Category: ICAP

NIRView Biosciences

NIRView Biosciences

NIRView Biosciences brings academic research to market with the SBDC

Received more than $100,000 in funding from numerous grants and events.

Shrishti Singh completed a doctorate degree in bioengineering at George Mason University (GMU) in December 2022. With support from her GMU mentors, she created a promising new imaging technology with potential to impact many lives — including her own.

After finding an injectable contrast dye that enhances healthcare imaging capabilities, under the mentorship of Dr. Remi Veneziano, Assistant Professor of GMU’s bioengineering department and Dr. Parag Chitnis, director of GMU’s bioengineering Ph.D. program, Shrishti shifted her career focus from scientific research to entrepreneurship. With a vision to take her groundbreaking technology “from the research bench to the patient’s bedside,” she co-founded NIRView with Dr. Veneziano and Dr. Chitnis.

During the last year of her PhD, with a novel product and trusted mentors at her side, Shrishti sought out a business advisor for the entrepreneur piece of the puzzle. A consultation with the Mason SBDC connected her with the ICAP Life Science Mentor Elizabeth Pyle, whose work with the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) aligned perfectly with Shrishti’s technology and entrepreneurial vision.

Virginia SBDC-ICAP helps Virginia-based technology and innovation-driven startups like Shrishti’s move from idea to launch, offering advising, training and pathways to funding. Elizabeth and Shrishti’s first meetings were to understand the technology, followed by more concrete business planning.

“After Shrishti and her mentors had conducted 20 customer interviews, we realized there was something to develop as a business,” Elizabeth adds.

After completing the Virginia SBDC-ICAP cohort, Elizabeth guided Shrishti and Dr. Remi Veneziano through the I-Corps Program created by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help move academic research to market. Shrishti’s faculty mentors, have since received funding from a number of sources, including the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation Commonwealth Commercialization Fund ($75,000), an NSF I-Corps National Grant ($50,000), and an NSF I-Corps Site Grant ($3,000) to take the technology forward. Shrishti won the top award at the 2023 Patriot Pitch Competition ($6,000) and the event’s Mason’s Choice Award ($1,000).

“The SBDC introduced me to a whole new world,” Shrishti states. “The ICAP Program showed me that while you might have the best technology, if no one wants to buy it, you don’t have a business.”

Additionally, Shrishti was recently nominated for the Forbes Under 30 Summit and has shared her experience as an entrepreneur through several interviews, including the PhD Talk Show podcast episode “From PhD to Entrepreneurship: A Researcher’s Journey of Turning an Idea into a Reality.”

As Shrishti and her team continue to lay the groundwork for the 2024 incorporated NIRView, she plans to use the Prince William County Innovation Park, a university-centered research park anchored by George Mason University, to continue developing her product. This will allow NIRView to progress toward a full launch while Shrishti continues to seek additional funding sources.

“Starting from this space, we hope to expand and enhance the realm of healthcare imaging,” Dr. Veneziano says.

Shrishti and her team note their appreciation for all the assistance they received from the SBDC. “The support we got from the SBDC was amazing,” Dr. Chitnis adds.

“Learning the business end was a bit scary for me,” Shrishti concludes. “Having someone like Elizabeth to rely on — that support was extremely helpful for all of us.”

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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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Federal Foundry

Federal Foundry

Virginia-ICAP’s customer discovery a win for Federal Foundry

Received $1.5 million in federal grants. Increased userbase of FedScout app to 1,300.

Geoff Orazem launched Federal Foundry in 2016 to help small business owners succeed in the federal market. When his company struggled to grow, Geoff realized he needed a better understanding of his business and target customers.

After consulting with the Virginia SBDC Network, Geoff was advised to enroll in the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP). Participating in ICAP influenced Geoff to make fundamental changes to the way Federal Foundry operates.

“I made assumptions about my customer base that were wrong,” Geoff says. “Fortunately, ICAP was there to point out my mistakes.”

Virginia SBDC-ICAP, part of George Mason University and the Virginia SBDC Network, is a statewide collaborative network that supports tech startups during the critical initial phases of business development. Geoff connected with the Virginia SBDC-ICAP through his friend, ICAP Mentor Gary Grenter, who has extensive experience in production management and has founded four companies.

