Category: Northern Virginia

Ono Brewing Company

Brewery brings a taste of Hawaii to Chantilly

After being awarded a $3000,000 loan, the Hoffmans opened Ono Brewing Company in September 2017, and soon added 1 full-time and 6 part-time employees. 

At the Ono Brewing Company, you do not need to visit the islands to know that “ono” is Hawaiian for “tasty.” With beach pictures on the wall, tropical décor, Paradise Island IPA, and Mango White Ale on tap, a trip to Ono Brewing Company is like a carefree day at the beach. There is a reason behind the tropical theme. Owners Scott and Cyndi Hoffman lived in Florida and Hawaii for over 20 years before moving to Northern Virginia. They wanted to start a brewery that reflected their beach background. In October 2016, Scott and Cyndi “jumped in head first.”

“We started working on a business plan,” Scott says. Scott, a former engineer, and Cyndi, a former biology teacher, held the right qualifications. “The whole brewing side — the design of the brew house and how it functions — is all engineering,” Scott notes. “The actual brewing process — how yeast converts sugar into alcohol — is all biology and chemistry.” With the basics of brewing well in hand, Scott and Cyndi needed assistance mastering the managing and financing side of the business. “I reached out to the Mason SBDC, and they mentioned that free mentoring was available,” Scott says. “I’m a big fan of mentoring!”

Senior Business Counselor Timm Johnson advised them to apply for a Virginia small business loan. “That solved a lot of problems for us,” Scott adds. “I’d never started a business before, so I’d run my ideas by Timm,” Scott notes. “When he agreed my ideas were good, that gave me confidence to go ahead.”

One of Scott’s innovative ideas was to develop a self-serve beer wall to take the place of a traditional bartender. “As an engineer I rely on automation and a ‘work smarter, not harder’ theme,” Scott adds.

Making a commitment to benefit their community early on, Scott and Cyndi established a competitive wage for employees that dramatically decreased reliance on tips. All tips received at Ono are donated to a local charity, due to their living wage policy.

Since opening in September 2017, Scott reports that business is good. “We’re building our brand slowly,” Scott reports. “We’ve just added a full-time employee to our six part-time employees, and we’ve started getting out into the community. Our business is starting exactly like we wanted it to.”

“Working with Timm and the SBDC has been great,” Scott concluded. “Their help has been invaluable.”

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Exploring Learning & Fun

From home to heart: E.L.F. grows up

Exploring Learning & Fun employs 3 full-time and 3 part-time employees. Their facility has space for 48 children. 

Any mother who has had to leave her children to return to work can identify with the struggle to find good childcare. For Mary Gray, the saying “If you want something done right you have to do it yourself,” holds a special meaning. With one infant and a young child, Mary opened her own daycare business 12 years ago — from her home — to do just that. 

“As a mother, it was very important that my daycare offer everything that I wanted for my own children. I wanted to know that the teachers would love my children, that they wanted to be there, and that the space would be warm and inviting,” Mary explains.

As the years passed, interest and attendance steadily increased, and it became clear that a change was needed. In August 2017, Exploring Learning & Fun (E.L.F.) child enrichment center opened the doors of a new facility. With a capacity for 48 children, Mary’s dream came true.

“The logistics here are very different, but we are able to be a bigger part of the community in this new space. We are able to do so much more for the children here, and that’s what everything is centered on,” Mary adds.

Still, the decision to transition from her home to a brand-new center was a major one. Mary found an ally in her Mason SBDC Senior Business Counselor, Bernard Ferret, who helped her navigate the difficult process.

“Bernard really sat down with me and talked about numbers. Prior to connecting with the SBDC, I think I must have heard about 30 no’s. I felt like I had hit this brick wall. But Bernard found this financing program that worked specifically with childcare providers,” Mary says.

Bernard helped Mary work to get her business plan and proposal completed, so the center could be funded and built. Despite having zero money left over for advertising, E.L.F. already has families on the waiting list until 2019.

Even with the brand new space, Mary still feels a strong connection to the home-based roots that grew E.L.F. for all those years. “Our care is very personalized. We are a part of their family, and we always want each child to feel that they are a part of our family when they are here,” Mary says.

Mary is grateful to Bernard and the Mason SBDC for seeing the potential of not only E.L.F. daycare but also for each of the lives that the daycare and preschool has touched over the years. “Someone was willing to believe in me,” says Mary, “And I’m so glad they did.”

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Sensor Check

Sensors check the heat!

Sensor Check’s customer base grew from 2 to 12 over one year and they expect to exceed 100 new customers in 2018. 

In 2016, one of Tim Smith’s clients, a local catering company, wished they could find a device that would alert them if their refrigerators and freezers were not cool enough to comply with food regulations. Tim designed a sensor to solve the problem. Another customer heard about it and wanted the device for his warehouse freezer. “I kept being asked by one company after another for help with this problem,” says Tim.

Tim and his wife Sara decided to start a company that could offer a more sophisticated version of the sensor, and Sensor Check, LLC, was born. “We used the initial sensors to springboard into a new product, the Sensor Check Temperature Monitoring System™ that would monitor temperatures, send alerts when things weren’t right, keep a log for inspectors, and more,” Tim explains. “We also realized that we needed to learn how to wrap a business around the product,” Sara adds.

