. That posed its own set of challenges.
“Things like paperwork, invoices, and making sure everyone gets paid on time — this was all stuff that was new to me and were things that I’ve had to get the hang of as I’ve gone along,” Revel says. Fortunately, he didn’t have to look far for help. “The Hampton Roads SBDC-Eastern Shore to me is George Bryan,” Revel says. “I took his class when I knew I was going out on my own. George advised me on what loans to apply for. He gave me some good pointers on budgeting and finance,” Revel adds.

With COVID-19 sweeping the country, Walker Seafood had to navigate some decreases in demand as restaurants struggled with pandemic-related closures. “Sales are definitely down in the Northeast,” Revel notes. Fortunately, he has been able to meet consistent sales goals by reaching out to new customers. Revel says the family name is so well known within the industry that it works as its own calling card.

In the end, no amount of name recognition will make up for a product that isn’t up to par. Revel is proud to bring fresh seafood to his distributors that more than lives up to his family’s well-known name. And he couldn’t have done it without the help of the SBDC.

“We aren’t just competing with other local growers,” Revel says. “Walker Seafood has instant name recognition. My dad and uncle were the people to start doing the farm-raised clams and oysters. You have to have the product to back that up. And we do.”

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Mt. Everest Karate Studio

The SBDC goes to the mat for karate studio

Received a $10,000 Rebuild VA grant

It’s been an uphill climb for Carlos Rivas since opening his Mt. Everest Karate Studio in Suffolk three years ago. “I started teaching karate in 1996,” he says. “Then in 2017 I took a leap of faith and opened a studio in the Crittenden community.” Two years later Carlos rented the space next door, doubling the size of his studio.

While Carlos knew his karate, he wasn’t as adept at selling his services. “I started losing students because I didn’t know how to market properly,” he admits. “I hired a business consultant who specialized in martial arts. His advice was to get in touch with the community I was working in, but the expense was high.”
To get his business back on track, Carlos decided to reach out elsewhere. “That’s how I met Debra Farley, Associate Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC,” Carlos says. “I told Debra I was looking for a business microloan. She was very helpful and scheduled an appointment for us to meet right away.”

Debra connected Carlos with Karen White at the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority. “Karen helped me secure a microloan for $25,000,” Carlos adds. “The process was easy and straightforward, and Debra and Karen were always available whenever I had questions. I could not have done this without their help.”

Things were looking up for Carlos, but then COVID-19 happened. “We were closed down for 14 weeks,” he explains. Carlos turned to Zoom classes to keep his students engaged, adding extras like a weekly scavenger hunt. “I had to be creative, like everybody else. I offered prizes — $1, $5, even $20,” he says. “The kids loved it, and parents loved it, too.”

The karate studio opened its doors again on July 6. “When I reopened, Karen told me about the Rebuild VA grant,” Carlos relates. This application process was more complicated and had a few “hiccups” along the way. Nevertheless, when Carlos opened his mail one day, he was thrilled to find a $10,000 check from Rebuild VA.

“I was jumping up and down,” he says. “Debra and Karen steered me in the right direction throughout the application. I would not have received this grant without their support.”

Carlos is pleased to report that business is picking up. “I signed six new students this month,” he says. “Things are turning around.” He credits the SBDC with making it happen.

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ABC Consulting

Focusing on success with the SBDC

Increased sales by 300%

Crystal Stump launched her ABC Consulting business with a good idea. But as time went on, she found it wasn’t enough. “I was 27 years old and a five-year employee of the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority when I terminated my special agent position and started my own business,” Crystal explains. “I felt that the small businesses I worked with needed someone on their team with the knowledge to navigate the alcohol licensing process. I knew I was that person.”

While her business model was sound, Crystal found managing her own business to be a challenge. “Because I didn’t know how to manage a small business, I quickly created credit card debt,” she relates. At that point, Crystal decided she needed help. “I reached out to the Isle of Wight Chamber of Commerce,” Crystal says. “They referred me to Jim Carroll, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC.”

