Category: 2017

TRAXyL

Making Tracks

TRAXyL has created 4 jobs and are always fine tuning their business processes. “The ICAP program put us in touch with a plethora of contacts to help us out and point us in the right direction, including financing,” said Turner.

Daniel Turner and Stephen Carter are planning to make tracks in rural America. Their company, TRAXyL, is developing a new way of distributing optical fiber for digital connections. Their optical fiber goes directly on the surface of the road rather than being buried underground or hung from telephone poles. The fiber is faster to install and much less expensive than traditional optical fiber installation methods. As Carter puts it, “We are helping to bring down the cost to connect rural and underserved areas to the internet.”

The optical fiber solution, known as FiberTRAX, is currently in the research and development stage. TRAXyL has faced some technical hurdles, particularly in finding the right resin to use in developing the fiber and in coming up with a machine to automate the process.

As they’ve been working on technical processes, they’ve also been attending to their business. TRAXyL has four employees, including founders Turner and Carter. When they needed business advice, they turned to Senior Business Counselor Bernard Ferret at the Mason SBDC. Turner found Ferret to be someone who is “great to bounce ideas off of and who brings expertise to the company we otherwise couldn’t afford.”

Turner and Carter participated in the SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), which benefited them a great deal. “They put us in touch with a plethora of contacts to help us out and point us in the right direction,” says Turner. Those contacts, including several subject matter experts – one of whom was himself an ICAP participant in a previous year, have helped the duo as they move forward in their plans to bring connectivity to those who might not normally have it. It also helped them land a fair amount of funding.

Having overcome most of the technical hurdles, TRAXyL is now focusing on customer acquisition. “The core of our company is bringing digital services to the rural customer, schools that need to close the digital divide, businesses, and even those working for disaster relief,” says Carter. As Turner explains, “The most rewarding part of the job is being able to provide service to people who really don’t have any other choices for internet access.”

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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 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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King of Pops

Making Life Pop

King of Pops recently added 1 more full-time person, making a power team of 3. They were able to increase their revenue by 38% from 2015 to 2016.

There’s a lot that Paul Cassimus loves about his job as the owner of Richmond’s King of Pops. He sells those delicious popsicles that are homemade from locally sourced ingredients. He’s one of a handful of business owners who work as part of the King of Pops team, which has locations in several cities along the Eastern seaboard.

The thing Cassimus loves the most, however, is the people, the ones he works with and the ones he meets in Richmond’s thriving business community. “It’s a great venue for meeting other business people,” he says. One of those businesspeople is Christina Dick, who works with Thrive, a program of the Greater Richmond SBDC.

Thrive offers free consultations to local entrepreneurs who are starting and growing their businesses. Cassimus consulted them about several aspects of his business, including finances and social media. Although some entrepreneurs need more traditional ongoing business counseling, Cassimus wanted help putting together a communications calendar and a job description for a new communications position. Cassimus was able to work with Christina to meet his needs. “I got exactly what I needed, which was a more informal but specific approach to the coaching about particular issues that emerged.” The consultations were useful because Cassimus’ team is small, and he found it helpful to connect with others and discuss a strategy for growth.

That strategy has paid off, as King of Pops saw approximately 38% growth in revenue from 2015 to 2016. Cassimus has also added another full-time person to his team. He now has one employee who sells popsicles to grocery stores and restaurants and one who makes the popsicles and handles production. Cassimus himself manages the business and focuses on catering sales.

The three make a great team, and they enjoy experimenting with different flavors for pops. A recent favorite was a non-alcoholic blackberry mojito. They’ve also made pops that use local flavors, such as Sugar Shack Donuts.

Cassimus’ connections within the Richmond community mean that he is always offering new flavors, making life pop wherever he goes.

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Peoples Pharmacy and Diabetic Clinic

The People’s Choice

People’s Pharmacy won the first large ($100,000+) SEV A CI Members Award from the City of Virginia Beach, making the city her first client.

Dr. Anna Peoples wants to solve a problem in her community: the high prevalence of diabetes in the Norfolk area. She is opening Peoples Pharmacy and Diabetic Clinic as a conventional/holistic approach to the disease, and Peoples Pharmacy will be providing services to the entire Hampton Roads area. “Here you can find a one-stop service,” says Peoples. “You eliminate the need for the patient to go to several locations.” At Peoples Pharmacy, a patient can see her physician, have lab work done, and fill a prescription if she chooses.

The business has yet to open its doors to the public, but the Pharmacy has already won the first large ($100,000+) Southeastern Virginia Contracting Institute (SEVA CI) Members Award from the City of Virginia Beach. That means that the city is Dr. Peoples’ primary customer, and she plans to open another pharmacy in Virginia Beach within the next year.

Dr. Peoples credits the Hampton Roads SBDC with helping her win the award. She first went to the Hampton Roads SBDC in Hampton Roads for help with a business plan. From there, she was referred to the SBDC office in Norfolk, where she finished the plan and received help writing a proposal for the Virginia Beach award. “The SBDC has very outstanding people,” says Peoples. “They are a very good resource. I can’t say enough good things about them.”

It won’t be long before Peoples’ customers are saying the same thing about her clinic and pharmacy, which fills a real community need. The business is in a multipurpose building with a full-service pharmacy and employs four people, including Dr. Peoples. With plans to expand in the future—including bidding for business in the City of Norfolk—Peoples Pharmacy is sure to bring good health to the region. “We like to believe this is where people come to get healthy and stay healthy,” concludes Peoples.

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Splash Communications

Making a Splash

Splash increased revenues by 225% in one year and now has 4 full-time employees, 3 part-time consultants, and 2 interns who work during school breaks.

