Category: Start-up

The Difference Baker, Ashburn

The Difference Baker

Making a difference with the SBDC

Started the business, gained equity investment, and created 2 jobs

Alyssa Sobecki found success by making a difference. The Difference Baker, the business she launched for individuals struggling with food allergies, is doing well in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. With multiple food allergies herself, Alyssa found it difficult to find restaurants that catered to gluten, soy, or nut allergies. The solution, she decided, was to open one of her own. “I wanted a local place where gluten-free families could come and enjoy delicious baked goods, sandwiches, and wraps,” she says.

After locating a building approved for a commercial kitchen, Alyssa and her husband, Jason, went to the Loudoun SBDC. “We worked with them from the inception of our business,” Alyssa relates. “We met with Eric Byrd, manager of the Loudoun SBDC office.” Eric gave the couple an overview of their proposed business and advised them on rules and regulations. “Eric walked us through the entire process,” Alyssa says. “It was awesome — help from A to Z even before we signed a lease.”

The Difference Baker officially opened November 7, 2019. Five months later, it closed due to COVID-19. “We were closed to foot traffic for six months,” Alyssa notes. If customers couldn’t come to her, Alyssa reasoned, she would go to them. “I started doing deliveries,” she says. “That summer was slow, but we were able to keep afloat.” Helping with that effort was the Loudoun SBDC. “Eric reached out to see if we were okay,” Alyssa adds. “He kept us informed about all the assistance that was available.”

During the shutdown, Alyssa looked to her marketing team to maintain sales. “One thing I didn’t do was let my marketing team go,” she explains. “That helped us reach new markets. When something like a pandemic happens, you have to find new ways to market your products.”

The Sobeckis also depend on a bookkeeping team to manage the financial side of the business.

“I know what I’m good at doing and what I’m not good at doing,” Alyssa comments. “What I’m not good at, I outsource to professionals.” The Sobeckis consider the SBDC to be a valuable part of their team. “Eric Byrd has been the bridge when I need a point of contact,” Alyssa says. “All I have to do is reach out to him, and he’ll put me in touch with the right people.” It’s a business relationship the Sobeckis plan to continue. “Just last month I had a coaching call with Eric to go over the future of the company,” Alyssa relates. “He’s already in the process of making some connections toward the path of our growth.”

In addition to baked goods and sandwiches, The Difference Baker offers freezer meals to take home, such as chicken pot pies and baked ziti. The menu is growing and continues to change. “My mission goes beyond what you see in our kitchen,” Alyssa says. “The main focus is to bring peace to those who have to deal with food allergies.” 

The Sobeckis are glad they made the decision to visit the SBDC early on. “I connect with a lot of people who want to start a business,” Alyssa concludes. “The first thing I say is, ‘Go to the SBDC.’ I’m so glad we did.”

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Mason & Greens, Alexandria

Mason & Greens

Parlaying personal views of sustainability

Received a $135,000 loan, a $10,000 line of credit, and started new business

In mid-2019, Justin and Anna Marino were searching for the “right” business to open in Old Town Alexandria, with “right” meaning a retail business that represented their personal environmental views on preservation and sustainability. 

When they found a two-story townhouse on King Street in the Historic District, they began writing a business plan for a first-floor retail shop and a second-level Airbnb property designed to be an eco-conscious alternative to a hotel suite. Alexandria SBDC’s Business Analyst Jack Parker helped them create a viable plan and found a bank interested in the project that was to become the first such brick-and-mortar, zero-waste sustainable products store in the region. They would be offering bulk-grocery products, sustainable-living products, health & beauty, and children’s products. Anna is a “runner” and has over 7,000 viewers on her Blog, in addition to being a well-versed social-media marketer for her online athletic clothing business. Their store also received local media attention prior and during their opening.

In early January, they closed on the $125,000 SBA term loan and a $10,000 line of credit with M&T Bank. Then they began the build-out process on Mason & Greens when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded, causing a veritable shut down of retail businesses. In effect, they were forced to open in the teeth of the storm without eligibility for the EIDL or PPP loan programs. 

The online store, on their well-designed website, was relatively easy to launch, but in-store shoppers and guests for the suite upstairs were another matter. They had some success in May with by-appointment shopping, but the website sales took off right away, surprising everyone including themselves that they were able to breakeven for their first month. After reopening, in-store sales continued to improve and since August, the Airbnb suite has generated enough revenue to pay the monthly rent for the building.

