Category: Southwest

Weber City Discount Tire

Weber City Discount Tire: On the road to success

Tim Ray and the Weber City Discount Tire staff are a team. “We call ourselves Team Weber City Discount Tire,” Tim says. “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’ — we wouldn’t succeed without each other.” Early on, Tim added the Mount Empire SBDC to his team, a decision he calls one of the best he’s made.

Retired after 20 years in law enforcement, Tim decided to open a tire business with the assistance of his relatives Donald and Mary Billings of Kingsport, TN. The building previously housed a tire business.

It was 2019, shortly before the pandemic started, and Tim was ready to get his tire business on the road. First, he decided to contact the SBDC. “I’m really glad I did,” he says. “Tim Blankenbecler at the SBDC helped me do a business plan, and the new center director, Becki O’Quinn, helped a lot with the Economic Development Authority (EDA) loan process.” The $25,000 EDA loan was used to purchase a heavy-duty truck and tire changer. “It was a needed piece of equipment,” Tim notes.

With help from the SBDC, Team Weber City was ready to roll. Unfortunately, so was the COVID pandemic. “We were shut down a week and a half before they decided we were an essential business,” Tim recalls. With safety precautions in place, the tire team was back the next day, servicing commercial trucks, farm tractors, and emergency vehicles. “Essential business doesn’t stop in a pandemic,” Tim says. “We saw a little decrease, but thanks to the SBDC and the EDA we were able to keep going.”

The SBDC continued to notify Tim when funding became available. “We’re currently talking to Becki O’Quinn about loan funds to purchase an adjacent building with five additional auto bays and an alignment machine,” Tim adds. That alignment machine, Tim explains, will bring jobs to Weber City, no small feat in a town of 1,300. Along with alignment services, future plans include adding a service truck. “Both will grow our business and bring money and jobs to the county,” Tim says. “The more people we put to work, the better we are.”

Tim credits the SBDC with the growth of his business to date. “The SBDC’s help with a business plan allowed us to purchase necessary equipment,” Tim explains. “Having that heavy-duty tire changer was a good boost coming out of COVID — and just in time for hay season. Tim also credits his manager, Eric Sawyers, with his excellent professional customer service and management skills.

Tim recommends the SBDC with an enthusiastic thumbs-up. “I hope the SBDC is around for many years to come,” he concludes. “Their consultants always give the best advice and assistance. Small business owners really need the SBDC.”

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Red Roof Home & Tazewell Test Center

Putting the right people in your corner

Received $1,800 grant for the Tazewell Test Center, and $10,000 grant for Red Roof Home.

For small business owners, good help is vital. As a sole employee, it’s essential. For an entrepreneur like Renee Perkins, who runs not one but two businesses on her own, assistance has been a lifeline.

Renee is the founder, owner, and operator of the Red Roof Home and the Tazewell Test Center, two drastically different businesses. The Red Roof Home is a lodging establishment, while the Tazewell Test Center is a proctoring hub that administers professional exams and employee certifications.

With two businesses, Renee has her hands full. But luckily, she says, she’s not alone: She has the Director of the Southwest Community College SBDC in her corner.

“Margie [Douglass] is just a wonderful person,” Renee says. “She’ll go out of her way to help you with whatever it is you need to do. It’s so great knowing you can just pick up the phone and call. You have a resource for whatever comes up.”

The initial partnership between Renee and the SBDC began in 2017 when she was navigating the early stages of planning for the Tazewell Test Center. That process was well underway until an unexpected project came her way, causing her to change course. That project was the future Red Roof Home, which Renee won at auction.

“The house basically fell into my lap,” she says. “I started thinking about the possibilities — what I would need to do with it and what I could do with it. I had already started working with the ladies at the SBDC for the test center, but once I discussed with Margie what I had in mind for the home, the test center went on the back burner.”

Renee began renovations on the Red Roof Home in January of 2018 and, with assistance from the Southwest trio of Margie, Brittani Clarke-Cayman, and Misty Brandy, hosted her first guests by August of that same year.

But even as Renee’s shift from the test center to the Red Roof Home turned into a full-time endeavor, she still aimed to one day follow through with her initial business plan. When she was ready, the SBDC was waiting to help her get started and to provide encouragement along the way.

