Category: Northern Virginia

Rappahannock Adventures

Rappahannock Adventures

The SBDC puts river adventure business on solid ground

Launched two businesses, and became SWaM certified.

Woodie Walker always harbored a love for history and the outdoors – especially being physically on the water. Earlier this year the University of Mary Washington (UMW) SBDC helped him turn those two passions into two new businesses: Rappahannock Adventures, a history-themed tour of Virginia’s Rapidan River, and E & L Acres, a plant nursery specializing in growing trees in demand by the federal government.

“I was in the military for ten years and then in conservation,” says Woodie. His conservation and historical pursuits have led him to serve with organizations including Friends of the Rappahannock and the Rappahannock Tribe.

Those pursuits also brought him to Fredericksburg where he began leading history-themed tours of the neighboring Rappahannock River.

“I started with a Civil War Paddle and Native American History Hike,” he notes. “My hook was history, and people loved it.”

As a lifelong learner, Woodie’s passion for the past still drove him to learn more. In 2020, at 58 years old, he earned a master’s in history from University of Mary Washington and became a historian and environmentalist for the Rappahannock Tribe in Tappahannock. From there, he took his passions a step further and launched his own business, doing so with the help of UMW SBDC Director Susan Ball.

“We met once a week,” Woodie continues. “She helped with everything I needed to be a legit business: state regulations, a business license, tax ID number.”

Susan’s advice also included establishing his businesses as two separate LLCs to minimize risks and allow him the flexibility to sell one or both in the future. She also assisted Woodie with certification paperwork for SWaM, which enhances contracting opportunities for veterans in state-funded projects, and eVA, Virginia’s electronic marketplace for buyers and sellers.

In January 2023 Rappahannock Adventures went live, offering the Civil War Paddle tour to history buffs, tourists and curious locals alike. To solidify the initial structure of his business, Woodie followed Susan’s advice of offering the Civil War Paddle as a contractor through another tour guide.

“That gave me a good payday without the expense for insurance,” he adds. “That kind of advice was valuable.”

As for his nursery, he expects the federal government to soon become a buyer of the trees he is growing on his three-and-a-half acres of land in Tappahannock.

“I’d advise anyone starting a business to visit the SBDC,” Woodie concludes. “Susan gave me positive feedback that made me feel like I could do it — and she was right!”

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Corgi Clay Arts Center

Corgi Clay Art Center

The SBDC helps bring ceramic arts to Stafford

Secured a $150,000 small business loan and received marketing advice and business education.

Debra Balestreri, a former director at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center and adjunct professor at University of Mary Washington, decided to step into the small business world in 2019. Unfortunately, that first step began in the midst of a global pandemic.

“It wasn’t intentional to start Corgi Clay LLC in a pandemic,” she says.

Debra has learned, as an artist, that perseverance is key to turning a work in progress into a work of art. For her, the complete picture she envisioned was turning her successful web-based pottery business, Corgi Clay LLC, into a brick-and-mortar space dedicated to teaching the ceramic arts.

Following a 2021 crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $40,000 in pledges, Debra turned her attention to securing additional funding to put the finishing touches on her burgeoning business.

“I knew I would need more than crowdfunding, so I reached out to the University of Mary Washington SBDC and was connected with SBDC Advisor Angie Kelley,” Debra relates. “Angie connected me directly to the Bank of Charleston that represents the Small Business Administration.”

That connection netted Debra a small business loan for $150,000, which allowed her to further her goals for Corgi Clay.

“The SBDC gave me a lot of good advice on financials,” Debra adds. “I didn’t study business in school, so I took the SBDC’s advice and hired an accountant.”

The SBDC provided Debra with more than funding advice. Angie and her team also provided marketing advice, business education and professional growth opportunities.

“The SBDC was awesome to send me links to free workshops,” Debra notes. “I stay in touch with them on all the things that pop up for a new business owner.”

On September 23, 2023, Debra unveiled Corgi Clay Art Center’s studio to the public.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the SBDC,” Debra adds. “Starting a new business is a lot to take on. The SBDC helped me through the details and put my mind at ease.”