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AquaFloat & Charlottesville Hyberbaric

AquaFloat & Charlottesville HyperBaric

Water and air: Finding success with the basics

AquaFloat saw a 20% increase in sales between 2018 and 2019, plus a $400,000 capital infusion. In addition, BB&T Bank provided a loan of $300,000 for Charlottesville HyperBaric.

Ted O’Neill launched AquaFloat in October 2014. Ted had been a practicing pharmacist for almost 23 years before he discovered float therapy for sensory deprivation. He was intrigued by the seemingly endless application of the treatment, which involves floating in highly salinated water in a completely dark tank. Since floatation therapy was a rapidly expanding market, Ted wanted to explore the business opportunities. He knew that Charlottesville would be an ideal place to launch his new business.

A fellow business owner connected Ted with Betty Hoge, Director of the Central Virginia (CV) SBDC, who charted a tailored plan of action for Ted that proved successful. “Hearing Betty’s objective suggestions and advice were very much welcomed. I spent one or two sessions with her providing the details about AquaFloat — its history, current status, and my vision for the future,” Ted explains. “She began collaborating with me to achieve the goals I had set.”

AquaFloat opened to an enthusiastic welcome from the Charlottesville market. In the past six years, the business, which also offers specialty massage and infrared sauna sessions, has grown, thanks in part to collaborating with Betty. Between 2018 and 2019, AquaFloat saw an approximate 20% increase in sales, thanks to the partnership with the CV SBDC.

As AquaFloat thrived, Ted turned to Betty for assistance with a second closely entwined business endeavor, Charlottesville HyperBaric. This facility will focus on hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which research shows works as a primary or complementary therapy for autism, strokes, PTSD, enhanced wound healing, pre- and post-surgery recovery, and more than 40 common conditions.

Once again, Betty readily assisted Ted with the “humongous” business plan for the sister company. “I made Betty aware of CHB early in our relationship but didn’t begin working on a business plan until 2018,” Ted says. “Betty was essential to the creation of the business plan for Charlottesville HyperBaric. She coached me on its structure, syntax, and necessary financials. After a lengthy process, we are excited to announce a March 2020 launch date.”

According to Ted, Betty has been the key to Charlottesville HyperBaric’s successful materialization. The business received a $300,000 SBA 7(a) loan through BB&T Bank in October 2019. Ted feels Betty’s coaching gave the team greater credibility with the bank because of the long-standing relationship between BB&T and the CV SBDC.

“This would never have happened without her help,” Ted says. “Betty is an unbelievably competent and enthusiastic supporter of small business. She has helped me beyond measure.”

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Careing Hearts Academy

Caring Hearts Academy

The SBDC helps Caring Hearts find success

After one year, Caring Hearts Academy opened with a bank loan and equity of $205,000, created 17 jobs, and doubled enrollment.

In a little over a year, Shannon Facchina turned a love for children into a successful South Hill business, Caring Hearts Academy. “We started one year ago with 23 families, and yesterday my enrollment increased to 45,” Shannon says.

The Longwood SBDC, Shannon notes, has been with her every step of the way. “I kept children in my home for nine years,” she relates. “Then I worked in a church pre-school for 11 years.” When she heard about the grant program offered by the Virginia Growth Alliance (VGA), she decided to participate. That’s where she met and began working with SBDC Business Analyst Brandon Hennessey. “That’s how I became familiar with the Longwood SBDC,” she adds.

“During the competition, Brandon helped me put together all the numbers and demographics I needed to develop a budget. That helped me realize that I actually could start my own business.” Compiling this data gave Shannon the answers to important questions. “There was another licensed childcare facility in our area,” she continues. “Did we have enough children to support another facility? We looked at median income to see how many families in the area would want private childcare and who could afford it.”

The SBDC helped Shannon write a business plan. “That’s what I took to the bank when it was time to purchase the building,” she explains. “That plan was pivotal to obtaining the loan.” While she did not receive a VGA grant, Shannon considers her connection with the SBDC to be more valuable than  dollars and cents. “The SBDC helped me develop everything — from my handbook to my budget to my pricing,” she adds.

Caring Hearts Academy continues to thrive as it enters its second year of operation. “We started with seven employees,” Shannon notes. “Now we have 17 on the payroll, and we’ve doubled our enrollment.”

Parents appreciate the educational component Caring Hearts provides. “We use a child-friendly curriculum for each age group from six months to kindergarten,” she explains. “Our goal is to get children ready for public education, while allowing them to be little for as long as they can — something else I’m passionate about.”

