Category: Business Expansion



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

Read More
Premier Pediatric Therapy Source

Premier Pediatric Therapy Source

Problem solved: Private practice takes big steps

Premier Pediatric Therapy created 3 new jobs and exceeded their previous yearly sales by 21%.

Where many might see problems, Debbie Allen, owner and clinical director of Premier Pediatric Therapy Source in Alexandria, sees only new ways to succeed.

Debbie founded her private practice in 2011 to offer the best therapeutic resources available for children. While living in California, she helped her employer create an occupational and physical therapy department from scratch. “That job inspired me to start my own practice and build it in a way that allowed me to stay true to what I value as an occupational therapist and how I wanted children and families to be served,” Debbie says.

And that’s just what she did when she moved to Virginia and started Premier Pediatric Therapy Source. The group includes speech pathologists, occupational and physical therapists, and a registered dietitian, who all work with special-needs children in Northern Virginia. Debbie, who holds a doctoral degree in occupational therapy from the University of Southern California, is passionate about making a positive impact on her clients. “I believe the families we serve sense our motivation not only in me, but in my team as well,” Debbie adds.

In 2016, Debbie joined the Business Incubation Center at the Community Business Partnership (CBP), that offers offices to startups and entrepreneurs, along with business assistance and resources. It was here that she connected with the SBDC at CBP. 

“The SBDC has helped me in every area of my practice,” Debbie says. “I use their counseling services religiously, because my practice is constantly evolving. I’m entering into unchartered territory, and I know someone in the SBDC can always help me navigate or at least find me someone who can. They have helped me with HR issues, financial projections to plan for future growth, contracts and lease proposals, hiring interviews, marketing, and so much more,” Debbie adds.

All the help paid off magnificently. In 2017, Premier Pediatric Therapy Source launched an outpatient program and opened a clinic in Alexandria. “This program took off much faster than I anticipated,” Debbie says. “It’s been exciting to see so many children being served who are benefiting from our services. In early 2019 we are moving into a larger clinic, because we’ve outgrown the one we are currently in,” she adds.

“The SBDC counselors and volunteers have been instrumental in helping me increase my knowledge and confidence in business ownership,” Debbie says. “Because of their guidance, I’m confident my practice is heading in the right direction.”

Looking back over the last seven years, Debbie feels a deep sense of pride in the steady growth that Premier Pediatric Therapy Source has maintained. Even with 10 full- and part-time employees and sales figures already nearly a third higher than the previous year, Debbie remains unwavering in the vision that started it all. “I think when you’re motivated to make a difference in someone’s life, people are naturally drawn to you, and we have certainly seen that by the amount of referrals we receive on a weekly basis.”

Read More

Birch Studio Graphics

Creative Solutions

Became profitable through focused marketing and financial management, despite adverse effects of the 2009 recession. Increased revenues by more than 35% in the past year with substantially more growth in net income.

Birch Studio Graphic became a client of the Central Virginia SBDC in 2004 when the owners, David and Jenny Robinson, sought assistance in developing a marketing strategy.  It quickly became apparent that the firm needed assistance in marketing tactics, including prospect development, pricing, as well as overall financial and human resource management.  The company, which is now positioned as a branding firm, provides graphic and web design services to small and mid-sized businesses.  The company sought guidance from the SBDC on purchasing and financing their office site, human resource management (staffing, job descriptions, hiring/termination practices), and annual budgeting and financial management to improve profitability.

The Center assisted the company in analyzing profitability at the firm level and productivity at the worker level,  as well as providing recommendations on prospect development, sales calling tactics, pricing, and process management within the firm to improve profitability. It also assisted in looking at expansion into new markets for its directory of alternative health care providers, which generates revenue for the company through advertisements in the directory. The company experienced a serious decline in revenue during the recession and refocused its marketing direction.  In the past few years, the Center has assisted the owner in his development of an annual budget and recommended refinancing of existing debt to improve cash flow.

Results Include:

  • Became profitable through focused marketing and financial management, despite adverse effects of the 2009 recession.
  • Increased revenues by more than 35% in the past year with substantially more growth in net income.
  • Re-hiring staff (1 added in 2012).
  • Acquisition of the office space that owners operate and successfully refinanced in 2012 at the recommendation of a bank referral by the SBDC.
  • Most importantly, development of owners into proactive business managers compared to graphic designers with no plan or strategy which was the initial situation.

Read More

SNA International

Top 500!

