Category: Access to Capital

Corgi Clay Arts Center

Corgi Clay Art Center

The SBDC helps bring ceramic arts to Stafford

Secured a $150,000 small business loan and received marketing advice and business education.

Debra Balestreri, a former director at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center and adjunct professor at University of Mary Washington, decided to step into the small business world in 2019. Unfortunately, that first step began in the midst of a global pandemic.

“It wasn’t intentional to start Corgi Clay LLC in a pandemic,” she says.

Debra has learned, as an artist, that perseverance is key to turning a work in progress into a work of art. For her, the complete picture she envisioned was turning her successful web-based pottery business, Corgi Clay LLC, into a brick-and-mortar space dedicated to teaching the ceramic arts.

Following a 2021 crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $40,000 in pledges, Debra turned her attention to securing additional funding to put the finishing touches on her burgeoning business.

“I knew I would need more than crowdfunding, so I reached out to the University of Mary Washington SBDC and was connected with SBDC Advisor Angie Kelley,” Debra relates. “Angie connected me directly to the Bank of Charleston that represents the Small Business Administration.”

That connection netted Debra a small business loan for $150,000, which allowed her to further her goals for Corgi Clay.

“The SBDC gave me a lot of good advice on financials,” Debra adds. “I didn’t study business in school, so I took the SBDC’s advice and hired an accountant.”

The SBDC provided Debra with more than funding advice. Angie and her team also provided marketing advice, business education and professional growth opportunities.

“The SBDC was awesome to send me links to free workshops,” Debra notes. “I stay in touch with them on all the things that pop up for a new business owner.”

On September 23, 2023, Debra unveiled Corgi Clay Art Center’s studio to the public.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the SBDC,” Debra adds. “Starting a new business is a lot to take on. The SBDC helped me through the details and put my mind at ease.”

Debra recently recommended the SBDC to a local friend who runs a farmer’s market.

“My advice to any other business owner is simple,” Debra concludes. “Don’t try to do it on your own — go to the SBDC.”

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Drone business takes off with SBDC guidance

Increased revenue by 125%; added one employee; added new client for contract work; entered and won RISE Collaborative Business Pitch Competition, netting a $5,000 prize he used to invest in a new drone.

Ryland Clark’s RCFlyBy drone business started as a hobby that took flight as he learned more about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). After working with the Longwood SBDC and participating in the RISE Business Bootcamp, RCFlyBy reached new heights of success.

“In 2019 when I started my business, I went to see SBDC Regional Director Lin Hite,” Ryland says. “He gave me advice on getting started. I took a drone certification class, then went to the Danville Airport for a proctor exam.”

Services offered by RCFlyBy include 3D imaging, construction site reports, land sale photography, aerial photography, inspections, property imaging, real estate videography and fireworks videography.

A friend urged Ryland to enroll in RISE Business Bootcamp. The 10-week online program, coordinated by the SOVA Innovation Hub and Longwood SBDC, helps new business owners create a business plan and establish next steps to move forward.

“There were about 30 [participants] in the January 2023 bootcamp,” Ryland explains. “Talking with other business owners was the most valuable part for me — how to market, set pricing and share your value with customers. I also wrote a business and finance plan.”

The winter 2023 session was RISE’s largest ever cohort, but Ryland’s vision for RCFlyBy rose to the top. The bootcamp ended with the RISE Collaborative Business Pitch Competition, which challenged Ryland and his fellow entrepreneurs to pitch their business to a panel of judges. RCFlyBy took the top prize.

“I tied for first place and received $5,000,” Ryland reports. “I invested the money in a drone with mechanical shutter that takes photos 40 percent faster.”

The SBDC helped Ryland complete the SWaM and SAM certification process, which opens up additional avenues for work. After consulting with the SBDC and RISE Collaborative, Ryland reports a 125% revenue increase. Recently, RCFlyBy has hired one employee and secured a contract with a Richmond-based company.

Ryland says he is grateful for the SBDC’s continued support.

“The SBDC helped accelerate growth and take my business to the next level,” he concludes. “It’s good to know I have the SBDC to rely on.”

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Marie’s Hair and Nail Supply

Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply

The SBDC builds on a dream for Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply

Earned approval for a $10,000 business loan; set up and received an $8,500 Kiva loan.

Tawann Scott always dreamed of being a business owner. When she discovered a need in Richmond’s Southside and Northside communities, she found her niche — a beauty supply store for African American customers. When she discovered the Capital Region SBDC, she turned her dream into a sustainable reality.