Shannon plans to keep in touch with the SBDC on a regular basis. “I will continue to check in with Brandon every other month as things come up,” she says. “I feel very comfortable working with the SBDC, and future plans for the business are on an annual-review basis. The SBDC has so many resources to help you build your knowledge base,” she concludes. “The SBDC gave me all the tools I needed to start my own business.”

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Hiner Diesel and Auto

Hiner Diesel and Auto

Revved up: Diesel mechanic shop takes off

In the last six months of 2019, Hiner Diesel and Auto was started, $196,150 in financing was obtained, and 3 jobs were created.

Since he opened the doors to Hiner Diesel and Auto, a diesel mechanic and auto repair shop in Tappahannock, Hank Hiner says it’s been pedal to the metal. “We pretty much got started and hit the ground running.” In fact, the bustling shop had diesel vehicles lined up before they opened the doors. The secret to the clamoring throngs? The Hiners’ sterling reputation for excellent work.

When it comes to diesel mechanic and auto repair work, the Hiner family have it in their blood. Father Hank, who owns the shop, has worked on diesel vehicles his whole life, including during his time in the military. Son Chris, the lead mechanic, learned the trade early at vocational school. Cementing the family aesthetic is daughter Krissy, the office manager and bookkeeper.

The decision to open their own shop felt like the logical next step for the highly experienced team. Hank carefully researched the area to see if a diesel mechanic shop would be a good fit. With no comparable services accessible for over an hour’s drive in any direction, he knew that he was on to something.

The Hiners turned to the University of Mary Washington SBDC – Warsaw and Director Joy Corprew. They required a loan in order to purchase their building. Joy worked with Hank and his family to draft a business plan, and with help from the Rappahannock Economic Development Corporation, the Hiners received a SBA 504 loan for $167,500, thereby turning their diesel dreams into reality.

Hank is confident that they would not have received this funding without the direct guidance and support of Joy. He plans to partner with Joy again in the near future regarding vocation programs and training opportunities at the local community college.

In the meantime, Hank and the rest of the family have their hands full with Hiner Diesel and Auto. A recent contract with the town has the shop servicing all the municipality’s ambulances and brush trucks. Hank, who plans to expand the shop and add a towing and roadside service in the upcoming year, feels that providing for the needs of the community is what keeps their customer base coming back.

“We are committed to getting it right. We don’t throw parts at it,” Hank concludes “I am proud to say our reputation as a good diesel mechanic shop is really getting around.”

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Box Office Brewery

Box Office Brewery

Box office hit: Brewery wins big

Box Office Brewery created 43 jobs.

One of the most popular places in downtown Strasburg to grab a pint, catch the game, or listen to live music is Box Office Brewery, owned by Tom Price and Karl Roulston. But it was not always that way. Built in 1918, the spacious location at 177 East King Street was originally the Strand Theater, believed to be the first movie house in Shenandoah County.

The high, pressed-tin ceilings caught the eyes of Tom and Karl when they were scouting for a location. “When they visited the building, they knew the high ceiling would accommodate the brewing equipment,” explains Mary Price, Tom’s wife. They were eager to have a role in maintaining such a meaningful piece of community history. “It has been a gathering place since 1920,” Mary adds. “We are proud of the environment and space and what it has offered to the community.”

For Tom and Karl, the path into beer brewing was unexpected. Karl dabbled in home brewing but didn’t find real results until he started milling his own barley. Tom, on the other hand, had always considered himself a wine connoisseur. “The story all makes sense if you know what you’re looking for,” says Tom, a former engineer. “The whole brewing side — the design of the brew house and how it functions — is all engineering. The actual brewing process — how yeast converts sugar into alcohol — is all biology and chemistry.”

After they carefully and painstakingly turned their love of barley and hops into a marketable product, the pair decided to pull the trigger on the large downtown property. They approached Christine Kriz, Director of the Lord Fairfax SBDC for help. “The SBDC was a key resource for assisting us with building a business model that we could use to get financing. They also provided resources and templates when it came time to fulfill our human resource needs and hire staff,” says Mary. “Christine Kriz was always available. When we contacted her, she was always quick to respond.” With the help of the SBDC, Tom and Karl were able to secure a major investment to help fully renovate the building while maintaining several of the original murals.

Since opening last year, Box Office Brewery has hired over 20 additional staff members including a head brewer and head chef. They received numerous local accolades including the Northern Virginia Daily’s Best of 2019 for beer selection/restaurant, beer selection/retail, and best Brewery and Sports Bar. Thanks to the strong business plan and strategy developed with Christine and the Lord Fairfax SBDC, Box Office Brewery is a hit.