Debra recently recommended the SBDC to a local friend who runs a farmer’s market.

“My advice to any other business owner is simple,” Debra concludes. “Don’t try to do it on your own — go to the SBDC.”

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Pretzel bakery brings “Malt & Salt” to Reston brew house scene and beyond

Received a $250,000 loan for equipment and leasehold improvements; opened second location for increased production capacity, which expanded business from 800 square feet to over 2400 square feet in two locations.

From its launch as a wholesale bakery in 2016 to its Mason SBDC-aided expansion in 2023, Nordic-Knot’s wholesale pretzel baking business has seen its profile rise right alongside its gourmet pretzels. But for all the growth Eric Lundberg and Melissa Romano’s Scandinavian-style bakery in Reston has experienced, it owes its beginnings to a note and a pretzel once placed on the doorstep of the Lake Anne Brew House, which Melissa also co-owns..

“The note was from a pretzel-making neighbor Eric Lundberg,” Melissa says. “Together, we visualized a pretzel bakery and the Brew House as ‘a match made in malt and salt heaven.’”

With a business model aimed at wholesale, Nordic-Knot opened in 2016 with Melissa and Eric as co-owners. The culinary duo specialized in baked-to-order pretzels made with natural and organic ingredients and hand-milled grains.

“We wanted to add vibrancy and give back to our Lake Anne neighborhood, and also find a way to support other small breweries, coffee shops and businesses with our wholesale pretzel sales” Melissa adds.

Despite challenges to that vibrancy that came during the COVID pandemic in 2020, Nordic-Knot continued to adapt, evolve and grow. They overcame the pandemic hurdle by incorporating direct sales into their business strategy, and their customer-friendly service earned them second place and a $40,000 cash award in the national “Small Business Big Wins” contest for pandemic-impacted small businesses. The addition of Wolf Trap National Park as a major customer in late 2022 set the stage for an expansion of the business and a consultation with the Mason SBDC.

With a proven product and an even larger customer base provided by Wolf Trap’s addition, Eric and Melissa met with SBDC Senior Business Counselor Mark Julian. In those early meetings, Mark provided them with options on financing and examples of a business plan to present to lenders.

By early 2023, Nordic-Knot was seeking a $250,000 loan for equipment and leasehold improvements, which SBDC Program Director Timm Johnson helped them procure by preparing plans and a presentation and connecting them with M&T Bank.

“The SBDC not only showed us the steps needed to apply for financing but also provided direct connections to local lenders,” Melissa states.

By May 2023, their loan was approved, and they have since added over 1,800 square feet of production space to supplement their original bakery space at Lake Anne Plaza

“The SBDC was very supportive of our journey to expand,” Melissa concludes. “You wear a lot of hats as a small business owner, but you don’t always know all you need to run a business. It’s good to have SBDC resources available to help you learn.”

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Birch Tree and Foliage

Birch Tree Bookstore & Foliage Plant Shop

Joint Ventures, Singular Success: Bookstore and Plant Shop Craft a
Co-Located Business Blueprint with the SBDC

Created six part-time jobs; the book store has tripled sales since opening and secured a $10K line of credit; created a new dual-business model.

  1. Birch Tree Bookstore:
  2. Foliage Plant Shop:

Leah Fallon knew nothing about opening a business, but she felt like Leesburg needed a bookstore. In March 2021, after Googling “How do you open a bookstore?,” she discovered the Loudoun SBDC and reached out to SBDC Manager and Lead Business Advisor Eric Byrd.

“Eric said, ‘You have to be more than just a bookstore. You have to be an experience,’” explains Leah. “So, I really dug down and thought about what creates an experience, and I was like: plants.”

Through SBDC startup classes and one-on-one consultations, Leah worked to validate her concept and identify her target market. In May 2021, she launched Birch Tree Bookstore, testing the waters with a pop-up shop full of books and plants. In September, she moved into her first location, Leesburg’s Cowbell Kitchen.