Since being featured as the Alexandria SBDC’s 2012 Success Story, SNA International has become a highly respected provider of forensic science services. In only four years, SNA achieved a growth rate of almost 2000%! This achievement earned national recognition and a mention in Inc. Magazine’s Top 500 Fastest-Growing Companies. Starting in 2017, SNA applied for and won three highly-competitive, multi-year Federal forensic contracts totaling over $145M.

SNA International, an Alexandria consulting firm, empowers organizations to achieve public confidence through optimal performance in their human identification and forensic initiatives.  They serve organizations in varying stages of development: from the first identified need to complex laboratory expansions. They develop and implement solutions for operational challenges ranging in scope from evidence handling to a comprehensive response for large mass fatalities. Their technical and managerial capacity building consulting services are designed to increase productivity, staff morale, and operational efficiency while reducing overall costs by up to 20%.

Dr. Amanda Sozer, President/Owner, received international recognition for her extensive forensic human identification work following 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and other global human rights initiatives. Dr. Sozer started meeting with the Alexandria SBDC Assistant Director late in 2009 for assistance with business development because SNA International believed that proper mass fatality response plans are critical to effective emergency management. SNA International was particularly interested in expanding the consulting side of their business to provide effective emergency planning services to localities, and state governments.  They were also interested in increasing their Federal business.

The Alexandria SBDC was able to offer this client advice on negotiating all of the registrations and certifications necessary to pursue work with state and local governments, as well as federal certifications that will enable them to bid for set-aside contracts.  SNA International was able to achieve DBE/SWaM certified in Virginia, and SNA International has expanded their certification to other states.  SNA International has also completed the registration for Federal Woman-Owned Small Business 8(m) certification and recently submitted their 8(a) application to the Small Business Administration.

They also contracted with the Emergency Planning team in the City of Alexandria to develop the most comprehensive Mass Fatality Family Assistance Center (FAC) operational plan in the United States.  With this past performance, SNA International then took advantage of an opportunity first identified by the Alexandria SBDC to successfully bid on a contract to provide emergency planning and disaster preparedness services for the State of Virginia and are currently working with various state agencies pursuant to that contract. Initiatives include a major training program with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) for first responders, forensic scientists, public health professionals, and emergency response staff.  This training will be held March 14 – 16, 2012 on the VCU campus. SNA International has also been able to increase their Federal business, particularly with the US Department of State and Department of Defense, and they continue to work with the US and foreign governments and NGOs throughout the world.

Read More

Arrieta Construction

Constructing Success

In the period between 2010 and 2011, Ms. Arrieta company’s revenues grew from $1.9 million to over $2.1 million and she has created 5 new jobs and retained 7.

Originally from New York City, born and raised in the Bronx, Elaine Arrieta’s parents did all they could to ensure that their daughter had the best education possible. As she grew up, she worked in a variety of positions, including serving as the Executive Secretary to the VP or Nomura Securities. In 1992, Arrieta relocated to Virginia. She has been involved in construction for nearly 10 years working up from the bottom beginning as a laborer and advancing to office manager, executive assistant and accounting and project manager assistant.

When the opportunity presented itself for her to start up her own business, Ms. Arrieta jumped at the chance and quickly realized that she needed to become more knowledgeable about all aspects of business. Starting with online courses offered by the US Small Business Administration, she soon discovered the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center, attending workshops and taking advantage of the counseling services offered. Arrieta Construction, Inc. was formed in 2009.

The SBDC has been a vital asset to my business’ quick success. I attended several workshops/events that cost next to nothing (many were free). It was and continues to be a “home base” for me. The staff is extremely knowledgeable and eager to assist with anything they can, to get you the information you need to succeed!

I highly recommend contacting your local SBDC for guidance on starting-up or even to further excel in your business.”

In the period between 2010 and 2011, Ms. Arrieta company’s revenues grew from $1.9 million to over $2.1 million and she has created 5 new jobs and retained 7.

Arrieta Construction provides construction services for most Government Installations in, but not limited to, the following Virginia communities: Yorktown, Lackey, Newport News, Hampton, Richmond, Norfolk & Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Williamsburg & Alexandria. Goals for 2012 include obtaining 8a Certification and expanding our commercial & residential service divisions.

Read More
Showalter Orchard & Greenhouse, Timerberville

Showalter Orchard & Greenhouse

Growing Success

Gross sales for this business have increased 53% since 2010, they have added 3 new jobs, and are well-situated for continued expansion.

In 2003, Sarah and Shannon Showalter purchased Showalter’s Orchard & Greenhouse in Timberville, VA, from Shannon’s parents, who had started the orchards in 1965. The greenhouse provides wholesale and retail bedding, vegetable, and fruit plants, plus container gardens. The orchard was mostly retail for about 20 varieties of apples. They made and sold sweet apple cider through retail outlets locally and through distributors in Virginia. The commercial cider sales were limited due to no UPC code on the packaging.

