Category: Southwest

Beartown Film Bureau

SBDC guidance nets confidence and contracts for Beartown Film

Utilized SBDC contacts and guidance to connect with the Virginia PTAC, an APEX Accelerator, to receive HUBZone certification and his first contract.

https://www.beartownfilmbureau.com/

Jorge Rey retired from federal service two years ago with a plan to move into the world of small business. He credits the Southwest Virginia Community College Small Business Development Center (SBDC) with moving him in the right direction.

“I started Beartown Film Bureau on my own and then connected with the SBDC for guidance,” he says. “Margie Douglass, Southwest SBDC Director, walked me through the steps for starting a business.”

Jorge found the SBDC while searching for business advice online, and scheduled his first consultation shortly afterwards.

“After hearing my ideas, Margie and her team crafted their services to show me how to be successful in getting government contracts,” he adds.

Jorge previously tested his small business idea by offering free services to community non-profits, which were primarily story-based informational videos. With SBDC assistance, he was able to transition his business opportunities from pro-bono to paid.

“Margie connected me with the Virginia PTAC, an APEX Accelerator, funded by the Department of Defense,” Jorge says.

Together the SBDC and PTAC walked Jorge through the process to become certified as a Veteran-Owned Small Business and enrolling in the U.S. government’s System for Award Management (SAM.gov) to become eligible for federal contracts. SBDC and PTAC also assisted him in achieving HUBZone certification, a program that awards federal contracts to small businesses in underutilized business zones.

“It was a complex process, but they decoded it and gave me the confidence to present myself as a viable vendor,” he notes. “Margie showed me how it all works. Without the SBDC’s help, there’s no way I could have accomplished what my business is today.”

Within two months, Jorge landed his first contract with a government organization. He also received the 2023 Best Video Series for an Attraction (of the Burke’s Garden Artisan Guild) at the Virginia Tourism Summit in Wytheville, a huge accomplishment for a new business

“I consider the SBDC to be my secret weapon,” he concludes. “Their guidance allowed me to move forward with confidence. I would have been dead in the water without the SBDC.”

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J.C. Spare Parts & Consulting

From Colombia to Pulaski — Greater Roanoke & NRV SBDC paves the way for JC Spare Parts’ success

Started their business after receiving her E-2 Visa; increased employees from one to eight; increased repeat customers from one to five, sales grew 800%.

https://www.engineeringjc.com/

For 25 years in their native Colombia, Jeniffer Sanchez and her husband Juan Carlos Correa owned a successful machinery parts manufacturing business. When they decided to move to Virginia and replant their entrepreneurial roots stateside, a partnership with the Greater Roanoke + New River Valley SBDC was crucial in helping them establish a new business venture.

“As a Colombian I had to start from scratch in the US,” Jeniffer says. “I found the SBDC online and made an appointment with Tom Tanner.”

Working with Tom, an SBDC Business Advisor, Jeniffer found help for everything she needed to open J.C. Spare Parts and Consulting. That process started with acquiring a specific work visa and continued with financial projections, capital formation, and marketing – all of which the SBDC assisted with.

“I came to the US with a tourist visa,” Jeniffer says. “Tom helped me with the business plan I needed to apply for the E-2 visa that allows me and the three technicians I brought from Colomba to work in the USA.”

The SBDC also connected Jeniffer with key educational resources, like SBDC marketing webinars, and profit and budget forecasting and management.

After laying those early foundations, Jeniffer followed Tom’s guidance and began networking within the new community she and her husband now called home. That included joining the Pulaski Chamber of Commerce, Pulaski County Innovation center and connecting with local manufacturing groups.

In May 2020, JC Spare Parts and Consulting officially opened for business. In the three-plus years since, the company has expanded its services by offering Class A electrical installations to its existing services of providing industrial parts, sharpening, and maintenance services.

That growth has been sustained by the formation of a large repeat client base that has grown from one to five clients from multiple states, and a team that has grown from one employee to eight and its sales grew 800% in just two years.

“The SBDC supported us the whole way,” Jeniffer concludes. “Pulaski is projected to grow, and we want to be part of that growth. With SBDC, we believe we can do it.”

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Beyond Catering

Beyond Catering looks to the future with the SBDC

Added two full-time and four part-time employees, and 20 on-call servers; increased annual sales to more than $250,000.

https://beyondcateringswva.com/

When plans to open a restaurant in Galax didn’t pan out for chefs Justin and Meagan Hitt, Crossroads SBDC Director Mandy Archer helped them consider other ideas and start a catering business. Even after landing their first opportunity – catering a friend’s wedding – the husband-wife culinary team learned the road to building a catering company was anything but a piece of cake.

