Category: Start-up

FAVE: Facilitating Awareness & Valuable Experiences

No playing favorites: FAVE leads all-ability inclusion movement

FAVE has secured $184,377 in training and consulting contracts over the last year and created 2 jobs.

It all started with a notebook and a series of ‘what ifs.’

The notebook belonged to Lauren Askew, a self-professed behavior-science geek. It was filled with ideas about how businesses, agencies, and organizations could build viable all-ability inclusion programs to meet the needs of people impacted by autism, Alzheimer’s, Down’s syndrome, and other disabilities. What if hotels developed safety plans for families traveling with a grandparent with dementia? What if emergency responders and health care workers received standardized training on autism? What if they had tools to help meet their needs?” It was the void outlined by these piercing questions that FAVE sought to fill.

Lauren approached her mentor at the Roanoke Regional SBDC, Tom Tanner, with the notebook, two decades of experience studying applied research on behavior, and no experience running a business. “The only way for me to get through my fear was to take the first step and learn as much as I could about starting a small business. I came to the SBDC where I have had the chance to not only learn about starting a small business, but also the chance to learn from the very best,” Lauren says. “Imagine Tom’s surprise when I told him my ‘business’ was to facilitate a new competitive market for individuals with communication and intellectual disabilities and to help businesses offer safe and valuable inclusive experiences!” Lauren exclaims.

“With the support of Tom and the SBDC, our amazing think tank members, area business leaders, and partnerships with organizations like Virginia Tech Center for Autism Research, we launched in December 2017,” Lauren says.

At FAVE, a “team of inclusion experts” works to incorporate research-based steps to develop easy, effective, and customizable solutions for people with disabilities. FAVE has trained “Inclusion Support Facilitator” groups from numerous county sheriff departments, two Domino’s franchises, and more. They have also partnered with a technology provider in Michigan to convert some of their trainings into an online management system.

Lauren credits Tom Tanner, Christina Garnett, Amanda Forrester, and the rest of the SBDC staff with helping FAVE break the barrier from science to business. They taught FAVE to craft a voice that maximizes visibility and appeals to their target market. “While we started FAVE with a passion to help families, we had to learn to change our voice to highlight and meet the needs of businesses,” Lauren explains.

It is hard to imagine that this burgeoning, people-driven enterprise began with a simple notebook and some hard questions. For Lauren, those same questions continue to push her and the FAVE team forward: “What if a family can go to dinner and a movie together for the first time in 10 years? What if businesses offered programs that brought together adults with disabilities? Imagine what would happen if we make this work.”

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Tazewell Co. Mercantile

The ties that bond: Tazewell Co. Mercantile brings the community together

Bond and Reece Strong won a $10,000 VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Grant which allowed them to open Tazewell Co. Mercantile, generate sales, and create a new jobs-all within a few months.

Bond Strong has been dreaming about Tazewell Co. Mercantile at some level all her life. A Tazewell County native, she graduated from Western Carolina University before returning home to open the locally sourced food-and-gift mart in fall 2018. Bond explains, “My mom proposed the idea of an antique store in January, and I began thinking about how I could incorporate my passion for local food and the local economy into that. The store grew pretty organically from there.”

The part-gift shop, part-local market opened in October. Since then, the store has gathered handmade gifts, local food items, and the community itself – all into one warm, bustling epicenter that hosts crafting workshops and other eclectic events almost weekly.

Bond credits the Southwest Virginia Community College SBDC and advisor Margie Douglass for walking every step beside her, which she admits was daunting at first. “As a history major, then a nanny, then a substitute teacher, then a stay-at-home mom, I had no business experience, and I did not know how to turn my idea into a reality. I had no clue what a business plan was, what steps I needed to take, or who to speak with,” Bond admits. “Margie helped me lay out a plan and organize my thoughts and ideas into something coherent and manageable. Going through the business plan development process helped me better understand how a business is run and how feasible my plan was,” Bond continues.

Margie and the SBDC also assisted Bond in competing for and ultimately winning a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Matching grant which, along with an additional investment by Bond and husband Reece, was critical in bringing Tazewell Co. Mercantile to life.