“After years of going to stores for products for my kinky hair, I wanted to pursue my dream of opening a beauty supply store,” states Tawann, a Southside Richmond native.

Tawann’s beauty supply store was self-funded from the start, but with one daughter in college, another planning a wedding, and widespread economic complications from the COVID pandemic, she was forced to push back her original opening timeline. However, an unwavering commitment to her vision allowed her to persevere and open the doors to Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply in October 2021.

And while that grand opening was a major milestone for a first-time business owner, it had an even bigger impact that led to introductions to the Metro Business League (MBL) and, later, the Capital SBDC.

Initially, the MBL helped Tawann secure a “KIVA” loan of $8,500 made up of contributions from unknown individuals, including family members. When she began working with SBDC Assistant Director Charese Chambers soon after, she gained access to more funding opportunities and, equally important, guidance on the next steps to take for her burgeoning business.

“From the start, Charese was on it,” Tawann recalls. “When she gave me an assignment, I knew I had to do it.”

Charese started by updating Tawann’s Quickbooks account, which included categorizing transactions dating back to 2021 and organizing her accounts. That provided Tawann with the necessary documentation to apply for a business loan of $10,000 through Bridging Virginia. Along with additional guidance from Bridging Virginia’s Michelle Jones, Tawann was approved for the loan.

“Thank the Lord for Charese,” Tawann adds.

From there, Charese and Tawann set their sights on marketing, beginning with a flyer for a braider. The response prompted Tawann to expand Marie’s Hair & Nail Supply’s offerings, which now includes two stylists who rent space in the store.

Tawann credits the SBDC for helping her business grow.

“The SBDC will shoot it to you straight,” Tawann concludes. “To me, SBDC is a necessity — as a small business owner, you need that support,”

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Pretzel bakery brings “Malt & Salt” to Reston brew house scene and beyond

Received a $250,000 loan for equipment and leasehold improvements; opened second location for increased production capacity, which expanded business from 800 square feet to over 2400 square feet in two locations.

From its launch as a wholesale bakery in 2016 to its Mason SBDC-aided expansion in 2023, Nordic-Knot’s wholesale pretzel baking business has seen its profile rise right alongside its gourmet pretzels. But for all the growth Eric Lundberg and Melissa Romano’s Scandinavian-style bakery in Reston has experienced, it owes its beginnings to a note and a pretzel once placed on the doorstep of the Lake Anne Brew House, which Melissa also co-owns..

“The note was from a pretzel-making neighbor Eric Lundberg,” Melissa says. “Together, we visualized a pretzel bakery and the Brew House as ‘a match made in malt and salt heaven.’”

With a business model aimed at wholesale, Nordic-Knot opened in 2016 with Melissa and Eric as co-owners. The culinary duo specialized in baked-to-order pretzels made with natural and organic ingredients and hand-milled grains.

“We wanted to add vibrancy and give back to our Lake Anne neighborhood, and also find a way to support other small breweries, coffee shops and businesses with our wholesale pretzel sales” Melissa adds.

Despite challenges to that vibrancy that came during the COVID pandemic in 2020, Nordic-Knot continued to adapt, evolve and grow. They overcame the pandemic hurdle by incorporating direct sales into their business strategy, and their customer-friendly service earned them second place and a $40,000 cash award in the national “Small Business Big Wins” contest for pandemic-impacted small businesses. The addition of Wolf Trap National Park as a major customer in late 2022 set the stage for an expansion of the business and a consultation with the Mason SBDC.

With a proven product and an even larger customer base provided by Wolf Trap’s addition, Eric and Melissa met with SBDC Senior Business Counselor Mark Julian. In those early meetings, Mark provided them with options on financing and examples of a business plan to present to lenders.

By early 2023, Nordic-Knot was seeking a $250,000 loan for equipment and leasehold improvements, which SBDC Program Director Timm Johnson helped them procure by preparing plans and a presentation and connecting them with M&T Bank.

“The SBDC not only showed us the steps needed to apply for financing but also provided direct connections to local lenders,” Melissa states.

By May 2023, their loan was approved, and they have since added over 1,800 square feet of production space to supplement their original bakery space at Lake Anne Plaza

“The SBDC was very supportive of our journey to expand,” Melissa concludes. “You wear a lot of hats as a small business owner, but you don’t always know all you need to run a business. It’s good to have SBDC resources available to help you learn.”

