Category: Start-up

Valley Urgent Care, Harrisonburg

Valley Urgent Care

Jumpstarting Success

Melissa and Michelle now employ ten in the Center. The loans are paid off; gross revenues are healthy; and each partner is able to take a good income. 

Melissa Lafferty FNP-C came to the Shenandoah Valley SBDC in the fall of 2011, unsure if she could, would, or should open a new urgent care center. Although she possessed a strong medical background, she had no practical business experience.

With guidance from her Shenandoah Valley SBDC business advisor, Melissa worked through a SWOT analysis, prepared a business plan, and connected with an old friend who could join her as a partner.  Michelle Seekford, RN, had prior business experience, and with their complementary skill sets they found a private investor for  a loan of $50,000. With that capital infusion and a business plan in hand, the bank which had initially turned them down agreed to a loan of $70,000.  Valley Urgent Care & Occupational Medicine opened in Harrisonburg in May 2012 with three employees.

Update to 2013:  Melissa and Michelle now employ ten in the Center. The loans are paid off; gross revenues are healthy; and each partner is able to take a good income.  When asked to what they contribute their success, Melissa’s response was immediate: success is due to long hours and hard work.

Valley Urgent Care serves the local community and employers with occupational testing and screening, drug testing, sports physicals, workplace accident care and other urgent care services. A key to their rapid growth has been their high degree of community involvement.  Melissa and Michelle help refugees who cannot wait the many months to get into the local health center and provide pro bono care to the indigent.  Many local companies have switched from other well-established firms to Valley Urgent Care because they go the extra mile and provide great customer service.

Melissa writes of Lee Simon, their SBDC Business Advisor, “I never could or would have done it without your belief in me.  Your support made the difference.  Remember you told me there was more to running a clinic than seeing patients. That’s why I needed a business partner…you were right!”

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Sysnet Managed Services, Inc, Fairfax

Sysnet Managed Services, Inc

Managing Success

Rehan has successfully obtained and delivered on several large contracts, is pursuing multiple projects in the commercial sector, and is now in the process of growing his team to take advantage of new business opportunities and to face new challenges.

Sysnet Managed Services, Inc, Fairfax

It takes a lot of courage to leave a promising career to start a new business, especially in an economy where jobs are still hard to come by. Rehan Mahmood was a rising star at CSC when he decided to strike out on his own as a defense/IT consultant. Without a full-time source of income, Rehan realized that he had only a small window of time to make his business a success. Rehan knew he needed help,  so he called the Mason SBDC.

Mason SBDC’s counselors and coordinators worked with Rehan every step of the way from getting incorporated, deciding how to price his services, and building the business connections to pursue new clients. With our guidance, Rehan developed strong business fundamentals, learned how to write a compelling capabilities statement, and most importantly obtained the ability to not only confidently put together a strong contract proposal, but to deliver on it as well.

SMSI, Rehan’s business, was incorporated in July of 2013.  In less than a year, it has grown tremendously. Rehan has successfully obtained and delivered on several large contracts, is pursuing multiple projects in the commercial sector, and is now in the process of growing his team to take advantage of new business opportunities and to face new challenges.

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The Learning Barn

The Learning Barn

Learning From the Ground Up

Currently, The Learning Barn has 18 students, and during the school’s first year, two high school teams won the KidWind Regional Challenge, and received the Judge’s Award at the National KidWind Challenge. “The SBDC networked to help me find a lender and acquire $200,000 in loans to open The Learning Barn,” Grimshaw said.

Wendy Grimshaw is an educator who believes in learning from the ground up. In October 2015, she opened the doors of The Learning Barn, offering agriculturally-oriented classes that incorporate STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in the curriculum.

“It wasn’t until I left the public-school setting to complete my residency in the integrative STEM education doctoral program at Virginia Tech that I decided to homeschool my son,” Grimshaw says. “That was the beginning of the journey that led to a STEM-based home-school program that would become the Learning Barn.”

