Category: Access to Capital

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.”

Read More

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!”

Read More

Impruvon Health

The Virginia SBDC-ICAP helps Impruvon Health save lives

Created 12 jobs; received $50K Prince William County IGNITE Grant.

https://impruvonhealth.com/

Justin Amoyal launched Impruvon Health in May 2020 with a mission that was as personal as it was entrepreneurial: to prevent unnecessary deaths due to medication mismanagement. The Virginia SBDC Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) was there to help.

“In 2019, I got the worst call of my life,” Justin recalls. “My brother had passed away due to medical mismanagement. I wanted to solve the problem.”

Justin’s idea took root and began to grow when he met ICAP Mentor David Powell. ICAP, under the Virginia SBDC network, has mentors across the Commonwealth who offer expertise in launching innovation-focused companies.

“David prepared our team for the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program we were selected for,” Justin explains.

I-Corps programs offer an immersive learning experience focused on transforming innovative ideas into successful products customers are asking for. That program was ideal for Impruvon Health, as the platform uses internet of things (IoT) technology to connect healthcare professionals in enterprise care settings such as nursing homes, adult and group homes, and addiction recovery centers. The platform enables agencies, their staff, and clients to automate previously manual, and error prone processes related to medication prep, administration, and record keeping.

“Impruvon Health stops errors, saves nurses time, and helps organizations maximize reimbursement for services they are already providing. We are helping agencies increase revenue for improving their tools and care they provide!” Justin states.

But even the best business idea requires adequate funding. To bring his innovative solutions to the healthcare providers who need it, Justin applied for and was awarded the Prince William County IGNITE Grant of $50,000. The startup funding allowed him to lay the groundwork for both his app and a workforce that now includes 11 employees.

In every aspect of building that business, David was there to help.

“David is constantly helping us avoid costly mistakes.” Justin adds. “David has also helped us with tough decisions such as investor selection and negotiations and played a significant role in us moving forward with Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC).”

That expert guidance also resulted in an increased client base.

“We currently have six enterprise clients with about 35 sites across the country and are growing every month,” Justin says. “Our team, including employees and David is what makes all of this possible. They see the impact of our product and are passionate about delivering to our clients.”

 Justin is a big supporter of the Virginia SBDC-ICAP mentoring program.

“It’s incredible to have a mentor like David,” Justin concludes. “David kept us focused and on the right path. I don’t know if we’d be here today without his help.”

Read More

DBHomes4Hope

DBHomes4Hope renovates houses and realizes mission with the SBDC

Received $10,000 loan.

https://www.dbhomes4hope.com/

Davina and Danny Bare saw a need for housing during a visit to Lynchburg, and it spurred them to action. In June 2020, they launched DBHomes4Hope with assistance from the SBDC – Lynchburg Region.

“Housing has always been an interest,” Davina says. “The problem is the disparity in home ownership. My husband, a contractor, and myself, a former Army human resource officer, have the knowledge base to make homeownership happen.”

The first move for DBHomes4Hope was purchasing a fixer-upper house. The price tag was $7,000. Subsequently, they purchased a fire-damaged house for $5,000. Their goal is two-fold: renovate homes and guide clients toward home ownership.

A certified credit trainer, Davina started holding weekly counseling sessions with neighborhood residents.

“The focus was improving credit scores by budgeting and reducing debt,” she says. “Our goal – 80 percent home ownership – helps build up a community.”

To establish a solid business foundation, Davina turned to the SBDC, which connected her with Pinnacle Financial and enrolled her in the SBDC’s Start Smart Class. Pinnacle approved a $10,000 loan, and the Start Smart class helped her formulate a business plan.

“Everybody in Lynchburg, especially the SBDC, seemed willing to help,” she says. “SBDC Executive Director Stephanie Keener and SBDC Mentor Jamie Reynolds were great cheerleaders.”

To gain more business acumen, Davina joined the SBDC’s Business Game Plan Cohort.

“During the seven-week course, we talked about networking, funding, and entities needed for starting a business,” Davina notes. “Each step was a building block for the next thing.”

Over the past two years, the SBDC’s guidance helped DBHomes4Hope realize its mission.

“Our mission is to help families gain homes for generations,” Davina says. “DBHomes4Hope offers the whole journey to home ownership.”

The SBDC, she adds, helped make this journey possible.

“I’m seeing progress in the families we’re coaching and a sense of community — and we’re making a living,” Davina concludes. “The entity that brought it all together was the SBDC.”

