Category: Hampton Roads



SBDC’s business know-how + creativity = Jpixx success

Utilized the SBDC to help with increase sales, define costs, and talent development.

Teviya and Jon Abrahams rely on creativity. It’s the foundation of Jpixx, the creative video agency the couple spearheaded in Virginia Beach in 2013.

Jpixx started ten years ago when video had just become a necessary tool all the way down to the local level, so they did not need heavy sales to get going. However, when the COVID pandemic allowed for forced downtime, Teviya relied on her creative instincts and contacted the Hampton Roads SBDC.

“I reached out to the SBDC to build our business knowledge,” Teviya says. “We were experts in our field, but we learned about running a business as we went along.”

By that point, Teviya and Jon’s team had already produced thousands of videos, traveled the world, and built an impressive roster of clients, including government contracts. But it was a pivotal time to leverage the experience they had gained over the years.

SBDC Business Analyst Bill Holloran helped Teviya and Jon gain perspective and realize what would help cinch up their business processes and structure to grow more mindfully.

“Bill got to know how we run our business,” Jon relates. “He gave us confidence in areas we were excelling in and suggested other areas to adjust and points to consider.”

“One of our favorite projects is a video about booster seat safety that went viral with over 20 million views,” Jon says. “Knowing we could reach so many parents all over the world and actually save lives was a huge moment for us. Reframing our thinking with the SBDC, we now like to use this to help others understand the impact of video marketing. It became fuel for us to define what projects and goals to focus on going forward.”

“Bill helped with increasing sales, defining costs, and talent development for our staff,” Teviya says. “He helped us prioritize growth options and the delineation of duties for us as owners.”

“When soft-launching a new website, Bill compiled notes from professionals and business students, making our website more effective for future clients,” Teviya mentions.

Jpixx has grown to 12 staff and counting. They produce commercials, but are particularly adept with 3 – 5 minute videos that tell in-depth, complex stories. “Jpixx is stellar at making the viewer feel as if they are in the room to experience it firsthand. So many things in life cannot be communicated or understood fully in writing,” Teviya says. “That visual element is crucial, and we love being a part of that.”

Capture Life Creatively is the motto Jpixx began with, and it’s still prevalent today. Teviya is so very grateful she got in touch with the SBDC. “It is invaluable to have a reliable and trustworthy resource to learn from, whether it is the very helpful SBDC webinar library or our very own mentor, Bill, to reach out to throughout the year.”

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Hansel Union Consulting, PLLC

Hansel Union Consulting, PLLC

The SBDC guides Hansel Union Consulting to success

With the help of the SBDC grew to a $5 million agency with 36 staff.

Dr. Bobbie Hansel-Union established Hansel Union Consulting, PLLC in 2010 to provide personal therapeutic services. After experiencing, and surviving, a brain aneurysm in her late 30s, Bobbie was convinced of the value of therapeutic services.

“After my experience, I realized it was only through therapy I was able to come back,” Bobbie says. Inspired by a desire to help others with developmental, intellectual and neurological disabilities, she opened her office in Portsmouth with a staff of one – herself. However, even though Bobbie embarked on her business venture on her own, she knew that didn’t mean she had to go about it alone.

“I was the only one on staff,” she says. “But I knew about the Hampton Roads SBDC, so I reached out to them for help.”

Bill Holloran, a Hampton Roads SBDC Business Analyst, answered Bobbie’s call and has been her advisor ever since. Their partnership started with a business plan Bill helped her write, along with developing business goals for Hansel Union Consulting’s future.

As Hansel Union developed its primary goal – to serve children and adults “from birth to the end” – the company experienced steady growth, both in personnel and clientele. While the SBDC was instrumental in getting Hansel Union off the ground, their assistance didn’t stop there. Bill and the SBDC helped Bobbie secure grants of $25,000 and $10,000 and advised on staffing as Hansel Union expanded.

“Next we added recreation therapists and occupational therapists,” Bobbie says. “From there we added psychologists, physical therapists, speech therapists, and a nursing staff.”

As Hansel Union’s team expanded, so too did its footprint in the community. They now provide both in-person and virtual services across the commonwealth, from Richmond to Roanoke and Northern Virginia.

As the company continues to move forward, Bobbie plans to take the SBDC along.

“Without the SBDC I don’t think I would have been as successful as I am,” she says. “My first year in business I made $33,000; today Hansel Union is a $5 million agency with 36 on staff.”

“The SBDC has always been there for me,” she adds. “I don’t understand why anyone would start a business without SBDC support. They provide a wealth of knowledge — and it’s free.”

