Category: Northern Virginia


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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Virginia Montessori Academy

Teaching to empower: Montessori education and independence

Secured a $275,000 loan; created seven jobs.

Early childhood education covers a number of basic skills, including the alphabet, shapes, and colors. For Hatsumi Mann, a Montessori teacher, instructing students to be independent is an important addition to this list.

“A lot of our materials are hands-on,” says Hatsumi. “At Montessori, the teacher isn’t hovering over the child. It’s a lot of positivity, letting the kids kind of make their own choices, and critical thinking.”

Hatsumi discovered Montessori education while teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) courses in Japan. Upon returning to the U.S., she became a Montessori lead teacher before opening her own Montessori day program, which she operated out of her home.

These successes inspired Hatsumi to open the Virginia Montessori Academy. When she was unsure of where to start, a colleague referred her to the Mason SBDC.

Bernard Ferret, Hatsumi’s advisor, had previous experience mentoring owners of daycares and preschools. Before opening her doors, she and Bernard met regularly to discuss budgets and locate funding. This was especially important to Hatsumi. “I just wanted to be able to offer Montessori to families who wanted it, who were interested, and can’t really pay that big-center price,” she says.

Hatsumi reflects that Bernard “kept her spirits up” and always checked in, even after the business’s official opening. “If I felt like I was in a bind, he helped me work out the situation to find alternatives,” she explains. “Working with him the whole time kind of helped relieve the stress.”

Since opening in September of 2021, Hatsumi has experienced the positive effects of working with the SBDC. She has received $275,000 in loans — used for instructional materials and equipment — and created seven jobs. The new hires ensure that each classroom has two teachers. The Academy also offers programs for Spanish enrichment and after-school care.

Hatsumi definitely recommends the SBDC to other small business owners. “I probably would’ve made lots of mistakes along the way if it wasn’t for them,” Hatsumi admits.

As the Virginia Montessori Academy expands, the SBDC will continue to help Hatsumi locate resources to provide a quality education for her students.

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Turning an artificial intelligence idea into a real small business success

Secured over $200,000 in EIDL and PPP loans.

Even a leading-edge artificial-intelligence tech company can sometimes require some human intelligence from the SBDC to help it operate successfully.

Just ask Jyotiska Biswas, who founded an AI-related small business called ThinkTrends in Northern Virginia in 2018. “Right now, we’re living in an age of artificial intelligence,” he says. “It’s all around us, whether we realize it or not — in our smartphones, our laptops, and the internet.”

Jyotiska describes ThinkTrends as a “data mining and AI workflow platform” that makes the power of artificial intelligence available to everyone, not just the big tech firms.

With his company now surging, it’s obvious that Jyotiska excels as a computer science innovator. But there have been times when he needed help with some of the non-tech aspects of running a small business. “In 2020, I was trying to get a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan and was having a lot of trouble getting it to go through,” he says. “I reached out to the SBDC @ Community Business Partnership in Springfield. With their help and guidance, I got the loan.”

With that solved, Jyotiska found himself leaning on his advisor, SBDC Director Vijay Vaswani, for advertising and marketing counseling. Jyotiska explains. “Vijay has been giving me some really great marketing advice, which has been very helpful.”

Vijay’s assistance with loan applications and marketing allows Jyotiska to focus on his passion — artificial intelligence.

He describes his company’s niche in AI this way: “To use artificial intelligence, you need to do data science and machine learning, which require a very specialized skill set. ThinkTrends makes this process much simpler. Without writing any code and with just a little training from the platform, anyone can create artificial intelligence to analyze data in a robust way and essentially be able to do what a data scientist does.”

High tech is Jyotiska’s thing, but he feels that any small business could benefit from reaching out to their area SBDC.

“I really like working with them.” Jyotiska says. “We are excited to grow this relationship with the SDBC and see where it takes off!”

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Discover Next Step

Discover Next Step: Brain health and professional development

Increased sales and long-term contracts.

Barbara Gustavson always had a talent for coaching and mentoring, but her job as a financial analyst did not provide many opportunities for her to pursue this passion. After eleven years, she realized she needed a career change.

“The pay was great, the people were great, but I just felt something was missing,” she explains. Founding Discover Next Step, her coaching and consulting business, filled that empty space.

Barbara teaches clients simple strategies to help them determine the next steps in their personal and professional life. She also promotes holistic well-being and effective communication for teams. Her approach, which she developed through working with renowned psychologist Dr. Daniel Amen of the Amen Clinic, focuses largely on brain health. This research-informed method promotes creativity, fulfillment, and innovation, which all contribute to workplace productivity.

Working with the University of Mary Washington SBDC allowed Barbara to expand her business to mentor more people along their personal and professional journeys. Barbara reached out to the SBDC after receiving an email advertisement. At the time, she felt isolated from her local community and wanted a supportive team around her.

