Category: Start-up

Sugar Hill Cidery

Brewing success times two

With the SBDC’s help the Baileys were able to secure a $50,000 grant and 3 loans from economic development agencies for the Sugar Hill Cidery. Currently their brewery in St. Paul and the Norton cidery employ 65 people.

Five years ago, Jennifer and Greg Bailey were selling hardware in St. Paul, population 970. Then their son came up with an idea for a brewery, and the couple has been brewing up business success ever since.

Their Sugar Hill Brewing Company opened three years ago in St. Paul, and Sugar Hill Cidery held its soft opening this summer in nearby Norton. “In the hardware business we were surviving, but that’s about all,” Jennifer recalls. “We decided our area needed something different, and a hardware store wasn’t one of those things.”

The Baileys met Tim Blankenbecler, Director of the Mt. Empire SBDC, during their “hardware” years. “We got a lot of help from Tim,” Jennifer says. “When we decided to open a brewery, he helped us write the business plan and find funding.”

After the brewery opened, the City of Norton, 20 miles down the road, approached Jennifer and Greg with a proposal that offered a new slant on brewing — a cidery. “We like things that are different. We asked our head brewer if he could make cider. He told us, ‘I can ferment anything!’ We decided to go look at some buildings in Norton,” Jennifer explains. “We included Tim Blankenbecler early on,” Greg adds. “We knew he would be realistic and wouldn’t encourage us if we didn’t have a workable business plan and good cash flow.”

Tim assisted the Baileys once again with writing their plan and connecting them to sources for financing. The Baileys were able to secure a $50,000 grant and three loans from economic development agencies to make the cidery project possible. “It was really a public-private partnership,” Greg says. On the facilities side, the City of Norton invested over a million dollars to renovate a formerly vacant car dealership where the cidery would be located. “The city had the headache of remodeling, which helped us a lot,” Jennifer notes. Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball stated that Norton’s investment in turning the car dealership facility into an economic enterprise would have a transformative effect on the downtown area. It will house a farmers market and an entrepreneurial center along with the cidery that seats more than 200 people.

The Baileys also increased their workforce. “Currently we have 65 employees,” Greg notes. Future plans include installing equipment for bottling at both the brewery and cidery. “Tim will be there when we start talking about that,” Jennifer adds. “Whenever we have a problem, we call Tim. He always comes up with a strategy.”

Both Greg and Jennifer are quick to direct others to the SBDC. “The SBDC has been a great help,” Jennifer concludes. “When someone says they want to start a business, I tell them — that’s a good idea, but call the SBDC first.”

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Preston Ball Photography

Bringing opportunity into focus

Preston Ball obtained a seed capital grant of $10,000 from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority for needed equipment.

Preston Ball believed his photography hobby had value, but it took the Southwest Virginia SBDC to bring the idea of starting a business into focus. Turning a hobby into a business, he launched Preston Ball Photography LLC in December 2018.

“I got started with taking pictures of my own kids,” he explains. When other parents asked him to take photos of their children, Preston began to think in terms of his own business. He decided to visit Margie Douglass, Director of the Southwest Virginia SBDC. “When I went to the SBDC, she asked me a bunch of questions that I didn’t have a clue as to what the answers were,” he relates. “Did I have a business plan or a price sheet? How do I handle taxes — a lot of things I’d never really thought about.”

Preston went home to work on a business plan, a process he compared to looking through the viewfinder on his camera. “It was a real eye-opener,” he says. “Once you start putting things on paper, you see a lot of opportunities out there.” He appreciated the help the SBDC provided along the way. “They gave me sample business plans,” he explains. “Any time I had a question, I would call and ask about it.”

Margie was also instrumental in connecting Preston with the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA), which led to a $10,000 seed-capital matching grant. “It was a lot of work, but it paid off,” he says. “The seed-capital grant helped me purchase new lighting for my photo shoots. In the future, I hope to develop an indoor studio to provide a space for more portrait photography.”