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Johnson Funeral Services

Johnson Funeral Services

Third-generation family business adapts to changing landscape with SBDC

Secured $50,000 Tri-Cities Small Business Capital Access Program Loan; improved business processes through courses in taxes and finance.

In 1927, entrepreneur Harry P. “H.P.” Johnson established Johnson Funeral Home in the small Virginia town of McKenney. Nearly 100 years later, the third-generation family business has grown to include three funeral homes spread in the Tri-Cities area, including the McKenney facility operated by Joseph “Joey” Johnson Jr.; the South Hill facility run by his sister, Mary E. Johnson-Fields; and the Petersburg facility managed by Wendal A. Givens.

Even a longstanding family business that has been in operation for nearly a century like the Johnson’s can benefit from the SBDC, as H.P.’s great nephew Joey has learned since partnering with the Crater SBDC in Petersburg beginning in 2021.

“I was raised working in the funeral home,” says Joey, who, alongside his sister, worked at Johnson Funeral Services in various capacities as a child and young adult.

“In 1992, I took over the McKenney home. But there’s been a lot of changes in the industry. Changes to the business environment and business in general.”

Those changes, Joey says, range from the rise of the internet and digital marketing to the demand for alternative disposition methods, like cremation. That’s in addition to the gamut of traditional responsibilities related to running any small business, which was what originally led Joey to connect with the SBDC.

“[What first drew me to the SBDC was] the resources they offered,” Joey says. “I was looking for more experience and knowledge related to running the business.”

Joey reached out to the Longwood SBDC in Farmville after seeing a flyer for programs available to small-business owners. From there he began working with Vandy Jones, the Eastern Region SBDC Director who oversees the Crater SBDC.

Vandy initially helped Joey apply for a grant and enroll in SBDC courses related to taxes and finance. However, with Johnson Funeral Services coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic – which forced significant changes in how the business structured its on-site gatherings – Vandy saw another way to help Joey and Johnson Funeral Services by helping them apply for the zero-percent Tri-Cities Small Business Capital Access Program loan.

That loan, which is offered through Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and in partnership with the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and SBDC, allowed Joey to pay off high-interest debt with a zero-interest rate loan. Vandy assisted Joey by setting up a business plan and organizing other documents needed for the application.

“It was a program that with the struggle from the pandemic helped us secure some extra financing. It was a resource that really helped us,” Joey says.

That assistance will help ensure Johnson Funeral Services’ success and keep the family business running for generations to come.

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Birch Tree and Foliage

Birch Tree Bookstore & Foliage Plant Shop

Joint Ventures, Singular Success: Bookstore and Plant Shop Craft a
Co-Located Business Blueprint with the SBDC

Created six part-time jobs; the book store has tripled sales since opening and secured a $10K line of credit; created a new dual-business model.

  1. Birch Tree Bookstore:
  2. Foliage Plant Shop:

Leah Fallon knew nothing about opening a business, but she felt like Leesburg needed a bookstore. In March 2021, after Googling “How do you open a bookstore?,” she discovered the Loudoun SBDC and reached out to SBDC Manager and Lead Business Advisor Eric Byrd.

“Eric said, ‘You have to be more than just a bookstore. You have to be an experience,’” explains Leah. “So, I really dug down and thought about what creates an experience, and I was like: plants.”

Through SBDC startup classes and one-on-one consultations, Leah worked to validate her concept and identify her target market. In May 2021, she launched Birch Tree Bookstore, testing the waters with a pop-up shop full of books and plants. In September, she moved into her first location, Leesburg’s Cowbell Kitchen.

“I never thought I would own a business,” Leah explains. “Every step of the way, I kept thinking: ‘Once this gets too hard, I’m out. Anytime this gets too hard or too complicated with the town or the government or with money, I’m out.’ But with the SBDC and people in the book industry, I was able to get the support I needed, which helped me become successful and not really worry about it. I just felt taken care of.”

As Birch Tree grew, Leah continued her one-on-one consultations with Eric. She also connected with Ami Mason, a professional gardener at the local nature preserve. A vendor at first, Ami sold plants to Leah, sharing her expertise along the way. It wasn’t long before Leah asked Ami if she wanted to quit her day job.

Ami launched Foliage Plant Shop in August 2022. Two months later, she and Leah moved into a shared space on West Market Street.

“We’re two businesses under one roof, under one register,” says Ami.

“We both have skin in the game,” says Leah. “We want to make plant people book people — and book people plant people.”