The Showalters knew they had potential to expand and diversify but were not sure how to go about it. Dealing with the day-to-day tasks while working harder each year just to maintain sales did not allow them time to focus on long-term planning or to step back and assess the profitability of their various enterprises. They knew the farm, the orchards, and their market, but they lacked confidence that they knew what was best for the business. They came to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC in July 2011 for assistance in setting strategic goals and making concrete plans to achieve them.

At the SV-SBDC, Sarah and Shannon explored their options. One was to expand into grapes as a commodity and to add a winery to take advantage of state incentives being offered at that time. Betty Hoge, SV-SBDC Business Advisor, suggested that rather than branching into an unknown crop and new production methods, they look instead at a product they already knew well – hard apple cider. The Showalter family has been making hard cider for personal use for generations, and the market in Virginia was just opening up. The SV-SBDC provided them with market research, and they quickly learned about the requirements and regulations. They began production of Old Hill Hard Cider in the fall of 2011 and applied for a USDA Value-Added Grant for $300,000 marketing project for Old Hill.

The Showalters met on a regular basis throughout 2012 at the SV-SBDC and began to identify specific activities as revenue centers for their business. They wrote new mission statements, set clear goals, and established budgets for each segment of the business. Their traditional fall festival changed from a simple activity to a popular full-day event of local food, artisans, and activities (including “pick your own”) with more than doubling attendance and increasing revenues by 50% in two years. They introduced the first bottles of Old Hill Hard Apple Cider at their Spring Festival and quickly sold out.

Today, the Showalters are primed for growth and success. “Our SBDC counselor has become a trusted, necessary part of our business management team. The SBDC has offered us access to resources and expert advice that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford at this point in our business development,” they said.

Gross sales for this business have increased 53% since 2010, they have added 3 new jobs, and are well-situated for continued expansion.

Read More
J&H Lawn Services, Hampton Roads

J & H Lawn Service

Growing Success

In the nearly 4 years since completing the NxLevel class, J&H has experienced a  66% growth in revenue, even in this economy.

J & H Lawn Service, Inc., provides service to the Hampton Roads area year round, including landscape and lawn maintenance, turf fertilization, weed, insect, and disease control. Other specialties include landscape lighting, hydro-seeding, sod installation or lawn/landscape renovation.

J & H Lawn services residential, government and commercial properties, including townhome and apartment associations, single family sub-divisions, professional businesses and banks. This family business, owned and operated by Wayne, Carolyn and Daniel Blanks, has been in operation for 20 years in the local area and is SWAM certified, licensed, and insured.

“Through a friend, we were referred to the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center (HRSBDC) in 2010. Our company had been in business for a long time, and we had reached a point where we wanted to really grow but didn’t know exactly what to do to achieve this growth.” Carolyn Blanks recalls

Daniel and Carolyn signed up for Debra Farley’s NxLevel for Entrepreneurs class and through this process learned a lot of valuable information on how to take th company to the next level. They put together a business plan and learned a lot about organization. They were instructed to get a SWAM certification and sign up with eVA (which were things we did not know about). Through eVA we have had the opportunity to bid on numerous jobs and contracted for a great number of them.

In the nearly 4 years since we completed this class, we have had a  66% growth in revenue, even in this economy. We feel this is the result of Mrs. Farley’s unending concern and help and using our networking and contacts through the cohort meetings and seminars. We were also able to obtain an SBA loan in 2012 which enabled us to purchase equipment which gave us the capability to provide additional services to our customers and provide us the extra money and work to hire two additional employees.

Read More
Splash Communications

Splash Communications

Making a Splash

Splash increased revenues by 225% in one year and now has 4 full-time employees, 3 part-time consultants, and 2 interns who work during school breaks.

When Elysa Leonard quit her marketing job to move to Bermuda with her family, she didn’t plan to start her own business. But she quickly found that she couldn’t take off her “marketing hat”, and she started working for local companies. Before she knew it, she was combining her love of scuba diving with her love of marketing, trading dives for marketing programs. And Splash Communications, named in part because of her love of the water, was born. “It’s important to have a name that means something to you,” says Leonard.

Leonard likes to make a splash. After moving to Loudoun County, she was ready to do so for a big client. Then she ran into a problem. Her only full-time employee was leaving. She consulted the SBDC at MEC-Leesburg to help her formulate a plan. Her SBDC advisor, Eric Byrd, had her create a revenue and expenses forecast immediately. They mapped out a strategy to support the new client that also allowed more time for business development. Through a private loan of $10,000, Leonard was able to increase hours to her part-time designer to support the work on hand. She also planned to hire a new full-time assistant and start an internship program.