Living in Botetourt County, Grimshaw experienced agriculture up close and personal. “Farms and that whole way of life are diminishing nationwide,” she says. “As an educator, I realized I could tap into many of those agriculturally-based skills and concepts. I definitely think there’s a need for that education in our school, whether private or public. When you buy a sweater at the mall, there are a lot of steps in-between that put it there. I want my students to know about those steps.”

The Learning Barn offers classes through the homeschool community’s educational co-op and has after-school options for public school students, as well as hobby farm workshops for students of all ages. Grimshaw has also launched the Farm and Fishing Club and took two teams of high school students to the KidWind Challenge (a national program for students to design and build wind turbines) at George Mason University. “We won first and second place in the regionals and went to New Orleans for the national competition,” she says. “We won fifth and 18th place in the country!”

Grimshaw still recalls the day she brought her idea of the learning center to Bart Smith, Director of the Roanoke SBDC. “It was such a great day,” Grimshaw recalls. “Bart said, ‘Tell me what I can do.’ He stopped by the next day, and from that day forward he was supportive in everything I’ve done. The SBDC assisted with my business plan and even networked to help me find a lender and acquire $200,000 in loans to open The Learning Barn.” Although Grimshaw had 25 years of teaching experience, she still needed advice on setting up the “business side” of her learning center.

As she continues to pursue her Ph.D. in STEM Education from Virginia Tech, Grimshaw is excited about possibilities for the future. She’s already making plans for a summer camp and more workshops for community-centered education.

“Even though my business is a new model here, the SBDC still knew how this area might respond to my learning center,” Grimshaw says. “As my business grows, I know I can always go back to them. The SBDC is my safety net, and they’re really great people.”

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Foxtail Orchards

Foxtail Orchards Cabins and Campground

Building a Business in Your Own Backyard

Ratliff purchased 13 acres bordering “The Back of the Dragon” on Rt 16 and opened Foxtail Orchards Cabins and Campground. They Have been booked every weekend since.

Matthew Ratliff believes in thinking outside the box, or in the case of a business opportunity, outside his backyard. Ratliff developed an idea inspired by the view from his backyard, and Foxtail Orchards Cabins and Campground is the result.

About three years ago, Virginia State Trooper Matthew Ratliff transferred to Tazewell County where he was born and raised. “I purchased 18 acres to put a house on,” he says. “One day my father and I were clearing land for a pasture and saw all these bikes and sports cars going by.”

Ratliff’s land borders a well-known section of Route 16 known as “The Back of the Dragon,” a 32-mile-long motorcycle and sports-car-enthusiast trail that attracts hundreds of visitors every year. No lodging was available until Ratliff opened his cabin-and-campground business. “During the summer you can throw a rock up in the air and you’ll hit a motorcycle,” Ratliff says. “I said to my father, ‘what if we had a campground and cabins?’ My father and I sat down and started on a plan.”

The business quickly became a family affair. Ratliff’s mother and wife worked on developing a business plan. “Everybody in the family had a hand in it, including my father-in-law,” Ratliff says. The next step was a visit to the SBDC. Ratliff and his wife Amy went to see Southwest SBDC Program Manager Margie Douglass. “From there it was all downhill,” Ratliff says. “We got our business plan and proposal and went to Ninth District Development Financing for the funds. We broke ground on our first cabin in November 2015.” The cabin was dedicated to a fellow Virginia State Trooper Andrew D. Fox, who lost his life in the line of duty.

Future plans include adding primitive campsites and more cabins. There are also plans to develop the orchard side of the business. Ratliff feels confident in branching out; he knows the SBDC will be there to help. “The SBDC provided pretty much any help we needed,” he says. “I didn’t know all of those services were available.”

“We got off to a good start,” Ratliff says. “Since June we’ve been busy every weekend. We’ve done more business than my father and I ever dreamed of. The SBDC really helped us out.”

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Creative Medicine

Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words

The Best Medicine is Creative

Sidney has made significant improvements to his business, resulting in a $45,000 increase in revenue in 2016.

