Category: 2021

Micro Harmonics

Micro Harmonics

SBDC helped add the business component to
Micro Harmonics’ success

Sales increased by 20% and capital investments were $92,000.

Diane Kees enjoys exploring new frontiers as chief operating officer at Micro Harmonics, a company founded by her brother, David Porterfield. The Botetourt County business specializes in components for a variety of applications from COVID research to NASA exploration.

For Diane, working with NASA is all in a day’s work; launching a new business, on the other hand, is not. Faced with the prospect of serving temporarily as the business accountant, Diane contacted the Roanoke Regional SBDC. “The SBDC’s help was lifesaving,” she says without hesitation. “I called the SBDC, and Business Advisor Cheryl Tucker walked me through the accounting process. She also, very patiently, helped me learn Quickbooks,” Diane continues.

Micro Harmonics specializes in components needed for new high-frequency technologies.

“When you work in higher frequencies, having the right component is essential,” Diane says. “We develop components needed for these advanced technologies.” She compared the process to plumbing a house. “When you update a plumbing system, you need the right valves to make the system work,” she notes. The same concept, she believes, applies to business — the “right parts” are needed for success.

A number of people and organizations helped supply those “right parts.” Diane considers the SBDC’s connections “a huge help.” She adds, “If the SBDC doesn’t have someone to help you, they’ll find someone who can.” Recently, Diane has been an active participant in the SBDC’s Botetourt GrowthWheel cohort, one of the many benefits available to Botetourt County Businesses through a collaborative partnership between the Roanoke Regional SBDC and Botetourt County Economic Development.

Diane shared about her GrowthWheel Cohort experience, “We were all in different businesses, but had the same problem.” She also shared that “Only knowing your own specialty doesn’t help much in running a business.”

“It has been an absolute delight to provide guidance, support, and connections to Diane and David over the years as they continue to grow and expand their business” states, Heather Fay, Botetourt Advisor.

“All the help we received from the various organizations very much impacted our growth, and the SBDC is certainly among those organizations,” Diane adds. Micro Harmonic’s growth was reflected in year-end figures: from 2018 to 2019 sales rose to $1 million.

Diane doesn’t hesitate to recommend the SBDC. “The consultants at the SBDC are experts in running a business,” she concludes. “Because of the SBDC, I’m confident because I know where I can turn for help.”

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Riverbound Trout Farm

Riverbound Trout Farms

Riverbound Trout Farms has hooked success

Received a $500,000 line of credit and a $69,000 grant.

Jake Musick likes to compare running a successful business to fishing. The owner of Riverbound Trout Farms in Lebanon understands that both knowledge and experience are needed for success. “I’ve been in the fish-growing industry for quite a few years now,” Jake says.

Jake wanted to bring more local farmers into the aquaculture industry. His plan was to build and operate a fish processing facility in Russell County. He called on Margie Douglass, director of the Southwest Virginia SBDC, to help him apply for a $500,000 loan from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). “I needed an in-depth business plan,” he explains. “The SBDC gave me pointers on how to write one, and Margie helped me put the finished product together.”

The SBDC also connected Jake with the research department at George Mason University (GMU). “They did a marketing survey that I was able to include in my business plan,” he adds. “That was very helpful.”

The SBDC’s knowledge and experience produced results. “With the SBDC’s help, I was approved for a line of credit for $500,000 for the processing plant and to expand the current farm,” Jake says happily. “We’ve purchased property but postponed construction for now due to the spiraling cost of building materials.” Additionally, during the pandemic, Jake received a $69,000 grant through the Farm Service Industry. “It didn’t cover losses, but it sure did help,” he recalls.

Despite COVID, Jake continues to be optimistic about the fish processing project, as well as the future of aquaculture. “Our goal is to offer inspiration for young people to take a look at aquaculture as a viable occupation,” he says. “The big push is to bring as many other growers into the process as we can.”

Jake actively promotes the SBDC to other farmers in the area, happy to share what he’s learned. “I’ve been talking to a lot of farmers about the SBDC,” he says. “I tell them to go and benefit from what’s there. Over the last several years, our business at Riverbound Trout Farms has grown considerably,” he concludes. “Our involvement with the SBDC helped facilitate that growth.”

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Wooden Spoon

The Wooden Spoon

The Wooden Spoon: Feeding the body and nourishing the soul

Received a $50,000 small business loan.

