Category: 2019

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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Matrix International

Global connections add security

Matrix developed an international customer base one year ahead of schedule.

Jeffrey Johnston understands the power of good connections. He sees it as the path to good business.

Jeffrey heads up international business development at Matrix International, a company that specializes in global security, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance planning. “My first effort to grow our business internationally took me to the Philippines,” Jeffrey explains. “A Foreign Commercial Service officer at the U.S. embassy in Manila connected me with his colleague in Arlington, Virginia, who pointed me toward the Virginia SBDC Network. That initial contact, made in the Philippines, opened a lot of doors,” he adds.

While Matrix, primarily a defense contractor, has about 65 employees, depending on the number of workers on contracts at any given time, Jeffrey only has one person working with him. “That’s it,” Jeffrey explains. “I don’t have the manpower to find international business opportunities and develop them on my own.” Then Jeffrey met Aaron Miller, International Trade Manager at the Virginia SBDC Network, who had a team ready and willing to help. “The SBDC has been tremendous in helping to multiply the manpower we need to accomplish the company’s growth,” Jeffrey says.

In 2016 Matrix worked with Aaron to gain insight into specific markets in the Middle East, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. “Aaron had business students from George Mason University do a market survey for us, which was extremely helpful.” Jeffrey explains. The Virginia SBDC’s international team found the best potential markets for Matrix, based on the presence of geopolitical conflict, modernization, and defense spending. The SBDC summarized regulatory environments, found market entry solutions and networking events, and provided Matrix with drone regulation information. The international team’s connections led to Matrix’s acceptance into the Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program. This allowed Matrix to add an international component to its commercial customer base.

 “Aaron and the SBDC have been an active and continuing partner for us,” Jeffrey says. “Whenever there are events that might be helpful to us, Aaron invites me to go along. It has given us access to meetings with the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. It has provided both the exposure and access we wouldn’t have been able to tap into otherwise.”

Jeffrey is pleased with the contacts and connections that have allowed Matrix to enter the international market a year ahead of schedule. “I couldn’t develop international business opportunities on my own,” Jeffrey concludes. “Aaron and the SBDC multiplied our manpower and that allowed our company to grow. It’s been tremendous for us.”

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SD Solutions

Finding solutions at the SBDC

With the SBDC’s help, SD Solutions is in a stronger position because they started the process of diversifying through international markets.

Finding solutions is all in a day’s work for Balaji Venkatesan. His company, SD Solutions, offers services ranging from cybersecurity and information technology (IT) to acquisition support and governance. The company, which currently employs 40, has served such notable clients as the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the Federal Election Commission.

Doing well domestically, SD Solutions wanted to enter the international market. There was one problem. “SD Solutions needed a way to make connections,” Balaji says. Enter the Virginia SBDC: solution found!

Balaji discovered the SBDC almost by chance. “They had a table set up at a small business conference I was attending,” he explains. “I went over and talked with them.” Balaji quickly realized the SBDC had the connections and resources he was seeking to help him enter the international market.

“Balaji initially reached out to the Virginia SBDC International Business Development Program to gain insight on international markets for SD Solutions’ broad range of services,” the SBDC International Trade Manager Aaron Miller says. “SD employees brought 20-plus years of experience in the federal space domestically and wanted to utilize this deep body of knowledge in dealings abroad.”

Balaji asked the SBDC to help him attain information on countries where internet and cybersecurity services were minimal, particularly in government and financial institutions. “We were also looking for breakout opportunities in the infrastructure protection and health industries on the international level,” Balaji adds.

The SBDC’s research was helpful in all of these areas. “Aaron was a big help with networking and making introductions for us,” Balaji notes. “He looked at competitors within the identified markets.” The SBDC also helped the company get into the Virginia Leaders in Export Trade (VALET) program at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “Through VALET, SD Solutions was able to take numerous international trips to attend trade shows in Panama, the United Kingdom, and Peru,” Aaron says.

Since working with the SBDC, SD Solutions has increased its international visibility. “We’re definitely getting a lot of calls on marketing,” Balaji says. “We’ve had quite a few new leads.” SD Solutions’ possibilities for international business are also looking up. “SD Solutions is in a stronger position because they started the process of diversifying through international markets” Aaron says.

As to the chance encounter that brought international trade solutions to his company, Balaji says, “I absolutely plan to continue with the SBDC. I want to thank them for all their help. Hopefully more businesses will leverage the services we found at the SBDC.”

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Conveyance Marketing Group

Marketing with creativity

Revenues increased from $300,000 in 2016 to a projected $1.2 million in 2018, and 6 new jobs were created.

