Category: Northern Virginia

Air Treatment Company

Air Treatment Company

Bigger and better: Air Treatment Company’s new chapter

Secured $1.5 million loan; increased sales by $1.3 million; created six jobs; retained 19 employees.

Air Treatment Company had been in business for years when Jim Griffin and Dan Simpson bought the company from Dan’s uncle in 2020. They both wanted to make a good thing even better. “When we bought it, I’d worked there for about seven years, and we saw an opportunity to make it bigger, better, and more profitable,” says Dan.

Air Treatment Company ( provides comprehensive maintenance, repairs, and replacements on air and heating units. Their goal is to keep customers’ homes comfortable and provide efficient, effective service.

Jim and Dan were not sure where to start when buying the company, so they reached out to the Mason SBDC. “I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” Jim admits. He met with his advisor, Timm Johnson. “The first visit, I came in as a deer in the headlights and left there somewhat confident that we could do this,” Jim says.

Working with the SBDC helped Jim and Dan secure a $1.5 million loan, increase their sales by $1.3 million, create six jobs, and retain 19 employees. They plan to use their loan to purchase commercial real estate in the future.

Jim and Dan are proud of the company’s positive culture, both for employees and customers. “When a customer has a complaint or a concern, we fix it immediately, and we usually do a little more than what they ask,” says Dan. Regarding employees, he adds, “I can make the people around me feel appreciated by giving them the things they deserve and the things that make them feel important. So, when I walk through the door, I feel like it’s a work family.”

Jim explains that the SBDC “can help with a wide variety of different areas, not just the actual initial purchase or startup,” citing human resources and advertising as other supports provided.

“Somebody who’s thinking about going into business for themselves should know that they’re welcome [at the SBDC],” Dan adds. “They’ll be happily received and given good guidance.”

Jim and Dan have already referred other business owners to the SBDC and will continue to utilize its resources as Air Treatment Company grows.

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AWL Creative _ Wedding Loft

AWL Creative

Wedded together: Unique concept says “I do” with the SBDC

Received $2,000 in loans and $52,000 in equity investments.

When Barbara Kriss started AWL Creative in 2019, she was motivated more by the services she didn’t see than by those she did. A former stationery and graphic designer with close ties to the wedding industry, Barbara was struck by the lack of centralized resources for those who worked in wedding planning and production, as well as for those looking for wedding service providers.

“I began noticing all these gaps,” Barbara recalls, as she remembers the early days, prior to opening A Wedding Loft. “I observed the industry was missing resources, spaces, and education overall,” Barbara adds.

With AWL, Barbara and her business partner, Paul Tartaglioni, sought to fill these gaps. The downtown building contains studio space for event planners, photographers, makeup artists, and more. It also has rentable event space as well as coworking space. A membership option is also available to guests, which offers varying levels of access to the facilities.

Back in 2019, when Barbara and Paul were considering the idea of AWL Creative, Paul decided to attend a basic small business prep class at the local library, where he connected with Eric Byrd, Lead Business Advisor at the Loudoun SBDC. Eric would go on to be a mentor and advisor for Barbara and Paul as their project moved forward.

“We are so grateful to the SBDC for everything,” Barbara says. “They have been there for us for everything, every step of the way,” she adds.

Things were just taking off for AWL when the full impact of COVID-19 caused the fledgling business to close its doors. It wasn’t long before Barbara found a pandemic workaround, offering intimate marriage ceremonies in the event space, until distancing restrictions were lifted earlier this year and the space could reopen.

Now as things return to normal, Paul says that they continue to utilize the SBDC on a daily basis and even return the love whenever possible.

“We have grown so much through the SBDC,” Paul says. “We actually try to pay it forward. We refer people to the SBDC all the time as they try to find their path.”

The concept of finding one’s own path is special to Barbara and Paul, who are aware that their own concept is unique. All the more reason, Paul says, to feel grateful for the expertise and support of the SBDC.

“Eric was just here the other day,” says Paul. “You know he describes us as a blue-ocean concept, because we are trying something that hasn’t been done before. It’s been a difficult process overall. It’s been a strength and a comfort having the SBDC by our side throughout the process.”

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Saratoga Urgent Care

Saratoga Urgent Care

SBDC adds business know-how to Saratoga Urgent Care

70% growth; 3 new jobs.