“Financially, we realized a restaurant wasn’t going to happen,” Meagan relates. “We decided to try catering instead but needed someone to explain business details. Mandy explained an LLC and showed me how to apply for SWaM certification.”

Funded by Justin’s 401K, Beyond Catering opened for business in 2020 and acquired its first steady customer: the Volvo Truck Customer Center in Dublin. That has since turned into a thrice-a-week culinary affair that Beyond still serves today.

However, even with the steady customer base, the couple wanted a commercial kitchen closer to home. When a business incubator kitchen in the Crossroads Institute became available, Beyond Catering moved in. An added bonus was the SBDC office across the hall.

“I popped in there a lot as our company grew,” Meagan says. “We’ve added two full-time and four part-time employees and 20 on-call servers.”

Beyond Catering’s sales have also exceeded $250,000 annually, and recently won the Gemini Award from The Carroll News in 2022 and was named Best Caterer by the publication in 2023. Meagan and Justin are paying forward the lessons they’ve learned through a podcast they started, titled “Business Bites,” which offers hard-earned advice to other food entrepreneurs.

As Meagan and Justin look beyond catering to their ultimate goal of opening a restaurant, they’ll continue to depend on the SBDC for advice.

“Mandy’s been a great support,” Meagan concludes. “I don’t see any reason you wouldn’t want to have the SBDC in your back pocket.”

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Devils Fork Campground

The SBDC builds tourism along with Devils Fork Campground

Received $25,000 revolving loan fund (RLF) from Scott County and $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Grant.

https://www.devilsforkcampground.com

Jennifer White’s homeplace in Scott County was practically in the backyard of Devil’s Bathtub – a  popular and intriguingly named tourist attraction known for a scenic waterfall and picturesque blue-green water. With tourism growing in Southwest Virginia, Jennifer and her husband, David, decided to take advantage of the land they owned and open their own campground.

With the land, the vision, and a client base ready to explore their slice of Southwestern Virginia, Jennifer went to the Mountain Empire SBDC to map out the final steps of her journey to becoming a business owner.

“I met with SBDC Director Becki O’Quinn-Purdie,” Jennifer says. “I was impressed with the legwork she did for our business plan, first researching our idea to see it was viable and then looking at potential income for us and the county.”

That business plan provided the roadmap for making their campground a reality but identified one final hill to conquer: securing funding. With the SBDC acting as their compass, Jennifer and David navigated that hurdle and reached their final destination.

“Becki helped us with paperwork for a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Grant,” Jennifer says. “The grant was approved and used to clear the property and construct ten primitive camping sites.”

Devils Fork Campground officially opened July 4, 2023, with six campers visiting from Europe. More campers have followed since.

“SBDC projections were right on,” Jennifer notes.

To finance future plans, the Whites recently applied and were approved for a low-interest economic development loan for $25,000. That loan will fund RV sites and underground electrical service to preserve the scenic beauty of the site.

Despite the early success they’ve experienced since opening Devils Fork, the Whites have more in store for the campground, including teepee yurts and a camp store. In addition, they project hiring two full-time and four part-time employees within five years.

“Since day one Becki has been there to make it happen,” Jennifer says. “I couldn’t believe SBDC’s services were free — to be honest, I expected an invoice!”

Aside from practical advice, business planning, and connections to funding, the Whites have also valued SBDC’s moral support.

“Becki’s been our biggest cheerleader from day one,” Jennifer concludes. “You’re never alone with the SBDC — it’s always there to help.”

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Wyndale Gardens

Wyndale Gardens Cultivates Connections with the SBDC

Secured new loan and capital investment for $101,000; tripled production in one year.

https://www.facebook.com/wyndalegardens/

While living in Colorado at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott and Rebecca Ramsey helplessly watched as grocery store shelves became empty.

“In the Rocky Mountains, we were basically at the end of the food chain,” says Scott. “Neither my wife nor I have a horticulture background. We’d never gardened before. We didn’t even know where our food came from. So, it was both scary and kind of a wake-up call.”

As COVID progressed, the couple bought an RV to travel the country, staying at state parks and Harvest Hosts farms and talking with families who had worked the land for generations. Scott and Rebecca started formulating their own plans. In November 2021, they reached out to the Virginia Highlands SBDC and connected with Director Cindy Fields, bringing her an idea for an agritourism business — plus a 10-year roadmap they had already designed.

