Category: Access to Capital


Pop to the top: Gourmet popcorn brings dreams to life

With a Virginia Small Business Financing Authority (VSBFA) microloan of $15,000, new equipment was bought and production quadrupled.

Before her days as a successful entrepreneur, Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah sold gourmet popcorn for a retailer in her home town, and one thing was certain: “There was nothing you could do serving gourmet popcorn that could make anyone unhappy,” she says laughing.

This simple truth stayed with Tisha along the winding path that led her back to, of all places, her own kitchen. With an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Kansas, Tisha pursued a career in higher education, and today she is the Director of MBA Programs at James Madison University. But she never forgot the love of popcorn. She credits the SBDC with helping her take a dream and turn it into a delicious reality. She started creating endless combinations of gourmet popcorn from her own home.

In 2014, the Shenandoah Valley SBDC sponsored the “What’s Cooking” program, where local culinary artists like Tisha could compete for funding and learn valuable small business skills. Her business proposal for PrePOPsterous became a top-prize winner, and the business was officially established soon after.

Tisha’s ties with the SBDC were just beginning. Working closely with advisor Allison Dugan, she applied for a microloan from the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority (VSBFA) that enabled her to buy desperately needed equipment, so she could quadruple her production. Increased production is not without its challenges for this dynamic mother of two, who explains that it’s not uncommon to find her up and working hard at 2 AM, filling orders, making popcorn, or experimenting with new flavors. “You really have to have a heart for it,” says Tisha. And it’s clear that she does. PrePOPsterous encapsulates Tisha’s drive to succeed, grow, and learn, and it has been matched, step for step, by advisor Allison.

“Allison is so well connected,” says Tisha, “not just in the community but throughout the state. And every one of those connections are an invaluable resource to me,” she adds. “Allison has more ideas than I can keep up with. She’s constantly recommending people for me to talk to or new avenues of growth to explore,” adds Tisha.

Poised for the busiest holiday season to date, Tisha says the SBDC has played a critical role in PrePOPsterous’s existence. “They have been essential in the development and growth of my business. They are wonderful advocates for small businesses and have their pulse on resources available to help businesses grow,” she says.

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Buggy Top Utility Barns and Sheds

Buggy Top builds on customer service

The Bapperts acquired a $910,000 loan, generated sales of $1.55 million, and created 2 jobs while retaining 10.

When David and Danielle Bappert purchased Buggy Top Utility Barns and Sheds, they wanted to create a top-notch business while making customer service a priority. “I’d worked for Buggy Top for 18 years, so I knew the company,” David says. “But there were a lot of things I didn’t know about being a business owner.” They visited the Longwood University SBDC to learn how to do it.

“At the SBDC we met Brandon Hennessey,” David explains. “He helped us figure out if Buggy Top was a good business to purchase.” Danielle adds, “Brandon really helped guide us through our business plan. He did all the projections for us and showed us what our monthly budget would be.” With a business plan in hand, David and Danielle applied for funding. “We got a business loan from BB&T,” David explains. “And we bought our Cumberland business in April 2018.”

David and Danielle took a startup class at the SBDC. “We learned the basics of what was needed for a business,” David relates. “We learned about money flow. We learned that just being busy isn’t always a good thing; you have to make money, too.” David and Danielle found the SBDC’s analytics on competition and marketing especially valuable. “We’re different from our competition because we’re not a ‘cookie-cutter’ business,” David says. “We build more customized buildings and sheds.”

David and Danielle have gained valuable business insights from the SBDC. “I bounce everything off Brandon,” Danielle says. “He knows what works and what doesn’t. He helped us with our business cards. We even sent him a message with a preview of our website to get his advice.” All of that advice — as David and Danielle were pleased to learn — was free. “I was actually amazed that I didn’t get charged for all those services,” she says. “I don’t think we’d have gotten very far without the SBDC!”

David and Danielle are looking forward to growing their business with continued help from the SBDC.

“One of the things in our three-year-growth plan is to increase stock during the slower months,” Danielle notes. “We plan to do that in January and February.” And they now offer delivery to build customer satisfaction. “I’m the delivery man,” David says. “It’s nice to have that final touch and set up a building the way your customer wants it,” he says.