Yvette Daniel opened The Wooden Spoon in Richmond in 2018, motivated by one unflinching principle: to provide cuisine that was as healthy and nourishing for her customers as it was tasty.

“When you feed the body, you nourish the soul,” Yvette explains. “All of the food here is made from high-quality, organic ingredients — all of it. I grew up in Spain, and food there is all about being authentic and clean and is made from very good, quality ingredients. Everything is made from scratch. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love.” For Yvette, that includes everything from imported Spanish olive oil and butter, to locally sourced meat and organic eggs from free-range Virginia farms. While these ingredients are the hallmark of The Wooden Spoon’s unique cuisine, they aren’t cheap.

Early on, as a fledgling small business committed to quality, The Wooden Spoon struggled to keep up with expenses. That’s when Yvette got in touch with the Capital Region SBDC, and her advisor, Rodney Williams, scheduled a site visit.

“I ended up writing Rodney at the SBDC, asking how they could help, and he wrote back saying that he was at my restaurant two weeks ago and it was amazing,” Yvette says. “He came in, we met, and he helped me with everything. He very quickly got me approved for a small business loan of $50,000, which helped a lot.”

That loan provided Yvette with the capital to keep The Wooden Spoon afloat in its early days while also allowing her to maintain her commitment to providing fresh, high-quality meals. “The small loan was amazing,” she adds. “It helped me cover some very important expenses I had, so I was super grateful for that grant.”

Now, more than three years after opening, The Wooden Spoon has built a loyal customer base, which Yvette believes is heavily influenced by her restaurant’s emphasis on quality over quantity and the sanctity of a good meal shared among friends and family.

“I teach my staff to learn our customers’ names. We don’t rush people,” she explains. “Our customers can stay as long as they want. I don’t want to turn over tables; I want people to enjoy themselves.” As word gets around about Yvette’s health-focused cooking, more people can do just that at The Wooden Spoon.

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Software company gets its start with ICAP

Received a $50,000 grant from the NSF

As an insurance defense attorney for 35 years, James Chapman saw the need for a litigation management tool to enable faster and less expensive resolutions of lawsuits. In 2018, he launched a company to provide that tool. One of his first moves was to contact the Hampton Roads SBDC. Three years later, James is glad he did.

“In 2018, I was interested in what tools were out there to help us grow a business,” he explains. “Through the SBDC, we had an opportunity to get involved in a cohort through the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP).” Backed by the Virginia SBDC Network, ICAP helps Virginia’s entrepreneurs maximize the potential of their technology startups. “I applied for ICAP through the Hampton Roads SBDC,” James adds. “I worked with Bob Smith and, later, Josh Green.”

The ICAP cohort met weekly. “ICAP focused on the concept of customer discovery — figuring out who customers were and deciding what ideas would appeal to them,” James explains. “During each weekly class, we reported on our customer discovery and how we could use that information.” After the first month, ICAP classes moved online. “ICAP continued to provide support for each business following the cohort,” James adds.

When they received a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the company continued their customer discovery journey with I-Corps. Created in 2011 by NSF, I-Corps helps entrepreneurs with promising ideas and technologies move from the laboratory into the marketplace. “It was through ICAP that we learned about I-Corps,” James says.

In 2020, the company was one of five selected for an accelerator program. “During the accelerator program, and in spite of the COVID environment, we were able to build out our software,” James reports.

Now in 2021, three years after making a connection with the SBDC, their software product, ClaimEdge, is in pilot testing with a major insurance company. “The SBDC’s ICAP program was a great way to get our business started,” James says.

James continues to keep in touch with ICAP, sitting in on monthly meetings four or five times a year. “I absolutely recommend the SBDC,” James concludes. “With the SBDC, you have a whole team that’s ready to help you out.”

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Proctor360 makes virtual testing real

Proctor360 have experienced very significant growth.

Long before the COVID pandemic forced virtual learning to become a reality for students across the nation, Ganga Bathula and Kranthi Bathula were making plans to enter the online testing market, an estimated $1,34 billion industry by 2027. Both Founder/CEO Ganga Bathula and CTO Kranthi Bathula were industry veterans with successful backgrounds in live testing centers and wanted to bring that expertise to remote testing.