“Gary’s an excellent coach,” Geoff says. “Everything about ICAP is great, but the most valuable piece for me is customer discovery.”

Before founding his business as a government contractor, Geoff served as a Marine infantry officer. After leaving the Marine Corps, he graduated from Harvard Law School, and worked as a government contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Drawing on that experience, Geoff was well equipped for the ICAP program and compared it to military boot camp: “It’s a process requiring hard work and discipline but with a big payoff. Once ICAP showed me the value of customer discovery, I started doing it — still do it when considering a new capability.”

Since completing ICAP, Geoff has incorporated those customer-centered practices into his business. As a result, Federal Foundry has experienced newfound growth. One of the company’s tools, the FedScout app, currently has 1,300 users and was awarded a major contract of $1.5 million in federal grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Geoff credits Gary and the Virginia SBDC-ICAP program for that success. “Gary has a ton of experience and networks, plus he’s a good sounding board,” Geoff says.

Geoff considers ICAP’s free service a big win. “It’s been a good couple of years for Federal Foundry,” he concludes. “In the past I made business assumptions that were wrong. Thankfully, ICAP was there to help me correct the errors.”

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MOVA Technologies

MOVA Technologies

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

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

MOVA Technologies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Team Excel

Team Excel

Team Excel scores with an assist from the Virginia SBDC - ICAP Program

Expanded to serve 12 schools, created 1 job and is poised to grow revenue by almost more than 40% in 2022.

Working with Richmond-area nonprofits on youth development programs, Johnathan Mayo noticed a problem: many of the young people he encountered lacked academic motivation. This realization sparked Team Excel, a “reverse fantasy sports” app that turns success into a game, organizing teams to compete with one another based on metrics like academics, attendance, and community service hours. More importantly, Team Excel transforms students into teammates.

Johnathan initially tested his business idea as a pilot program under a nonprofit — with impressive results. Over four years, students increased their GPA by an average of 27%.

“We saw kids holding each other accountable, pushing each other, motivating each other as part of a team to do better,” he says.

Johnathan quickly recognized that to scale Team Excel, he needed to pivot out of the nonprofit sector. In 2019, he registered as a Virginia benefit corporation, which allowed him to create a technology solution that he could scale. He also recognized that he needed guidance in order to grow his business.

Enrolling in the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) offered Johnathan essential startup support and connected him with mentor Neil Agate and ICAP Director Josh Green. ICAP helped Johnathan analyze his business model and his marketing strategy, with a focus on customer discovery.

“ICAP really dug deep into your target audience,” says Johnathan. “You might have ten potential audiences, but they really helped you determine who your end customer is.”

ICAP’s advice continues to guide Johnathan. When he first started Team Excel, he focused exclusively on K-12 student-athletes. However, since the pandemic, he’s taken a broader approach.

“Chronic absenteeism and low engagement from students are such huge problems that schools are looking for solutions to service all of their students,” he explains.

Recently, Johnathan pivoted to marketing Team Excel as an enhancement tool that can be used by any existing school, nonprofit or sports team. In 2022, he launched Team Excel in 12 schools, hired his first full-time employee and launched a new website. Eventually, he foresees Team Excel expanding into higher education.

Throughout this impressive growth, ICAP has offered ongoing support, and Johnathan makes it a point to attend monthly meetings and keep up with his mentors.

“It keeps up an ecosystem of founders and mentors — people in the startup ecosystem in Virginia,” he says.

Johnathan readily recommends the Virginia SBDC-ICAP Program to any small business owner.

“Thinking about your journey in business, it was a really good starting point,” he says, “a network of people that really want to see you succeed.”

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Impruvon Health

Impruvon Health

The Virginia SBDC-ICAP helps Impruvon Health save lives

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

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.”

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Liquet Medical

Liquet Medical

SBDC advice helps Liquet Medical improve critical care

Invested $650K in personal assets into the business.

When John Schindler and Derek Hall co-founded Liquet Medical in 2020, their goal was to develop a medical device that gave ICU doctors better options to treat patients who were critically ill with vascular disease. But while their technology was certainly revolutionary, they launched the business with more than profit in mind.

“My mother passed away from a pulmonary embolism in 1971, so I had a personal attachment to this technology,” John explains.

