Category: Type of help


SBDC helps manufacturer reach new heights

Assisted with international sales expansion; awarded $30,000 in Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) funding.

Dhiyohouse Inc.

Dhiyohouse manufactures and refurbishes conveyor belts for the mining sector. Looking for resources to expand overseas, Dhiyohouse contacted the Small Business Administration (SBA) in July 2021. The SBA Office of International Trade mentioned the State Trade Expansion Program (STEP) and referred Dhiyohouse to the Virginia SBDC’s International Business Development Program (IBD) for one-on-one assistance and connections to additional support organizations in Virginia.

In the ensuing meeting, the IBD team learned that Dhiyohouse had significant interest in multiple foreign markets but had not taken advantage of government trade resources.

The IBD team launched an extensive research effort on behalf of Dhiyohouse to identify the ideal global markets for expansion. Through that project, the IBD team and its student researchers narrowed the number of countries down to a small group of high potential markets.

Dhiyohouse project manager Robert Leonard credits the SBDC for supporting the company’s international growth: “If you follow the SBDC’s model, it’ll produce international revenue and grow your business. Just follow the model! The SBDC team will give you the research and provide you the resources for success.”

In addition to market research, the IBD introduced Dhiyohouse to the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP), which invited them to participate in a spring 2022 trade mission to Peru and Chile. During that mission, Dhiyohouse identified over half a dozen potential partners. To date, VEDP has provided $30,000 in grants to Dhiyohouse to support their trade program. The IBD team also connected Dhiyohouse with the U.S. Commercial Service for assistance vetting interested foreign buyers.

The SBDC’s IBD program has been an ongoing resource to Dhiyohouse by providing specific assistance on growing international sales and recommending translation companies to internationalize its website.

Dhiyohouse has enrolled in the Virginia SBDC’s inaugural cohort of the International Business Plan program, in which companies learn how to develop a sound, bankable export strategy.

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InHealthRVA facilitates functional medicine with support from the SBDC

Received a $25,000 line of credit and a $50,000 term loan; 1 part-time and 2 full-time jobs.

Home | Functional Medicine | Richmond, VA (

When Tressa Breindel was 14, her pediatrician diagnosed her with a severe autoimmune disease. By her early twenties, all conventional medical treatments had failed. These frustrations with her care sparked an idea.

Tressa knew what she needed: medical practitioners who provided her with options for understanding her chronic, complicated condition. She took matters into her own hands and by January 2016, she launched InHealthRVA, a clinic that specializes in integrative and functional medicine.

“Functional medicine is really about understanding the body from a physiology and biochemistry perspective and then applying that understanding clinically to give people better health,” says Tressa. “Functional, integrative medicine should be primary care.”

In 2021, as Tressa worked to grow InHealthRVA, she connected with Capital Region SBDC Executive Director Rodney Williams. Rodney quickly became an essential advisor, helping her set goals and stay on track – even if that just meant checking in periodically.

“Having the accountability of knowing I had to report to Rodney was very helpful,” she says.

The SBDC and Rodney helped Tressa secure capital for her growing business. When she needed a small business loan, the SBDC walked Tressa through necessary steps. Rodney helped her edit her business plan and referred her to a QuickBooks expert.

“That was really instrumental,” Tressa notes. “When my business was small and simple, I could just focus on cash in and cash out, but that’s no way to run a business as it grows.”

The SBDC also introduced Tressa to M&T Bank, which resulted in a $25,000 line of credit and a $50,000 term loan. This financing allowed her to expand, hiring a nurse practitioner, a full-time customer care specialist, and a part-time administrative assistant.

As she looks to the future, Tressa hopes to add another practitioner to the clinic, and, eventually open a second location. However, she has more ambitious goals as well.

“InHealthRVA is an experiment to dial in the business model. When it’s dialed in with several practitioners, then I’ll be able to replicate it in other locations,” she explains. “My mission and vision is that everyone who has a tummy ache, a headache, a chronic illness, or an autoimmune disease should be able to access this type of medicine.”

Tressa cites the SBDC as key in growing InHealthRVA, and readily recommends it to fellow entrepreneurs. In fact, just recently, she referred a physical therapist to the SBDC.

“She wants to grow. She wants to hire and improve her marketing, so I gave her the SBDC’s website!”

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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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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!”

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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

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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DBHomes4Hope renovates houses and realizes mission with the SBDC

Received $10,000 loan.