During the pandemic, Sherwood and Rina Richers saw a need for medical care in Springfield. With help from the Community Business Partnership (CBP) SBDC, Saratoga Urgent Care opened in March 2021 to meet that need. “Our perspective has been to help others,” Sherwood says. “It’s not about money for us.”

Rina, who previously provided OB/GYN services in El Salvador, hoped to open a clinic in the United States. A retiring doctor in Springfield provided that opportunity. “My wife fits a critical niche here,” Sherwood says. “This area has a large Hispanic population with many uninsured.” Recently retired as a senior engineering manager for the Boeing Company, Sherwood turned to the SBDC to learn the ins and outs of operating a small business.

CBP SBDC Center Director Vijay Vaswani was happy to assist. Vijay connected Sherwood with a medical professional for advice on credentialing and other medical issues. He provided guidance on bookkeeping and QuickBooks. “I had the basic idea, but knowing the nuances were useful,” Sherwood adds.

Vijay worked with Sherwood to complete a business plan, and another SBDC advisor helped with the lease. “That SBDC advisor was a property manager and understood the [lease] situation from both sides,” Sherwood says.

SBDC’s marketing videos were an added boost. “Between working with Vijay and my own experience, I was 98 percent there on marketing, but it was good to watch the videos and make sure I wasn’t missing anything,” he says.

Sherwood built relationships with nearby industrial customers. “It was a matter of making phone calls,” he relates. “Local people who knew about the practice also came by, as did many Hispanic clients who followed my wife from a previous clinic in Woodbridge.”

Confidence grew as Sherwood worked with the SBDC, which was a major plus. “Confidence allows me to make better and faster decisions,” he says. “The SBDC gave me confidence to start a business in an unfamiliar field.” That confidence is already paying off, as demonstrated by Saratoga Urgent Care’s 60-to-70 percent growth since March 2020.

Sherwood readily recommends the SBDC. “I found a breadth of knowledge at the SBDC,” he concludes. “When you’re unsure about something, there’s always somebody at the SBDC who can help you. I find that very, very valuable.”

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Brewski’s Barkhaus

Brewki’s Barkhaus

Bar plus dogs equals success for Brewski’s Barkhaus

Significant funding from private investors.

Alex Benbassat and Justin LeGore took an idea for a dog bar, that started when they were roommates at Virginia Tech, and turned it into a reality during a pandemic in October 2020. They succeeded with careful planning, hard work, and help from the Alexandria SBDC.

“We visited a dog bar in Charlotte, North Carolina, while we were at Tech,” Justin explains. “The idea sort of stuck with us.”

Justin, who majored in business management with a concentration in entrepreneurship, and Alex, who holds an architecture degree, connected again after graduation. “I was seeking a business partner,” Justin says. “Alex was working on his thesis for an architecture program, which, incidentally, was for a dog bar. It worked out.”

First and most important was gauging interest for a dog bar business in the Alexandria area. Alex and Justin contacted the Alexandria SBDC for help with planning a festival incorporating people, dogs, breweries, and live music. “One of my professors at Tech had told me about the SBDC,” Justin explains. “We started working with Business Advisor Jack Parker, and he helped us write our business plan and make the necessary connections for the festival — which, in turn, locked in our investors.”

“We organized the Old Town Beer and Dog Festival with 30 vendors,” Justin relates. “It was wildly successful.” With an attendance of 3,000 to 4,000 people and 400 dogs, the two entrepreneurs knew they were on the right track.

With investors onboard, Alex and Justin went to work establishing Brewski’s Barkhaus. Using his architectural skills, Alex put together a floor plan for Barkhaus in a former hamburger restaurant. “We did a facelift and remodeling and added a dog park outside,” Justin explains. “Then we had to apply for a variance to allow dogs inside a restaurant.”

In setting up their new business, Alex and Justin again took advantage of the SBDC’s connections. “The SBDC helped us align our finances in appropriate ways by connecting us with accountants and attorneys,” Justin says. “In a way, Jack was like a father. We knew we could call him at any point if we had questions — and we did that a lot.”

While the pandemic-forced downsizing on many businesses, Barkhaus actually expanded. “We made it through the COVID winter and did well enough in the spring of 2021 to double our outdoor area,” Justin states. “The SBDC was a huge help to us in planning our festival, which is what brought in the investors to get us started. If it hadn’t been for the SBDC connections, I doubt if we could have made it all happen.”