“There were times when I was going through the test center working on my business plan where I decided I was going to give up,” she says. “You can’t be an expert on everything. I was already operating the Red Roof Home so, when it came to those financials, I was just ready to throw my hands up. But Brittani said, ‘Renee, you’ve worked so hard. You’ve come so far.’

“Misty told me she’d developed a spreadsheet and that — if I wanted to send her my numbers and give her an idea of what I foresaw happening with my business — she would plug them in, and we would come up with the numbers together. At that point, I was just ready to stop. I was too overwhelmed, but I gave her those numbers, she plugged them in, and it was like a miracle.”

That miracle led to the Tazewell Test Center’s grand opening in September 2021 and the realization of a dream deferred. Renee has since heard from mayors, business owners, and officials from state agencies, all requesting her services to certify new hires or recertify current employees.

Certainly, it’s a lot to handle. But even as a solo business owner, Renee has found she isn’t alone.

“Margie, Brittani, and Misty encourage you to stick with it, and I love that about those ladies,” she says. “I can’t sing their praises enough.”

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two22 Production & Marketing and Manna Tees

Brother/sister duo adds the SBDC to the family

Update: Starting March 1, 2022, both companies are moving into a significantly larger space!

two22 Production and Marketing’s clients grew from a handful to 100+ with no debt; Manna Tees received $7,500 in loans.

Wanting to offer a “one-stop shop” customer experience, brother and sister duo Eugene McCurdy and April Cope decided to operate their respective businesses under one roof last fall. Eugene launched two22 Production and Marketing (formerly Manna Graphics) in 2014; April Cope joined her brother with a complementary business, Manna Tees, in 2020. Adding the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC to the team helped work out the details.

“Previously, my training was architectural drafting,” Eugene says. “In 2008, I was laid off and had to figure out what to do next.” After working for a local graphic design company for a time, Eugene decided to start his own business. One of his first stops was the SBDC.

At the SBDC, Eugene received advice on a variety of topics related to starting a business from Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC Director Mandy Archer and Administrative Assistant Ginny Plant. “They showed me everything it would take to operate a business,” Eugene recalls. “That started with a business plan to see what my business should offer. The SBDC followed that with analytics on local competition. The SBDC really spelled it all out.”

Advice from the SBDC allowed Eugene to open and grow his business without accumulating business debt. “I didn’t need funding at the start,” he recalls. “Basically, all I needed was me and a computer. There wasn’t a lot of overhead.”

While graphics was the focus of the business, website design turned out to be the name of the game for Eugene. “The SBDC helped me see my biggest income producer,” Eugene says. “For me, website design offered the most return on investment.”

With the SBDC onboarding process helping him organize the “big picture” of his business, Eugene was able to concentrate on graphics and website design. “I have a tendency to work in the business but not on the business,” Eugene admits. “The SBDC really helped me with that.” Website development brought in more business. “I started with a small handful of clients,” Eugene notes. “Today I have over a hundred website customers.”

April Cope joined her brother’s entrepreneurial venture last year. Following Eugene’s example, she went to the SBDC first. “I started talking to the SBDC last fall,” April says. “Manna Tees had a grand opening in November 2020.”

An interest in t-shirt design started at a Christian concert some years before, and it grew into a business for April. She was excited to get started but needed direction. “I had a lot of ideas, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” she relates. “Mandy Archer at the SBDC really helped me with that. She’s really good at thinking outside the box. For me, it’s been a learning process.”

April’s learning process included funding. With help from the SBDC, April applied for a loan to secure needed equipment. “Mandy Archer walked me through the application process step by step,” April says. “The loan I received for $5,000 was huge for the business.”

Manna Tees was also able to take advantage of the SBA Debt Relief Program. “The SBA paid off half of the loan for equipment,” she adds. “The SBDC also helped with that process.” Overall, the SBDC assisted April in the creation of one job and a total of $7,500 in capital for her business. “I started from zero six months ago, and I now work with about 30 clients,” she says.

Like her brother, April credits the SBDC with turning her toward success. “The SBDC pointed me in the right direction,” she says. “The SBDC really does stay on top of things,” Eugene adds. “Not only do they know every angle, they spell out every detail for you.”