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New World

A New World of Learning Bilingual Academy

SBDC connections help bilingual academy grow

Received $43,000 in grants: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for $10,000; Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) grant totaling $10,000; and Department of Education CARES Aid totaling $23,000.

Sandra Eduardo and daughter Ebony Vargas possess the qualifications and experience to operate an early childhood education center. They lacked a business plan that would allow expansion and growth. When Hampton Roads SBDC Advisor Bill Holloran joined the mother-daughter duo, a plan for growth took shape.

“My mother was an educator for 25 years and wanted to share her Hispanic culture and native tongue,” Ebony says, remembering A New World of Learning Bilingual Academy’s launch in January 2018. “I was in college and wanted to learn about being a business owner. During an SBDC-sponsored course for child care facilities, Bill was assigned to be our mentor.”

When the pandemic arrived in 2020, that educational course, as well as plans for expansion, were put on hold.

“When things opened up again, Bill reached out,” Ebony explains. “He was a phenomenal mentor and immediately helped us apply for relief grant funding.”

Those connections resulted in grants through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) totaling $10,000; Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) for Hampton Roads totaling $10,000; and four rounds of Department of Education Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES act) totaling $23,000.

Bill also helped Sandra and Ebony make practical connections.

“Bill connected us to a science firm that provided us with a laser jet printer with a lifetime guarantee,” Ebony continues. “He also suggested a USDA subsidy that reimbursed food purchased for the school.”

Today the Learning Academy’s most pressing issue is expansion. The school is thriving, and a larger facility has become a necessity. The SBDC’s projections helped set an expansion plan in motion, and Ebony and Sandra’s partnership with the SBDC has grown alongside their business.

“We have three waiting lists,” Ebony notes. “Our current location accommodates 30 preschoolers with six older children before and after school. Bill showed us the fundamentals of business growth. Currently, we’re working with a loan officer to find a property we can own.”

With the SBDC on their side, Sandra and Ebony are confident of success.

“This process would have been five times harder without the SBDC connecting us to all these resources,” Ebony says.

“The SBDC is always looking out for us,” Sandra adds. “Support is very important, and the SBDC supports us 100 percent!”

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Elite Culinary Staffing

Elite Culinary Staffing provides solutions for the hospitality industry with guidance from the SBDC

Received approximately $160,000 in grant funding; launched mobile app.

When employee call-outs left chef Jermaine Boothe short-staffed during a busy evening at the restaurant where he worked, he said to himself, “I wish there was someone I could call.”

“I wanted to create something where you have a bunch of professionals on call,” explains Jermaine.

Jermaine previously met Hampton Roads SBDC Assistant Director Debra Farley in 2012. As his vision of owning a restaurant shifted to staffing, he knew exactly whom to contact. With Debra’s help, he began planning his new venture.

“Debra has been there in every stage of my business and growth so far,” he says. “She knows my business inside and out.”

In 2013, Jermaine founded Elite Culinary Staffing, a temporary staffing agency. Elite Culinary seeks to meet the growing needs in the hospitality industry, and offers transitional job opportunities and skills training for military veterans, foster children aging out of the system, and formerly incarcerated individuals in the Hampton Roads area. In 2018, he expanded services, opening a training facility for hospitality professionals ranging from servers to small-business owners.

Since Elite Culinary launched, the SBDC has facilitated growth through one-on-one advising and workshops, and helped Jermaine with marketing strategies and insurance options. During the pandemic, Debra provided professional insight, keeping Jermaine up to date on available resources.

“I can Google things and take a shot in the dark, or I can contact Debra and say ‘this is what I’m looking for,’ and she will connect me with people I can trust,” Jermaine says. “Like many businesses, ours was adversely affected by the pandemic. Debra assisted me in pivoting. We began working on a mobile application, which connects employers to employees directly.”

With Debra’s help, Jermaine launched his staffing app in 2020. The SBDC also provided support for state and federal grant applications, resulting in approximately $160,000 in funding.

Looking to the future, Jermaine has big goals. He hopes to grow his mobile app to serve 10,000 users, secure more government contracts, and begin consistent workforce development and training in his new facility. He cites the SBDC’s professional network as the organization’s most valuable asset.

“As I grow and sustain my business, it’s so important to me that I have someone I can call that understands business — and most importantly, understands my business and can give me constructive advice,” says Jermaine. “I do and will refer people to the SBDC all the time.”

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Dominion Psychological Associates LLC

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 Beach

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

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, Willis Wharf

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, Suffolk

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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