The grant not only helped Preston grow his business, it literally took him in a whole new direction — up. “I purchased a drone, and I’ve been taking a lot of photos for local realtors,” he notes. Preston believes drones are a new frontier that photographers like himself can explore. “They’re using drone photos for tower and bridge inspections,” he says. “That’s a lot safer than sending a human up to do it.”

One major long-term goal is landing a contract for school photos. “We have four schools in Lebanon — and no sports photographers in town,” Preston relates. “That’s a huge potential market.”

Preston is pleased with the progress his business has made in its first year and credits the SBDC for much of that success. “I had no idea the SBDC does so many things,” he concludes. “The SBDC will help as little or as much as needed. I definitely plan to keep on working with them.”

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Jeeva Informatics Solutions

A study in success: Jeeva creates solution for clinical trials

Jeeva Informatics Solutions received an I-Corps grant from the NSF and investment from CIT.

By any measure, Harsha Rajasimha was a successful man. With published journal articles, chapters in professional textbooks, multiple patents, honors, and awards, his work received plenty of accolades. None of these accomplishments equipped Harsha to help his baby daughter, who died from Edwards Syndrome — a rare congenital disease. Determined to honor his daughter’s memory, Harsha founded Jeeva Informatics Solutions, where he devotes a percentage of his time and his post-doctoral training in genomics and precision medicine to develop diagnostic techniques and therapeutic protocols for rare diseases.

Jeeva initially focused on next-generation sequencing and data-analytics interpretation (taking raw data and turning it into useful knowledge). In 2018, the company pivoted to address the problem of participants in clinical trials, a mandatory step in getting products to market. Patient recruitment takes time and, if anyone drops out, it takes additional effort to recruit more participants. These issues cause delays, which in turn cause the loss of billions of dollars and can render the drug-development industry unsustainable.

Jeeva is in the process of solving this critical “bottleneck” by developing a decentralized clinical trials technology platform. The premise is simple: get more people into clinical trials by reducing the burden of travel. “It’s a virtual clinical-trials platform that addresses the travel burden for participants in clinical trials. Our approach replaces 20% to 80% of visits to brick-and-mortar sites with eVisits. In other words, we are a telemedicine solution for clinical trials with long-term follow-ups,” Harsha explains.

Harsha teamed up with the Mason SBDC and Director Bob Smith to take his concept to the next level. Bob encouraged Harsha to participate in the SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP). After successfully interviewing 146 customers in seven weeks, Jeeva rose to the top of the ICAP leaderboard and was accepted into the Spring 2019 cohort of the National Science Foundation I-Corps program, which included a cash grant.

In December 2019, upon completion of the I-Corps program and following guidance from the Mason SBDC, Jeeva sought and received a round of financing from the Center for Innovation Technology (CIT), Virginia’s public venture-capital investment group.

The SBDC was crucial for filling in the gaps for Harsha and team Jeeva. “While I had solid technical, scientific, and business-development experience in the life science industry, I did not have a solid grasp of the startup process,” Harsha says. “My mentor gave tremendous support and guidance on the proven process of making go/no-go decisions faster and on building a startup company from the ground up.”

With a rapidly growing team, 2020 looks bright for Jeeva as they continue to gain traction in their field. Harsha is grateful to be able to build Jeeva’s success on a framework of solid guidance from the SBDC.

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Friendly City Dance Room

Room to dance: Dance studio spins into the spotlight

The Fusaros obtained a $19,500 Harrisonburg Biz Loan, started a new business, and currently support 4 jobs.

Phillip Fusaro started dancing at nine years old. For Phillip, dancing is a life-long passion and a way to bring entire communities together. He and his wife Erin founded Friendly City Dance Room in Harrisonburg and based the business on their strong belief that individuals can achieve a better quality of life through dancing. With Phillip as choreographer and Erin as artistic director, the couple seeks to make dance accessible to folks of all ages, incomes, and experience levels. 