Both Eugene and April appreciate the SBDC’s proactive approach. “The SBDC kept us informed during COVID,” Eugene says. “Mandy definitely keeps up with everything.” Eugene and April also enjoy the creative vibe they share. “We bounce ideas off each other,” Eugene says. “When you’re in a creative business, it helps to have another set of eyes.”

Despite the pandemic, business has been picking up for both businesses. “We recently got spirit-wear orders from a local school,” April notes. “That includes t-shirts, shorts, and bags. Hopefully, that will continue next year as well.”

“Since I started in 2014, my business has doubled,” Eugene concludes. “Anyone who comes in the door for a website — I tell them to go to the SBDC. When you’re starting a business, the SBDC has a huge amount of knowledge for you. It really helps to take advantage of that.”

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Highland Monument Conservation

Honoring history by conserving and maintaining monuments

Started a new business; received a $6,500 VCEDA grant; signed a $40k contract with Gate City Cemetery.

Highland Monument Conservation

It is not every day that you encounter a child fascinated by monuments and cemeteries, but Burke Greear was one of them. “I can go all the way back to being a child, really, and having some sort of reverence or feeling for cemeteries — that they are places that need to be taken care of and maintained,” says Burke.

This fascination led him to start Highland Monument Conservation, a business offering professional maintenance and conservation for historic stones. Burke’s childhood admiration for these stones influences how he conducts business.

“I don’t just take these stones as objects,” he explains. “I think about the person. Every death was a life, and every life was a death, and that deserves to be remembered.”

As the only business of its kind in the area, Highland Monuments has no shortage of work. Customers frequently contact Burke after seeing the poor condition of family members’ graves. However, new projects necessitate additional equipment.

Burke contacted the Mt. Empire SBDC hoping to find funding for this equipment. His wife works at Mt. Empire Community College, where a friend of Burke’s had previously been the SBDC’s director. He introduced Burke to Becki O’Quinn, the new director who became Burke’s advisor.

In one-on-one meetings, Becki guided Burke through the application process for a Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) grant. He received $6,500, which he described as “a godsend.” He used the money to purchase a tripod and a jack system to lift and level stones safely. The SBDC also helped him prepare project updates and progress reports to present to his local town council.

“Being a beneficiary of the SBDC has really made all the difference in the work I’m able to do,” he explains. His new tools expanded the services he can offer to municipalities, historical societies, churches, and entire cemeteries.

With the new equipment, Burke was able to complete a $40k contract with Gate City Cemetery. He will also use the equipment in an upcoming project with 350 town monuments.

As for the SBDC, Burke comments, “Folks don’t really realize everything that they have to offer, and it would benefit them if they would get to know their local SBDC.”

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Cowden Technologies

Flying high: Drone tech company gets a lift

Secured grants from the Center for Innovative Technology ($79,500), Rebuild VA ($8,817), and Gauntlet 2020 Business Plan Award ($5,000), EIDL advance and loan ($110,000), and PPP ($6,000)

Have you ever wished something could work better than it does? Sometimes that’s all it takes to inspire someone with an entrepreneurial inclination to start a small business. And when inspiration strikes, the SBDC is there to assist.

Take Mickey Cowden, for example. In 2017, he was part of a Virginia Tech team that went to Abu Dhabi as a finalist in an international robotics competition. “A lot of the problems we had, doing field testing and stuff like that, I felt could be automated,” he said. “I was wishing we had a docking station so we could just land the drone automatically to handle logistics like power and data management instead of having to do everything manually.”

Fast forward to 2021. Mickey recently pivoted the focus of his small tech company, Cowden Technologies, from general software engineering to product development. The product? A smart docking station for mid-sized drones. Capabilities will include automatically recharging the drone’s battery, seamlessly transferring data to base or cloud storage, reloading payload (for spraying crops, for example), and providing a physical connection secure enough to hold tight even on a moving vehicle. But this pivot has come with a whole new set of challenges.

Enter Cheryl Tucker with the Roanoke SBDC. Based on a recommendation from a colleague at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, Mickey contacted Cheryl, who turned out to be an invaluable resource.