“Some of our clients don’t have their business ducks in a row,” notes Kristine Jacobson, founder of Conveyance Marketing Group. In 2016, she realized that she was in the same pond. Her marketing firm had been in business for five years but was “not quite at break-even.”

“Whenever we have a client that’s new, I tell them to head to the SBDC,” she says. Then Kristine followed her own advice and began meeting with Eric Byrd at the SBDC at MEC-Leesburg. “There are a lot of things I knew I don’t know,” she admits.

“I knew we needed to answer the big question: ‘What do I have in my house?’” She explains, “In other words, we needed to know what was working and how we could leverage that. We also wanted to know what was not working, and what to do about it. Were we being driven, or were we being led?”

Kristine’s goal was to grow aggressively. Eric helped her analyze her client base, which includes technology companies, consulting companies, consumer product companies, companies selling information technology services, and companies selling managed services. “We work with folks who are very analytically minded,” Kristine says. “We add the creativity that they don’t have to their messaging.” Kristine suspected a dose of creativity might be in order for her, too.

Next came the redesign of the sales process to focus on profitable clients and the addition of new services. “By digging into our financial statements, we were able to identify where our margins were suffering and where money needed to be spent to get those areas of the company growing,” Kristine relates. “We also profiled our existing ideal clients and built strategies and messaging around attracting more like them.”

In late 2017, Conveyance Marketing added public relations to its offerings. “I talked with Eric probably a year before I decided to put my toe in that pond and launch PR,” Kristine says. “We met to discuss what it would look like, who would buy it, and how we would package and communicate the offering. He cautioned me to take it step-by-step and not to just jump in.” She has found this and all of the SBDC’s advice to be sound.

As 2018 drew to a close, her business, as she put it, was “taking off like a rocket.” Revenue increased from $300,000 at the end of 2016 to a projected $1.2 million for 2018. “And we’ve hired six new employees,” Kristine adds. The now 17-member staff had to move to a larger building.

“I recommend the SBDC all the time,” Kristine concludes. “It isn’t just for starting a business; it’s for the whole life of your business. It’s not only a free resource, it’s a good resource. The fact that the SBDC can help from beginning to end — and everything in-between — that’s awesome!”

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Haley’s Honey Meadery

Haley’s Honey Meadery looks to golden future in Hopewell

With a $60,000 loan, a $24,000 grant, and $135,700 owner investment, the Meadery created 4 jobs.

Haley’s Honey Meadery is the new business on the block in downtown Hopewell, and Tonya Haley could not “bee” more pleased. “My mom and dad were beekeepers in Richmond for years,” Tonya says. “Later I branched out and opened Haley’s Honey.”

In 2016, Tonya and husband Mike decided to expand. “The honey market was saturated with local farmers, and we needed a new product,” Tonya explains. “We decided to start a meadery and make honey wine.” Tonya worked with the Longwood University SBDC – Eastern Region when she opened Haley’s Honey 25 years ago. “I decided to go back to the SBDC,” she says. “Ellen Templeton was a tremendous help. I would go to her with a question, and she would point me in the right direction.”

To secure funding for the meadery through Virginia Commonwealth Bank and the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development (AFID) grant, Tonya sought help from Ellen. “The projections Ellen computed for the bank to secure the loan were very important,” Tonya notes. “The business plan she helped me with included description, visions, and projections — everything was there.” The SBDC helped Tonya secure an AFID grant, matched by the City of Hopewell. One stipulation of the grant is the use of all Virginia products.

“We offer our own Virginia honey, bee pollen, and mead, which is honey wine, by the bottle, glass, or flight,” Tonya explains. “Mead is biblical, and it’s one of the oldest fermented alcoholic drinks. People think it’s sweet, but it’s not. Mead can be dry, semi-sweet, or fruity.”

Finding the right location for this unique product was another challenge Tonya took to the SBDC. “Ellen and I discussed localities where this business would work,” Tonya says. “There are no breweries or meaderies in Hopewell, and they welcome unique ideas. Hopewell was willing to work with me.” The Hopewell Downtown Partnership helped Tonya find a downtown location, and Tonya, in turn, hired local craftsmen to renovate the building.

Tonya also turned to the SBDC to fine tune her business skills. “I’m taking a QuickBooks class that meets every other week,” she notes. Another plus for Haley was the cost. “Since I was working with the SBDC, the class was free to me,” she says.

Haley believes that the SBDC helped her establish her business in the right place at the right time. “In the next five years this little downtown in Hopewell is going to change,” she predicts. “I’m hopeful in Hopewell!” With the SBDC on her side, Haley believes there is nothing she cannot achieve.