“When I graduated high school, my goal was to become the next Puff Daddy. I wanted to own a record label, throw lavish parties, and live the high life,” Ronnie Sidney recalls. Sidney is an author, speaker, app developer, workshop presenter, and founder of Creative Medicine: Healing Through Words. His life now, however, is far different from the one he envisioned for himself in his younger days.

The dramatic shift in his life’s trajectory occurred while Sidney was attending Old Dominion University. He decided to change his major from business management to human services. It was a natural and perfect fit. “Helping people came easy,” Sidney says. “My father is a minister, my sister is a social worker, and my mother is a nurse. I guess it runs in the family.”

With the goal of providing creative ways to meet the mental health needs of clients, Sidney used his Masters’ Degree in Social Work and the University of Mary Washington SBDC-Warsaw to organize his plans into actions. He credits Director Joy Corprew with patiently guiding him through the complicated waters of first-time entrepreneurship and providing constant encouragement and reassurance. “Joy’s work with me really helped make what was originally an abstract idea into a concrete reality with a working business model and a solid plan for measurable growth,” Sidney adds.

Sidney has authored three children’s books that deal with learning disabilities, self-esteem, and mental health. Although Sidney’s learning disability caused him to struggle and begrudge the learning process, he is determined to save other kids from a similar negative experience. “It’s not something that’s talked about much,” Sidney says “And as an African American author diagnosed with a learning disability, I felt I had a niche that no one was really addressing.”

Sidney’s latest addition to his box of therapeutic tools is the Nelson Beats the Odds Comic Creator app. The free self-esteem app allows kids to substitute their own photos and create composite images personalizing the characters’ faces in the book’s illustrations. He continues to increase his entrepreneurial skills through the many workshops and resources offered through the University of Mary Washington SBDC-Warsaw.

“I think it’s important for people to see me out here, doing what I’m doing, accomplishing what I’m accomplishing, because it inspires people. Hopefully, they look at me and think, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ And that’s what means the most to me.”

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Hawkbill Trading Company

Hawksbill Trading Company

Small Business’ Big Deal

Hawksbill Trading Company started its business in 2016 with 20 local vendors; since then, it has expanded to nearly 60 vendors and counting. “Every vendor now has a say in how we operate and grow. We each have a role in the success of not only our own business but our neighbors’ as well,” says North.

It was mid-December 2015 when James (Jay) North learned that he was facing the end of his small business. The market where he sold vendors’ home décor and antiques was being shut down. But he and the other vendors decided to make the most of a difficult situation.

Unwilling to accept a forced closure, North and a committed group of business owners created a new organization that would serve the local business community in Luray. They sought guidance from the Shenandoah Valley SBDC and advisor Sara Levinson.

The first item of business: establish The Hawksbill Trading Company (HTC) as a co-operative. According to North, without the SBDC’s guidance, the co-op would never have been possible. The new board worked diligently with Levinson to create membership applications and vendor contracts, to draft bylaws and other organizational documents, as well as to set up a new accounting system and manage all aspects for a new venture.

“Every vendor now has a say in how we operate and grow. We each have a role in the success of not only our own business but our neighbors’ as well” says North, who serves as Board President. “By working together, we can accomplish great things.”

The new business opened its doors on January 20, 2016, with 20 local vendors selling antiques, jewelry, up-cycled furniture, original art, home goods, meats, and produce. Unlike many markets, HTC does not work around pre-defined stalls or booths. Some vendors need only a few shelves for their products while others need lots of floor space. HTC’s board works hard to find the right space and layout for each vendor, which allows businesses of all sizes to participate.

One year after opening, HTC hosts nearly 60 vendors. Merchants and local artisans offer a variety of workshops in everything from essential oils to painting to fly-tying. HTC is a thriving hub of entrepreneurial spirit and activity—a place to share ideas, gather resources, be inspired, and find support.