While the shift to product development has been a dream come true for Mickey, it also meant a shift to a whole new set of issues, many outside his area of expertise. “There’s a lot of different aspects to doing product development, and coming from the consulting world, I thought I had a reasonable handle on that,” Mickey says. “But in a lot of ways, it’s an entirely different beast.”

Cheryl provided Mickey guidance in everything from financial and business advice to making essential connections in the business world and successfully applying for loans, grants, and other funding sources.

As Mickey describes it, “Cheryl has been a wonderful business resource and actually turned out to be a very supportive friend, so I think I definitely lucked out when I got to work with Cheryl.”

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Agenacare Housecalls

Agenacare Housecalls helps bring care home

Increased patient volume from 25 to 2,500 in less than two years; created 15 jobs.

“When I started Agenacare Housecalls, I asked myself what I would want as a mom,” Whitney Pugh says. “Health care in the home is exactly what I would want.”

Whitney took her idea to Roanoke Regional SBDC’s business advisor Tom Tanner. “I told him I have this idea for a business, but I don’t know how to do it,” she recalls. “Tom helped me put the business together in August, and we launched it in November.”

Whitney, a nurse practitioner, went to the SBDC for help with business specifics. “I knew my field but nothing about business,” she says. “Initially, Tom helped me understand the difference between a PLLC and LLC, and helped me get my tax ID and establish a bank account. He walked me through all those things I had no clue about.”

As the business name implies, Agenacare makes house calls. During the last two months of 2019, Whitney, the sole provider, cared for 25 patients in their homes. Despite the pandemic, the patient count in 2020 increased to 500. “We made the decision when COVID started that we were not going to shut down,” Whitney says. “I was still the sole provider until December 2020.”

By 2021, Agenacare’s staff had grown to five providers, five contractors, and five administrators. “To date in 2021, we’re at 2,500 patient visits,” Whitney adds. “We don’t take insurance, so for us to be that busy is really good.”

Tom has been involved every step of the way. “I go to Tom first and say, ‘this is what we want to do — will it work?’” Whitney says. “Tom is my sounding board when I want to see if something is doable.”

Future plans include adding more areas of care. “What the community needs is what we develop,” Whitney notes. “We’ve already split into two practices, and we’re on our way to adding a third.” Before offering managed care, Whitney plans to consult the SBDC. “The SBDC helped me get where I am today,” she says. “I consider Tom a key player in my business.”

Whitney enthusiastically recommends the SBDC to all who ask about her success. “I recommend the SBDC a thousand percent,” Whitney concludes. “I’m very appreciative of all the help I’ve received from them.”

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Advantage Supply Center

From farm animals to pharmaceuticals and everything in between

Received $35,000 Payroll Protection Program Loan

For the majority of her professional career in information technology and process analysis, Celeste DeVaneaux has worked among teams of similarly knowledgeable and talented professionals.

However, when she moved solo across the country to open Advantage Supply Center, Inc., in Virginia in 2014, she found herself uncomfortably isolated.

“I cut my teeth on the West Coast, so one of my challenges in starting the business was being in Virginia and understanding the rules and the climate around here,” Celeste says. “I had trouble finding somebody who knows more than I do, and I’m not saying that to be conceited. I just had a big support group on the West Coast, but I didn’t have that here.”

Living in a new state as a first-time business owner without the safety net of trusted peers, Celeste’s leap-of-faith move to the Commonwealth quickly turned into a freefall. Her business model was to create a service that assists state agencies with purchasing necessary products at affordable prices — all within the confines of the state’s purchasing protocols. With a once-robust network of peers nonexistent in her new home state, Celeste began seeking out expertise anywhere she could find it, which quickly led her to the SBDC.

“I was used to incubators in California, so as soon as I started this up I started researching what was available in the state,” she says. “I found the SBDC through Virginia Highlands Community College, and they were very helpful in connecting me with the people I needed to be connected with and in areas like financial planning and cash management.”