Their company, Proctor360, brings novel technology to the market, which includes headset that incorporates a 360-degree camera, speaker, and microphone. The result is a complete view of the testing environment for proctoring – a game changer. “We saw early on that a transition to remote testing was underway,” Kranthi says. “We developed what the market needed to further its growth.”

Going to the Mason SBDC, as Kranthi put it, was a no-brainer. “One of Proctor360’s offices is right next to the Mason SBDC,” he adds. Ganga and Kranthi met with Mason SBDC Senior Business Counselor George Siragusa.

“We spent most of 2018 planning,” Kranthi continues. “George advised us on the decisions we had to make. He also helped us explore different avenues of funding.” George connected the Proctor360 planners with the SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP). “ICAP helped us in performing a market study, talking directly to our customers,” Kranthi says. “That feedback was especially helpful.”

In February 2019, Proctor360 held a soft launch to demonstrate its patent-pending technology at the Mason Enterprise Center in Fairfax. “Our 360 total-view system is unique to us,” Kranthi says. “Students don’t have to leave their house — they can just log on to the computer and take their exams from anywhere.”

Proctor360 caters to colleges and universities, as well as training and certification companies.
The company currently has 10+ employees spread across the US. Kranthi credits the SBDC for aiding in Proctor360’s success. “Since we started working with the SBDC, our business growth has been over 600 percent,” Kranthi notes.

“The SBDC is well established,” Kranthi concludes. “They can bring in the right person to help with a specific business need. That gives company owners a great deal of confidence.”

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Caroline Thomason Nutrition Consulting

Nutrition coach uses new business model for the win

Sales increased from a low six-figure to high seven-figure range in five months.

On a whim, Caroline Thomason called the Shenandoah Valley SBDC last year. Today, she’s operating a nutrition coaching practice in the five-figure range. “On paper, all the odds were against starting a business during the pandemic,” Caroline admits.

She decided to do it anyway. “Somehow I just knew the time was right,” she adds. “I’d always wanted my own business. My plan was to go full-fledged into private practice with nutrition coaching.”

Caroline called the Shenandoah SBDC, and Business Analyst Don Crawford returned her call the same day. “We’ve been talking every other week since then,” Caroline says.

Early on, Caroline learned not to follow her inclination to jump the gun. “From the start, Don hit home by emphasizing the importance of having an organized financial plan,” Caroline says. “He helped me lay the foundation for the systems I use in my business today.”

Starting a business during the pandemic, Caroline notes, did have one advantage: telehealth. “Virtual visits were very accepted at that time, which was amazing for me,” she marvels.

Caroline began by developing a plan she believes helped her business grow so quickly. “I started doing memberships — like monthly gym memberships,” Caroline explains. “That gave my clients a more personalized service, and it was more flexible for all of us.”

It was, in Caroline’s words, “a huge hit.”

“Don and I crafted the membership plan together,” Caroline relates. “The SBDC helped me understand the membership model and how it was used in other industries. With the SBDC’s help, I was able to grow my business from a low six-figure to a high seven-figure range in five months.”

“I really think the SBDC’s help with my membership plan allowed the business to take off so fast,” Caroline says. “I was able to leave my full-time job after five months.”

Caroline is happy to recommend the SBDC to others considering a business venture, and plans to continue her relationship with them for the foreseeable future. “I feel like Don Crawford at the SBDC is my best friend,” Caroline concludes. “The SBDC has been with me from the beginning; just knowing they are there is extremely comforting.”

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Bridges Home Health Care LLC, Woodbridge

Bridges Home Health Care LLC

Bridges to a better world

Received a $95,000 PPP loan, a $10,000 EIDL loan, retained 32 jobs and created 28 jobs

Thaddious “TJ” Osby, Jr. had seen a lot by the time he prepared to end his 20-plus years of military service. A Marine and a registered nurse, he had seen war and had been stationed all around the world. You wouldn’t think that much could rattle him, but as he mulled over his retirement and what path to take, he felt plagued by one unfamiliar feeling: fear.

“I knew going back into a hospital wasn’t going to be an option for me. I had seen too many fighters torn up, and I didn’t want to see any more. I knew being the owner of a business was the route that I needed to go for mental, spiritual, and physical well-being,” TJ explains.

