Category: 2021

Patina Creek Silver, Buchanan

Patina Creek Silver

Lined with the silver of success

Received $10,000 from the Community Business Launch competition and a $6,000 EIDL loan

After selling their home, Anna Metheny and her husband decided to invest $600 in a start-up kit for silver fingerprint jewelry that Anna first sold at a school PTA event. “I had no idea what I was doing. I had never done anything like it, but I walked away from that night with $850. I immediately realized that I may have found something interesting,” she says. 

As a full-time stay-at-home mom, Anna was delighted and intrigued to hit on a potential source of income that could nurture her creative side, bring in revenue, and offer flexibility at the same time. Anna was blown away by the enthusiastic response her metal artisanship received, and soon she was attending any venue that could be a market for her products.

What happened next was the fingerprint that changed the silver. “I met Anna through the Community Business Launch (CBL) held in the town of Buchanan,” says Roanoke Regional SBDC Advisor Heather Fay. “Since the end of the program, I have talked with Anna about exploring a space away from her home for her business and offering an appointment-based onsite experience for fingerprint jewelry.” 

Next, Anna placed fourth in a competition at the end of the CBL and was awarded $10,000, which financed the rental of her current business space.

Heather and the SBDC have kept pace with Anna, as things have moved rapidly for her and Patina Creek Silver, as well as Patina Creek Creative, the name of her brick-and-mortar space. Heather adds, “Anna and I have also talked through the pros and cons of expanding her business, as well as operating during a pandemic.”

Today, Anna is still in shock at how quickly things have moved. “If you would have told me in January,” she says as she gestures to the high, beautifully lit ceilings of her shop via a Zoom call, “that all this would be here now, I never would have believed you. But here we are.” Anna shares her space with another artist, and they hosted an inaugural handmade Christmas market in December. 

“Heather has always been so eager and excited to help me. Every time I think I don’t know how to do this, I just say to myself ‘I gotta call Heather,’” Anna says. Thanks to the resources and guidance of Heather and the SBDC, Anna captured her future. 

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Jerry B. Peters Sales, Bristol

Jerry B. Peters Sales

Jerry B. Peters sells success with the SBDC

Received a PPP loan and retained 6 jobs

Jerry B. Peters Sales has been in the business of making names for clients for almost 50 years. With promotional products and logo apparel, the Bristol company has also made a name for itself in the community. “My father, Jerry Peters, started the business in 1973,” co-owner Kim Warren says. “I grew up in the business and started helping out as a teenager. Originally, the business focused on promotional keychains and pens for customers, like car dealers. It grew from there.” The Jerry B. Peters product line expanded extensively over the years. Upon the death of their father, Kim and her sister, Tammy Peters Jackson, took over the business. 

It continued to grow until the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread closures. When educational and service events shut down and the company was facing a loss in booked sales, Kim and Tammy wisely turned to the Virginia Highlands SBDC. “We had started working with the SBDC about ten years before that,” Kim says. “Cindy Fields, Center Director of the Virginia Highlands SBDC, worked with us to develop lists of items to market to surrounding businesses. She has been very helpful, especially during the pandemic.”

As COVID-19 continued to spread across the area, it was apparent that businesses would need items related to personal protective equipment (PPE). The Jerry B. Peters product line increased accordingly, with personalized face masks, hand sanitizers, and digital thermometers. “One event the SBDC had was especially fabulous,” Kim notes. “Representatives from a number of local industries were there, and being able to speak to representatives from all those industries resulted in about $25,000 in new business for us.”

As the pandemic evolved, the Virginia Highlands SBDC kept Kim and Tammy informed about emergency financial relief. Jerry B. Peters Sales received a PPP loan in the early funding round, which allowed the company to keep its employees working and to broaden promotional offerings to businesses. “We’ve expanded our social media presence with regular posts on Facebook and Instagram,” Kim reports. “We also held regular promotions, highlighting our products and also those of our customers. My daughter, who graduated from Virginia Tech and worked in public relations before starting a career in teaching, has helped us with our social media.”

Kim credits the SBDC for guiding her business. “I keep in touch with Cindy every few weeks,” Kim concludes. “The SBDC has been a great partner to us for so many years. We consider their services invaluable in today’s changing world.”

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Your Dinner, Bridgewater

Your Dinner

Success to-go with the SBDC

Invested $45,000 in equipment, created 3 jobs and retained 2 jobs

When Diane Roll hit the streets with one of the first food trucks in the Rockingham/Augusta county region in 2011, her first stop was the Shenandoah Valley SBDC. “Just because you’re a good cook doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good business person,” Diane says. “The SBDC helped me find a bank that would give me the small business loan I needed when I first got started.”