Throughout the process, the SBDC has worked with the co-located businesses to determine a joint marketing strategy and a plan for managing expenses, payroll and other finances. Eric has helped Leah and Ami conceptualize a completely new dual business model that they’ve built from the ground up.

Today, Birch Tree Bookstore & Foliage Plant Shop is a thriving community hub with 13 book clubs (one oriented on plants, of course), author events, plant workshops, and local celebrations like First Fridays.

“We want to facilitate people being downtown more often,” says Ami. “A lot of locals have complaints about getting downtown. They’ll just go to the outlets or the shopping mall or shop online. We want to create an atmosphere for downtown that isn’t just restaurants. It’s not even just us — it’s a vibe. It’s fun to do.”

Each enterprise makes the other stronger. The businesses have created six part-time jobs, and Birch Tree has tripled its sales since opening. Foliage Plant Shop has also scaled up.

“What I used to consider a good month is now a bad month,” says Ami. “The SBDC is a powerful resource.”

Driven by a vision to transform downtown Leesburg and backed by the SBDC, Birch Tree Bookstore and Foliage Plant Shop are redefining what local shopping feels like.

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STEADY Academy

STEADY Academy

STEADY Academy scores success with SBDC on the team

Received an initial $50,000 line of credit to start her business; increased her coaching staff from seven to 20, and her player enrollment from 40 to 200.

As a star soccer and lacrosse athlete, sports have played a pivotal role in Nora Maguire White’s life, instilling lessons that molded her into the person she is today. Following her playing career, she founded STEADY Academy with a vision to use soccer as a tool to empower girls with life skills on and off the field.

After Nora added Shenandoah Valley SBDC Business Advisor Barry Henderson to the team, her vision became reality with the opening of STEADY (Striving Towards Educational and Athletic Development of Youth) Academy.

STEADY Academy is the result of nearly three decades of coaching experience for Nora. She is a 1992 graduate of James Madison University and a two-sport standout who was inducted into the JMU Athletics Hall of Fame. After her playing career, she embarked on the traditional path of coaching, beginning as an assistant soccer and lacrosse coach at Loyola University in Maryland and moving on to stops as head soccer coach at Illinois State University and assistant soccer coach at the University of North Carolina.

However, after five years in the college coaching ranks, which included winning a National Championship at North Carolina, she took a timeout to revisit the real reasons she got into coaching.

“Over 18 months I wrote a 26-page development curriculum for girls,” she relates. “Initially I contacted the SBDC in Chapel Hill [N.C.], then let it rest awhile.”

That plan outlined her vision to bring the lessons she learned and personal growth she experienced through sports to local youth. STEADY Academy was the result.

After returning to Harrisonburg, Nora completed a business plan and started building her team. One of her first additions was Barry at the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

“I think it was an act of God I was assigned to Barry,” she comments. “I would never have known how to get the capital I needed on my own. Barry’s experience in banking, contacts in the community, and passion for getting me over the end line led to a $50,000 line of credit.”

A good coach, Nora believes, makes all the difference.

“Many factors in starting a business can shut doors,” she adds. “Without someone to guide you, those doors won’t open.”

STEADY’s line of credit allowed for expansion of the coaching staff from seven to 20 and a player enrollment increase from 40 to 200, which has led her to plan for a national launch of STEADY this October. Going national with her program, Nora believes, will be a game-changer.

“I would not be where I am today without the SBDC,” Nora concludes. “The personal touch of the SBDC is what really put STEADY Academy over the edge.”

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Devils Fork Campground

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.

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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The Brick

The Brick

The Brick builds on SBDC’s solid business foundation

Provided business mentorship through RDA Dream Launch Bootcamp; assisted with pitch competition preparation that netted a $25,000 prize used to expand store.

Runner and cyclist Adam Jones launched The Brick Running and Tri Store in Danville’s River District out of necessity.

“I was into running and cycling and found myself driving some distance in search of shoes and equipment,” he says. “Driving to Raleigh for shoes one day in 2008, I got stuck in traffic. The lightbulb went off and I said to myself, ‘I can’t be the only runner or cyclist in Danville who needs health and wellness equipment.’”

With that thought in mind, Adam started lining up options to open a business in what he saw as a winning location with a burgeoning fitness culture: Danville’s River District.

“There was talk of a downtown revitalization, a new YMCA and a Riverwalk Trail expansion — downtown seemed like the place to be,” he adds. “We opened for business in 2010.”

Adam renovated the first floor of a two-story brick building in the River District that fit his business model and motto: “Where You Never Hit a Wall.”