For Bond and Reece, community is the center of everything they do, and it is what sets the store apart. “Our commitment to locally sourced products and to our suppliers defines us. By making those two things priorities, we are putting our community first and, by extension, our customers,” Bond says. “In fact,” she adds, “one of the most unique challenges our business faces, because it is locally sourced, is that physically getting all the products to the store takes a significant amount of coordinating. I am so proud of how hard working, honest, and committed all of my suppliers are. It’s an honor to work with them,” says Bond.

“The SBDC is one of, if not the, greatest asset in our county,” says Bond. “Not only did I receive practical help, I felt like Margie was my own personal cheerleader, and it truly helped me on the days I was feeling down about the process of starting a business.”

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Big Daddy’s To Go

The go-to place for food

In the past two years, Big Daddy’s has added a second location and reports an increase in sales of approximately 60%.

Big Daddy's To Go

Big Daddy’s To Go is the place to get a take-out meal in Meadowview. Owner Dwayne Duffield worked hard to make it that way. “A restaurant does keep you hopping,” Dwayne says. “The first year I worked seven days a week, but for me it’s not work. I enjoy what I do!”

Big Daddy’s is a take-out and catering restaurant where Dwayne serves old-fashioned meals in a box five days a week. Daily specials, listed on a chalkboard, feature downhome cooking. “This week it’s BBQ chicken leg (2) with cole slaw, green beans and a roll — $8. Everything in a box comes with dessert,” Dwayne says. “I do a lot of old-fashioned pies.” Dwayne’s interest in cooking came from his grandmother. “She cooked for farm hands,” he says. “That’s how I started learning.”

From Mountain City, Tennessee, Dwayne moved to Meadowview in Washington County, where his plan for a restaurant began to take shape. He had been preparing his wife’s lunch every day. When her co-workers started making requests for his lunches, Dwayne saw a need he wanted to fill. “This is not a high-end community,” he says. “I wanted people here to be able to afford to eat. With my meals in a box, a family of four can afford to eat and still have a little money in their pockets.”

Dwayne hopes his home-cooked meals promote family togetherness. “Big Daddy’s takes away the work. When people go home, they can sit down together at the table and put away those hand-held devices,” he explains. “My goal is to bring good food to our small community.”

In January 2017, Dwayne visited the Virginia Highlands SBDC for help starting his business. Virginia Highlands Director Cindy Fields assisted with setting up an LLC for Dwayne and registering his business with the Department of Taxation. The SBDC also counseled Dwayne on local certifications and how to be in compliance with local health department and government regulation.

Once the business opened in 2017, the SBDC showed Dwayne ways to increase business through visibility and government contracting opportunities. The SBDC assisted Dwayne with certification as a Small Woman and Minority Owned (SWaM) business and with establishing his business as a Virginia Certified Vendor through the eVA Procurement system. A year later, Dwayne tapped into the tourism business on the Virginia Creeper Trail and opened a second location in Alvarado. Future plans include a larger location. “I’ve had folks ask if I could open a place where they could come in and sit down to eat,” Dwayne says.

Diversification and hard work paid off for Dwayne. “From the time I started two years ago, I’ve grown a great deal,” he says. “If I had to give it a number, I’d say 60 percent.” Dwayne believes that good food makes for a good community. “When I see someone sitting on the curb I know can’t afford to pay, I’ll take them a meal,” he says. “Nobody around here should go hungry.”

“The SBDC helped set up my business,” Dwayne concludes. “They got me pointed in the right direction.”  

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Buggy Top Utility Barns and Sheds

Buggy Top builds on customer service

The Bapperts acquired a $910,000 loan, generated sales of $1.55 million, and created 2 jobs while retaining 10.

When David and Danielle Bappert purchased Buggy Top Utility Barns and Sheds, they wanted to create a top-notch business while making customer service a priority. “I’d worked for Buggy Top for 18 years, so I knew the company,” David says. “But there were a lot of things I didn’t know about being a business owner.” They visited the Longwood University SBDC to learn how to do it.

“At the SBDC we met Brandon Hennessey,” David explains. “He helped us figure out if Buggy Top was a good business to purchase.” Danielle adds, “Brandon really helped guide us through our business plan. He did all the projections for us and showed us what our monthly budget would be.” With a business plan in hand, David and Danielle applied for funding. “We got a business loan from BB&T,” David explains. “And we bought our Cumberland business in April 2018.”