When Elysa Leonard quit her marketing job to move to Bermuda with her family, she didn’t plan to start her own business. But she quickly found that she couldn’t take off her “marketing hat”, and she started working for local companies. Before she knew it, she was combining her love of scuba diving with her love of marketing, trading dives for marketing programs. And Splash Communications, named in part because of her love of the water, was born. “It’s important to have a name that means something to you,” says Leonard.

Leonard likes to make a splash. After moving to Loudoun County, she was ready to do so for a big client. Then she ran into a problem. Her only full-time employee was leaving. She consulted the SBDC at MEC-Leesburg to help her formulate a plan. Her SBDC advisor, Eric Byrd, had her create a revenue and expenses forecast immediately. They mapped out a strategy to support the new client that also allowed more time for business development. Through a private loan of $10,000, Leonard was able to increase hours to her part-time designer to support the work on hand. She also planned to hire a new full-time assistant and start an internship program.

“There’s so much to starting your own business that has nothing to do with what you are doing for your client,” says Leonard. “Accounting, human resources, funding—it’s a big challenge, and it takes a different skill set.” The SBDC was instrumental in helping her meet that challenge.

The plan Leonard formulated with her SBDC counselors worked. Splash landed the big contract and began to grow their client list. They increased revenues by 225% in one year and currently have a staff of four full-time employees, three part-time consultants, and two interns who work during school breaks. Leonard and her team can help other companies define and expand their brands—and make a splash of their own.

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The Jury’s Inn

The Jury’s Inn and the Verdict’s Good

With a loan from Virginia Community Capital, the Jury’s Inn opened its first 3 rooms in October and would like to add 3 additional rooms soon. Revilla’s two-year goal is to have 70% occupancy for her hotel business and event space.

Victoria Revilla wanted to live downtown, so she started a hotel business. “I bought this building in 2008,” the retired Army Colonel says. “I was stationed at Ft. Lee three times and liked the Petersburg area. So I asked myself, ‘what should I do now?’” The answer made sense: why not a downtown hotel? “Everybody was building apartments,” Revilla says. “And I wanted to live downtown where the action is.”

Revilla’s plan was to open a six-bedroom boutique hotel like the ones popular in Europe. To enlarge her space, she also purchased the lot next door. Since the 1850s-era building was in Petersburg’s historic district, the first step was restoration. That, Revilla soon learned, could be costly. “When looking for funding, I went to the Richmond Economic Development Corporation to apply for a small business loan,” she says. “They referred me to the Crater SBDC of Longwood University.”

Revilla had a business plan but found that it needed to be presented in a certain format. She enrolled in the SBDC’s free classes and “started learning about all the things I needed to do.”

Revilla acquired a business loan from Virginia Community Capital, a revitalization group that was expanding into Petersburg, and quit her job as a contract employee for the Army to take over the building renovation. “My architect has been with me since 2011,” she says. “I’m the designer, and after he does the drawings, we sit down and talk about it.”

Revilla admits there were difficulties along the way. “You run into some bad people,” she says. “They underestimated to get the job and then did poor work. But I never gave up on it.” Instead Revilla, asked herself, ‘what do I need to do to get over the next hill?’ The answer was the SBDC. Now that her business is established, Revilla plans to keep that connection.

Revilla’s two-year goal is 70% occupancy for her hotel business and event space. Equipped with a full commercial kitchen, The Jury’s Inn also includes an event room that will seat 30 with room for 40 with the courtyard.

Revilla advises prospective business owners to attend the SBDC classes. “You have to have a plan,” Revilla says. “I know I’ve learned a lot.”

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Sugar Hill Brewing Company

Opportunity is Always Brewing

Since September 2016, Sugar Hill has secured $463,000 in loans and created 20 jobs in a town that has less than 1,000 residents. “We don’t necessarily pursue our passion. We look at what’s needed and let that become our passion,” Greg Bailey said.

Greg and Jennifer Bailey think starting a new business is a lot like brewing a great beer. Both require hard work, patience, and dedication—traits the Baileys are known to possess. Sugar Hill Brewing Company is the third business the couple has started in the small town of St. Paul.

Five years ago, Greg and Jennifer bought a store in St. Paul and opened Bailey Hardware. They saw another opportunity when Spearhead ATV Trail opened in town. They converted rental property to create overnight accommodations and opened St. Paul Suites and Cottages.

“We don’t necessarily pursue our passion,” Greg says. “We look at what’s needed and let that become our passion.” Sugar Hill Brewing Company opened in September 2016, in a converted hardware store the couple owned in town. “We never planned to own a restaurant, and we knew nothing about brewing beer,” Jennifer adds. “We just knew the time was right and so we took action.”

The Baileys had a lot of help from Mt. Empire SBDC Director Tim Blankenbecler. He directed them to the Ninth District Development Funds, where they obtained a loan of $413,000. The town of St. Paul shared its confidence by adding a $50,000 loan to the project.

“The Bailey’s family-friendly brewpub has proven very popular with folks both near and far,” Blankenbecler says. “Patrons can step into the Asheville-esque atmosphere to enjoy a meal and satisfying brew.”

Since opening for business, the Baileys have hired more than 20 local people, including a head brewer and head cook. “All the right people were sent to us at just the time,” Jennifer says. “All we had to do is look for the opportunity, forget the fear, and do what we intuitively knew would work.”

With a boutique hotel under construction in town, the future looks bright for the Bailey’s newest business venture. “You have to re-imagine the future,” Jennifer says. “With the Western Front Hotel coming in, we knew this brewery would be a part of it. We’re excited that other people are catching the vision and seeing a different way to go forward.”

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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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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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