“I never thought I would own a business,” Leah explains. “Every step of the way, I kept thinking: ‘Once this gets too hard, I’m out. Anytime this gets too hard or too complicated with the town or the government or with money, I’m out.’ But with the SBDC and people in the book industry, I was able to get the support I needed, which helped me become successful and not really worry about it. I just felt taken care of.”

As Birch Tree grew, Leah continued her one-on-one consultations with Eric. She also connected with Ami Mason, a professional gardener at the local nature preserve. A vendor at first, Ami sold plants to Leah, sharing her expertise along the way. It wasn’t long before Leah asked Ami if she wanted to quit her day job.

Ami launched Foliage Plant Shop in August 2022. Two months later, she and Leah moved into a shared space on West Market Street.

“We’re two businesses under one roof, under one register,” says Ami.

“We both have skin in the game,” says Leah. “We want to make plant people book people — and book people plant people.”

Throughout the process, the SBDC has worked with the co-located businesses to determine a joint marketing strategy and a plan for managing expenses, payroll and other finances. Eric has helped Leah and Ami conceptualize a completely new dual business model that they’ve built from the ground up.

Today, Birch Tree Bookstore & Foliage Plant Shop is a thriving community hub with 13 book clubs (one oriented on plants, of course), author events, plant workshops, and local celebrations like First Fridays.

“We want to facilitate people being downtown more often,” says Ami. “A lot of locals have complaints about getting downtown. They’ll just go to the outlets or the shopping mall or shop online. We want to create an atmosphere for downtown that isn’t just restaurants. It’s not even just us — it’s a vibe. It’s fun to do.”

Each enterprise makes the other stronger. The businesses have created six part-time jobs, and Birch Tree has tripled its sales since opening. Foliage Plant Shop has also scaled up.

“What I used to consider a good month is now a bad month,” says Ami. “The SBDC is a powerful resource.”

Driven by a vision to transform downtown Leesburg and backed by the SBDC, Birch Tree Bookstore and Foliage Plant Shop are redefining what local shopping feels like.

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NIRView Biosciences

NIRView Biosciences

NIRView Biosciences brings academic research to market with the SBDC

Received more than $100,000 in funding from numerous grants and events.

Shrishti Singh completed a doctorate degree in bioengineering at George Mason University (GMU) in December 2022. With support from her GMU mentors, she created a promising new imaging technology with potential to impact many lives — including her own.

After finding an injectable contrast dye that enhances healthcare imaging capabilities, under the mentorship of Dr. Remi Veneziano, Assistant Professor of GMU’s bioengineering department and Dr. Parag Chitnis, director of GMU’s bioengineering Ph.D. program, Shrishti shifted her career focus from scientific research to entrepreneurship. With a vision to take her groundbreaking technology “from the research bench to the patient’s bedside,” she co-founded NIRView with Dr. Veneziano and Dr. Chitnis.

During the last year of her PhD, with a novel product and trusted mentors at her side, Shrishti sought out a business advisor for the entrepreneur piece of the puzzle. A consultation with the Mason SBDC connected her with the ICAP Life Science Mentor Elizabeth Pyle, whose work with the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) aligned perfectly with Shrishti’s technology and entrepreneurial vision.

Virginia SBDC-ICAP helps Virginia-based technology and innovation-driven startups like Shrishti’s move from idea to launch, offering advising, training and pathways to funding. Elizabeth and Shrishti’s first meetings were to understand the technology, followed by more concrete business planning.

“After Shrishti and her mentors had conducted 20 customer interviews, we realized there was something to develop as a business,” Elizabeth adds.

After completing the Virginia SBDC-ICAP cohort, Elizabeth guided Shrishti and Dr. Remi Veneziano through the I-Corps Program created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help move academic research to market. Shrishti’s faculty mentors, have since received funding from a number of sources, including the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation Commonwealth Commercialization Fund ($75,000), an NSF I-Corps National Grant ($50,000), and an NSF I-Corps Site Grant ($3,000) to take the technology forward. Shrishti won the top award at the 2023 Patriot Pitch Competition ($6,000) and the event’s Mason’s Choice Award ($1,000).