“We specialize in shoes, apparel, equipment, and nutrition for walkers, runners, cyclists, and triathletes,” Adam notes. “Our name, ‘The Brick,’ refers to training on two disciplines during the same workout — just as stacking actual bricks build a solid structure.”

Adam’s business structure received an added boost when he discovered the Longwood SBDC while participating in the River District Association Dream Launch Bootcamp in 2022. That program – an intensive six-week workshop that teaches participants business skills and helps them fine-tune their plans for a start-up – connected him with Longwood SBDC Regional Consultant Michael Duncan, who served as his Dream Launch business mentor. Additionally, Dream Launch participants who complete all six bootcamp classes compete for cash and other incentives in a business pitch competition.

“Dream Launch covered a business plan, demographics, competition, and identifying customer needs,” Adam says. “I entered the pitch competition and was awarded $25,000.”

Adam used his winnings to expand his store, adding an upstairs wing that houses retail space for bike sales, gear, and bike repair services. This expanded area also includes a common community space for group gatherings.

Even after the completion of Dream Launch and the expansion of The Brick, Adam continues to consult with Michael and the SBDC on a regular basis.

“Having the SBDC as an asset is like having a gold nugget in my back pocket — it’s there if I need it,” Adam says.

Adding the SBDC to his team, Adam reports, has been a winning strategy for The Brick.

“The SBDC is a valuable tool with tremendous free resources that a lot of people don’t know about — definitely an asset to the community and region,” Adam concludes. “When I open business number two or three, I’ll definitely visit the SBDC.”

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Laser Thermal

Laser Thermal

Laser Sharp Success: Laser Thermal Hits Million Dollar Milestone with the SBDC

Raised $6.5 million in equity investments; created 16 new jobs; licensed two patents; filed two patents; achieved over $1 million in sales from October 2022 to October 2023.

When it comes to small-scale thermal measurements, Laser Thermal serves a need that hasn’t been fully realized in the market for decades: testing the thermal conductivity of items 1,000 to 10,000 times smaller than the average diameter of a human hair.

“We’re the definition of a niche market,” says Laser Thermal CEO and Co-Founder John Gaskins. “We are the only people doing what we’re doing.”

Until John launched Laser Thermal with Patrick Hopkins in February 2020, that kind of measurement science wasn’t available commercially — meaning that John and Patrick were literally designing their business model from scratch. In October 2020, John sent a consultation request to the Central Virginia SBDC, and the next day, he met with Director Rebecca Haydock on Zoom.

“There are a million different things that you can’t research when it comes to starting a business,” says John.

That’s where the SBDC offered assistance. As John’s main advisor, Rebecca connected him with specialists who helped support Laser Thermal in different areas, including finances, bookkeeping, web development and marketing. Laser Thermal also worked with both the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) and the International Business Development Program (IBD).

“I could send an email and ask, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about this. Am I off base?’ Or ‘Is there anybody I can talk to about this?’” John says.

For the large industrial and academic companies Laser Thermal works with, information is everything, especially regarding optimization, performance, and cost cutting. The Laser Thermal team takes lab scale equipment that, for most people, is very unapproachable and packages it so that anyone can use it.

“You come into our applications lab, and I can teach you how to use our tool in 30 minutes,” says John.

John notes that the SBDC played a key role in helping him design his business model.

“A lot of our structure came from those early days talking to the SBDC, Rebecca and various mentors that we were plugged into.”

Ultimately, John points to mentorship as the most valuable resource he gleaned from the SBDC. Throughout the product development process and growth of the business, he notes that it would have been easy to feel like he was making decisions in a vacuum. Rebecca and the SBDC provided a sounding board that allowed an idea formulated in a University of Virginia lab to grow into a thriving small business boasting 17 employees, two granted patents, two additional filed patents, and over one million dollars in sales.

Today, Laser Thermal continues to scale with commercial tool sales, testing and contract services, and three government grants, including funds for new product development through the Air Force and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. As John looks to 2024, he predicts plenty of growth and innovation, and he knows it will happen with the SBDC by his side.

“I’ve probably recommended the SBDC to half a dozen different businesses I’ve run into since we started working with them.”

The SBDC has also helped connect John to the entrepreneurial community, an essential support for all aspiring small-business owners.

“The entrepreneurial community in general is very giving,” he says. “They’re giving of advice. They’re giving of resources. They’re giving of connections to other people. Be willing to take advice, and let it inform how you choose to grow your business in the future.”

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