In 2020 John and Derek started Liquet Medical, a company centered on an innovative medical device that treats both lungs simultaneously. Placed in a patient’s lungs, the Versus Catheter provides real-time pressure monitoring that allows for better critical care decisions.

Designing new technology while growing a business from the ground up is no small feat. Throughout the process, John and Derek sought startup support and business development assistance from two important resources: the Virginia SBDC Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) and Central Virginia SBDC.

“Before we were entrepreneurs, we both had strengths in sales and marketing,” Derek notes.

Before launching Liquet Medical, the two innovators had worked together for multiple companies in the vascular field. John’s activities revolved around new market creation for emerging technology and product development, while Derek specialized in biomedical engineering.

“ICAP helped us strategically early on,” John comments. “ICAP’s Life Science Mentor William McPheat gave us a great introduction on ways to build our company and advised us on key elements to present to the medical community.”

ICAP, under the SBDC network, offers an intensive startup assistance program that includes one-on-one advising from experienced ICAP mentors.

Central Virginia SBDC Director Rebecca Haydock provided connections and offered advice on investor presentations.

“Rebecca was instrumental in prepping us for meetings with investor groups,” John relates. “Rebecca advised us on how to tell our story, which was very helpful.”

While the Versus Catheter is currently in an estimated nine months of clinical trials, the Virginia SBDC team stand ready to help the company move into its next phase.

“ICAP and the SBDC helped us create a solid foundation to build the company into the future,” John adds.

That future will include marketing and a permanent location.

“We look forward to Virginia SBDC assistance as we establish a brick-and-mortar location and hire local talent,” Derek says. “It’s great to know we can rely on these ongoing resources.”

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Amplitude9’s robotic team upgrades the workplace with innovative solutions from the Virginia SBDC-ICAP program

Achieved 200% growth in 3 years; acquired 9 clients.

Amplitude9‘s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology can reduce data-entering processes from 16 hours to 25 minutes. To make this happen, the company employs digital assistants to help perform mundane tasks previously completed by humans.

Anthony Fung, former Deputy Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, spent much of his career driving opportunities for new technologies to help with government operations. In 2019 he launched Amplitude9 to offer digital solutions to increase employee productivity, cut organizational costs, and improve service delivery.

“Using RPA allows employees to focus on tasks of higher value to their organization,” Anthony says.

With assistance from the team of digital assistants, the Mason SBDC and the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), Amplitude9 is working to change today’s workplace. Amplitude9 is currently experiencing rapid growth – 200 percent in several key indicators – in the process.

To market his concept to prospective clients, Anthony turned to the SBDC’s ICAP program, which offers expertise in launching innovation-focused companies. He worked with Mason SBDC Director Timm Johnson and ICAP Director Josh Green. Timm advised Anthony on strategy, discussed concepts around building a robotics business, and worked with Anthony on finance, market analysis and digital marketing.

ICAP provided key pieces of guidance on customer discovery.

“Mason Mentors helped me identify my core market customer base,” Anthony notes. “Both the SBDC and ICAP advised me on future growth.”

That future growth includes plans for a “bot store” where Amplitude9 customers can easily purchase their own off-the-shelf robots.

“With a bot store, customers could pull a bot off the shelf and very quickly realize the benefits,” Anthony says.

Amplitude9 has already achieved impressive growth. In three years, the business has acquired nine clients, including George Mason University, and has experienced a growth of 200 percent. As the company continues to thrive, Anthony plans to keep the SBDC relationship and confer with the ICAP mentors as the company scales in growth.

“The SBDC is available and ready to offer valuable advice,” Anthony concludes. “As the CEO of a small business, I find it helpful to have the perspective of experienced entrepreneurs.”

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Ipsun Solar

Ipsun Solar

Lights on: The Mason SBDC powers up solar installer

Grew from two employees to over 50; over 300 customers served; became one of the largest solar installers in the Northern VA area.

When Herve Billiet and Joe Marhamati founded Ipsun Solar, they had a singular vision: encourage all Americans to produce their own power using the clean, renewable energy of the sun. Today, that vision remains unchanged, and thanks to help from the Mason SBDC Ipsun Solar has grown to become one of the largest solar developers in Northern Virginia.

Unlike many industries, solar was unscathed by the recent pandemic. In fact, according to Herve, their business flourished as many customers looked to make the switch from gas, oil, and other types of fuel to solar power during the uncertain times of COVID-19. “We are definitely riding a wave,” Herve explains. “There is a huge increase in demand for what we have to offer.”