“The SBDC introduced me to a whole new world,” Shrishti states. “The ICAP Program showed me that while you might have the best technology, if no one wants to buy it, you don’t have a business.”

Additionally, Shrishti was recently nominated for the Forbes Under 30 Summit and has shared her experience as an entrepreneur through several interviews, including the PhD Talk Show podcast episode “From PhD to Entrepreneurship: A Researcher’s Journey of Turning an Idea into a Reality.”

As Shrishti and her team continue to lay the groundwork for the 2024 incorporated NIRView, she plans to use the Prince William County Innovation Park, a university-centered research park anchored by George Mason University, to continue developing her product. This will allow NIRView to progress toward a full launch while Shrishti continues to seek additional funding sources.

“Starting from this space, we hope to expand and enhance the realm of healthcare imaging,” Dr. Veneziano says.

Shrishti and her team note their appreciation for all the assistance they received from the SBDC. “The support we got from the SBDC was amazing,” Dr. Chitnis adds.

“Learning the business end was a bit scary for me,” Shrishti concludes. “Having someone like Elizabeth to rely on — that support was extremely helpful for all of us.”

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Federal Foundry

Federal Foundry

Virginia-ICAP’s customer discovery a win for Federal Foundry

Received $1.5 million in federal grants. Increased userbase of FedScout app to 1,300.

Geoff Orazem launched Federal Foundry in 2016 to help small business owners succeed in the federal market. When his company struggled to grow, Geoff realized he needed a better understanding of his business and target customers.

After consulting with the Virginia SBDC Network, Geoff was advised to enroll in the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP). Participating in ICAP influenced Geoff to make fundamental changes to the way Federal Foundry operates.

“I made assumptions about my customer base that were wrong,” Geoff says. “Fortunately, ICAP was there to point out my mistakes.”

Virginia SBDC-ICAP, part of George Mason University and the Virginia SBDC Network, is a statewide collaborative network that supports tech startups during the critical initial phases of business development. Geoff connected with the Virginia SBDC-ICAP through his friend, ICAP Mentor Gary Grenter, who has extensive experience in production management and has founded four companies.

“Gary’s an excellent coach,” Geoff says. “Everything about ICAP is great, but the most valuable piece for me is customer discovery.”

Before founding his business as a government contractor, Geoff served as a Marine infantry officer. After leaving the Marine Corps, he graduated from Harvard Law School, and worked as a government contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Drawing on that experience, Geoff was well equipped for the ICAP program and compared it to military boot camp: “It’s a process requiring hard work and discipline but with a big payoff. Once ICAP showed me the value of customer discovery, I started doing it — still do it when considering a new capability.”

Since completing ICAP, Geoff has incorporated those customer-centered practices into his business. As a result, Federal Foundry has experienced newfound growth. One of the company’s tools, the FedScout app, currently has 1,300 users and was awarded a major contract of $1.5 million in federal grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Geoff credits Gary and the Virginia SBDC-ICAP program for that success. “Gary has a ton of experience and networks, plus he’s a good sounding board,” Geoff says.

Geoff considers ICAP’s free service a big win. “It’s been a good couple of years for Federal Foundry,” he concludes. “In the past I made business assumptions that were wrong. Thankfully, ICAP was there to help me correct the errors.”

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Reflections Image Center and Skincare Institute

The SBDC combines beauty with business for Reflections Image success

Received a Rebuild Virginia Grant; an Economic Injury Disaster Loan; doubled staff; increased revenue by 20%.

LaSondra Gray, owner of Reflections Image Center and Skincare Institute in Leesburg, Virginia, believes beauty is more than skin deep. With the support and guidance from the Loudoun SBDC, her business continues to successfully grow and flourish based on that belief.

“Reflections Image Center takes a holistic and integrative approach to aesthetics and wellness,” she explains. “It’s in our slogan — Healthy Skin Within: Look Good, Feel Good.”