Creating a successful dance studio was not without its challenges. The Fusaros found themselves unsure of how to turn their love of dance into a profitable business. “We were put in touch with the Shenandoah Valley (SV) SBDC by a fellow business owner,” Phillip says. “Jalal and Allison helped us so much.” Allison Dugan is the Assistant Director and Business Advisor at the SV SBDC; Jalal Maqableh is a PhD candidate at James Madison University and an SBDC Business Advisor specializing in inclusive entrepreneurship.

After attending a Smart Start workshop hosted by the SV SBDC, the Fusaros were eager to learn the next steps for business ownership. Over the subsequent months, the SBDC team assisted the Fusaros with defining goals, target marketing, social media and website development, sales, accounting, legal and HR issues, funding, and cash-flow management.

“I’m basically a visionary, so Allison’s help with all the details was essential to our start-up success,” Phillip says. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without the SBDC.”

Allison guided Erin and Phillip through the process of applying for a Harrisonburg Biz Loan of $19,500. “Allison’s assistance throughout that process was invaluable. The capital was vital to Friendly City’s start,” Phillip explains. The loan was used to convert office space into a welcoming studio with special floating vinyl floors, a quality sound system, and furniture and décor to make it a truly unique space.

Since opening in March 2019, Friendly City Dance Room continues to live up to its mission of providing a deeply inclusive space for people of all abilities to experience dance and improve their lives. “I love seeing the connections in the studio between people who wouldn’t otherwise meet,” Phillip concludes.

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Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca

Raising the bar: Italy comes to Cape Charles

A business was started, sales for Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca reached $220,000 in 9 months, and supports 6 jobs

A tiny town on the Chesapeake Bay might be an unexpected place to find an old world, authentic Italian experience, but that’s what owner Cristina Carollo created with Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca. Located in Cape Charles, Cristina’s coffee and wine bar restaurant opened in May 2019. She was inspired by establishments in her native Italy, where they are a part of everyday life.

“In Italy where I grew up, a bar is the center of the social life and part of the day-to-day routine,” Cristina explains. “Italians gather in the bar to talk with friends, watch TV, play cards, while drinking an espresso, which is simply called caffé. Stopping for un caffé on the way to an errand or when going somewhere with friends is common.”

According to Cristina, these bars serve typical Italian breakfast and lunch, and, in the evening, become the social meeting place for aperitivo, an event similar to happy hour. Aperitivo consists of a glass of wine, a mixed drink or beer, often paired with a small bite, such as focaccia or stuffed olives. “Because of my roots and interests, the idea was to recreate this concept with the convivial and genuine atmosphere that comes with it,” she explains.

George Bryan of the Hampton Roads SBDC helped Cristina make her concept a reality. He referred her to the NxLeveL® Entrepreneurial Training Program offered through the Virginia SBDC, a 12-session, 15-week course that helped Cristina jumpstart her skills. She says that George was an invaluable resource, and his real-world experience helped her through the first few months. “I benefited the most from George’s expertise as a small business owner. For each topic we discussed, George had real case stories and examples that I could relate with,” Cristina adds. “In addition, having lived on the Eastern Shore for a number of years, George was instrumental in guiding me through location selection and helping me create my own business network.”

Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca has achieved over $220,000 in sales with three full-time and three part-time employees. Cristina is going to Italy in January and February, a quiet time for Cape Charles, to plan for the upcoming year. “I’m going to get inspiration and work on some exciting ideas to bring back and implement in the spring of 2020. Now that I have a few months under my belt, I can’t wait to tweak some things based on customers’ feedback, industry trends, and my own ideas,” she enthuses.