As David and Danielle see it, being a top-notch business means staying on top of the game in customer satisfaction. “Small businesses are the foundation of our economy,” David concludes. “You might have big ideas, but you have to start small and grow. The SBDC can help you do that.”

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Next Generation Auto Body

Auto body shop makes new turn

An SBA guaranteed loan allowed Jennifer and Chris to buy out their two partners, increase revenues, and create 1 new job.

Jennifer and Chris Wiser started the business in 2013 with two other partners and continued to build it over the following five years. Then the other partners decided they wanted to sell their portion of the business and pursue other interests. “We needed to get a loan to buy them out,” Jennifer relates.

Jennifer and Chris went to their bank to see how to proceed. Their commercial loan officer referred them to David Reardon, Business Counselor at the Lord Fairfax SBDC in Culpeper. “In order to get the loan, we had to present a three-year projection for our business,” Jennifer continues.

At that point David guided Jennifer and Chris through the loan process. David entered three years of company balance sheet and income statement records into ProfitCents, a financial software tool, to develop financial projections.

“After we applied for the loan, the Small Business Administration underwriter came back with a request for additional information that included a complete income statement for 2018,” Jennifer says. To meet this requirement David used ProfitCents again to enter six months of real data and six months of extrapolated data that tied into the 2018 projections. With the SBDC’s help, the applications were completed, and the SBA loan was approved, allowing Next Generation to continue to serve the Culpeper community. “It’s our busy season now,” Jennifer explains. “Cold weather and deer!”

Jennifer and Chris are grateful to the SBDC for smoothing out this hurdle in their business plan. “The SBDC did help us tremendously with the loan process,” Jennifer says. “We had to have these reports to get the loan we needed. I would not have been able to do it by myself.”

This is the first time Jennifer and Chris have used the SBDC. But it won’t be their last. The SBDCs have the tools and the talent to help solve problems that small businesses encounter. “We definitely will consider working with the SBDC in the future,” Jennifer concludes. “I would recommend the SBDC to other businesses.”

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Finding a formula for growth

PurSolutions was awarded a $225,000 NSF-SBIR grant, increased sales by 3 times, created 3 new jobs.

Beattie Sturgill, Emma Sturgill, and Prashant Singh can tell you all about the science of cytoskeletal proteins, but they learned that finding a formula for success in the world of small business is not so easy.

The three co-founders of PurSolutions started their bootstrapped venture in the complex life-science industry in 2015. Their focus was the manufacture of proteins used in cancer and disease research. Good science and good business, as the partners soon discovered, require different areas of expertise.

“In 2015 we went to see Betty Hoge, Director of the Central Virginia SBDC in Charlottesville,” Beattie says. “We needed help navigating the small business world.” In Betty Hoge, the PurSolutions partners found both a coach and a counselor. “We met one or two times a month,” Beattie recalls. “We would talk about problems we were having, and discuss solutions with Betty.”

Betty helped the partners navigate available resources, verify and refine their business model, and find ways to expand to new markets. “Being a small business with only three partners, we were extremely invested in our company, and that can cloud your vision,” Beattie notes. “We took our ideas and strategies to Betty and she would provide valuable insight. The SBDC provided a valuable third-party review of our business that helped us grow.”

Practical applications of these reviews were soon apparent. “For example, we had some hypothesis about some market trends we were seeing. So Betty had us do some customer outreach, and helped us to refine our hypothesis based on the data,” Beattie explains. The SBDC’s development tools were also helpful. “Tools like the Growth Wheel helped provide a forward looking review of our company,” Beattie says.

When PurSolutions applied for a NSF-SBIR grant, the SBDC was there to help. “Betty was definitely instrumental in helping us develop a strong application,” Beattie says. “She provided key facts and helpful feedback during our reviews with her.” The award rate for this grant is only 12% nationwide. “That we received that SBIR grant is a testament to the assistance and support provided to PurSolutions by the Central Virginia SBDC,” he adds.

The SBDC also advised the company on filing several patent and trademark applications and on expanding its workforce by employing talented professionals in multiple facets of the business. Future growth was also a topic at the SBDC meetings. “Company growth was the focus of almost every talk we had with Betty,” Beattie notes. “It was the heart of every meeting.”