In 2014, TJ sought out the University of Mary Washington (UMW) SBDC and connected with Susan Ball. He initially broached the idea of operating an assisted living facility, but Susan helped pivot that idea into a home health care agency. “Even though I sat on the battlefield and had bullets shoot by my head, I was still afraid. I didn’t have enough confidence. I didn’t believe in myself. But Susan started plugging in numbers right away,” TJ recounts. “She started talking to me as if I already owned the business. The biggest thing I needed initially was the courage to put thought to paper — and I got that from Susan.”

TJ had observed many elderly and disabled veterans in his life who were not getting the care they deserved. He realized that a home health care company would provide a way for him to keep doing what he loved most. “It allowed me to continue to take care of people. I was drawn to something I had naturally been doing, which was taking care of elderly people. I saw and still see a lot of veterans falling through the cracks. I decided I was going to create that bridge for the elderly and the disabled,” TJ says.

TJ slowly began building Bridges Home Health Care LLC from the ground up with Susan and the UMW SBDC right by his side. He credits them for helping him navigate the many pages of paperwork required to satisfy federal and state requirements, not to mention the piles of paperwork for both the Richmond and DC Veteran’s Administrations, as well as Medicaid, Medicare, and other major insurances.

Despite COVID-19, TJ’s company closed 2020 with strong numbers: over 30 full-time employees, 20 part-time employees, and plans for a brick-and-mortar building in early 2021. TJ hopes to expand the business to offer more robust PCA, CPR, and nurse’s-aid training classes.

It’s a long way from the nervous man that debated if he could take the first step with his business back in 2014. TJ credits it all to the SBDC. “If there is anybody that could be a mascot for the SBDC, it’s me. I preach it to everybody that is even thinking about starting a business,” TJ says. “They have had my back from day zero, and they’ve still got my back today. It’s been quite a ride, and I am so grateful for every single person there.”

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Walker Seafood, Willis Wharf

Walker Seafood

Call of the coast

Received a $5000 grant and increased sales by 120%

Revel Walker always knew that being a waterman was in his blood. Stretching back to 1889, Walker Seafood represents six generations, each of whom worked the waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They sell whole in-shell clams and oysters, both farm-raised and wild-caught, to suppliers throughout the country.

Due to careful planning and years of practice, Revel can grow and harvest oysters and clams throughout the entire year, which makes his business invaluable to distributors, who resell to upscale restaurants and grocery stores in New York, Boston, and other metropolitan areas.

The oysters are grown in the temperate waters of the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. With a grow-out time of about a year and a half, timing is everything. “What’s important to my customers is that I have a year-round supply,” Revel says. “Planning digs is important, because we dig 30 to 45 bushels at a time.”

After working in the family business for years, Revel navigated a lot of change when he took the helm in 2013. Then he went full time (became a “co-oper”) and stepped into the lead at Walker Seafood. That posed its own set of challenges.
“Things like paperwork, invoices, and making sure everyone gets paid on time — this was all stuff that was new to me and were things that I’ve had to get the hang of as I’ve gone along,” Revel says. Fortunately, he didn’t have to look far for help. “The Hampton Roads SBDC-Eastern Shore to me is George Bryan,” Revel says. “I took his class when I knew I was going out on my own. George advised me on what loans to apply for. He gave me some good pointers on budgeting and finance,” Revel adds.

With COVID-19 sweeping the country, Walker Seafood had to navigate some decreases in demand as restaurants struggled with pandemic-related closures. “Sales are definitely down in the Northeast,” Revel notes. Fortunately, he has been able to meet consistent sales goals by reaching out to new customers. Revel says the family name is so well known within the industry that it works as its own calling card.

In the end, no amount of name recognition will make up for a product that isn’t up to par. Revel is proud to bring fresh seafood to his distributors that more than lives up to his family’s well-known name. And he couldn’t have done it without the help of the SBDC.

“We aren’t just competing with other local growers,” Revel says. “Walker Seafood has instant name recognition. My dad and uncle were the people to start doing the farm-raised clams and oysters. You have to have the product to back that up. And we do.”

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Great Harvest Bread Company

Baking A Miracle: Bakery brings hope during pandemic

Received a PPP loan and retained 29 jobs

The happiest day of Pablo Teodoro’s life was the day he was fired. “I was overwhelmed with happiness, because I was sure it was the beginning of something really exciting,” he says. “I had this strange certainty that I was going to start a business and that it was going to be amazing.” Little did he know that this day would lead him to giving life-saving help to his community in the midst of COVID-19.