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.”

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Elite Culinary Staffing

Elite Culinary Staffing provides solutions for the hospitality industry with guidance from the SBDC

Received approximately $160,000 in grant funding; launched mobile app.

When employee call-outs left chef Jermaine Boothe short-staffed during a busy evening at the restaurant where he worked, he said to himself, “I wish there was someone I could call.”

“I wanted to create something where you have a bunch of professionals on call,” explains Jermaine.

Jermaine previously met Hampton Roads SBDC Assistant Director Debra Farley in 2012. As his vision of owning a restaurant shifted to staffing, he knew exactly whom to contact. With Debra’s help, he began planning his new venture.

“Debra has been there in every stage of my business and growth so far,” he says. “She knows my business inside and out.”

In 2013, Jermaine founded Elite Culinary Staffing, a temporary staffing agency. Elite Culinary seeks to meet the growing needs in the hospitality industry, and offers transitional job opportunities and skills training for military veterans, foster children aging out of the system, and formerly incarcerated individuals in the Hampton Roads area. In 2018, he expanded services, opening a training facility for hospitality professionals ranging from servers to small-business owners.

Since Elite Culinary launched, the SBDC has facilitated growth through one-on-one advising and workshops, and helped Jermaine with marketing strategies and insurance options. During the pandemic, Debra provided professional insight, keeping Jermaine up to date on available resources.

“I can Google things and take a shot in the dark, or I can contact Debra and say ‘this is what I’m looking for,’ and she will connect me with people I can trust,” Jermaine says. “Like many businesses, ours was adversely affected by the pandemic. Debra assisted me in pivoting. We began working on a mobile application, which connects employers to employees directly.”

With Debra’s help, Jermaine launched his staffing app in 2020. The SBDC also provided support for state and federal grant applications, resulting in approximately $160,000 in funding.

Looking to the future, Jermaine has big goals. He hopes to grow his mobile app to serve 10,000 users, secure more government contracts, and begin consistent workforce development and training in his new facility. He cites the SBDC’s professional network as the organization’s most valuable asset.

“As I grow and sustain my business, it’s so important to me that I have someone I can call that understands business — and most importantly, understands my business and can give me constructive advice,” says Jermaine. “I do and will refer people to the SBDC all the time.”

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Flour & Water Co.

Flour & Water Co follows SBDC recipe for expansion success

Maintained steady annual growth of 25%; added 13 jobs.

Meredith Norris, co-owner of the Flour & Water Co. in Woodstock, knows you can’t make bread with flour and water alone — it requires yeast. To help her growing business expand, Meredith consulted the Laurel Ridge SBDC to add the missing ingredient to the mix: SBDC resources.

“In two years’ time, our business had taken off,” Meredith relates. “We needed information on expansion and decided to try the SBDC.”

Meredith’s idea for the artisan bakery in Woodstock began with a 2018 trip to Ireland where she and her sister, Paje Cross, became “enamored with” a local establishment on The Emerald Isle. The sisters made business plans on the way home to Woodstock. Their third partner, Jacoby Ginges, soon joined them in the venture.

“We’d all been involved in food service of some description,” Meredith adds.

The partners tested their bakery idea with three pop-up shops, which sold out every time. Early in 2020 they started searching for a building — only to be interrupted by the pandemic.

“We decided to wait, which turned out to our advantage,” Meredith says. “We bought a building at auction, and after renovations, opened in December 2020.”

Despite pandemic obstacles, Flour & Water Company rose to the occasion. In their first year of operation, the baking partners nearly tripled their projected revenue.

As the company eyed expansion, an acquaintance suggested a visit to Laurel Ridge SBDC Director Christine Kriz, who advised them to take the SBDC-sponsored Cureate Course. The six-week course for food and beverage producers gives advice on scaling existing business operations and next steps for strategic growth.

“The Cureate course was monumentally helpful to us,” Meredith notes. “SBDC resources have offered us a wealth of knowledge.”

That knowledge, Meredith affirms, yields dividends.

“We started with three employees, and two years in, we have 16,” Meredith says. “Year over year, we’ve grown 25 percent, and we’re moving ahead with our expansion plan. The SBDC is already helping with that.”

She advises other business owners to take advantage of all the SBDC has to offer.

“The SBDC provides a wonderful service,” she concludes. “It only makes sense to use it.”

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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.”

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