Category: Northern Virginia

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

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

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

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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Amplitude9’s robotic team upgrades the workplace with innovative solutions from the Virginia SBDC-ICAP program

Achieved 200% growth in 3 years; acquired 9 clients.

Amplitude9‘s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology can reduce data-entering processes from 16 hours to 25 minutes. To make this happen, the company employs digital assistants to help perform mundane tasks previously completed by humans.

Anthony Fung, former Deputy Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, spent much of his career driving opportunities for new technologies to help with government operations. In 2019 he launched Amplitude9 to offer digital solutions to increase employee productivity, cut organizational costs, and improve service delivery.

“Using RPA allows employees to focus on tasks of higher value to their organization,” Anthony says.

With assistance from the team of digital assistants, the Mason SBDC and the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), Amplitude9 is working to change today’s workplace. Amplitude9 is currently experiencing rapid growth – 200 percent in several key indicators – in the process.

To market his concept to prospective clients, Anthony turned to the SBDC’s ICAP program, which offers expertise in launching innovation-focused companies. He worked with Mason SBDC Director Timm Johnson and ICAP Director Josh Green. Timm advised Anthony on strategy, discussed concepts around building a robotics business, and worked with Anthony on finance, market analysis and digital marketing.

ICAP provided key pieces of guidance on customer discovery.

“Mason Mentors helped me identify my core market customer base,” Anthony notes. “Both the SBDC and ICAP advised me on future growth.”

That future growth includes plans for a “bot store” where Amplitude9 customers can easily purchase their own off-the-shelf robots.

“With a bot store, customers could pull a bot off the shelf and very quickly realize the benefits,” Anthony says.

Amplitude9 has already achieved impressive growth. In three years, the business has acquired nine clients, including George Mason University, and has experienced a growth of 200 percent. As the company continues to thrive, Anthony plans to keep the SBDC relationship and confer with the ICAP mentors as the company scales in growth.

“The SBDC is available and ready to offer valuable advice,” Anthony concludes. “As the CEO of a small business, I find it helpful to have the perspective of experienced entrepreneurs.”

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Thinkblot Behavioral Sciences

The SBDC helps Thinkblot build community security

Received $100K loan; saw $165K sales growth; created 4 jobs.

Thinkblot Behavioral Sciences CEO and Founder Serena Castelda left the teaching profession for a career aimed at addressing the concerns of an anxious world. A key component of that work is screening, assessing and selecting employees in high-trust positions, including public safety and government agencies.

“What we do is important work,” Serena says. “We do a lot of law enforcement, EMT and firefighter screenings. In today’s climate, we need to know that people protecting us are psychologically sound.”

Thinkblot currently provides screening for the City of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Prince William counties, and the smaller towns of Herndon and Vienna. They also serve private security firms in addition to the county and local contracts. The company offers behavioral science research, workforce resilience, leadership development and coaching, mental health counseling, insider threat mitigation, and survey design.

Serena’s husband, Bryan, serves as operations manager and senior psychologist, while Serena manages the business. She does that with the SBDC at her side, leaning on Mason SBDC Director Timm Johnson throughout her entrepreneurial journey.

“When you leave one career for another, you don’t always know which end is up,” she says. “Timm always pointed me up.”

Early on, Timm assisted Thinkblot with an acquisition of another practice in the same industry, advising on the structure and negotiation of the deal, financing and steps for post-integration. He also assisted Thinkblot on soliciting bids through county requests for proposals (RFPs), provided periodic reviews of the company’s accounting, and offered next steps for promising contracts.

“It’s like having a business advisor invested in your success,” Serena says.

However, Timm and the SBDC’s contributions to Thinkblot’s success have gone well beyond that acquisition. Since partnering with the SBDC, Serena has expanded Thinkblot’s mission substantially through capital investments nearing $200,000, the creation of four new jobs, and $165,000 in sales growth.

“The SBDC is one of the reasons we’re here today,” Serena concludes. “At the SBDC you’ll learn things you need to know from someone who has the experience to help your business grow.”

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Turkish Coffee Lady

Turkish Coffee Lady brews success with the Alexandria SBDC

Received $215,000 in grants from the SBA Restaurant Revitalization Fund and transitioned from an online business to a successful brick-and-mortar shop in Old Town Alexandria.