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My Car Service

My Car Service

Driving forward in a pandemic

$954,000 loan; expanded from five employees to 18

When businesses around the country were scrambling to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Tariq Alam and COO Tahid Alam of My Car Service had other plans.

“The owner of the commercial property for our business was planning to sell, and we knew we needed to buy it,” Tariq says. “We had been building My Car Service for five years, and we didn’t want to see all of our hard work disappear, in case a new owner wanted something different for the property. But in order to buy it, we needed guidance on how to put together a good company portfolio to submit to the lenders and the bank.”

Tariq’s first shot at pitching his company’s ambitious business plan — in the midst of a global pandemic in the spring of 2020, no less — didn’t take off. The bank and lenders didn’t bite, but Tariq and Tahid were undeterred. As longtime entrepreneurs and business partners — and brothers — they were confident in what they had built. They simply needed somebody to help them craft a pitch that would get others just as excited as they were.

Through the US Small Business Administration (SBA), they connected with the University of Mary Washington SBDC in Fredericksburg, and received the push they needed from Center Director Susan Ball and her team.

“We reached out to three different places, but the SBDC, especially Susan and the team she works with, showed us the path forward,” Tariq explains. “They helped me put together a business plan and an effective way to present it to the lenders. Right away, the reaction was very different. [The lenders] were wowed with the plan and our mission, and they really believed in us,” Tariq continues.

Tariq says that this shift made a critical difference for their business. “The funds became available, and we were able to purchase the property along with a construction loan and equipment loans. That has really helped propel us into the future,” Tariq explains.

The revamped proposal netted My Car Service a $954,000 loan that included not only funds to purchase the property, but also loans to expand their business. They have since added an eight-bay car-service center and grown their workforce from five employees to 18. “Our business grew about 300%,” Tariq says. “It helped us create a full-service dealership, as opposed to just reselling cars.”

Now, thanks to their own market awareness and preparation heading into the pandemic — and an assist from the SBDC — Tariq and Tahid have been able to make headway on the next phase of My Car Service’s expansion, which will include a franchise.

“One thing that was great to see was how much the SBA and the SBDC care about small businesses and how much they support them,” Tahid says. “Their level of concern is awesome. They’re advocates. I can’t thank the SBA and the SBDC enough. They’re making our dreams come true.”

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Ipsun Solar

Ipsun Solar

Lights on: The Mason SBDC powers up solar installer

Grew from two employees to over 50; over 300 customers served; became one of the largest solar installers in the Northern VA area.

When Herve Billiet and Joe Marhamati founded Ipsun Solar, they had a singular vision: encourage all Americans to produce their own power using the clean, renewable energy of the sun. Today, that vision remains unchanged, and thanks to help from the Mason SBDC Ipsun Solar has grown to become one of the largest solar developers in Northern Virginia.

Unlike many industries, solar was unscathed by the recent pandemic. In fact, according to Herve, their business flourished as many customers looked to make the switch from gas, oil, and other types of fuel to solar power during the uncertain times of COVID-19. “We are definitely riding a wave,” Herve explains. “There is a huge increase in demand for what we have to offer.”

Herve is an electro-mechanical engineer who began developing solar projects in Alabama in the 2000s, while Joe is an environmental scientist who served as Energy Advisor to President Obama. Despite their extensive in-field knowledge, including Herve’s previous business experience, when it came to taking their two-man start-up from zero watts to megawatts, there was only one place to go.

“When I got started with Ipsun, I immediately went to the team at the Mason SBDC,” Herve explains, “because I knew they would provide the best advice on how to get us most quickly from a start-up to a real business.”

Herve connected with advisor and mentor, Timm Johnson. From the start of the relationship, Herve says Timm’s real-world experience and matter-of-fact advice have been crucial guide points for the solar company. Herve explains, “The continuity I experienced working with Timm the entire time has been so valuable to me — working with a person that has actually done mergers and acquisitions, has actually had experience running a business, and not just from a book, but someone who actually has the hands-on knowledge.”

As Ipsun Solar rapidly expanded, the business-related issues evolved from bottom line to people oriented. Again, Herve found that Timm had the experience and resources to provide incisive assistance. “As a business owner, you have many data-driven things coming at you, and the best thing that you can do is always be very analytical,” Herve says. “If I have questions about sales and marketing, legal, product development, or even hiring and firing, Timm is all about answering those questions in a very down-to-earth way,” Herve adds. “Timm was — and is — helpful for drilling down to the core issues and providing insight.”