David and Danielle took a startup class at the SBDC. “We learned the basics of what was needed for a business,” David relates. “We learned about money flow. We learned that just being busy isn’t always a good thing; you have to make money, too.” David and Danielle found the SBDC’s analytics on competition and marketing especially valuable. “We’re different from our competition because we’re not a ‘cookie-cutter’ business,” David says. “We build more customized buildings and sheds.”

David and Danielle have gained valuable business insights from the SBDC. “I bounce everything off Brandon,” Danielle says. “He knows what works and what doesn’t. He helped us with our business cards. We even sent him a message with a preview of our website to get his advice.” All of that advice — as David and Danielle were pleased to learn — was free. “I was actually amazed that I didn’t get charged for all those services,” she says. “I don’t think we’d have gotten very far without the SBDC!”

David and Danielle are looking forward to growing their business with continued help from the SBDC.

“One of the things in our three-year-growth plan is to increase stock during the slower months,” Danielle notes. “We plan to do that in January and February.” And they now offer delivery to build customer satisfaction. “I’m the delivery man,” David says. “It’s nice to have that final touch and set up a building the way your customer wants it,” he says.

As David and Danielle see it, being a top-notch business means staying on top of the game in customer satisfaction. “Small businesses are the foundation of our economy,” David concludes. “You might have big ideas, but you have to start small and grow. The SBDC can help you do that.”

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Learning Den

Learning from the bottom up

Dana Elder opened a new business, created 5 new jobs, secured a $5,000 loan, and invested $10,000 in owner equity.

To a casual passerby, the Patrick Henry Memorial Library in the little town of Brookneal might look like an ordinary run-ofthe-mill library, but a closer inspection reveals something even more magical and exciting happening. Beneath the stacks of books and quiet, carpeted halls, the library’s basement is home to The Learning Den, a fully licensed, after-school, childcare facility.

The venture, which opened in March 2018, is the long-time dream of Dana Elder, whose background in elementary education, including three years of teaching in public schools, left her eager for a tangible way to make a difference in the lives of children.

“I truly believe with all my heart in learning through play,” says Dana. “At the Learning Den, there’s the flexibility to do that. The kids are having so much fun that they don’t even realize they’re learning. Plus I saw a huge need for a licensed childcare facility in this area,” she adds.

Receiving approval by the county board of supervisors and navigating the complexities of the situation were challenging. Fortunately, “a friend upstairs” at the library told Dana about the SBDC in Lynchburg. “I didn’t even know it existed,” she laughs. “And now I’ve met with Stephanie multiple times,” referring to SBDC’s director and business analyst Stephanie Keener. “She has a vast knowledge of business, and her resources are extensive.”

Currently, The Learning Den enrolls 12 children between the ages of five and ten, with a new program for 3- and 4-year olds opening in the summer.

Dana is also proud of her dedicated staff of five part-time employees. Through their work, some have found their calling to become teachers, something that deeply moves Dana.

“When I hear about a child who used to drag his feet getting out of bed to go to school but is now excited and eager to face his day, or one whose report card has improved because we are taking time to sit and do homework each day, I know we’re making a difference. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”

This bright, bubbly haven, tucked away in the library basement, has never been about making a million dollars. It’s always been about so much more, and Dana is grateful for the help the SBDC helping to make her dream a reality.

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Vista Fitness 24

Work around the clock: 24-hour gym comes to Altavista

The SBDC helped Justin and Alyssa obtain a $32,000 loan, open their gym, create 2 jobs, and reach profitability after 1 month

Justin and Alyssa Campbell are experts when it comes to motivation. As the owners of Altavista’s only 24-hour gym, they had to be, in order to realize their goal of opening their own fitness facility. Justin explains, “In a small town, we had concerns that a new gym might not have a big enough customer base, especially when there is stiff competition from the local YMCA.”

However, with a high concentration of manufacturing facilities in the area requiring employees to work odd shifts and late hours, Justin and Alyssa felt sure that a clientele existed who wanted, and needed, 24-hour access to a gym. “We firmly believe that fitness must be convenient to become a habit,” says Justin. “With Vista Fitness 24, we are able to fit around our clients’ lives instead of them having to work around a facility’s schedule,” he adds.

Alyssa and Justin attended two separate business boot camps to prepare for the opening of Vista Fitness 24. One, named Pop Up Altavista, was a business-launch competition that also gave participants a crash course in the basics of starting a small business. Through this event, they connected with the SBDC – Lynchburg Region and advisors Stephanie Keener and Nathan Kolb.