Gizem Salcigil White’s venture into business literally started on the road. Like any road trip, she encountered several barriers, potholes, and unexpected detours along the way. However, with guidance from the Alexandria SBDC, the Turkish coffee enthusiast and award-winning entrepreneur ultimately found an ideal location for her business, Turkish Coffee Lady, in Old Town Alexandria.

“It all started as a nonprofit cultural diplomacy project and a coffee truck,” Gizem explains.

Fueled by a desire to share the unique Turkish coffee culture with the world, Gizem road-tested her business idea by traveling around the United States, Canada, and Europe dispensing free Turkish coffee. Her ultimate goal was a coffee shop where cultures and friends could meet.

“I wanted to bridge cultures one coffee at a time,” she says. “A Turkish coffee shop is where people meet over coffee and become friends — something we really need these days.”

Gizem started her business plan with the SBDC at the Community Business Partnership in Springfield and opened a brick-and-mortar store in Tyson’s Corner in 2017. As it turned out, that first venture was anything but smooth.

Gizem halted her entrepreneurial journey after being diagnosed with breast cancer, which led her to return to Turkey to seek surgery and chemotherapy. Once recovered, she returned to Virginia to restart her business but soon had to face a different health crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic forced Gizem to close down her business, but she refused to cut her journey short. She applied for and received a Small Business Administration (SBA) Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant and, with $215,000 in hand, she contacted the Alexandria SBDC.

“The SBDC was a great help,” she says. “Old Town is a historic area with many regulations. Assistant Director Gloria Flanagan connected me with the right people to get the permits I needed.”

Additionally, Program Services Director Philomena Fitzgerald offered advice on marketing strategies and engaging the media.

“Gloria and Philomena are life-savers,” Gizem reports. “If they hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have made it this far.”

Since opening in January 2022, The Turkish Coffee Lady’s success has continued to grow.

“I’m so grateful for the SBDC,” Gizem concludes. “Because the SBDC cared about me and my vision, I’m now able to pursue the dream I have for my business.”

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Adage Innovations

Adage Innovations steps up to success with the SBDC

Awarded an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) of $24,000; Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan of $24,000; and a $10,000 Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) grant from Fairfax County; created 15 jobs.

When Adrien Douard launched his own business in 2012, it was a one-man show. Six years later, to set his company up for success, Adrien reached out to the SBDC at the Community Business Partnership in Springfield.

With the SBDC’s support, Adage Innovations has taken off and now employs 15 people and services an impressive list of customers from American Airlines to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, US Department of Health and Human Services, Appraisal Subcommittee. Like most entrepreneurial enterprises, the company started with one man’s ambitions.

First educated in Senegal, West Africa, Adrien received a grant as top student in computer sciences and pursued his engineering education in France where he was named one of ten engineers to work on an international project for American Airlines.

“We were the first generation of engineers of the global travel reservation system, Sabre,” he notes. With Sabre’s work completed, Adrien pondered his next steps.

“I wanted to deal with customers directly, so I decided to step into the shoes of an entrepreneur,” he says.

From 2012 to 2018, Adrien was Adage Innovations’ sole employee. In 2018 he contacted the SBDC for advice on ownership and diversity certifications, and much more.

“Since 2018 I’ve worked with SBDC Director Vijay Vaswani,” Adrien relates. “Among other things, I needed advice on becoming an 8(a)-certified company and contracting with the public sector.”

As Adrien realized the possibilities for his company’s growth, he signed up for multiple SBDC training seminars and workshops.

“I attended seven or eight SBDC sessions,” he notes. “Through those presentations my questions were answered.”

Previously Adage Innovations relied on private financing, but when COVID-19 affected the landscape, Adrien applied for support, netting grants of $24,000 each from an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Fairfax County also awarded Adage Innovations a $10,000 Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) grant.

“Overall, the SBDC’s guidance has been very helpful,” Adrien concludes. “We see the SBDC as a counseling partner. We listen to the experience of the SBDC consultants and leverage that advice to help our company grow.”

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Winchester Ciderworks

Winchester Ciderworks expands distribution footprint with counsel from the SBDC

Grew sales by 30% in 2022; created 12 jobs; received a $500 advertising grant.

A native of Suffolk, England, Stephen Schuurman began crafting his English-style ciders after moving next door to an apple orchard in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. In 2011, he partnered with that orchard’s owner to open Winchester Ciderworks.