Read More

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.”

Read More

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.”

Read More

Inspired By The Dress

Inspired By The Dress relocates, grows thanks to SBDC pitch competition prize

Won $15,000 pitch competition prize; opened downtown brick-and-mortar store.

https://inspiredbythedress.com/

Teri Butler sewed her own wedding dress at age 19. Years later, she purchased the same fabric to design her daughter’s wedding gown, which became the debut dress for Inspired By The Dress, a design studio for custom creations and wedding gowns Teri started in her home in 2013.

“That was when I thought, ‘I really enjoy making brides look beautiful,” Teri recalls. “Any body — and I mean body shape or size — can wear a beautiful garment if it’s made and designed for that shape. I am really drawn to making every body look good in what they choose to wear.”

Like any small business owner launching a new venture, Teri navigated personal and professional obstacles. At different points, she pulled back and stopped advertising, but word of her beautiful designs kept brides knocking on her door. When Teri connected with the Central Virginia SBDC in 2022, her business blossomed.

Teri applied for the Scottsville Community Business Launch program run by the Central Virginia SBDC in collaboration with Community Investment Collaborative (CIC) and the Town of Scottsville. Alongside a cohort of entrepreneurs, she attended seven training programs that covered topics like marketing, branding, pricing and recordkeeping.

What Teri did not realize when enrolling was that the program’s final week included a pitch competition. Her program advisor, Central Virginia SBDC Assistant Director Greg Dorazio, helped Teri build a business plan and practice her final pitch.

“Greg helped me do some local research on the Charlottesville/Albemarle County area,” Teri explains. “We wanted to focus on how Inspired By The Dress could benefit the Scottsville community and support local businesses.”

Greg was Teri’s business advisor and cheerleader.

“We really connected,” Teri recalls. “He absolutely wanted my success, and he felt the energy that I had for this dream and this desire to be successful.”

Teri’s pitch won her a $15,000 prize, which she used to lease a storefront in Downtown Scottsville and rebuild her website. She is currently planning for a future where her studio can be a place for aspiring designers to learn the artisan skills of dressmaking and pattern-drafting.

Teri continues to work with the SBDC as she receives brides by appointment in Scottsville. SBDC advisor Ellen Martin assists her in managing QuickBooks and her payment system. In Teri’s opinion, the SBDC is a well-kept secret that should not be so well kept. She is working to spread the word.

“I tell everyone that if you’re an entrepreneur, you need to check them out,” she says. “It really is a wealth of resources.”

Read More

Thinkblot Behavioral Sciences

The SBDC helps Thinkblot build community security

Received $100K loan; saw $165K sales growth; created 4 jobs.

https://www.thinkblotsci.com/

Thinkblot Behavioral Sciences CEO and Founder Serena Castelda left the teaching profession for a career aimed at addressing the concerns of an anxious world. A key component of that work is screening, assessing and selecting employees in high-trust positions, including public safety and government agencies.

“What we do is important work,” Serena says. “We do a lot of law enforcement, EMT and firefighter screenings. In today’s climate, we need to know that people protecting us are psychologically sound.”

Thinkblot currently provides screening for the City of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Prince William counties, and the smaller towns of Herndon and Vienna. They also serve private security firms in addition to the county and local contracts. The company offers behavioral science research, workforce resilience, leadership development and coaching, mental health counseling, insider threat mitigation, and survey design.

Serena’s husband, Bryan, serves as operations manager and senior psychologist, while Serena manages the business. She does that with the SBDC at her side, leaning on Mason SBDC Director Timm Johnson throughout her entrepreneurial journey.

“When you leave one career for another, you don’t always know which end is up,” she says. “Timm always pointed me up.”

Early on, Timm assisted Thinkblot with an acquisition of another practice in the same industry, advising on the structure and negotiation of the deal, financing and steps for post-integration. He also assisted Thinkblot on soliciting bids through county requests for proposals (RFPs), provided periodic reviews of the company’s accounting, and offered next steps for promising contracts.

“It’s like having a business advisor invested in your success,” Serena says.

However, Timm and the SBDC’s contributions to Thinkblot’s success have gone well beyond that acquisition. Since partnering with the SBDC, Serena has expanded Thinkblot’s mission substantially through capital investments nearing $200,000, the creation of four new jobs, and $165,000 in sales growth.

“The SBDC is one of the reasons we’re here today,” Serena concludes. “At the SBDC you’ll learn things you need to know from someone who has the experience to help your business grow.”