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Rivertime Seafood Market & Deli

Rivertime Seafood Market & Deli

Seafood market brings new life to Surry

With a $260,000 equity investment, Rivertime Seafood Market & Deli created 2 jobs.

When Everett Howell came back to Surry in 2015, he found his hometown didn’t contain a single grocery store. “When I was growing up, Surry was a thriving community,” Everett recalls. “There was a drugstore, hardware store, and this grocery store where I worked as a bag boy when I was in high school. Sadly, things have deteriorated — there’s no grocery store at all now. When I heard folks say they had to drive all the way to Smithfield to buy an onion, I knew I had to do something.”

Ellen Templeton, Director of the Longwood SBDC – Eastern Region, heard about Everett’s project and went to see him. “Ellen sat right here in what was then a trashed building and explained what the SBDC could do to help me,” he relates. “I’d never heard of the SBDC,” he says. “Someone at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommended I contact her. She helped me with my business plan and gave me information on what’s available through the SBDC.”

Everett’s first step was renovation, followed by a soft opening for his Rivertime Seafood Market & Deli in October 2018. Funny enough, he initially didn’t know much about seafood. “We started with oysters — now we’re certified as a shucker/packer, so we can box, ship, and sell oysters,” he says with a note of pride. “It’s on-the-job training in its truest form.”

Everett is glad to have the SBDC standing by to help as his business grows. “It helps to know there’s somebody I can talk to,” he adds. “Ellen’s been very supportive — that’s helped a lot.” The SBDC seminars on financial statements, funding, and dealing with the IRS were also a boon. “I’m a process guy,” he adds. “I want to make sure I’m good with the housekeeping stuff.”

While Everett has yet to put a permanent sign out front (it’s on his final “to do” list), customers have already found him. “Right now it’s word-of-mouth,” he says. “All we did was turn on the ‘open’ sign and unlock the door. Now people come in every day to buy seafood. They really want us to succeed.”

Future plans include tapping into the local tourist market. Everett knows the SBDC is ready and willing to help make that happen. “It’s good to know I can pick up the phone and talk to Ellen,” he said. “She always comes through.”

“Bringing this community back has to start somewhere,” he concludes. “We want to be a part of that.”

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Ground Earth

Grounded Earth

Grounded in success: The SBDC helps crystal shop shine

Grounded Earth had a capital infusion of $24,300 and created 1 new job.

Some businesses begin with an idea. Others start out of necessity. Heather Erb began hers with a revelation. While mourning the passing of her stepfather, Heather took time to reevaluate her career as an art teacher in the Lynchburg school system.

“After diving deep into my own spirituality, I began to find myself attracted to the idea that spirituality was bigger than any idea I had previously held, and spirit started to show up in my life in ways I hadn’t expected,” Heather relates. “Fortunately, it led me to crystals.”

Heather realized that starting a business of her own could look different than she imagined, but still provide the fulfillment she sought. She explains, “I had always had the inclination to start a business of my own and had seen it in my life through my parents, as they both successfully worked for themselves. However, I was under the misconception that my business would be one that supported me as a local craftswoman.” She went on, “That’s when it occurred to me that if I couldn’t find the type of healing I was in search of, then I could create my own healing and open a store that catered to the needs I had, in the hopes that it could also cater to others in need like me. And so the idea was born to open a crystal shop.”

Grounded Earth was born. In addition to crystals and gemstones of all types, the shop offers Reiki, energetic clearing and chakra balancing, as well as psychic readings, and other spiritual guidance.

Heather explains that Grounded Earth has thrived thanks to direct support from the SBDC-Lynchburg Region Center Director Stephanie Keener. “Working with Stephanie has been a godsend. She was very knowledgeable and made me feel confident that opening a new business was actually not scary. She answered my questions and gave me resources that exponentially propelled me forward,” explains Heather. “Stephanie continued to check in with me after I started the process, encouraging future meetings with her to make sure I was going to be successful at starting a new business,” Heather adds.

For Heather, Grounded Earth is a small retail shop with a big mission. Heather sees the SBDC and Stephanie as a critical part of that mission. They worked with Heather and Grounded Earth to design and build a website for the fledgling business free of charge.

“Stephanie took a process that felt overwhelming and broke it down into steps that made it easy for me to manage,” Heather says. “She went above and beyond my expectations and presented me with opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Thanks to Stephanie Keener and the SBDC-Lynchburg Region, Grounded Earth can begin establishing a presence within the community.

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Sugar Hill Cidery

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

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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