After working with the SBDC for three years, Beattie and his partners are confirmed fans. “I tell other business associates about the SBDC,” he concludes. “Even if they’ve been in business for years, I still recommend a visit to the SBDC. It’s like having a checkup with your doctor — it’s a good business practice.”

PurSolutions was awarded a $225,000 NSF-SBIR grant, increased sales, and

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Lend A Box

Thinking inside the box

Since 2016, Lend A Box received a loan of $182,000, increased sales by $60,000, and created 14 new jobs.

Janice Gambaccini and her sister Stephanie Zimmermann launched a successful business by thinking inside the box. “Finding a box should be a simple thing,” Janice says. But on one rainy moving day in 2011, it was that hard. “I was moving and needed some boxes pronto,” she recalls. “But it was raining, and I didn’t want to go out to look for them.” Janice searched the Internet to no avail. There were no boxes to be had, online or off. “Out of this incredibly frustrating day, the idea for Lend A Box was formed,” she explains.

The sisters charted their concept on paper and started making plans. Lend A Box opened for business and made its first deliveries in 2013. “Lend A Box takes the stress out of moving and helps you along the way,” quotes a company slogan. “We offer a service, not just a product,” reiterates Stephanie.

Janice and Stephanie attended a class, Things to Consider When Launching a New Business, at the Mason SBDC in Fairfax. “We liked what we saw at the SBDC but didn’t take advantage of all their services immediately,” Stephanie notes. “We were too focused on getting the business open.”

Three years later, Janice looked again at the SBDC’s offerings. “I reached out to Timm Johnson at the Mason SBDC,” she relates. “We wanted to start growing the company, and we needed to get a loan from the bank. Previously Stephanie and I had funded everything. Timm helped us to create an amazing financial story so the bankers could see where we were and what we were planning to do,” she continues. The business plan was presented, and Lend A Box obtained the loan. “It’s essential to have a business plan that paints a picture of where you are and where you’re going,” she adds.

“The Lean Business Start Up class inspired us to launch additional services,” Janice adds. “One we call ‘concierge storage,’ which means you don’t have to manage storage. We pick everything up and catalog it online. When you need your holiday decorations, just call and ask for boxes 5, 6, and 7. We’ll deliver them. And, when the holidays are over, we’ll put them back in storage for you.”

Lend A Box also added moving and packing to its services. “We move for you, unpack, and then pick up the crates,” Janice says. “If there’s a gap, we’ll hold boxes in storage until you’re ready for delivery. It’s a nice seamless experience.”

The sisters are more than pleased with their connection to the SBDC. “It was such an amazing load off my shoulders when I found Timm and realized I didn’t have to figure everything out on my own,” Janice concludes. “There are experts at the SBDC, who will spend time with me and help me figure out what I need to do. It’s a huge, really fantastic resource.”

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Learning Den

Learning from the bottom up

Dana Elder opened a new business, created 5 new jobs, secured a $5,000 loan, and invested $10,000 in owner equity.

To a casual passerby, the Patrick Henry Memorial Library in the little town of Brookneal might look like an ordinary run-ofthe-mill library, but a closer inspection reveals something even more magical and exciting happening. Beneath the stacks of books and quiet, carpeted halls, the library’s basement is home to The Learning Den, a fully licensed, after-school, childcare facility.

The venture, which opened in March 2018, is the long-time dream of Dana Elder, whose background in elementary education, including three years of teaching in public schools, left her eager for a tangible way to make a difference in the lives of children.

“I truly believe with all my heart in learning through play,” says Dana. “At the Learning Den, there’s the flexibility to do that. The kids are having so much fun that they don’t even realize they’re learning. Plus I saw a huge need for a licensed childcare facility in this area,” she adds.

Receiving approval by the county board of supervisors and navigating the complexities of the situation were challenging. Fortunately, “a friend upstairs” at the library told Dana about the SBDC in Lynchburg. “I didn’t even know it existed,” she laughs. “And now I’ve met with Stephanie multiple times,” referring to SBDC’s director and business analyst Stephanie Keener. “She has a vast knowledge of business, and her resources are extensive.”

Currently, The Learning Den enrolls 12 children between the ages of five and ten, with a new program for 3- and 4-year olds opening in the summer.

Dana is also proud of her dedicated staff of five part-time employees. Through their work, some have found their calling to become teachers, something that deeply moves Dana.