Cindy Fields of the Virginia Highlands SBDC became Celeste’s point person at startup, but the SBDC’s assistance did not stop there. She has remained an ally throughout Advantage’s six-plus years of operation and has proven to be a valuable extension of the Micro SWaM company’s six-person staff. The company now supplies state agencies “with everything from farm animals to pharmaceuticals” and, with the help of the SBDC, successfully navigated a COVID-19 shutdown that significantly scaled back the purchasing power of Celeste’s clients.

“When the initial shutdown happened in March of 2020, our customer base dried up,” she says. “The SBDC was very helpful getting us through that. I spent a great deal of time in meetings and training, filling out grant applications and essentially jumping from rock to rock over the lava pit to keep the money flowing, so I could keep people employed.”

The SBDC assisted Celeste with a Payroll Protection Program loan and supplied her with necessary contacts when needed, including a new bank.

“I didn’t know where to go, and it was the contacts I had with the SBDC that pointed me in the right direction,” she says. “That’s really valuable. It’s not just the assistance they offered in applying for a loan; it’s the connections they have and how quickly they used those to help me when I needed them.”

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Abingdon Gifting Company

Creating memories one basket at a time

Won $5000 in Washington County Business Challenge Competition and moved to Main Street and invested $25,000 in new inventory and a new location.

Like many, Cassie Rowe long entertained the idea of starting her own business. And while it wasn’t until 2017 that she finally got her company off the ground, the owner of Abingdon Gifting Company hasn’t looked back.

Armed with a knack for creativity and a desire to follow in her parents’ footsteps as a small business owner — but little in the way of her own personal business experience — Cassie made one of the first stops in her journey toward becoming a small-business owner at the Virginia Highlands SBDC for initial guidance on starting her business.

“I initially wanted to open a kitchen, because I love to cook and had been cooking for people on the side, but the food regulations were more than I wanted to deal with,” Cassie said. “A friend of mine suggested gift baskets, and, after I looked into what that would look like, I called Cindy Fields [center director at the SBDC] back and started again. I told her we were going in a different direction. She helped me do it, and they’ve been on board ever since,” she explains.

By February 2018, just two months after Cassie quit her job to pursue the business full time, Build-A-Basket was up and running. Renamed Abingdon Gifting Company in April 2020, the customized store-crafts gift baskets are filled with a variety of boutique products that Cassie sources from small businesses both local and nationwide. Working within budgets of any size, customers can choose from a wide range of preassembled gift baskets of Cassie’s design, or they can create their own.

Through personal goals, dedication, and the encouragement and strategic planning with the SBDC, Cassie competed in and won the top prize of $5,000 in the local business challenge and worked hard to find local unique and high-quality products that she can offer to her customers.

In the fall of 2020, she was ready to rebrand her store and prepare for a move to a bigger location. She received biweekly visits from the SBDC team and counselor Patrick Horn to assist her with growth in the area of marketing, to provide small business education and to help her collaborate with other local professionals to achieve new sales levels. Cassie has doubled her sales each year and is on track to do the same in 2021.

Regardless of what’s in the basket, Cassie says that the goal is to create something uniquely memorable for whoever receives it. “That’s what we do,” she says. “Our mission is to create a feeling, create a memory or a lasting impression through a gift.”

“It has taken a lot of research and a lot of learning,” she says. “The SBDC has been a really good resource, as far as continued learning. I’m pretty confident that anytime I get into a situation I’m not sure about, all I have to do is call Cindy or Patrick.”

“They’ve been on board since I started,” Cassie says. “Owning your own business isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can be tough, and there are ins and outs you don’t know. But anytime I need a resource, a connection with somebody I need to reach, or just some advice, they’re always there.”

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Micro Harmonics

SBDC helped add the business component to
Micro Harmonics’ success

Sales increased by 20% and capital investments were $92,000.

Diane Kees enjoys exploring new frontiers as chief operating officer at Micro Harmonics, a company founded by her brother, David Porterfield. The Botetourt County business specializes in components for a variety of applications from COVID research to NASA exploration.

For Diane, working with NASA is all in a day’s work; launching a new business, on the other hand, is not. Faced with the prospect of serving temporarily as the business accountant, Diane contacted the Roanoke Regional SBDC. “The SBDC’s help was lifesaving,” she says without hesitation. “I called the SBDC, and Business Advisor Cheryl Tucker walked me through the accounting process. She also, very patiently, helped me learn Quickbooks,” Diane continues.