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Pop to the top: Gourmet popcorn brings dreams to life

With a Virginia Small Business Financing Authority (VSBFA) microloan of $15,000, new equipment was bought and production quadrupled.

Before her days as a successful entrepreneur, Tisha McCoy-Ntiamoah sold gourmet popcorn for a retailer in her home town, and one thing was certain: “There was nothing you could do serving gourmet popcorn that could make anyone unhappy,” she says laughing.

This simple truth stayed with Tisha along the winding path that led her back to, of all places, her own kitchen. With an undergraduate degree in business from the University of Kansas, Tisha pursued a career in higher education, and today she is the Director of MBA Programs at James Madison University. But she never forgot the love of popcorn. She credits the SBDC with helping her take a dream and turn it into a delicious reality. She started creating endless combinations of gourmet popcorn from her own home.

In 2014, the Shenandoah Valley SBDC sponsored the “What’s Cooking” program, where local culinary artists like Tisha could compete for funding and learn valuable small business skills. Her business proposal for PrePOPsterous became a top-prize winner, and the business was officially established soon after.

Tisha’s ties with the SBDC were just beginning. Working closely with advisor Allison Dugan, she applied for a microloan from the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority (VSBFA) that enabled her to buy desperately needed equipment, so she could quadruple her production. Increased production is not without its challenges for this dynamic mother of two, who explains that it’s not uncommon to find her up and working hard at 2 AM, filling orders, making popcorn, or experimenting with new flavors. “You really have to have a heart for it,” says Tisha. And it’s clear that she does. PrePOPsterous encapsulates Tisha’s drive to succeed, grow, and learn, and it has been matched, step for step, by advisor Allison.

“Allison is so well connected,” says Tisha, “not just in the community but throughout the state. And every one of those connections are an invaluable resource to me,” she adds. “Allison has more ideas than I can keep up with. She’s constantly recommending people for me to talk to or new avenues of growth to explore,” adds Tisha.

Poised for the busiest holiday season to date, Tisha says the SBDC has played a critical role in PrePOPsterous’s existence. “They have been essential in the development and growth of my business. They are wonderful advocates for small businesses and have their pulse on resources available to help businesses grow,” she says.

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Dog Daze Grooming Salon

Groomed for continued success

With 500 clients, Minda and Allie doubled their space and created 3.5 jobs in less than one year of operation.

Minda Dixon and Allie Ruff always loved dogs. They had been grooming them for many years at various salons, but they sensed that there were better ways to pamper pets. “We wanted to have more one-on-one contact with customers,” Minda says. “We wanted the dogs to have more physical freedom and walking space. We saw ourselves as a free-range pet-grooming shop.” By late 2017, they were ready to open their own shop.

Fortunately, Minda’s husband had started a company the previous year, called New River Outdoor Adventures (featured in the SBDC Client Profiles, 2017 edition), and he worked with the Blue Ridge Crossroads (BRCR) SBDC to get it going. Her parents, Manuel and Rose Gonzalez also worked with the Blueridge Crossroads SBDC to open their food truck, Taco Trolley, so she had a history with Director Mandy Archer and Assistant Ginny Plant.

“I met Mandy and Ginny when my husband started Outdoor Adventures and when my parents started their Taco Trolley. I knew that their assistance would be invaluable for getting Dog Daze set up,” Minda explains. “We needed help with the basics – a business plan, a financial plan, getting a loan, some legal assistance — that kind of thing. The SBDC was amazing all the way through.”

“They helped us with projected income, projected expenses, and getting a good rate from the banks,” Minda adds. “Even today, we meet with the SBDC to discuss how we can increase productivity; that’s one of our big plans for the next few months. As our success continues, our relationship with the SBDC strengthens.”

May 2018 marked a big step forward for Dog Daze with the expansion of their store and the addition of two employees. As their business thrives, they continue to look for ways to go “above and beyond” customer needs, including doggy daycare services and engaging Facebook photo contests.

Minda is always quick to refer to the SBDC as the catalyst for their continued success. “The SBDC has been so beyond our dreams in terms of supporting and nurturing this business,” Minda says. “It was just an idea two years ago, and now it’s the centerpiece of our lives. For anyone starting a business, they’re the first people I would talk to.”

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Amruta, Inc.

Analyzing the way to success

After consulting with the University of Mary Washington SBDC in 2017, Amruta’s revenue jumped from $1.3 million to $4.8 million, a 369% increase.

Beju Rao doesn’t hesitate to go back to the drawing board.