Crystal sees it as a turning point for her business. “My first meeting with Jim Carroll was a painful one,” she admits. “I had to be honest with him so he could provide guidance. We looked at my biggest challenges and what was working — and what wasn’t — and started making plans. I found myself constantly thinking about not making enough money,” Crystal continues. “Once I changed my focus and looked at how I was helping my clients, it was amazing to see the difference.”

That positive focus led to a complete turnaround for Crystal, as well as for her business. “I will never forget Jim Carroll’s smile when we reviewed my profit and loss report a year later,” Crystal recalls. “My sales had increased by an unbelievable 300%.”

Jim also introduced Crystal to workshops offered by the SBDC. “The course on social media was especially helpful,” she adds. “I decided to outsource my social media to the speaker for that course, Wendy Craighill. That was a big help in reaching new prospects.” The SBDC, Crystal affirms, taught her to focus on things she could do herself and outsource the rest.

When the COVID-19 crisis brought a downturn to her business, Crystal again turned to the SBDC for assistance. “Jim Carroll and his team assisted me with applications for various grants, which were approved,” she adds. Since March, Crystal has used her expertise to assist restaurant clients placing skilled gaming machines in their businesses.

“When the state regulations changed to allow skilled gaming, I was ready to help game distributors apply the right way,” Crystal explains. “I also launched a YouTube channel to get information to my subscribers. As a business owner, you have to adapt and move forward.”

Moving forward has been the name of the game for Crystal since she signed on with the SBDC. “Today, I am out of debt, I have learned to hire great help for what I cannot do, I have retirement savings, and my dream is ten times bigger than it was ten years ago,” Crystal concludes.

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Gov Solutions

Successful Solutions

In 2011, Gov Solutions obtained $300,000 in financing which enabled Ms. Long to better manage cash flow and growth. Her company’s 2011 year-end profit and loss statement showed revenues in excess of $8.5 million and a net income of over $200,000.

In 2010 Ms. Long approached several banks in Hampton Roads in an attempt to obtain financing she would need to grow her business. In 2009, the company had over $3 million in sales but there was a market that had, to this date remained untapped and she wanted to move her business into the potentially lucrative field.

Recognizing that her 8(a) designation gave her an opportunity both for significant growth as well as new business, she set about to get funding from the banks to enable her to expand. Unfortunately every bank she approached declined to lend her the money because they thought her company’s balance sheet was weak and the fact that the company had experienced losses in two of the three preceding years.

The SBDC began working with Ms. Long in October 2010 and identified a number of operational and organizational deficiencies the business possessed. These made it difficult, if not impossible for her to properly manage her business and have the company reach its true potential. Working closely with the owner, her employees and the company’s accountant, a system of checks and balances were established which enabled Ms. Long to more accurately determine the business’s status and assist her in making decisions to move the company forward.

In 2011, Gov Solutions obtained $300,000 in financing which enabled Ms. Long to better manage cash flow and growth. Her company’s 2011 year-end profit and loss statement showed revenues in excess of $8.5 million and a net income of over $200,000. During the last two years Ms. Long has been able to add additional employees each year to handle the growth the company is experiencing as well as operate more efficiently.

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Monarch Movers

Making moves

As a result of new business, Monarch Movers has increased sales by $850,000 and supports 4 jobs.

The moving business is in Wayne Edward’s blood. With over 20 years of experience working in the industry, he knows a thing or two about how to handle boxes correctly. A former Navy seaman, Wayne found inspiration for his business after a bad moving experience and opened Monarch Movers in December 2016. “I have been in the moving business since 1998. I got out in 2006 and then got back in,” Wayne says. Monarch Movers specializes in offering highly skilled services. “We want to be looked at as family. However, I believe strongly in professionalism and hands-on customer service,” he explains. He decided to combine his moving-industry experience with a desire to help: Monarch Movers gives preference to disabled veterans, veterans, and military spouses whenever possible.

Wayne connected with Debra Farley, Associate Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC, to help turn his vision into reality. “Debra Farley has had a tremendous impact on my business through mentoring and providing me with valuable information,” he explains. “She has been my ‘human shortcut’ to overcoming many challenges and obstacles.” According to Wayne, Debra helped him navigate the ins and outs of finding benefits and grants for his employees. With her guidance, he is currently in the process of applying for official On-the-Job-Training (OJT) status for veterans and other eligible military personnel.