Micro Harmonics specializes in components needed for new high-frequency technologies.

“When you work in higher frequencies, having the right component is essential,” Diane says. “We develop components needed for these advanced technologies.” She compared the process to plumbing a house. “When you update a plumbing system, you need the right valves to make the system work,” she notes. The same concept, she believes, applies to business — the “right parts” are needed for success.

A number of people and organizations helped supply those “right parts.” Diane considers the SBDC’s connections “a huge help.” She adds, “If the SBDC doesn’t have someone to help you, they’ll find someone who can.” Recently, Diane has been an active participant in the SBDC’s Botetourt GrowthWheel cohort, one of the many benefits available to Botetourt County Businesses through a collaborative partnership between the Roanoke Regional SBDC and Botetourt County Economic Development.

Diane shared about her GrowthWheel Cohort experience, “We were all in different businesses, but had the same problem.” She also shared that “Only knowing your own specialty doesn’t help much in running a business.”

“It has been an absolute delight to provide guidance, support, and connections to Diane and David over the years as they continue to grow and expand their business” states, Heather Fay, Botetourt Advisor.

“All the help we received from the various organizations very much impacted our growth, and the SBDC is certainly among those organizations,” Diane adds. Micro Harmonic’s growth was reflected in year-end figures: from 2018 to 2019 sales rose to $1 million.

Diane doesn’t hesitate to recommend the SBDC. “The consultants at the SBDC are experts in running a business,” she concludes. “Because of the SBDC, I’m confident because I know where I can turn for help.”

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Riverbound Trout Farms

Riverbound Trout Farms has hooked success

Received a $500,000 line of credit and a $69,000 grant.

Jake Musick likes to compare running a successful business to fishing. The owner of Riverbound Trout Farms in Lebanon understands that both knowledge and experience are needed for success. “I’ve been in the fish-growing industry for quite a few years now,” Jake says.

Jake wanted to bring more local farmers into the aquaculture industry. His plan was to build and operate a fish processing facility in Russell County. He called on Margie Douglass, director of the Southwest Virginia SBDC, to help him apply for a $500,000 loan from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). “I needed an in-depth business plan,” he explains. “The SBDC gave me pointers on how to write one, and Margie helped me put the finished product together.”

The SBDC also connected Jake with the research department at George Mason University (GMU). “They did a marketing survey that I was able to include in my business plan,” he adds. “That was very helpful.”

The SBDC’s knowledge and experience produced results. “With the SBDC’s help, I was approved for a line of credit for $500,000 for the processing plant and to expand the current farm,” Jake says happily. “We’ve purchased property but postponed construction for now due to the spiraling cost of building materials.” Additionally, during the pandemic, Jake received a $69,000 grant through the Farm Service Industry. “It didn’t cover losses, but it sure did help,” he recalls.

Despite COVID, Jake continues to be optimistic about the fish processing project, as well as the future of aquaculture. “Our goal is to offer inspiration for young people to take a look at aquaculture as a viable occupation,” he says. “The big push is to bring as many other growers into the process as we can.”

Jake actively promotes the SBDC to other farmers in the area, happy to share what he’s learned. “I’ve been talking to a lot of farmers about the SBDC,” he says. “I tell them to go and benefit from what’s there. Over the last several years, our business at Riverbound Trout Farms has grown considerably,” he concludes. “Our involvement with the SBDC helped facilitate that growth.”

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Owners and key financial decisionmakers of for-profit businesses, share your recent experiences. Did your business seek financing such as loans or lines of credit in the last 12 months? How would you rate the financial condition of your business?

The Federal Reserve’s 2022 Small Business Credit Survey is open for responses, and the Virginia SBDC Network is a partner on this effort. By taking the survey, you contribute to data that directly informs the Fed, federal government agencies, service providers, policymakers, and others—ultimately benefitting your business and other businesses like yours. Take the 10-minute survey now. 

The survey is open to businesses currently in operation, those recently closed, and those about to launch. All responses are confidential.

The survey closes November 4, 2022. Questions? Contact Grace Guynn at