“When I hear about a child who used to drag his feet getting out of bed to go to school but is now excited and eager to face his day, or one whose report card has improved because we are taking time to sit and do homework each day, I know we’re making a difference. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”

This bright, bubbly haven, tucked away in the library basement, has never been about making a million dollars. It’s always been about so much more, and Dana is grateful for the help the SBDC helping to make her dream a reality.

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Scrambling to success

Scramble landed a $500,000 loan and, within its first eight months, hosted over 100,000 visitors, generated $1+ million in sales, and created 30+ jobs

When the idea for Scramble first formed in Laurence Smallman’s mind, he was “across the pond,” visiting family in his native U.K. “We were with my brother in Birmingham,” Laurence, a father of three, says. “He took us to a World of Play indoor play place, and it was an amazing experience. The children played, while he and I chatted and kept an eye on them. Everyone left after 3 hours, very happy.”

Laurence realized immediately that there was nothing comparable in Northern Virginia, where he lived. Inspired by the popular indoor play system, Laurence envisioned a massive, vibrant space that would encourage independent self-guided play, as well as exploration, activity, and imagination for children of all ages. “I researched how to start a business and linked up with the Alexandria SBDC,” says Laurence.

Working closely with Business Analyst Jack Parker, Laurence developed a business plan while commencing an exhaustive two-year hunt for Scramble’s perfect home. The desired space needed to be at least 12,000 square feet with 20-foot ceilings, in addition to room for birthday parties, a bookstore, reading area, and a café for parents. It was a tall order, finally filled by a property on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria. Jack helped Laurence search for a lender who would recognize the potential of Scramble. In June 2017, Scramble closed on a $500,000 loan from EagleBank, and opened its doors that November.

Despite spending nothing on marketing, Scramble has thrived, generating over $1 million in sales within its first eight months. Like any proud parent, Laurence views the success of Scramble with great emotion. “It’s still sinking in to me,” he says, “that I’ve gone from having an idea, pushing through difficulties and persevering despite the challenges, acting as my own general contractor, then opening Scramble and managing the amazing success of having what I feel is a steady business ready to grow.”

Laurence’s impulse of bringing a new concept of play to the U.S. has met enthusiastic approval. Investors, who want to expand the Scramble model to other locations, have already approached Laurence, which has not surprised him. “Our play equipment is the best in the world and the only one of its kind in the U.S. It gives families the chance to engage in play that is vital to our development and the amazing human beings we are,” Laurence adds.

“Without the SBDC, I would not have had the confidence to tackle the bureaucracy, while also dealing with the business-related aspects of financing, writing a business plan, and finding a location,” Laurence says. Today, that confidence has paid off. “Seeing families and their children playing in Scramble, hearing parents celebrating some new achievement of their son or daughter, the many smiles and happy faces – these are my biggest joys,” says Laurence. “I look forward to coming to work every day.”

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Homestead Creamery

Rising to the Top

The Longwood/Martinsville SBDC helped Homestead obtain a Farm Credit loan for their new sewer system.   Homestead was also selected as the Longwood/Martinsville Small Business of the Year for 2012, and the Award was presented by Congressman Robert Hurt at the Southern Business Expo in October, 2012. 

Homestead is a producer of ice cream, milk and dairy products supplied by 45 farms in the Roanoke Valley/Smith Mountain Lake area. Started in 2001, its territory is Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Customers include Kroger and Whole Foods, as well other grocery stores, convenience stores, and home delivery in the Roanoke area. Sales for 2011 exceeded $5.5 million. There are 45 total employees at the end of 2012.

Homestead became a client in 2009 when they came to the Longwood SBDC in Martinsville and asked for an evaluation of the cost of a Farm Credit loan in the amount of $91,000 versus an SBA backed loan in the same amount from a conventional bank. The loan was for an expanded sewage treatment facility at the creamery. The Farm Credit loan was less expensive, and they proceeded accordingly. The ongoing relationship has been to assist in developing a loan package for a $1.1 million plant expansion. This has been finalized with the first ever Virginia Agriculture and Forestry Industries (AFID) grant in the amount of $60,000, a $45,000 Tobacco Indemnification grant, a $30,000 Franklin County grant and the remainder will be financed through Farm Credit.