“There’s so much to starting your own business that has nothing to do with what you are doing for your client,” says Leonard. “Accounting, human resources, funding—it’s a big challenge, and it takes a different skill set.” The SBDC was instrumental in helping her meet that challenge.

The plan Leonard formulated with her SBDC counselors worked. Splash landed the big contract and began to grow their client list. They increased revenues by 225% in one year and currently have a staff of four full-time employees, three part-time consultants, and two interns who work during school breaks. Leonard and her team can help other companies define and expand their brands—and make a splash of their own.

Read More
Auto Care Clinic

Auto Care Clinic

Winning Advice Helps Build Business

“We started in 2014 with just me and my daughter. Now I have 4 mechanics. And this year we’ll do about $850,000 in business,” Long says. The turnaround in his business, Long believes, came from the marketing and business advice he received from the SBDC.

Bill Long says $50 was the best investment he ever made. The owner of the Auto Care Clinic in Front Royal paid the small sum to enter an entrepreneurial contest sponsored by the Lord Fairfax SBDC. “I heard about it on the talk show, I listen to on the radio every morning,” Long says. “For 50 bucks I figured I didn’t have anything to lose, and I had a lot to learn.”

The contest included six classroom sessions offering one-on-one assistance to develop a business plan. This was followed by the first public pitch night, in which participants presented their business plans to a panel of industry professionals. “It was a little nerve-racking, but I made it through the elimination round,” Long says. The winner of the final pitch night would receive $5,000 cash plus another $3,000 for marketing. “I won!” Long says. “With the prize money I was able to purchase two lifts and add a three-bay expansion to my shop. We’re just now finishing up the radio and newspaper marketing I received.”

Long was also able to increase the size of his staff. “We’re pretty excited,” he says. “We started in 2014 with just me and my daughter. Now I have four mechanics. And this year we’ll do about $850,000 in business.” Long expects to increase his revenues to $1.2 million next year. “We regularly revisit the business plan the SBDC helped me write,” he noted.

The turnaround in his business, Long believes, came from the marketing and business advice he received from the SBDC. “I’m at the point now where I’m working on the business versus working in the business,” Long says. “When I was able to make that change, it made a huge difference. Now I have enough money to do more marketing.”

Working with the SBDC has given Long a new perspective on making business decisions. “As a small business owner you have to get to the point where you realize you don’t know everything,” he says. “You have to be willing to make changes.”

Long continues to take advantage of the SBDC’s free classes and recommends them to his friends. “Working with the SBDC has been a wonderful experience,” he says. One of the speakers at the SBDC course that Long took was Dr. Miles Davis, dean of the Shenandoah University School of Business. Recently he brought his car into Long’s shop for servicing. “You can’t ask for a better endorsement than that,” Long says.

Read More
Blossom Spas

Blossom Spas

New Spas Are in Full Bloom

In just one year, Blossom Spas was able to create six jobs and build a 1,700-square-foot salon. ” We consulted with the SBDC on everything from understanding the market and area needs to picking a location and getting a license,” Luangrarj said.

There’s no doubt about it: Harrisonburg’s Blossom Spas is in full bloom. Vunly Luangrarj, a native of Laos, started the salon two years ago and now employs six licensed technicians and cosmetologists.

Vunly works on site with scheduling, services, and inventory while her daughter, Mim, consults and keeps up with the spa’s social media. Working as a team with their employees, they provide quality service at an affordable price.

Vunly and Mim worked with the Shenandoah Valley SBDC to realize Vunly ‘s dream of building a 1,700 square-foot full-service nail salon in just one year. Proficient but not yet fluent in English, Vunly relied on the assistance of her daughter and the Shenandoah Valley SBDC to help translate and explain important forms and documents. “The SBDC really helped out a lot,” says Mim. “We consulted with them on everything from understanding the market and area needs to picking a location and getting a license.”

Just three months after signing a lease, the spa was fully built and furnished with a new ventilation system, plumbing, flooring, and lighting.

One of their biggest challenges was bringing in enough employees to run the business. Many technicians were already working at other salons; Vunly and Mim needed to gain their trust and prove they would have enough clients. They earned that trust by creating a unique, team-centered environment at the spa.

“Something I take the most pride in is the supportive culture that we’ve created with our staff,” says Vunly. “Each person brings a unique value to our team. We are a culturally diverse staff, and we take pride in providing the very best service for our clients together.”

Read More