Cristina is grateful for her friendship with George and the success it has created for her. “George is a strong supporter of my business and actively promotes Ambrogia Caffé & Enoteca. He is a phone call away when I have business issues to discuss,” she says. “I am so thankful he believes in me and taught me the basic elements for me to begin my journey with my own business. I consider George to be a mentor and a friend.”

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Ballad Brewing

Brewery taps new markets with the SBDC’s help

Ballad Brewing had 6 new hires totaling 16 jobs supported and a $754,000 investment.

Ballad Brewing opened in Danville in 2017. “The first year, we sold beer in our own tap room to learn what our customers liked and to choose the beers we wanted to put into distribution,” Ballad’s Business Operations Manager Tim Meyers explains.

The brewery was an offshoot of a Danville River District project started by developers Ross Fickenscher and Garrett Shifflett. “Ross and Garrett had been working on this building as a third phase of their loft-apartments project,” Tim says. “Rather than rent the lower floor of the building to other businesses, they decided to get into the brewery game themselves.”

Ross and Garrett, who also restored Farmville’s Hotel Weyanoke, had previously worked with the Longwood SBDC. When the brewery needed financing for its bottling line, visiting the SBDC was the logical next step. “I initially reached out to the Longwood SBDC Executive Director Sheri McGuire, and she told us all the things the SBDC had to offer,” Tim explains. He and Aly Fickenscher, Ballad’s Creative Director, have been working with the SBDC team ever since. “SBDC consultant Brandon Hennessey did a fantastic job of working with us to build various models so we could analyze the types of beers we make, change recipes, and approach new markets,” Tim added.

The Hotel Weyanoke opened and so did Ballad Brewing. “Farmville is a small market, but it has a higher volume than we expected,” Tim says. “Now our bottles are for sale in Farmville’s Food Lion plus several restaurants. Then we added Danville, South Boston, and Martinsville.” Tim adds, “Just a few months ago we brought Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Salem into the fold.”

Tim plans to grow slowly until the brewery reaches full capacity. He credits the SBDC with guiding them through this gradual growth process. “They’ve been super helpful in giving us a roadmap so that the growth we’re experiencing is good growth,” he says.

Tim appreciates the long-term relationship the SBDC offers. “When I first started working with the SBDC, I assumed it would be a one-time deal. They would help us get our things in order, and then we would be on our own,” he says. “What we found was exactly the opposite. I can send Brandon new financials any time I have them, and he’s ready to help. I would absolutely recommend the SBDC,” Tim concludes. “They’ve been extremely helpful for a small startup business like ours. I can’t thank them enough for all the help they’ve given us.”

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Play Now!

No time like now: Abingdon play space makes success fun

Play Now! won a $3,000 grant from the Washington County Business Challenge, increased its sales by 20%, and created 2 new jobs.

When she graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in business, Stephanie Howard knew she would put the degree to good use, but she never imagined how.

Years later, Stephanie, now a mother of three children under the age of ten, found herself dusting that degree off in an unexpected way. She realized she was frequently searching for creative, age-appropriate play options for her kids that did not involve a lengthy drive from her Abingdon home. Stephanie decided to create Play Now! an indoor play-and-party business that would offer unique play experiences in a safe and clean environment.

“There was really a need for something like that in this area,” Stephanie says. Her thoughtfully designed 1,000-square-foot space features a two-story soft playground, a foam ball arena, and a newly added sensory room to help kids (and grownups, too!) calm down and de-stress. “It’s like being at home but without having to clean up,” she laughs. It’s clear that she’s put a great deal of thought into the small space.

Stephanie believes in emphasizing socialization between adults and children. In fact, seeing the connections between the children as they play is for her one of the most rewarding parts of Play Now! “The space is not huge, and I love that about it,” she says. It is carefully designed to be open. Wherever you sit you can see your child at all times.”