Herve continues to meet with Timm regularly, as Ipsun Solar has spiked from two employees to over 50, and has served over 300 customers in the Virginia, D.C., and Maryland areas.

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Fredericksburg Food Co-op

Food for all: Community food co-op finds funding

Obtained $4.3 in million in loans — $1.4 million from an SBA 7(a) loan and the remainder from the community.

When you ask Rich LaRochelle, a founding member of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op, to explain what lies at the heart of the 10,000-square-foot food market located in the center of Fredericksburg, his answer is simple: the community.

“We are not a chain,” Rich explains. “We are owned by people. A co-op is a business with a social purpose,” he continues. “Because we are a consumer-owned co-op, our members have a say in everything we do, including what we sell.”

When the Fredericksburg Food Co-op opened its doors, it had been a vision a long time in the making. One of the key players in that vision was Rich, an adjunct professor of Cooperative Business at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). He knew right away that making the food co-op a reality would be a collaborative effort.

Rich and other key stakeholders sought the insight and guidance of the UMW SBDC team to judge market readiness for a local food co-op and grocery store. Rich partnered with consultant Susan Ball to craft and perfect a business plan for the budding idea. “Susan was always very responsive,” Rich says. “She provided a template for us to use as well as training on our business plan and market data, particularly on the grocery industry in our area.”

This business plan was key to helping the co-op secure a $1.4 million SBA 7(a) loan, putting their dreams of a community-based food exchange well within reach.

The rest of the $4.3 million were raised by two incredible loan campaigns within the community itself.  “I think the amount raised from the community shows the commitment to the co-op, and we are grateful for that,” Rich says.

Since opening its doors, the Fredericksburg Food Co-op has enjoyed strong support from members and non-members, and seeks to purchase as much of its inventory from local producers as possible. The co-op also boasts an atmosphere that creates “a gathering place for people and ideas to come together,” as Rich describes it.

While the co-op continues to gain new members each day, Rich is grateful that they still have the resources of the UMW SBDC at their side. “We value the partnership with the SBDC for our business planning and development. Susan is definitely someone we would still use as a resource today.”

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Software company gets its start with ICAP

Received a $50,000 grant from the NSF

As an insurance defense attorney for 35 years, James Chapman saw the need for a litigation management tool to enable faster and less expensive resolutions of lawsuits. In 2018, he launched a company to provide that tool. One of his first moves was to contact the Hampton Roads SBDC. Three years later, James is glad he did.

“In 2018, I was interested in what tools were out there to help us grow a business,” he explains. “Through the SBDC, we had an opportunity to get involved in a cohort through the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP).” Backed by the Virginia SBDC Network, ICAP helps Virginia’s entrepreneurs maximize the potential of their technology startups. “I applied for ICAP through the Hampton Roads SBDC,” James adds. “I worked with Bob Smith and, later, Josh Green.”

The ICAP cohort met weekly. “ICAP focused on the concept of customer discovery — figuring out who customers were and deciding what ideas would appeal to them,” James explains. “During each weekly class, we reported on our customer discovery and how we could use that information.” After the first month, ICAP classes moved online. “ICAP continued to provide support for each business following the cohort,” James adds.

When they received a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the company continued their customer discovery journey with I-Corps. Created in 2011 by NSF, I-Corps helps entrepreneurs with promising ideas and technologies move from the laboratory into the marketplace. “It was through ICAP that we learned about I-Corps,” James says.

In 2020, the company was one of five selected for an accelerator program. “During the accelerator program, and in spite of the COVID environment, we were able to build out our software,” James reports.

Now in 2021, three years after making a connection with the SBDC, their software product, ClaimEdge, is in pilot testing with a major insurance company. “The SBDC’s ICAP program was a great way to get our business started,” James says.

James continues to keep in touch with ICAP, sitting in on monthly meetings four or five times a year. “I absolutely recommend the SBDC,” James concludes. “With the SBDC, you have a whole team that’s ready to help you out.”

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Proctor360 makes virtual testing real

Proctor360 have experienced very significant growth.