Previously a licensed quality auditor in the corporate workforce and business management consultant, LaSondra developed an interest in the medical spa business 20 years ago and never looked back. She celebrates the 10-year success of Reflections.

“I wanted to get into something to make a difference,” she says. “It started when my son’s doctor asked if I would take a quality control look at his practice. I really enjoyed adding my skills to a profession that made people look and feel better.”

When she discovered the Loudoun SBDC a few years ago, LaSondra experienced her own feel-better moment. Her initial contact, Loudoun SBDC Director Eric Byrd, connected her with a team of advisors, including Business Advisor Subodh Nayar.

“Subodh is amazing,” LaSondra adds. “He’s committed to making sure my business is successful — that means a lot.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, SBDC resources were especially helpful.

“I received a Rebuild Virginia Grant and Economic Injury Disaster Loan,” she says. “The SBDC team helped keep my business going during the pandemic.”

LaSondra did not idle during her COVID shutdown; she used the time to develop a virus-fighting product line.

“The SBDC connected me to the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), and I was able to get my product out to local hospitals,” she explains. “Our product concept was selected for invitation to the National Science Foundation’s Project Pitch.”

The SBDC also assisted with marketing.

“The SBDC helped me take baby steps into digital marketing,” says LaSondra. “Our Purity Kit products developed during the pandemic will soon be available to the public.”

LaSondra is enthusiastic about continued partnership with the SBDC. With its guidance, the Reflections Image Center has doubled its staff and increased revenue by 20 percent.

“The SBDC is an amazing resource,” she concludes. “It makes sense to capitalize on that experience to help your business grow.”

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Impruvon Health

Impruvon Health

The Virginia SBDC-ICAP helps Impruvon Health save lives

Created 12 jobs; received $50K Prince William County IGNITE Grant.

Justin Amoyal launched Impruvon Health in May 2020 with a mission that was as personal as it was entrepreneurial: to prevent unnecessary deaths due to medication mismanagement. The Virginia SBDC Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) was there to help.

“In 2019, I got the worst call of my life,” Justin recalls. “My brother had passed away due to medical mismanagement. I wanted to solve the problem.”

Justin’s idea took root and began to grow when he met ICAP Mentor David Powell. ICAP, under the Virginia SBDC network, has mentors across the Commonwealth who offer expertise in launching innovation-focused companies.

“David prepared our team for the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program we were selected for,” Justin explains.

I-Corps programs offer an immersive learning experience focused on transforming innovative ideas into successful products customers are asking for. That program was ideal for Impruvon Health, as the platform uses internet of things (IoT) technology to connect healthcare professionals in enterprise care settings such as nursing homes, adult and group homes, and addiction recovery centers. The platform enables agencies, their staff, and clients to automate previously manual, and error prone processes related to medication prep, administration, and record keeping.

“Impruvon Health stops errors, saves nurses time, and helps organizations maximize reimbursement for services they are already providing. We are helping agencies increase revenue for improving their tools and care they provide!” Justin states.

But even the best business idea requires adequate funding. To bring his innovative solutions to the healthcare providers who need it, Justin applied for and was awarded the Prince William County IGNITE Grant of $50,000. The startup funding allowed him to lay the groundwork for both his app and a workforce that now includes 11 employees.

In every aspect of building that business, David was there to help.

“David is constantly helping us avoid costly mistakes.” Justin adds. “David has also helped us with tough decisions such as investor selection and negotiations and played a significant role in us moving forward with Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC).”

That expert guidance also resulted in an increased client base.

“We currently have six enterprise clients with about 35 sites across the country and are growing every month,” Justin says. “Our team, including employees and David is what makes all of this possible. They see the impact of our product and are passionate about delivering to our clients.”

 Justin is a big supporter of the Virginia SBDC-ICAP mentoring program.

“It’s incredible to have a mentor like David,” Justin concludes. “David kept us focused and on the right path. I don’t know if we’d be here today without his help.”