After only two years of operations, Amruta, Inc., Beju’s data analytics firm, had achieved $1.3 million in sales, but he wanted more. It was time to visit the University of Mary Washington SBDC. “I’m an adjunct professor at UMW, so I knew about the SBDC there,” he says. He met with Executive Director Brian Baker.

Beju’s goal was to gain entry into new markets, starting with the state and federal governments. “The SBDC helped me to get registered in the Electronic Virginia (eVA) system and the System for Awards Management (SAM) and to obtain Small-Women and Minority-owned business certification (SWaM),” Beju relates. He also met with procurement specialists from the Virginia Procurement Technical Assistance Program and the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity, who helped him identify which agencies to target and how best to access them.

UMW SBDC’s first Innovation Roundtable, held in the Fall 2017, also helped Beju. Over a period of several months, roundtable participants learned how to assess and achieve their commercialization readiness. Or, as Beju put it — to go back to the drawing board! “The Innovation Roundtable was phenomenal,” he comments. “It helped me design a product and decide what product features would sell in the marketplace.”

The SBDC also helped Beju get a foot in the door of the healthcare marketplace. “For the past couple of years, we’ve been working on a patient enterprise system that uses hospital performance data to improve health quality outcomes,” Beju says. Brian introduced him to Eric Fletcher, Senior Vice President & Chief Strategy Officer at Mary Washington Healthcare. The project involved the use of data management and analytics to improve operating performance, patient assessment , and patient experience initiatives. Currently Beju is working with the SBDC to secure funding to launch the system in other health-care facilities. “It was very helpful to be able to test our system in a hospital setting,” Beju adds.

Beju’s drawing-board concept has already increased revenue for his company. “We are growing again,” he says. “We have more than a dozen clients now, so the cumulative revenue is $4.8 million.” That is 3.7 times more than 2017.

Beju credits the SBDC with helping him achieve that growth. “They are continually helping me,” he says. “I know I can reach out to Brian Baker or Susan Ball whenever I need help.” He plans to maintain his relationship with the SBDC. “I want to reach $20 million in the next three years.”

Beju has entered markets in the healthcare and financial industries. His next focus will be to improve the scale of Amruta and grow new clients. “The SBDC is a trusted advisor,” he concludes. “And I certainly appreciate that.”

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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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Next Generation Auto Body

Auto body shop makes new turn

An SBA guaranteed loan allowed Jennifer and Chris to buy out their two partners, increase revenues, and create 1 new job.

Jennifer and Chris Wiser started the business in 2013 with two other partners and continued to build it over the following five years. Then the other partners decided they wanted to sell their portion of the business and pursue other interests. “We needed to get a loan to buy them out,” Jennifer relates.

Jennifer and Chris went to their bank to see how to proceed. Their commercial loan officer referred them to David Reardon, Business Counselor at the Lord Fairfax SBDC in Culpeper. “In order to get the loan, we had to present a three-year projection for our business,” Jennifer continues.

At that point David guided Jennifer and Chris through the loan process. David entered three years of company balance sheet and income statement records into ProfitCents, a financial software tool, to develop financial projections.

“After we applied for the loan, the Small Business Administration underwriter came back with a request for additional information that included a complete income statement for 2018,” Jennifer says. To meet this requirement David used ProfitCents again to enter six months of real data and six months of extrapolated data that tied into the 2018 projections. With the SBDC’s help, the applications were completed, and the SBA loan was approved, allowing Next Generation to continue to serve the Culpeper community. “It’s our busy season now,” Jennifer explains. “Cold weather and deer!”

Jennifer and Chris are grateful to the SBDC for smoothing out this hurdle in their business plan. “The SBDC did help us tremendously with the loan process,” Jennifer says. “We had to have these reports to get the loan we needed. I would not have been able to do it by myself.”

This is the first time Jennifer and Chris have used the SBDC. But it won’t be their last. The SBDCs have the tools and the talent to help solve problems that small businesses encounter. “We definitely will consider working with the SBDC in the future,” Jennifer concludes. “I would recommend the SBDC to other businesses.”

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Owners and key financial decisionmakers of for-profit businesses, share your recent experiences. Did your business seek financing such as loans or lines of credit in the last 12 months? How would you rate the financial condition of your business?

The Federal Reserve’s 2022 Small Business Credit Survey is open for responses, and the Virginia SBDC Network is a partner on this effort. By taking the survey, you contribute to data that directly informs the Fed, federal government agencies, service providers, policymakers, and others—ultimately benefitting your business and other businesses like yours. Take the 10-minute survey now. 

The survey is open to businesses currently in operation, those recently closed, and those about to launch. All responses are confidential.

The survey closes November 4, 2022. Questions? Contact Grace Guynn at