Long before the COVID pandemic forced virtual learning to become a reality for students across the nation, Ganga Bathula and Kranthi Bathula were making plans to enter the online testing market, an estimated $1,34 billion industry by 2027. Both Founder/CEO Ganga Bathula and CTO Kranthi Bathula were industry veterans with successful backgrounds in live testing centers and wanted to bring that expertise to remote testing.

Their company, Proctor360, brings novel technology to the market, which includes headset that incorporates a 360-degree camera, speaker, and microphone. The result is a complete view of the testing environment for proctoring – a game changer. “We saw early on that a transition to remote testing was underway,” Kranthi says. “We developed what the market needed to further its growth.”

Going to the Mason SBDC, as Kranthi put it, was a no-brainer. “One of Proctor360’s offices is right next to the Mason SBDC,” he adds. Ganga and Kranthi met with Mason SBDC Senior Business Counselor George Siragusa.

“We spent most of 2018 planning,” Kranthi continues. “George advised us on the decisions we had to make. He also helped us explore different avenues of funding.” George connected the Proctor360 planners with the SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP). “ICAP helped us in performing a market study, talking directly to our customers,” Kranthi says. “That feedback was especially helpful.”

In February 2019, Proctor360 held a soft launch to demonstrate its patent-pending technology at the Mason Enterprise Center in Fairfax. “Our 360 total-view system is unique to us,” Kranthi says. “Students don’t have to leave their house — they can just log on to the computer and take their exams from anywhere.”

Proctor360 caters to colleges and universities, as well as training and certification companies.
The company currently has 10+ employees spread across the US. Kranthi credits the SBDC for aiding in Proctor360’s success. “Since we started working with the SBDC, our business growth has been over 600 percent,” Kranthi notes.

“The SBDC is well established,” Kranthi concludes. “They can bring in the right person to help with a specific business need. That gives company owners a great deal of confidence.”

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Bridges Home Health Care LLC, Woodbridge

Bridges Home Health Care LLC

Bridges to a better world

Received a $95,000 PPP loan, a $10,000 EIDL loan, retained 32 jobs and created 28 jobs

Thaddious “TJ” Osby, Jr. had seen a lot by the time he prepared to end his 20-plus years of military service. A Marine and a registered nurse, he had seen war and had been stationed all around the world. You wouldn’t think that much could rattle him, but as he mulled over his retirement and what path to take, he felt plagued by one unfamiliar feeling: fear.

“I knew going back into a hospital wasn’t going to be an option for me. I had seen too many fighters torn up, and I didn’t want to see any more. I knew being the owner of a business was the route that I needed to go for mental, spiritual, and physical well-being,” TJ explains.

In 2014, TJ sought out the University of Mary Washington (UMW) SBDC and connected with Susan Ball. He initially broached the idea of operating an assisted living facility, but Susan helped pivot that idea into a home health care agency. “Even though I sat on the battlefield and had bullets shoot by my head, I was still afraid. I didn’t have enough confidence. I didn’t believe in myself. But Susan started plugging in numbers right away,” TJ recounts. “She started talking to me as if I already owned the business. The biggest thing I needed initially was the courage to put thought to paper — and I got that from Susan.”

TJ had observed many elderly and disabled veterans in his life who were not getting the care they deserved. He realized that a home health care company would provide a way for him to keep doing what he loved most. “It allowed me to continue to take care of people. I was drawn to something I had naturally been doing, which was taking care of elderly people. I saw and still see a lot of veterans falling through the cracks. I decided I was going to create that bridge for the elderly and the disabled,” TJ says.

TJ slowly began building Bridges Home Health Care LLC from the ground up with Susan and the UMW SBDC right by his side. He credits them for helping him navigate the many pages of paperwork required to satisfy federal and state requirements, not to mention the piles of paperwork for both the Richmond and DC Veteran’s Administrations, as well as Medicaid, Medicare, and other major insurances.

Despite COVID-19, TJ’s company closed 2020 with strong numbers: over 30 full-time employees, 20 part-time employees, and plans for a brick-and-mortar building in early 2021. TJ hopes to expand the business to offer more robust PCA, CPR, and nurse’s-aid training classes.

It’s a long way from the nervous man that debated if he could take the first step with his business back in 2014. TJ credits it all to the SBDC. “If there is anybody that could be a mascot for the SBDC, it’s me. I preach it to everybody that is even thinking about starting a business,” TJ says. “They have had my back from day zero, and they’ve still got my back today. It’s been quite a ride, and I am so grateful for every single person there.”

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