Already seasoned in management and inspired by his own ideas, Pablo spent roughly two years focusing on running a small farm, learning about monoculture farming and sustainable agriculture, and exploring the ins-and-outs of selling his products to local farmers markets. Then fate led Pablo to discover the Great Harvest Bread Company. Founded in Montana by a free-thinking, free-living couple, according to Pablo, the company’s values mirrored his own, and the freedom and flexibility it offered its franchisees is what drew him.

“We get to become a community bakery. We get to sell food that people in Warrenton want to eat,” Pablo says. “We have a stone mill in the basement, and we mill our own flour. Just like eating a fresh apple or drinking a fresh ground cup of coffee, everything here tastes rich, full, and exciting in a way that other bakeries cannot reproduce.”

Pablo and his new franchise, Great Harvest, have developed a relationship with Lord Fairfax SBDC Director Christine Kriz, powered by mutual motivation and excitement. “Christine understands our struggles. She made a big difference by making practical and inspirational differences in our local business community,” he adds. She connected Pablo with Cort Maddox, a business advisor at the Lord Fairfax SBDC, and they meet monthly for business coaching. “I will give Cort an update,” Pablo explains. “He will point out things, provide statistics, and tell me if he thinks I am on the wrong track.”

When the pandemic hit, Great Harvest found itself in a very difficult spot. On the verge of closure, Pablo made a bold move: he continued to bake bread. Then a viral Facebook post opened the gates to a demand for over 5,300 loaves of bread for food banks and others in need. Donations to offset the cost of ingredients began to roll in, and things began to turn around for the small corner bakery. “We were baking hundreds of loaves of bread a day. Customers were coming in droves. People were also requesting the ingredients — which gave us the money to afford to bake bread for the food banks.”

Finding a warm heart in the midst of the strange times has grown Pablo’s business and especially his spirit. “Although I know that COVID is overall a tragedy in terms of illness and death, it has also provided unexpected miracles and unexpected blessing,” Pablo says. “We are on a better footing than we’ve ever been.”

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Mt. Everest Karate Studio, Suffolk

Mt. Everest Karate Studio

The SBDC goes to the mat for karate studio

Received a $10,000 Rebuild VA grant

It’s been an uphill climb for Carlos Rivas since opening his Mt. Everest Karate Studio in Suffolk three years ago. “I started teaching karate in 1996,” he says. “Then in 2017 I took a leap of faith and opened a studio in the Crittenden community.” Two years later Carlos rented the space next door, doubling the size of his studio.

While Carlos knew his karate, he wasn’t as adept at selling his services. “I started losing students because I didn’t know how to market properly,” he admits. “I hired a business consultant who specialized in martial arts. His advice was to get in touch with the community I was working in, but the expense was high.”
To get his business back on track, Carlos decided to reach out elsewhere. “That’s how I met Debra Farley, Associate Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC,” Carlos says. “I told Debra I was looking for a business microloan. She was very helpful and scheduled an appointment for us to meet right away.”

Debra connected Carlos with Karen White at the Virginia Small Business Financing Authority. “Karen helped me secure a microloan for $25,000,” Carlos adds. “The process was easy and straightforward, and Debra and Karen were always available whenever I had questions. I could not have done this without their help.”

Things were looking up for Carlos, but then COVID-19 happened. “We were closed down for 14 weeks,” he explains. Carlos turned to Zoom classes to keep his students engaged, adding extras like a weekly scavenger hunt. “I had to be creative, like everybody else. I offered prizes — $1, $5, even $20,” he says. “The kids loved it, and parents loved it, too.”

The karate studio opened its doors again on July 6. “When I reopened, Karen told me about the Rebuild VA grant,” Carlos relates. This application process was more complicated and had a few “hiccups” along the way. Nevertheless, when Carlos opened his mail one day, he was thrilled to find a $10,000 check from Rebuild VA.

“I was jumping up and down,” he says. “Debra and Karen steered me in the right direction throughout the application. I would not have received this grant without their support.”

Carlos is pleased to report that business is picking up. “I signed six new students this month,” he says. “Things are turning around.” He credits the SBDC with making it happen.

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