Although Stephanie had a business background and several family members were small business owners, she sought the assistance of the Virginia Highlands SBDC when it came to crafting a business plan and marketing strategy for Play Now! Less than five months later, she opened the doors in July 2019. “The SBDC has been a tremendous help, both mentally and emotionally. ” Stephanie says, “Networking has been a huge deal. My advisor, Cindy Fields, always answered her phone and pointed me in the right direction.”

Cindy and the SBDC team encouraged Stephanie to enter the Washington County Business Challenge. She admits, “I was nervous and overwhelmed at first, but Cindy told me, ‘We will have your back and be with you every step of the way.’ Soon I realized how much I enjoyed what I was learning and doing.” And it paid off. Stephanie won a $3,000 grant as part of the challenge.

Since opening Play Now! Stephanie has added two part-time employees and increased sales by 20%. “Our goal is to make each child that comes through the door feel as loved and as happy as possible for the time that they are with us,” Stephanie says. With Cindy and the Virginia Highlands SBDC at her side, Stephanie is ready to take on whatever may come her way.

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Cranberry Acre

A hobby on the farm becomes a blossoming business

Cranberry Acre created 4 new jobs. It enjoys a following that increases by 300 to 400 people every year on Facebook and Instagram.

At Cranberry Acre, a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Arwen Cayton and husband Wayne create one-of-a-kind art and merchandise from soaps to blacksmith items.

After her father became ill, Arwen and Wayne moved from Texas to Virginia, where she sought to reconnect with the rural life she experienced as a child in upstate New York. Arwen’s vision for her business took time to grow and ripen, but today Cranberry Acre is a multifaceted, inspiring brand. She and Wayne run the farm as an agri-tourist destination for homesteading and crafting. She admits, however, that her initial dreams were small.

“Creating a business never even occurred to me,” Arwen says. “Mandy Archer at Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC happened to be a customer of mine in my early crafting period. After I’d given up making things for about a year, I ran into her at the farmers market. I mentioned that people were still reaching out to me, wanting my crafts, and Mandy urged me to listen to that enthusiasm. She inspired me to commit to Cranberry Acre as a business. She saw the potential this company had.”

When it came to getting a business together with all the necessary parts, Arwen acknowledges that Mandy was essential. In strategic meetings, they worked out tax ID’s, formed an LLC, and discussed each important growth step. By year four, Arwen was generating more income with Cranberry Acre than her part-time job.

With that taste of success and continued growth, she pushed further, and today Arwen spends time planning for new, exciting, educational offerings on the farm, along with enhancing the grounds. Through it all, her connection to the SBDC continues.

“They’re coming this week to drop off stuff for Small Business Saturday. SBDC helps when we celebrate anniversaries, and Ginny and Mandy are incredibly supportive,” Arwen says. “Any time I have a thought like, ‘should I be doing XYZ?’ I don’t panic. I run to Mandy, and she steers me the right way.”

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3 Guys Transport

Mission possible: With the SBDC

3 Guys Transport was financed by a $25,000 EDA loan, a $10,000 VCEDA Seed Capital Matching grant, and $34,000 in owner equity. They now have a fleet of 10 vehicles and created 8 new jobs.

David Ramsey’s 3 Guys Transport is a business driven by a mission. David already knew the needs in Southwest Virginia and started his business to meet them. He already knew the medical transport business; he had worked as a driver for five years. “I saw a lot of people who had terrible health problems and didn’t have any way to get to medical appointments,” he says. “I knew the needs out there.”

David also knew those needs were about to grow. “After the first of next year, we’ll have 400,000 more people on Medicaid in Virginia,” he notes. “I expect at least 200,000 of them will come out of Southwest Virginia.”

David, along with Bo Tackett, Brandon O-Quinn, and Ronnie Deel, decided it was a good time to start a transport company. David’s first stop was the Mt. Empire SBDC. “Tim Blankenbecler walked us through everything,” David says. “The state had so many things we had to do that I wrote out a list.” First, the SBDC assisted David with DMV requirements and with acquiring appropriate licenses. Then Tim helped David develop a business plan. “Tim really helped us out on the business side,” David says. “One of the first things we needed to do was decide on a central location.”