In the meantime, Wayne appreciates Debra’s ability to keep up with the frenetic pace of the world of moving trucks and boxes. “The moving business is very rigorous and challenging,” says Wayne. “Debra Farley is very proactive. She is always thinking of things for me to do to keep my business vital.”

In addition to giving preference to veterans, disabled veterans, and military spouses, the team at Monarch Movers is involved with the local Rotary chapter, United Way, and Fear 2 Freedom, a local organization for survivors of sexual assault. This deep passion for the local community has brought numerous rewards. As Wayne mulls over the past year, he’s confident that the investment has been well placed. “I’ve made a strong commitment and investment to see this business grow,” he says. “I’m really excited that we started this year with one truck and we are ending it with five.”

According to Wayne, every day brings something new, which keeps him excited by the industry. “I love the fact that every day is different. This business allows me to engage people in a more personal way — in a way I never would have been able to otherwise.” With Wayne’s love for the business and the SBDC by his side, Monarch Movers is on the move to the top.

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Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca

Raising the bar: Italy comes to Cape Charles

A business was started, sales for Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca reached $220,000 in 9 months, and supports 6 jobs

A tiny town on the Chesapeake Bay might be an unexpected place to find an old world, authentic Italian experience, but that’s what owner Cristina Carollo created with Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca. Located in Cape Charles, Cristina’s coffee and wine bar restaurant opened in May 2019. She was inspired by establishments in her native Italy, where they are a part of everyday life.

“In Italy where I grew up, a bar is the center of the social life and part of the day-to-day routine,” Cristina explains. “Italians gather in the bar to talk with friends, watch TV, play cards, while drinking an espresso, which is simply called caffé. Stopping for un caffé on the way to an errand or when going somewhere with friends is common.”

According to Cristina, these bars serve typical Italian breakfast and lunch, and, in the evening, become the social meeting place for aperitivo, an event similar to happy hour. Aperitivo consists of a glass of wine, a mixed drink or beer, often paired with a small bite, such as focaccia or stuffed olives. “Because of my roots and interests, the idea was to recreate this concept with the convivial and genuine atmosphere that comes with it,” she explains.

George Bryan of the Hampton Roads SBDC helped Cristina make her concept a reality. He referred her to the NxLeveL® Entrepreneurial Training Program offered through the Virginia SBDC, a 12-session, 15-week course that helped Cristina jumpstart her skills. She says that George was an invaluable resource, and his real-world experience helped her through the first few months. “I benefited the most from George’s expertise as a small business owner. For each topic we discussed, George had real case stories and examples that I could relate with,” Cristina adds. “In addition, having lived on the Eastern Shore for a number of years, George was instrumental in guiding me through location selection and helping me create my own business network.”

Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca has achieved over $220,000 in sales with three full-time and three part-time employees. Cristina is going to Italy in January and February, a quiet time for Cape Charles, to plan for the upcoming year. “I’m going to get inspiration and work on some exciting ideas to bring back and implement in the spring of 2020. Now that I have a few months under my belt, I can’t wait to tweak some things based on customers’ feedback, industry trends, and my own ideas,” she enthuses.

Cristina is grateful for her friendship with George and the success it has created for her. “George is a strong supporter of my business and actively promotes Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca. He is a phone call away when I have business issues to discuss,” she says. “I am so thankful he believes in me and taught me the basic elements for me to begin my journey with my own business. I consider George to be a mentor and a friend.”

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Owners and key financial decisionmakers of for-profit businesses, share your recent experiences. Did your business seek financing such as loans or lines of credit in the last 12 months? How would you rate the financial condition of your business?

The Federal Reserve’s 2022 Small Business Credit Survey is open for responses, and the Virginia SBDC Network is a partner on this effort. By taking the survey, you contribute to data that directly informs the Fed, federal government agencies, service providers, policymakers, and others—ultimately benefitting your business and other businesses like yours. Take the 10-minute survey now. 

The survey is open to businesses currently in operation, those recently closed, and those about to launch. All responses are confidential.

The survey closes November 4, 2022. Questions? Contact Grace Guynn at