Stephen sold his first dry hard ciders through self-distribution in Frederick County. Over time, his business has grown in tandem with Virginia’s booming craft beverage industry.

“We’re bringing a bit of England to Virginia,” Stephen explains. “My plan is to build us up to be a big cider player in the Mid-Atlantic.”

As Stephen worked to scale up Winchester Ciderworks, he found two key advisors in Laurel Ridge SBDC Executive Director Christine Kriz and Chris Van Orden, Manager for the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program (IBD) and Craft Beverage Assistance Program (CBA), with whom he connected in 2017.

“I met them, and I came out feeling like, Wow, there is help out there,” Stephen says. “I felt I was going against a brick wall all the time, and then all of the sudden there was this resource for me, and it was free, which was amazing.”

Christine and Chris have been instrumental in helping Stephen expand his business with advice when he found he was struggling with certain decision making. As his main accountability partner, Christine advises him on business planning and funding for expansion, keeping him informed about grant opportunities, including a $500 advertising grant he was awarded in 2021. Chris supports Stephen with distribution and meets with him monthly to help figure out how to approach new distributors and navigate alcohol licensing. Chris also connected Stephen with a compliance officer.

“I couldn’t have asked for two better people,” Stephen notes. “I’m really lucky. If I don’t know something, I will ask somebody, and, nine times out of ten, I can ask one of those two people.”

When Stephen launched Winchester Ciderworks, there were only about five cideries in Virginia. Now there are many. In the past year, Winchester Ciderworks has gone through a number of changes, the most significant being that Stephen took on a larger share of ownership after buying out his business partner. Now, he has big goals for the future.

“I’d like to be the number one premium cider in the mid-Atlantic with distribution to every state,” says Stephen, “and exporting to the U.K.”

Stephen is currently selling ciders in 11 states with online ordering available in 40 states, and he is working with Chris to navigate the complicated process of exporting cider to the U.K.

“The bigger the distribution footprint, the more money you have coming in,” Stephen says, “In this year since I’ve been running the business, our profits have been better than any other year.”

In fact, sales have grown by 30%! Christine is helping Stephen look for a new property in the Winchester/Frederick County area so he can expand his operation to meet the increasing demand. Stephen now employs 12 people and plans to invest in his own canning line. The SBDC will be by his side as he pivots to grow his business even more.

“There are so many obstacles to overcome,” says Stephen. “Nobody can do it without help. Everybody in business needs help at some point. The SBDC is a resource, which, for most small businesses, is critical.”

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The Hangout Sports Bar and Lounge

From laid-off worker to successful restaurateur

Started a new business; secured $425,000 in loans

Some people might have wondered if it was really the right time to open a restaurant. For Lori Edwards, owner and operator of The Hangout Sports Bar and Lounge in Roanoke, Virginia, February 2021 was the perfect time.

“Actually, GE picked the timing,” Lori explains, referring to her last employer. “When GE shut down two years ago to take the jobs overseas (I’d been there for over 23 years), I decided I would rather take early retirement and just get into my own thing.”

Lori knew she wanted to explore a different path, but she also realized she would need help and guidance. She was referred to Tom Tanner, a senior advisor at the Roanoke SBDC, and is thankful that she made the connection. “Tom has been wonderful, working with me every step of the way,” Lori says.

The Hangout is a family business. Lori runs it with her daughter — a big perk, she says. “When I thought about what to do next, I thought about how I love cooking,” she explains. “My daughter was a bartender at Carabas, so she knew all about the drinks. And I like playing pool. So, the place is a good mixture of all that.”

As Lori built her business, Tom offered both advice and guidance in applying for loans. Tom was instrumental in finding the right location for the restaurant and is currently helping Lori apply for COVID payroll assistance.

“He’s helped me with everything,” she explains, “showing me exactly what I need to do and when I need to do it, including helping me write a business plan that resulted in me being able to purchase this building and get me going.”

Lori’s aptly named The Hangout Sports Bar and Lounge has quickly become a popular local hangout, offering billiards (including tournaments), karaoke, live entertainment featuring local and regional bands, and especially delicious home cooking.

Lori is pleased with how her business has grown. “We’ve gotten a lot of regular customers, and the word about our home cooking is getting out. So far, we’ve been very blessed.”

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