An office in the Pioneer Center Business Incubator in Duffield became the company headquarters. This location also allowed 3 Guys to obtain a low-interest loan of $25,000 from the Scott County Economic Development Authority Loan Program. Using the loan money as matching funds, they applied for a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Matching grant. “The SBDC really helped us get the EDA loan and VCEDA grant,” David notes. With the loan and grant funds, plus $34,000 in owner investment for a total of $69,000, 3 Guys has been able to increase its fleet of vehicles from four to ten. 

David says each vehicle in the fleet translates into another job for a new driver and the ability to serve more clients. The company currently employees eight people.

David continues to consult the SBDC on a regular basis. “Every two or three weeks, I’ll call Tim and throw some ideas off him,” David comments. “Generally he’ll tell me, ‘Here’s the positive, and here’s the negative on that.’ It’s nice to have someone you can call on, who will give you an honest point of view.”

“Tim and I talked about future plans.” David adds, “We’re actually ahead of our projections.” David hopes to add more drivers and vehicles every year, eventually employing 21 drivers. “It’s not a 9 to 5 job,” David says. It is, in fact, more of a mission. “Whatever it takes to get the job done, we’ll do it,” he says. “We feel blessed to be able to help others in their time of need.”

“I always tell others, be smart about what you do,” he concludes. “Going to the SBDC is smart; it’s the best resource you’ve got to learn the nuts and bolts of business.”

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Paladin Bar & Grill

No bull about it: Paladin Bar & Grill bucks into town

Paladin Bar & Grill created 40 new jobs, landed $550,000 in capitol infusion, and went from $0 to $600,000 in revenue in one year.

It definitely wasn’t their first rodeo, but Craig Spaulding and William Waybourn, owners of Paladin Bar & Grill in Stephens City, decided to embrace the wild west spirit all the same.

A massive 1,100-pound bull named Paladin dominates the front entrance to Paladin Bar & Grill. The statue, created by Bettye Hamblen Turner, is constructed from stainless and carbon steel and recycled motorcycle and car parts. “Paladin was created on the LBJ Ranch in Texas and is one of five Longhorn sculptures. This one was the fifth in the series and the only one on public viewing, as the other four are in private collections,” William explains. The eatery’s namesake has been bullish about pulling in curious patrons and photo-op hungry passersby since opening its doors in March of 2018.

Craig and William are no strangers to entrepreneurship. They own Long View Gallery in D.C., the largest private gallery in the capital city, as well as Screen Archives, a massive online film-and-music distributor. When it came to the always-fickle restaurant scene, Craig and William were glad to have the assistance of the Lord Fairfax SBDC and seasoned analyst, Christine Kriz.

“Early on Christine gave us a demographic overlay of the area that was instrumental in our decision to sign the lease. She also provided us with resources of various governmental entities and private businesses to help us get oriented and in business,” William says. “We never would have opened this location had it not been for the SBDC and Christine Kriz. Her assistance and data were invaluable in making a determination to open Paladin Bar & Grill in Stephens City,” William adds.

For Craig and William, the restaurant incorporates pieces from all their ventures. “We try to make all of our companies partner with each other,” William says, “hence the artwork and restored movie posters you see everywhere around Paladin.”

Despite its neighborhood setting, the investment is paying off with continued steady business and growth. “We just recently started paying our servers above minimum wage — that’s unheard of in the restaurant industry,” says William. “Most servers barely survive on tips, so we made the decision to increase their hourly pay in anticipation that customers would agree that better service deserves a higher tip,” he adds.

While Paladin, the bold chrome bull, continues to be the talk of the town, William and Craig are looking to the future, once again with the assistance and resources of the SBDC. “We are currently working with the Lord Fairfax SBDC and Christine on another location in northern Frederick County,” says William.  

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