Read More

Turkish Coffee Lady

Turkish Coffee Lady brews success with the Alexandria SBDC

Received $215,000 in grants from the SBA Restaurant Revitalization Fund and transitioned from an online business to a successful brick-and-mortar shop in Old Town Alexandria.

https://turkishcoffeelady.com/

Gizem Salcigil White’s venture into business literally started on the road. Like any road trip, she encountered several barriers, potholes, and unexpected detours along the way. However, with guidance from the Alexandria SBDC, the Turkish coffee enthusiast and award-winning entrepreneur ultimately found an ideal location for her business, Turkish Coffee Lady, in Old Town Alexandria.

“It all started as a nonprofit cultural diplomacy project and a coffee truck,” Gizem explains.

Fueled by a desire to share the unique Turkish coffee culture with the world, Gizem road-tested her business idea by traveling around the United States, Canada, and Europe dispensing free Turkish coffee. Her ultimate goal was a coffee shop where cultures and friends could meet.

“I wanted to bridge cultures one coffee at a time,” she says. “A Turkish coffee shop is where people meet over coffee and become friends — something we really need these days.”

Gizem started her business plan with the SBDC at the Community Business Partnership in Springfield and opened a brick-and-mortar store in Tyson’s Corner in 2017. As it turned out, that first venture was anything but smooth.

Gizem halted her entrepreneurial journey after being diagnosed with breast cancer, which led her to return to Turkey to seek surgery and chemotherapy. Once recovered, she returned to Virginia to restart her business but soon had to face a different health crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic forced Gizem to close down her business, but she refused to cut her journey short. She applied for and received a Small Business Administration (SBA) Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant and, with $215,000 in hand, she contacted the Alexandria SBDC.

“The SBDC was a great help,” she says. “Old Town is a historic area with many regulations. Assistant Director Gloria Flanagan connected me with the right people to get the permits I needed.”

Additionally, Program Services Director Philomena Fitzgerald offered advice on marketing strategies and engaging the media.

“Gloria and Philomena are life-savers,” Gizem reports. “If they hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have made it this far.”

Since opening in January 2022, The Turkish Coffee Lady’s success has continued to grow.

“I’m so grateful for the SBDC,” Gizem concludes. “Because the SBDC cared about me and my vision, I’m now able to pursue the dream I have for my business.”

Read More

Adage Innovations

Adage Innovations steps up to success with the SBDC

Awarded an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) of $24,000; Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan of $24,000; and a $10,000 Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) grant from Fairfax County; created 15 jobs.

https://www.adageinnovations.com/

When Adrien Douard launched his own business in 2012, it was a one-man show. Six years later, to set his company up for success, Adrien reached out to the SBDC at the Community Business Partnership in Springfield.

With the SBDC’s support, Adage Innovations has taken off and now employs 15 people and services an impressive list of customers from American Airlines to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, US Department of Health and Human Services, Appraisal Subcommittee. Like most entrepreneurial enterprises, the company started with one man’s ambitions.

First educated in Senegal, West Africa, Adrien received a grant as top student in computer sciences and pursued his engineering education in France where he was named one of ten engineers to work on an international project for American Airlines.

“We were the first generation of engineers of the global travel reservation system, Sabre,” he notes. With Sabre’s work completed, Adrien pondered his next steps.

“I wanted to deal with customers directly, so I decided to step into the shoes of an entrepreneur,” he says.

From 2012 to 2018, Adrien was Adage Innovations’ sole employee. In 2018 he contacted the SBDC for advice on ownership and diversity certifications, and much more.

“Since 2018 I’ve worked with SBDC Director Vijay Vaswani,” Adrien relates. “Among other things, I needed advice on becoming an 8(a)-certified company and contracting with the public sector.”

As Adrien realized the possibilities for his company’s growth, he signed up for multiple SBDC training seminars and workshops.

“I attended seven or eight SBDC sessions,” he notes. “Through those presentations my questions were answered.”

Previously Adage Innovations relied on private financing, but when COVID-19 affected the landscape, Adrien applied for support, netting grants of $24,000 each from an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Fairfax County also awarded Adage Innovations a $10,000 Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) grant.

“Overall, the SBDC’s guidance has been very helpful,” Adrien concludes. “We see the SBDC as a counseling partner. We listen to the experience of the SBDC consultants and leverage that advice to help our company grow.”

Read More