Challenges and obstacles included writing the grant proposals and the handing paperwork involved in the loan, as well as learning about EPA regulations and mandates. The Roanoke SBDC assisted by finding and evaluating funding sources, as described above.

The Longwood/Martinsville SBDC helped Homestead obtain a Farm Credit loan for their new sewer system.   Homestead was also selected as the Longwood/Martinsville Small Business of the Year for 2012, and the Award was presented by Congressman Robert Hurt at the Southern Business Expo in October, 2012.  The expansion was just announced on December 17, 2012.

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Virginia Dermatology and Skin Surgery Center

Doctor of Success

A little more than a year after opening, Virginia Dermatology and Skin Surgery Center is a flourishing medical practice

Mark Eid, MD, identified and fulfilled a vital need in the Fredericksburg, VA, area when he opened his dermatology practice in January of 2012. Virginia Dermatology and Skin Surgery Center provides Fredericksburg area residents with comprehensive dermatology care and skin cancer surgery. It is the only dermatology practice in the area which offers Mohs micrographic surgery to its patients. This procedure, credited to Dr. Frederic Mohs in the 1930’s, is a surgery that can cure basal cell melanoma and squamous cell skin cancers.

Dr. Eid received his bachelor’s degree from West Chester University and his Medical degree from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2006. He completed an internship in Internal Medicine at Cabrini Medical Center/Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and a Dermatology residency at the Pennsylvania State University Milton Hershey Medical Center. Dr. Eid followed his residency with a Procedural Dermatology Fellowship from the Medical College of Virginia/VCU Health System in Richmond.

While working in Richmond, Dr. Eid considered where he should establish a private practice. His research indicated that the Fredericksburg area was underserved with regard to dermatology care. He contacted the University of Mary Washington Small Business Development Center (UMW-SBDC) for purposes of writing a business plan, creating a cash flow forecast, and developing a loan proposal. The UMW-SBDC requested demographic research for Dr. Eid from SBDCNet. The UMW-SBDC also assisted Dr. Eid in evaluating loan options. Dr. Eid opted to purchase and renovate an existing commercial building on Route 1 in Fredericksburg, and he obtained an SBA-guaranteed loan for this purpose.

A little more than a year after opening, Virginia Dermatology and Skin Surgery Center is a flourishing medical practice. One key to his success is Dr. Eid’s ability to analyze tissue and perform surgery on the premises. This provides him a unique advantage over other local dermatology practices. Additionally Dr. Eid credits a quality staff for their personalized attention to patient care as another reason for his success. On the wall of Dr. Eid’s office is the motto is “May those who enter as guests leave as friends.”

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Visionary Consulting Partners

Vision of Success

Visionary has dramatically increased their annual profit and now employs double the number of full-time employees than when they first began with the SBDC. Visionary is still growing strong and currently remains valued clients of Mason SBDC.

Founded in 2008 by Michael and Eleanor Thornton, Visionary Consulting Partners provides a diverse range of consultative services designed to enhance and support health care providers, community-based organizations, and public-health agencies. Visionary is a verified service-disabled veteran- and woman-owned small business, and is also SBA certified as an 8(a) and Small Disadvantaged Business.

Running a small business requires a wide range of skills. A successful entrepreneur must be able to cope with competition and constantly seek out new opportunities, and dealing with growth presents its own challenges. Michael Thornton came to Mason SBDC to discuss how to face the difficulties that arise from managing a growing company. He wanted to ensure that all marketing, financial, and business planning needs were met, and the strategy was well-developed.

Michael was matched with a variety of Mason SBDC counselors who were highly experienced in different perspectives. The counselors helped Visionary develop marketing strategy, including branding and powerful messaging for the website. Michael received help in budgeting and pricing support as well as setting a more effective accounting system for his company. The counselors also provided Michael financial counseling, such as a financial model and acquiring a loan to support the company’s growth.

Having the Mason SBDC support has made it much easier for Visionary to move towards its goals. In the past four years of working with Mason SBDC. Visionary has not only survived in a field crowded with larger and more established competitors, but also thrived. Visionary has dramatically increased their annual profit and now employs double the number of full-time employees than when they first began with the SBDC. Visionary is still growing strong and currently remains valued clients of Mason SBDC.

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