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New River Outdoor Adventures

New River Outdoor Adventures

Venturing into New Territory

New River Outdoor Adventures received two small loans and initiated a popular fishing tournament that has become a semi-annual event. “Whenever they see an opportunity for us to branch out or go to a trade show, the SBDC staff lets us know. The SBDC is a big help,” Dixon said.

Timmy and Minda Dixon love outdoor adventure and wanted to share it. When they saw an opportunity to open their own outfitter business, the first stop was the SBDC. “I worked eight years for an outfitter in Fries who was closing his business at the end of 2014,” Timmy Dixon says. In September 2014, Timmy and his wife Minda met with Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC Director Mandy Archer to discuss funding opportunities for starting a business. 

“The Dixons saw an opportunity to fill a gap in the local economy and pursue something they love at the same time,” Archer says. A business plan and financial projections were prepared in just a few months, but funding was a challenge. “The Dixons had never owned a business, and they were still newlyweds,” she adds.

Another challenge came with the seasonal nature of the business. How would the Dixons meet financial obligations during the off-season? The SBDC staff found the answer when they helped the Dixons secure two smaller loans for start-up capital needs.

New River Outdoor Adventures opened for business Memorial Day Weekend 2015, offering canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and biking. “We’re located right between the New River and New River Trail. It’s a very good location,” Dixon says. “We have access to the river and rent bicycles for the trail. We also offer floats along the New River and shuttle services for both New River and New River Trail.” Over the past year, the business has added two part-time employees.

To help with marketing, Dixon took advantage of the SBDC classes on web design and social media. His future plans include tapping into markets in North Carolina. “We’re only an hour and 15 minutes from some major cities there,” Dixon says. “We plan to promote weekend vacations or even ‘day-cations’ for people to drive back home at night.”

The Dixons appreciate the continuing support from Archer and her assistant Ginny Plant. “Whenever they see an opportunity for us to branch out or go to a trade show, the SBDC staff lets us know,” Dixon says. “The SBDC is a big help.”

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Felts Supports for Living

Felts Supports for Living

Home Sweet Home

“The SBDC and incubator services have been vital in helping us meet our goals. Assistance in accounting, legal, training, and incubator services have helped us grow and become sustainable,” shared Chris Felts. “We are excited to now have 5 office employees, 12 residential homes, and 11 individuals receiving services,” added owners Jerry and Jean Felts.

Felts Supports for Living

“We want to make sure the residents that we serve find a family they can call their own,” says Chris Felts, owner of Felts Supports for Living.

Felts’ business provides home licensing for Sponsored Residential Services, a branch of Virginia Department of Behavioral Health Developmental Services. Sponsored Residential Services provides homes for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The homes are like foster homes, and Felts Supports for Living trains families in how to work with people with intellectual disabilities, overseeing all services.

“These services provide life-changing opportunities to our clients, including travel and daily family activities. Our motto is “a life like ours,” ensuring that every person has a happy and healthy home,” says Felts.

Felts Supports for Living is a family-owned business. Chris Felts, his father Jerry, and his stepmother Jean own and operate the business. The Felts family has over 80 combined years of experience in the field. When they were just starting their business, the family worked with the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC to develop a business plan that was vital for licensure.

Felts Supports for Living moved into a small office in the business incubator located in the Crossroads Institute. The Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC and business incubator continue to support Felts Supports for Living, helping to enable expansion and job creation.

“The SBDC and incubator services have been vital in helping us meet our goals. Assistance in accounting, legal, training space, and incubator services have helped us grow and become sustainable,” shared Chris Felts. “We are excited to now have five office employees, 12 residential homes, and 11 individuals receiving services,” added owners Jerry and Jean Felts.

Although the business has grown, Felts Supports for Living will remain a family-owned business and stay focused on the people they serve. “We started this business because we saw a need,” Felts says. “We like working with individuals and structuring their life so it’s their life, and they enjoy it.”

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Cruz Productions

Cruz Productions

Cruz Productions Shares Love of Music

Since November 2015, Cruz Productions has grown to 8 employees and has expanded their business to include photography, videos, and other media-related services.