“It has been such a lifeline for me,” Barbara says, reflecting on her SBDC courses and one-on-one mentoring. “They’ve been so supportive of me in developing my mission statement, vision statement, and everything I’ve needed for my business.”

Her favorite SBDC offering is the women’s mentorship program organized by her advisor, Susan Ball, whom she calls an incredible connector. “If I was struggling in an area, she would immediately know who could help me,” says Barbara.

The pandemic posed new challenges for Barbara as businesses cut professional development budgets. To help Discover Next Step stay afloat, the SBDC helped her market her entrepreneur reset program to struggling businesses, as well as take on other new opportunities, including consulting for Dr. Daniel Amen as his new Brain Health Licensed Trainer Program Director. She also adopted a brain-based approach to executive coaching, which increased her sales.

“There’s such a need for mental-health support in the world,” Barbara says. “My vision is really just to grow a community of experts who want to make a difference.”

Barbara’s partnership with the SBDC has made her vision a reality. She recommends the SBDC to other small business owners, calling its advisors “socially responsible visionaries” with “amazing ideas about how to help people at a deeper level and make a social impact.”

As Barbara supports her clients, the SBDC will continue supporting her.

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Akiak Technology

The SBDC joins Akiak Technology to aid Alaska’s tribal communities.

Created three new businesses; increased revenue from $4,000 in 2020 to $1.5 million halfway through 2021.

2023 SBA Small Business Person of the Year*

When Kevin and Sharon Hamer went to visit family in remote Akiak, Alaska, in 2018, they hadn’t planned to come back with a business. But two years later, they launched Akiak Technology, LLC, and they had both a business and a purpose.

“We went to visit my wife’s Tribe in Akiak, Alaska,” says Akiak Technology President and CEO Kevin Hamer. “While we were there talking about our government careers and pending retirement plans, Sharon’s cousins in the Tribe asked us what we could do to bring much-needed revenue back to the village. We agreed to help but didn’t know how to start.”

To figure that out, Kevin and Sharon set up a meeting with Senior Business Counselors George Siragusa and Bernard Ferret at the Mason SBDC. Over the next year, George and Bernard regularly met with the Hamers to establish a solid business framework. “George and Bernard were invaluable to us and helped us take years off of the new business learning curve,” Sharon says. “They guided us through the steps of turning our business purpose into a successful business plan of action.”

After 34 years of federal service, Kevin retired in January 2020 to work full time on Akiak Technology. They had some success in 2020, ending the year with 8(a) certification as a tribal-owned business. Their business model was centered around providing IT services to government customers. Due to the pandemic, that model dramatically expanded in 2021 to include tribal broadband services in rural Alaska.

“We expected to help our Tribe through revenue generation in the Washington metro area, but in 2021 our Tribe needed help getting broadband internet in Akiak,” said Kevin. “Our Tribe is one of 56 ‘unserved’ by broadband.”

The Hamers again turned to Mason SBDC’s George and Bernard to help them through the pivot to broadband. “We needed to find a way to offer our wireless broadband solution to the other unserved tribes and use grant money to fund the infrastructure builds.” Kevin said. Creating a new 501(c)3 nonprofit Tribal Consortium was the answer. “We didn’t know how to create a nonprofit, but George and Bernard did!” Sharon notes. “George and Bernard have been with us every step of the way.”

The results have been fantastic. In just four months, Akiak Technology has the wireless satellite system ready to deliver broadband services to 100 percent of Akiak homes and businesses.

But they didn’t stop there. With the help of George and Bernard from the SBDC, the Hamers set up the Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribal Broadband Consortium, which has 17 tribes representing 9,000 people. In September 2021, they submitted a proposal to bring affordable broadband to all 17 tribes.

The for-profit side of the business has been booming as well. The services Akiak Technology offers include digital transformation, agile software development, DevSecOps, IT management support, hybrid cloud services, and, of course, broadband. “Our first year in 2020, we had several small contracts that brought in around $4,000 in revenue,” Kevin relates. “This year, our revenue is about $1.5 million through a combination of contracts and grants.”

Kevin believes an important first step for his business was a visit to the SBDC.

“The SBDC accelerated our business startup and helped us pivot quickly when we faced new challenges/opportunities,” he concludes. “The SBDC is amazing — it’s been one of the major keys to our success.”

*2023 SBA Small Business Person of the Year

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced the 2023 State Small Business Persons of the Year award winners on March 16, 2023. Akiak Technology LLC is proud to announce that Sharon Hamer, the first indigenous President of our tribally owned 8(a) business, was named Virginia’s Small Business Person of the Year.

Each year, SBA honors outstanding small business owners and entrepreneurs from each of the States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Virginia’s 2023 Small Business Person of the Year is Sharon Hamer, President and Co-founder of Akiak Technology, LLC.

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