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JD Ross Consulting_2

JD Ross Consulting

The SBDC helps JD Ross Consulting stay local and grow

Purchased their own building, increased the number of employees by 4 and expect 2022 income of more than $600,000.

Johnathan Ross launched his software development company, JD Ross Consulting (JDRC), with two goals: keep it small and stay local. With the assistance of the University of Mary Washington SBDC, he achieved both these goals and surpassed them.

“In the past I worked for big companies where people were just a number,” Johnathan says. “I wanted a business that would be more personal.”

To achieve the small-town feel, Johnathan consulted UMW SBDC Director Susan Ball. She showed him the value of purchasing property and connected him with the right people to grow his business.

“I met Susan at a symposium, and out of the blue she asked, ‘Hey Johnathan — want to buy a building?’” Johnathan relates. “That had never crossed my mind, but I started thinking about it — six months later we bought a building!”

After receiving valuable guidance on property insurance coverage and deeding, Johnathan contacted the SBDC for advice on another venture, a nonprofit to provide a safe space for local teens to engage in eSports. With extra space in the new building, JDRC decided to expand its community involvement policy.

“Since I didn’t know how to start a nonprofit, I asked Susan,” Johnathan says. “She gave me the steps I needed to follow.”

SportingNextLevel, which includes a youth soccer program, will launch later this year.

To date Johnathan is pleased with the growth of his company and nonprofit venture.

“JDRC started with one employee, and now we’re up to six,” he says. “Business is really starting to snowball — we anticipate income of more than $600,000 in 2022.”

Johnathan credits the SBDC with providing business details needed to help his business grow.

“I knew how to do government contracts, but I didn’t know how to set up Quickbooks or pay taxes,” he adds.

Johnathan readily recommends the SBDC.

“I tell other business people who ask about our success to check out the SBDC and have a consultation,” Johnathan concludes. “The SBDC will definitely benefit anyone starting a business.”

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MSM Technology

MSM Technology

The SBDC mentors MSM Technology through reset and growth

Created 61 new jobs and achieved $4 million in sales growth in 2021; increased staff to 100 and nearly tripled sales growth in 2022.

Armed with an extensive background in IT and project management, Manisha Morris felt confident about opening MSM Technology in 2004. However, as her infrastructure modernization company expanded, Manisha discovered that growing a small business required guidance. Wisely, she contacted Timm Johnson, Director of the Mason SBDC.

“I reached out with a plea for help,” says Manisha, who has spent 18 of her 25-plus years in the IT field as president of MSM. “By 2021, MSM Technology was up to 35 employees and growing. I needed a resource to help prepare for doubling or tripling my company.”

When Manisha initially launched her business, she worked on a single IBM contract for ten years. But as her business expanded, so did her workforce and, by extension, her responsibilities as a business owner.

“In 2018 I decided to take a step back and restart the company,” she explains. “I needed to know how to grow the back-office infrastructure to support the growth we were experiencing. As a business owner, I needed an advisor.”

Timm easily stepped into that role.

“Our first conversations were about basic things like loans and a line of credit,” Manisha relates. “I was worried about making payroll if we won a large contract.”

That foresight paid off, and when opportunity came calling recently, Manisha’s work with Timm and the SBDC put her in a position to succeed.

“We just won a $70 million contract that needed staffing in three weeks,” Manisha relates. “Thanks to the SBDC’s help we now have a great recruiting team and were able to meet those staffing needs.”

The SBDC also helped Manisha revamp the company’s accounting system to align with the Defense Contract Audit Agency’s (DCAA) standards. Additionally, Timm assisted with setting up a spreadsheet solution for transferring data from payroll into accounting.

Through 2021 MSM’s growth continued, adding 61 new jobs and realizing a sales growth of $4 million.

“In 2022 our staff has increased to 100 employees, and sales have probably tripled from the $4 million last year,” Manisha comments.

Now that she’s discovered the SBDC, Manisha plans to keep that connection.

“The SBDC offers help wherever you are — from a company with one employee to a business like mine with 100 employees,” she concludes. “On every level, the SBDC is an invaluable resource.”

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