Diane’s original plan included “grab-and-go” dinners prepared in advance and sold at nearby factories for $6. The idea never took off. “But during that time, I built relationships with companies that would pick up the tab for us to come in and cook,” Diane relates. “That led us into catering.” Another opportunity came when the town of Dayton approached Diane about opening a restaurant. “I was lucky enough to open Dayton Tavern, a full-service restaurant,” she adds. “We had a higher-end clientele there — not to mention the best steaks in 100 miles!”

Diane’s restaurant and catering business continued to expand and prosper, until, as she puts it, “2020 happened.” “COVID temporarily closed the restaurant,” she explains. “We had zero catering and $250,000 in canceled events.” Undeterred by this downtime, Diane began to think about her original idea of “grab-and-go” dinners. She started selling freshly prepared family meals through the Dayton Tavern, a business venture that quickly became popular. “I don’t care how much money you have, everybody likes meatloaf,” she says.

With the “grab-and-go” dinner concept (renamed Your Dinner) now off the back burner, Diane went back to the SBDC for advice. Advisor Don Crawford met with Diane to discuss management, operations, financing, and marketing. The SBDC team also arranged for Diane and her staff to meet with the SBDC’s Retail & Restaurant Advisor Marc Willson.

“We already had a rental space for our catering business,” Diane says. “I decided to rent the whole building for the Your Dinner business. Since we didn’t need all of it, I contacted several other small business owners I knew about sharing the space.” Diane invested her own money to purchase display cases and appliances and to hire three employees to launch Your Dinner. The commitment also allowed two other small businesses to re-locate there and expand. “We now have gourmet popcorn from PrePOPsterous and produce from Radella’s in the North River Marketplace.”

Your Dinner offers everything from fresh soups, salads, and sandwiches to pre-made dinners to take home and heat up. “When you take our food home, put it on your own plate, and heat it in your own microwave, it feels like you made it. There’s a good feeling to it.”

Diane believes in down-home hospitality. It works for her, and she’s happy to pass it on. She is also appreciative of the help she’s received from the SBDC. 

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The Difference Baker, Ashburn

The Difference Baker

Making a difference with the SBDC

Started the business, gained equity investment, and created 2 jobs

Alyssa Sobecki found success by making a difference. The Difference Baker, the business she launched for individuals struggling with food allergies, is doing well in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. With multiple food allergies herself, Alyssa found it difficult to find restaurants that catered to gluten, soy, or nut allergies. The solution, she decided, was to open one of her own. “I wanted a local place where gluten-free families could come and enjoy delicious baked goods, sandwiches, and wraps,” she says.

After locating a building approved for a commercial kitchen, Alyssa and her husband, Jason, went to the Loudoun SBDC. “We worked with them from the inception of our business,” Alyssa relates. “We met with Eric Byrd, manager of the Loudoun SBDC office.” Eric gave the couple an overview of their proposed business and advised them on rules and regulations. “Eric walked us through the entire process,” Alyssa says. “It was awesome — help from A to Z even before we signed a lease.”

The Difference Baker officially opened November 7, 2019. Five months later, it closed due to COVID-19. “We were closed to foot traffic for six months,” Alyssa notes. If customers couldn’t come to her, Alyssa reasoned, she would go to them. “I started doing deliveries,” she says. “That summer was slow, but we were able to keep afloat.” Helping with that effort was the Loudoun SBDC. “Eric reached out to see if we were okay,” Alyssa adds. “He kept us informed about all the assistance that was available.”

During the shutdown, Alyssa looked to her marketing team to maintain sales. “One thing I didn’t do was let my marketing team go,” she explains. “That helped us reach new markets. When something like a pandemic happens, you have to find new ways to market your products.”

The Sobeckis also depend on a bookkeeping team to manage the financial side of the business.

“I know what I’m good at doing and what I’m not good at doing,” Alyssa comments. “What I’m not good at, I outsource to professionals.” The Sobeckis consider the SBDC to be a valuable part of their team. “Eric Byrd has been the bridge when I need a point of contact,” Alyssa says. “All I have to do is reach out to him, and he’ll put me in touch with the right people.” It’s a business relationship the Sobeckis plan to continue. “Just last month I had a coaching call with Eric to go over the future of the company,” Alyssa relates. “He’s already in the process of making some connections toward the path of our growth.”