Joel Cruz, Patrick Zurn, and Brent King are firm believers in an old adage, “Do what you love, and you’ll never go to work a day in your life.” The trio of entrepreneurs turned their love of music into a business, Cruz Productions, a rapidly growing DJ, videography, and photography business serving Southside Virginia and regions beyond. “I’ve always had a passion for music,” Zurn says. “I saw this as an opportunity to not only enjoy my passion for music, but also to give people a memorable experience.” CEO Joel Cruz and COO Brent King shared a dorm room at Longwood University. “We met in the community lounge and immediately connected,” Cruz says. “Brent was the first to get me a DJ gig at Longwood, and Patrick was the one who helped us break into the Greek-life market, which ended up being our largest source of revenue during our initial start-up phase.” They learned about the Longwood SBDC in Farmville from a professor. The trio scheduled an appointment with consultant Kim Ray. “She helped with all the required paperwork, helping us define what our company actually is and how we should run it,” King adds. “She was involved in every aspect, and she deserves all the credit.” With Zurn’s love of music, Cruz’s DJ skills, and King’s connections, the stage was set, the lights were cued, and Cruz Productions was born. The three friends launched their business on November 3, 2015. “The SBDC helped our business immensely,” King says. “Although we’re business majors, the classes at the University couldn’t possibly have prepared us for what was entailed in owning our own business in terms of paperwork, approvals, certifications, and doing everything by the book.” Support from the SBDC didn’t end with start-up help. Cruz Productions has continued to benefit from ongoing check-ins with the SBDC staff. “They’ve been a pillar for us to fall back on whenever we had something we did not quite understand, particularly with tax questions and regulations,” King says. “The SBDC is a place we can walk into anytime and have a question answered.” “We developed our business out of a genuine passion for music,” Cruz concludes. “Money eventually came, but it’s not the center of our drive. When the hard times come around, which they will, looking back on why we started our business will keep us going. Remember, but never stop pushing forward, and don’t be afraid of risk. Do what you love.”

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Crooked Road General Store

Crooked Road General Store

Melodies and Memories

This year, Edwards will have resources to expand the Crooked Road’s location and services, including hiring additional people to help the 9 dedicated volunteers.

A long-empty, abandoned ruin of a convenience store across from her driveway was the first glimpse Marla Edwards had of the vision that would become the Crooked Road General Store. Once known as Collins Market, an establishment famed for its corned-beef sandwiches, it was now an eyesore, and years of disuse had left it filled with dust and debris. “Despite that dark, windowless, cinder-block interior,” Edwards recalls, “I felt warmth.”

Under Edwards’ care, it has become “a convenience store and a little more.” Today, instead of corned beef, the Crooked Road is known for its Monday Night Singing Suppers, featuring local as well as celebrity bluegrass and gospel musicians and a reasonably priced Blue Plate Supper. “My first love is music, and my second is my community,” Edwards says. “What I’m doing here with the store allows me to bring those things together.”

The Virginia Highlands SBDC was one of many team players who helped Edwards turn her vision into reality. With encouragement at the project’s beginning and continued support along the way, Edwards credits the SBDC’s Client Specialist Sue Wagner, as well as a host of loving friends and family members, for making her country store a success.

Wagner helped Edwards create a business plan and walked her through every step of execution. She also encouraged her to participate in local business-plan “challenges” that allow business owners to compete with each other for prize money. Edwards says these competitions were great learning opportunities.

Initially tentative about her bold decision to buy the property, Edwards credits the SBDC and her support system for putting her worries to rest. “The apprehension disappeared,” she says. “And only the good memories, uplifting attitudes, and the complete fun of cleaning up, clearing out, and rebuilding remained.”

Today the bustling Crooked Road Convenience Store is a far cry from the rundown building it once was. On Monday evenings the rooms swell with the sound of fiddles, banjos, and guitars. Regulars, who have attended nearly all of the 300+ supper events, line the weathered wood floors. In the end, like the last sweet note of an old melody hanging in the air, the thing that remains for Edwards is the love and the memories.

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