The Smiths have been friends with Bernard Ferret, Senior Business Counselor at the Mason SBDC, for years. In fact, Tim was VP of Engineering in one of Bernard’s startups. When Tim approached him for help, Bernard signed him up as an SBDC client and directed him to the Innovation and Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), a program of the Virginia SBDC Network.

ICAP finds subject-matter experts (SMEs) to guide inventors and innovators through the process of getting products to market. Once accepted, Tim and Sara worked with SMEs Brenda Brown and Cassity Jones, co-founders of Frontier Kitchen, a food business incubator and a commercial kitchen.

Brenda and Cassity installed a Sensor Check system in two facilities with walk-in refrigerators as part of the process. Very early one morning an alert went out; something was wrong with one of the walk-in refrigerators. Their technician was able to fix the blown fuse before the food temperature reached 40 degrees. If they had waited until the usual time to go to the Kitchen, 6 hours after the alert, $50,000-worth of food would have needed to be thrown out, potentially putting some of their clients out of business.

Tim and Sara are grateful to ICAP. With the SMEs, they were able to create a market segmentation plan, start fund raising, increase their sales pipeline, and become part of the Frontier Kitchen family – all key parts of Tim and Sara’s business.

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StageCoach Theatre Company

StageCoach on the road to success​

With the new programs Stage Coach now offers in its permanent location, they  estimate a revenue boost of 30% to 40%, with an additional 10% in revenue driven by rental income. 

StageCoach Theatre Company has been on the road in Loudoun County since 2011. By 2017, the traveling theater troupe was ready to find a permanent home, and the SBDC at MEC-Leesburg made it happen, when Jerri Wiseman and Terry Smith, founders, turned to them for help.

“I guess you could call me an SBDC groupie,” Jerri says with a chuckle. “I went to anything and everything they offered. I was looking for information on how to run a business, particularly in Loudoun County, and the SBDC offered a good number of resources.”

“Jerri came to the SBDC in Leesburg to tackle two main challenges,” SBDC Manager Eric Byrd says. “The first was to determine the best location for the permanent theater, and the second was to change her business model to support and fully utilize a permanent location.”

The urgency to find a permanent home was driven by the StageCoach summer camp program. “We have always offered adult classes,” Jerri says. “Finding a space to hold our summer camp for children, however, was a problem.” Eric helped Jerri with planning and revenue projections. “While expenses would go up, our projections showed that increased capacity and program stability would more than pay for extra costs,” Eric explains. “By expanding classes and corporate training programs, like an improv course for business leaders and by renting space in the facility to other groups, these revenue streams gave StageCoach higher profitability through diversification.”

Jerri found the marketing advice that the SBDC provided especially useful. “Eric helped with marketing — who and when we needed to target,” Jerri adds. “We also did some budgeting. Eric showed me how many kids we needed to bring in to make it work.”

With a new theater home and new business plan, Jerri is confident of the future. She says, “The SBDC has been with us all the way. I absolutely will continue to go to the SBDC for advice. I’ve already made plans to meet with them soon.”

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fibre space

Fibre finds a space in Alexandria

fibre space has a staff of 6 plus 7 instructors who teach classes. Their annual revenue is $1.46 million.  

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When Danielle Romanetti opened fibre space™ in historic Alexandria, she was excited to finally have her own space. It was an extension of her original business, Knit-a-Gogo, Inc., which offered knitting classes literally on the go. “I taught beginning and intermediate knitting classes in coffee shops, bakeries, and other businesses in the DC area,” she says. “Using these spaces required a solid relationship with the businesses that hosted us and that, in turn, has led to the collaborative philosophy that fibre space™ still maintains.”

As Danielle’s customers grew, the Knit-a-Gogo community needed a permanent home, a place where stitchers could meet outside of classes, buy quality supplies, and share with other stitchers. In 2008, Danielle met with Business Analyst Jack Parker from the Alexandria SBDC. “I knew how to create a business plan, but the SBDC helped streamline it.” Danielle adds, “The SBDC also helped make connections with banks in an attempt to get $95,000 in funding.” Unfortunately, the bank denied the loan, so she borrowed funds from a friend and her parents and used her credit cards.

“Danielle opened her shop just off King Street in 2009 to a large and immediate customer base comprised of students she had taught,” Jack relates. “Her first year’s projected revenues were ambitious, but she was able to exceed them. She became profitable within a few months and has never looked back.”

Eight years later, Danielle began looking for a property to purchase near her existing location.

“Purchasing our own building was the next natural step for the shop,” she says. “We’ve enjoyed steady sales volume since an initial growth period, and I felt that we were better served by investing in property rather than continuing to pay rent.” Jack Parker helped her again with banks offering SBA 504 Loans. “She closed a loan at EagleBank and the Business Finance Group in mid-2017,” Jack adds.

That September, fibre space™ opened its doors in the only known flatiron building in the historic city. As part of the building purchase, fibre space™ partnered with the City of Alexandria to adopt the public space in front of the building for small community gatherings, including her knitters from the neighborhood. “Danielle’s success comes from her marketing talents and knowing each of her customer’s needs, almost before they do,” Jack notes.

There’s little doubt that fibre space™ has found a place in Alexandria.

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