In addition to baked goods and sandwiches, The Difference Baker offers freezer meals to take home, such as chicken pot pies and baked ziti. The menu is growing and continues to change. “My mission goes beyond what you see in our kitchen,” Alyssa says. “The main focus is to bring peace to those who have to deal with food allergies.” 

The Sobeckis are glad they made the decision to visit the SBDC early on. “I connect with a lot of people who want to start a business,” Alyssa concludes. “The first thing I say is, ‘Go to the SBDC.’ I’m so glad we did.”

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Fend Inc., Arlington

Fend Inc.

Fending off cyberattacks

Received nearly $3 million from multiple SBIR and state grants, a contract with the Department of Defense, and investment from Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology

Cyberattacks: a scary and unexpected threat to everyone from thriving nations to next-door neighbors. The systems that make our modern lives possible are moving online. From electricity providers and water utilities to refrigerated trucks and beyond, the comforts we enjoy are made more efficient and reliable by bringing massive industrial equipment into the Internet of Things (IoT). The downside? These vital networks are increasingly susceptible to hackers. 

Aware of this growing area of vulnerability, Colin Dunn created Fend Inc., a cybersecurity company dedicated to preventing critical infrastructure from being attacked, data stolen, or equipment held for ransom. “We keep attackers out of the critical systems that make America run,” Colin explains. “We are putting data into the hands that need it, as well as ensuring that these systems are not left open to threats or vulnerable to attack.”

Since its founding in 2017, the Arlington-based company has been integral in providing superior security to critical domestic infrastructures. Colin, with a background in mechanical engineering and business administration, recognized the opportunity to expand to the international market, but needed help. While touring the Mason Enterprise Center (originally looking for office space) he also found the State Office of the Virginia SBDC Network. 

“I got to know the SBDC by just walking the halls,” Colin says. “Someone would say, ‘Hey, I know someone who can help you with exports’ and ‘I can help get you in touch with someone to put in contact with others in the industry.’”

First, the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) advisors at the Virginia SBDC State Office worked with Colin to first help him develop and validate his customers and product premise. “Customer interviews done through this program gave us insights that informed the design of our products and services,” Colin explains. 

Next, the State Office’s International Business Development (IBD) program helped Fend export their services, taking their operation global. The first step was researching the industrial cybersecurity market in Western European countries and member nations of the intelligence alliance known as The Five Eyes. The SBDC also connected Colin with other firms for potential partnerships, and compiled a list of certifications needed to compete internationally. 

“Without the SBDC’s ICAP and IBD programs, our view of opportunity would be a lot smaller,” Colin says. “They helped us realize that protecting critical infrastructure worldwide is something that is possible for Fend, and helped us develop a methodical way of serving this community beyond our borders.

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Mason & Greens, Alexandria

Mason & Greens

Parlaying personal views of sustainability

Received a $135,000 loan, a $10,000 line of credit, and started new business

In mid-2019, Justin and Anna Marino were searching for the “right” business to open in Old Town Alexandria, with “right” meaning a retail business that represented their personal environmental views on preservation and sustainability. 

When they found a two-story townhouse on King Street in the Historic District, they began writing a business plan for a first-floor retail shop and a second-level Airbnb property designed to be an eco-conscious alternative to a hotel suite. Alexandria SBDC’s Business Analyst Jack Parker helped them create a viable plan and found a bank interested in the project that was to become the first such brick-and-mortar, zero-waste sustainable products store in the region. They would be offering bulk-grocery products, sustainable-living products, health & beauty, and children’s products. Anna is a “runner” and has over 7,000 viewers on her Blog, in addition to being a well-versed social-media marketer for her online athletic clothing business. Their store also received local media attention prior and during their opening.

In early January, they closed on the $125,000 SBA term loan and a $10,000 line of credit with M&T Bank. Then they began the build-out process on Mason & Greens when the COVID-19 pandemic exploded, causing a veritable shut down of retail businesses. In effect, they were forced to open in the teeth of the storm without eligibility for the EIDL or PPP loan programs. 

The online store, on their well-designed website, was relatively easy to launch, but in-store shoppers and guests for the suite upstairs were another matter. They had some success in May with by-appointment shopping, but the website sales took off right away, surprising everyone including themselves that they were able to breakeven for their first month. After reopening, in-store sales continued to improve and since August, the Airbnb suite has generated enough revenue to pay the monthly rent for the building.

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