With the SBDC at their side, Scott and Rebecca purchased property in Abingdon, launched Wyndale Gardens in April 2022, and brought their first produce to market within seven months. Today, their multifaceted endeavor features an aquaponics farm, apiary and agritourism business.

To support their growth, Cindy shared startup resources, including pitch competitions and grant suggestions. Alongside Virginia Tech, she supported Wyndale Gardens throughout the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) audit, as the aquaponics farm sought to be the first in Virginia to carry the GAP certification. Scott notes, however, that Cindy’s greatest contributions to Wyndale Gardens are the connections she helped them formulate.

“Cindy being that conduit to help us network has been vital.”

Cindy connected Scott to an advisor at George Mason University to assist with technical questions on hydroponics. Through pitch competitions and other events, she plugged them into a local support system for entrepreneurs.

“Just for networking alone and getting connected into the small business community in your area, the SBDC is absolutely vital,” says Scott. “You need it in terms of, ‘Hey, who can I sell to? Who can I partner with?’”

In fact, community partnerships have been key to Wyndale Gardens’ ability to scale up after only a year in business.

The business started with a small subscriber program, but now Scott sells his romaine lettuce to the largest local grocery chain, Food City, and to the farm-to-school program, serving the city of Bristol as well as Washington and Tazewell counties. He’s currently working to form a co-op of farmers so that local schools can access other fresh produce. He’s also in the process of producing a honey beer in cooperation with local brewery, Sweetbay Brewing Co.

Since launching, Wyndale Gardens has tripled production and secured loans for $76,000. Four farmers have signed on for the co-op, and Scott and Rebecca plan to expand their agritourism focus by adding a boutique campground.

Throughout its first year in business, the company has continued to work with the SBDC and prioritize regional partnerships. In fact, Scott recommends the SBDC to all aspiring entrepreneurs wondering if they should take the leap.

“It’s like a support system,” he says. “We just have to wait for our food to grow.”

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LAT Dentistry

LAT Dentistry inspires healthy smiles with a little guidance from the SBDC

Received $550,000 in loans; created 1 part-time and 2 full-time jobs.

https://www.latdentistry.com/

In March of 2022, LAT Dentistry opened its doors to a purposefully different dental experience in Roanoke. Since the practice’s beginnings, founder and dentist Dr. Lindsay Thorn set a vision: to make every patient feel heard. Her intentional, personalized approach puts relationships at the heart of her business, empowering patients to take control of their long-term wellness.

“I’d worked at a handful of different offices, and I just realized that I had more to offer,” Lindsay says. “I wanted to spend more time with people to get to know them and not feel so rushed. I got to a point where I was like, I really think that there’s a different way to go about delivering dentistry.”

With more than a decade of experience, a DMD in dentistry, a master’s degree in microbiology and immunology, and a bachelor’s in chemistry, Lindsay possesses a wealth of professional knowledge. As she began to navigate the complex process of launching a small business, a friend introduced Lindsay to Roanoke Regional SBDC Advisor Tom Tanner, who helped her begin a new journey of entrepreneurship.

“Tom walked me through every step of the process and made it feel easy and simple,” says Lindsay. “He was also really good about putting me in touch with other local business owners.”

Tom helped her find an appropriate location and analyze demographics. He introduced Lindsay to Roanoke’s small-business network, including real estate brokers and marketing professionals. The SBDC completed a complete review of LAT Dentistry’s social media campaigns and mailers, which was crucial for business growth.

“The marketing team connected us to similar businesses so that we could see what they had done,” Lindsay explains. “Our initial influx of patients were people that followed us on social media. Now, most of our new patients come from Google reviews.”

Today LAT Dentistry treats between 30 and 40 patients per week. With one part-time and two full-time employees, Lindsay built a practice committed to increasing accessibility to dental care, especially for families. Her SMILE club membership offers all-inclusive preventative care, lower rates for children, and a 10% discount on additional services.

While Lindsay acknowledges that starting a small business has been a massive undertaking, feedback from her patients confirms her decision on a daily basis.

“Hearing them say that they really feel heard and cared about — not just pushed through — has been really affirming,” she explains.

With LAT Dentistry now thriving, Lindsay consults Tom and the SBDC on an as-needed basis. She has also referred her husband, who is in the process of launching his own small business in commercial construction, to the SBDC.

“I have friends who have gone through starting their own businesses and practices in other parts of the country, and I can’t tell you how much they’ve paid for legal counsel and other things that the SBDC provided for free,” says Lindsay.

She recommends the SBDC wholeheartedly, “It’s a major gem that’s hidden in the state of Virginia that everyone should know about.”