“It was at the second class that things got very real for us,” Justin says. “We knew that it was definitely happening, and we were clinging to every piece of information we could get. The one-on-one sessions with the advisors were so helpful for us,” he adds. “The SBDC counselors worked with us through the loan process and then worked with a student team from the community college to build our website.”

In January 2018, Justin and Alyssa opened the doors of Vista Fitness 24, a storefront nestled in the heart of downtown Altavista that offers guests cardio equipment, strength-training machines, free weights, and a wide variety of classes. Members have key cards and free childcare during select hours, key features that keep their patrons coming and meeting their fitness goals. “We hope to cut out as many excuses as possible for our clients not to come,” says Justin.

The timing for a 24-hour gym in Altavista was perfect. “We have been on an upward membership trajectory since we opened,” says Justin. “We were amazed to be able to reach profitability after the first month. Our clients are our biggest advertisers. We get so much positive feedback from them.”

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Scrambling to success

Scramble landed a $500,000 loan and, within its first eight months, hosted over 100,000 visitors, generated $1+ million in sales, and created 30+ jobs

When the idea for Scramble first formed in Laurence Smallman’s mind, he was “across the pond,” visiting family in his native U.K. “We were with my brother in Birmingham,” Laurence, a father of three, says. “He took us to a World of Play indoor play place, and it was an amazing experience. The children played, while he and I chatted and kept an eye on them. Everyone left after 3 hours, very happy.”

Laurence realized immediately that there was nothing comparable in Northern Virginia, where he lived. Inspired by the popular indoor play system, Laurence envisioned a massive, vibrant space that would encourage independent self-guided play, as well as exploration, activity, and imagination for children of all ages. “I researched how to start a business and linked up with the Alexandria SBDC,” says Laurence.

Working closely with Business Analyst Jack Parker, Laurence developed a business plan while commencing an exhaustive two-year hunt for Scramble’s perfect home. The desired space needed to be at least 12,000 square feet with 20-foot ceilings, in addition to room for birthday parties, a bookstore, reading area, and a café for parents. It was a tall order, finally filled by a property on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria. Jack helped Laurence search for a lender who would recognize the potential of Scramble. In June 2017, Scramble closed on a $500,000 loan from EagleBank, and opened its doors that November.

Despite spending nothing on marketing, Scramble has thrived, generating over $1 million in sales within its first eight months. Like any proud parent, Laurence views the success of Scramble with great emotion. “It’s still sinking in to me,” he says, “that I’ve gone from having an idea, pushing through difficulties and persevering despite the challenges, acting as my own general contractor, then opening Scramble and managing the amazing success of having what I feel is a steady business ready to grow.”

Laurence’s impulse of bringing a new concept of play to the U.S. has met enthusiastic approval. Investors, who want to expand the Scramble model to other locations, have already approached Laurence, which has not surprised him. “Our play equipment is the best in the world and the only one of its kind in the U.S. It gives families the chance to engage in play that is vital to our development and the amazing human beings we are,” Laurence adds.

“Without the SBDC, I would not have had the confidence to tackle the bureaucracy, while also dealing with the business-related aspects of financing, writing a business plan, and finding a location,” Laurence says. Today, that confidence has paid off. “Seeing families and their children playing in Scramble, hearing parents celebrating some new achievement of their son or daughter, the many smiles and happy faces – these are my biggest joys,” says Laurence. “I look forward to coming to work every day.”

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Quintessential Chiropractic

Chiropractic Success

Drs. Kat and Tess stated, “Crater Small Business Development Center worked with us to create an excellent business plan and presented us with the opportunity to sit down with a marketing professional.  The Crater SBDC has supported us in many ways, including offering encouragement and words of wisdom when things were not going our way.  We are grateful to have access to such a wonderful resource.”

Quintessential Chiropractic is owned and operated by Dr. Kat Mayes and Dr. Tess Graf.  They have been together their whole lives.  Born only ten months apart, the sisters were in the same grade all through school.  Their time at Life University was no different — they took every class together.  Their mom and dad even joked that they share a brain cell.  They also share a love of helping others achieve better health through chiropractic.  Both hold advanced certification in Activator Methods Chiropractic Technique and regularly add to their knowledge and expertise through continuing education programs and professional conferences.