Herve is an electro-mechanical engineer who began developing solar projects in Alabama in the 2000s, while Joe is an environmental scientist who served as Energy Advisor to President Obama. Despite their extensive in-field knowledge, including Herve’s previous business experience, when it came to taking their two-man start-up from zero watts to megawatts, there was only one place to go.

“When I got started with Ipsun, I immediately went to the team at the Mason SBDC,” Herve explains, “because I knew they would provide the best advice on how to get us most quickly from a start-up to a real business.”

Herve connected with advisor and mentor, Timm Johnson. From the start of the relationship, Herve says Timm’s real-world experience and matter-of-fact advice have been crucial guide points for the solar company. Herve explains, “The continuity I experienced working with Timm the entire time has been so valuable to me — working with a person that has actually done mergers and acquisitions, has actually had experience running a business, and not just from a book, but someone who actually has the hands-on knowledge.”

As Ipsun Solar rapidly expanded, the business-related issues evolved from bottom line to people oriented. Again, Herve found that Timm had the experience and resources to provide incisive assistance. “As a business owner, you have many data-driven things coming at you, and the best thing that you can do is always be very analytical,” Herve says. “If I have questions about sales and marketing, legal, product development, or even hiring and firing, Timm is all about answering those questions in a very down-to-earth way,” Herve adds. “Timm was — and is — helpful for drilling down to the core issues and providing insight.”

Herve continues to meet with Timm regularly, as Ipsun Solar has spiked from two employees to over 50, and has served over 300 customers in the Virginia, D.C., and Maryland areas.

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Wall-Lift Inc.

Wall-Lift Inc.

Innovation leads to international business for Wall-Lift

Achieved more than 100% growth in domestic and international sales

When Mark Helmuth first invented the Wall-Lift in 2005, it was purely out of necessity. As a contractor, he needed a safer and more efficient way to raise walls, so he built a device to do the heavy lifting for him and his crew, literally.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions,” Mark says. “I had a need to set walls, and the methods that were out there didn’t quite meet my specs. I thought about it, went out and got the components, and within a week and a half I had it all together. On the first job, it worked great.”

That first use quickly turned into dozens. After his fellow contractors saw the machine in action, requests to build more began to filter in. At the urging of a friend in 2016, Mark filed for a patent and began exploring the process of setting up Wall-Lift as a business. His banker referred him to the SBDC center in the Shenandoah Valley and Rockingham area where Allison Dugan’s team helped Mark establish Wall-Lift Inc.

“The SBDC walked me through a lot of things,” Mark says. “I took a lot of the courses they offered, they hooked me up with some shipping guys, and they helped me put together some brochures and marketing,” he adds. He also participated in the Virginia SBDC Network’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) to learn about customer discovery and how to match your product to your customers’ needs.

But Mark’s partnership with the SBDC didn’t end there. This past spring, Mark discovered a video of his Wall-Lift posted by what Mark wrote on Instagram, was “an icon of the framing world.” The SBDC was there to help Mark double down on the power of viral marketing in this unique situation.

That video, which has since generated nearly 400,000 views, led to an exponential increase in orders for Wall-Lift almost overnight. Mark has nearly doubled sales from last year already and, with help from the Virginia SBDC Network’s International Business Development Director Aaron Miller, he has shipped as far as Australia, England, Norway, and South Korea. The distribution channels the SBDC helped him establish have paid dividends during that growth — as have partnerships the SBDC helped him secure with two dealers who now sell Wall-Lift.

“I got a large United States map, and I put pins where every sale went so I can see what’s going on,” Mark recalls. “Early on, I saw that if I made one sale in one area, it’s not long before you have two or three more in that same area. That’s when I realized this wasn’t a bad product because it’s selling itself,” adds Mark.

As Wall-Lift continues to grow, Mark finds the SBDC to be a reliable ally in his corner. Sales for the product have doubled every year, ballooning from fewer than 10 in his first year to more than 200 units already sold in 2021. He sold eight in one day and 52 in a single month — records he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see broken.

“[The SBDC] asked me, how big do you want to go? I said that if we got to the point where we could sell two a week, that would be great,” Mark says. “Now we’re way past that.”

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