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MOVA Technologies

MOVA Technologies discovers its customer base and scales with the Virginia SBDC-ICAP

Raised $1.5 million in private equity; received $420,000 in grants; created 3 jobs.

MOVA Technologies

MOVA Technologies’ selective air capture technology offers a system with nearly infinite possibilities. In the business world, however, limitless potential is not always an easy place to start. With the guidance of the Roanoke Regional SBDC and the Virginia SBDC Network’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), MOVA Technologies spent the past two years narrowing its focus.

Founder Steve Critchfield incorporated MOVA Technologies in 2016. Under the leadership of CEO John Schott and Communications Manager Luke Allison, the company is scaling up — in part due to the applicability of its system in a world racing against climate change. MOVA Technologies transforms pollutants into products — or as Luke puts it, turns liabilities into assets.

“We aren’t capturing air pollutants to simply throw them away,” Luke says. “Instead, we are selectively harvesting these captured pollutants in a pure form so they can be returned to the supply chain. So not only are we cleaning the air, but we are creating valuable and sustainable reuse, recycle, and resale options.”

Luke met Roanoke Regional SBDC Advisor Cheryl Tucker in 2020. Shortly after, he enrolled in the Virginia SBDC-ICAP’s introductory course, to work on defining his customer segment and value proposition.

“ICAP really helps you look at things through the eyes of the customer,” says Luke. “You could have the biggest, brightest, greatest idea, but if it doesn’t help the customer, then the customer will never buy it.”

During the ICAP course, Luke also developed an important network of connections. ICAP mentor Irfan Ali helped him determine where to broaden and narrow MOVA’s approach. ICAP Director Josh Green provided contacts for potential investors, such as venture capital firms. Additionally, ICAP connected MOVA to the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC) and provided strategic guidance and support for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant submission, which resulted in a $174,000 award through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Now that MOVA has defined a path from discovery to commercialization, the company plans to expand its portfolio of market-focused pollution harvesting products, grow its customer base, and grow its intellectual property. To date, MOVA has raised $1.5 million from angel investors, $420,000 in grant funding, and created three new jobs.

Both Luke and John believe that ICAP is an absolute must for small companies.

“So many small companies don’t necessarily know how to ask the right questions, discover opportunities, and then bring those forward to the market to assess market opportunity,” says John. “ICAP has been very good for us. It’s helped us pivot from some of our initial forays and really lock in on some things that the market is after.”

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Little Daydreamers

The SBDC helps children’s boutique turn play into profit

Doubled sales; created 3 jobs

Little Daydreamers LLC

Child’s play is not how most entrepreneurs describe a venture into the world of small business. However, Jade Murray turned child’s play into a winning strategy by opening a children’s boutique in January 2022. With guidance from the Virginia Highlands SBDC, Little Daydreamers has doubled sales and added three employees.

Jade started Little Daydreamers as an online storefront in 2019. When transitioning from online to a brick-and-mortar location, Jade chose to include an art room and play area. While moms’ shop, kids can enjoy a playroom with a Jungle Jumparoo, slide, kitchen set, playhouse, tunnel, grocery store, LEGO bricks, and puzzles. There’s also an art room to inspire young artists.

“I saw a need for a place for kids to play and moms to socialize and have coffee while shopping,” Jade says. “When the space next door became available, we were able to expand even more.”

Jade began planning a new direction for her business in the summer of 2021 when she found the Virginia Highlands SBDC online and emailed Director Cindy Fields.

“We started meeting every week,” Jade relates. “Cindy helped find the right location and gave me a template for writing a business plan. She also helped with numbers on what I needed to make a profit.”

That advice paid off with a business loan used for purchases and to renovate her store. Marketing strategy was next on the list.

“We had a brainstorming meeting on targeting customers from groups like MOPS and home-schoolers,” Jade adds. “Cindy also suggested newspaper, radio ads, and flyers.”

Along with that traditional marketing outreach, Jade hosts special events at Little Daydreamers that have added to her customer base.

“We do a lot of birthday parties,” she says. “We also have character parties with characters from ‘Frozen’ and ‘Paw Patrol’ and employees who dress up as princesses and pose for photos.”

Fees charged for events add to store profits and customers tend to return after attending a function.

“Our children’s line is exclusive,” Jade explains. “You can’t find it anywhere else.”

Jade credits Cindy and the SBDC with much of her success.

“If Cindy can’t help, she’ll find someone who can,” Jade concludes. “The first thing I would say to anyone opening a business is: Call the SBDC!”

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Fitness Authority

Fitness Authority meets business authority at the SBDC

Received a $6,500 VCEDA grant, increased gym membership to triple digits, and created 1 full-time job.