The two sisters contacted the Crater SBDC right after completing their medical degree.  They were seeking assistance with putting together a business plan.  Dr. Mayes indicated that with all their medical training, business planning was not taught.  The Crater SBDC Director worked with the clients teaching them how to put together a sound business plan and financial projections.  The business plan was completed along with the financials, and both sisters were excited about the accomplishment.

The biggest challenge for this start-up company was obtaining funding.  In spite of obstacles, they plowed ahead with the business learning to make use of the resources they had.  Within a year they were able to move the business from their home to a commercial building.  The SBDC provided marketing strategies and assisted them with their Open House when they launched the business in their new offices in the spring of 2012.  Today they are in their new beautiful location.  Sales have already increased and their client base has doubled.  They also hired a part-time receptionist.

Drs. Kat and Tess stated, “Crater Small Business Development Center worked with us to create an excellent business plan and presented us with the opportunity to sit down with a marketing professional.  Although we were unable to obtain financing due to the state of the economy and unwillingness of lenders to work with start-up companies, the SBDC worked diligently to help us by putting us in contact with non-conventional lending resources.  They continue to offer support through classes, QuickBooks assistance, and other resources.  The Crater SBDC has supported us in many ways, including offering encouragement and words of wisdom when things were not going our way.  We are grateful to have access to such a wonderful resource.”

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Bikenetic Bike Shop

Pedaling to Success

Jan opened Bikenetic Bike Shop in Falls Church, VA in November, 2011, just in time for the Christmas season. Jan is working full-time in the shop, and in 2012 he hired three more people to help him run his expanding business

Jan Feuchtner first contacted the South Fairfax SBDC because, as a minority partner in a bike shop, he wanted to buy out the majority partner and take the shop in a different direction – a direction Jan knew was much better, more sustainable, profitable, and enjoyable.  Jan came to the SBDC with a business plan and the business’s current financials.  He needed advice regarding the buy out.

He met with several counselors, including an attorney, a CPA, and a business counselor.  They advised him against buying out his partner due to the indebtedness of that business and instead to open his own shop, starting with a clean slate.  The SBDC’s attorney counselor helped Jan create a strong financial plan, ultimately helping him decide not to take out a $50,000 loan and instead to rely on existing relationships with his vendors to provide his new business with interest free, individual lines of credit.

Jan opened Bikenetic Bike Shop in Falls Church, VA in November, 2011, just in time for the Christmas season.  His shop has grown beyond business plan expectations ever since.  Jan is working full-time in the shop, and in 2012 he hired three more people to help him run his expanding business.

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Taste Oil Vinegar Spice

A Hint of Spice

The Culpeper store opened in October, 2011, and the response was so overwhelming that by early spring of 2012 George and Janet had repaid their savings accounts and made plans to open a second store in Fredericksburg, VA. Today, the product uniqueness of the two stores attracts a healthy clientele. The stores employ seven part-time staff in addition to George and Janet.

“Taste Oil Vinegar Spice is dedicated to providing only the highest quality ingredients to enhance your favorite dishes and bring out the best flavors of nature’s bounty. At Taste, we believe that ‘Fresh trumps everything.’ That’s is why we offer only the freshest olive oils and organic spices from around the world, complimented by the most flavorful balsamic vinegars imported from Modena, Italy.”

This statement highlights the home page of Taste Oil Vinegar Spice which is located on East Davis St. in Culpeper, VA.

The owners, George Farrar and his spouse Janet Davis, are both retired Navy veterans. After second careers, they moved to Amissville, VA, and decided to start their own business. The idea for the oil, vinegar, and spice shop came to them during visits to Maine and Paris where they wandered into shops sampling vinegars and oils.

George and Janet first visited the Lord Fairfax SBDC at Culpeper in the summer of 2011 to pitch their idea and to get information and advice on what they should do as far as registering with the federal, state, and local jurisdictions. At the meeting they expressed interest in securing financing through SBA’s Patriot Express Loan program. Ultimately, they decided to self fund the start-up costs and initial operating expenses from their personal savings.

They opened the Culpeper store in October, 2011, and the response was so overwhelming that by early spring of 2012 they had repaid their savings accounts and made plans to open a second store in Fredericksburg, VA.

Today, the product uniqueness of the two stores attracts a healthy clientele. The stores employ seven part-time staff in addition to George and Janet.

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