Fitness Authority Facebook Page

Leaning on years of experience in the fitness industry, Rey Perez opened Fitness Authority in Honaker last year. When the longtime trainer needed a business coach in his own corner, he turned to the Southwest Virginia SBDC.

“I’ve worked in gyms and trained a lot of people over the years — including world champion boxers,” Rey says.

His vision for a gym in Honaker, a small town of 1,500, contains all the accouterments to entice the novice gym-goer. Even if some members of Fitness Authority aren’t competing for titles, Rey’s ambition is to provide everyone with the tools to pursue and surpass their own fitness goals.

“In Honaker our goal is to get the average person off the couch to exercise,” he explains. “We have ellipticals, treadmills, a free weights section, and full-circuit training equipment.”

To help purchase equipment and outfit his gym, Rey applied for a Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) grant and contacted the Southwest SBDC for advice. The SBDC helped him secure that funding, reviewed his business plan, and offered additional guidance as Fitness Authority became more established.

“Director Margie Douglass, a wonderful person to work with, assisted with the application,” he says. “I put a lot of capital into the gym, but that $6,500 grant helped.”

Now with plenty of momentum behind him, Rey is continuing to advance on new targets.

“The SBDC gave us a clear vision of what our goals should be,” Rey adds. “This year’s goal is to increase membership and offer corporate packages.”

Those goals are coming to fruition as Fitness Authority has grown steadily since its 2021 opening. The gym recently signed its 100th member, and Rey added another employee. He also purchased $3,000 in equipment without incurring debt and projects to add more positions within the next five years.

And even with the success Fitness Authority has experienced, Rey still relies on the guidance of Margie and the SBDC to continue moving toward future goals.

“I give the SBDC five stars across the board,” Rey says. “Margie did a great job of explaining things to us — and her friendliness was unsurpassed!”

Rey thinks every small business should start with a visit to the SBDC. That’s high praise from a championship trainer who knows the importance of a good advisor.

“I highly recommend the SBDC to anyone starting a business,” he concludes. “I’d advise every new business owner to go the SBDC route first. There’s a lot of help behind what they have to offer.”

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Henry’s Produce & Market

The SBDC and Henry’s Produce grow business in Duffield

Received $6,500 award from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) and a $25,000 Virginia Food Access Investment Fund (VFAIF) Grant; created 4 jobs.

https://henrysproducemarket.com/

After losing his job due to COVID cutbacks early in the pandemic, Henry Morris returned to what he knew best — selling produce. He credits the Mountain Empire Community College SBDC for making Henry’s Produce and Market the thriving success it is today.

“I’ve been in produce most of my life,” Henry says. “I sold produce with my father from the back of an old station wagon when I was 10.”

Henry’s latest venture started in Duffield, with three tables, two tents and — as his wife, Renee, put it — a dream.

“Customers told us about Becki O’Quinn at the SBDC,” Henry relates. “She’s helped us like no other!”

Becki’s first step was advising Henry and Renee on putting together a business plan.

“It’s great to have a dream, but getting it on paper makes it real,” Renee says.

Next, Becki helped Renee write a grant application. The result was a $6,500 award from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). This award allowed Henry and Renee to purchase a heating and cooling unit, walk in cooler, roadside and other signs, which bolstered the business.

Henry and Renee additionally applied for and received a $25,000 Virginia Food Access Investment Fund (VFAIF) Grant, which is a program that aims to improve fresh food availability in low-income areas. This allowed them to upgrade their building with additional walls, insulation, and a covered porch.

Together, these improvements have allowed Henry’s Produce to operate year-round with produce procured from Florida and Georgia during the winter months.

“We also started the Virginia Fresh Match, a program to discount fresh produce 50 percent for customers using an EBT card,” Renee says. “I’ve had customers cry when they got a bushel of beans for $24.”

In July 2021, Henry’s Produce marked a successful first year with a visit by Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Joseph Guthrie.

“Mr. Guthrie was pleased with what we’d done,” Renee notes.

Others in the community have also noticed their efforts. Henry’s Produce now supports four employees and created a local hub for fresh foods. The business continues to successfully grow.

“Becki told us other businesses have looked at us and said, ‘If Henry can do it, we can do it!’” says Renee.

Henry and Renee are pleased that Henry’s Produce has shown others what a successful business in Duffield looks like and inspiring them on their own entrepreneurship journeys.

“We couldn’t have done it without the SBDC,” Henry concluded. “The SBDC is a fantastic organization — we hope it’s around forever.”

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