Category: 2022

Reflections Image Center and Skincare Institute

The SBDC combines beauty with business for Reflections Image success

Received a Rebuild Virginia Grant; an Economic Injury Disaster Loan; doubled staff; increased revenue by 20%.

https://reflectionsimagecenter.com/

LaSondra Gray, owner of Reflections Image Center and Skincare Institute in Leesburg, Virginia, believes beauty is more than skin deep. With the support and guidance from the Loudoun SBDC, her business continues to successfully grow and flourish based on that belief.

“Reflections Image Center takes a holistic and integrative approach to aesthetics and wellness,” she explains. “It’s in our slogan — Healthy Skin Within: Look Good, Feel Good.”

Previously a licensed quality auditor in the corporate workforce and business management consultant, LaSondra developed an interest in the medical spa business 20 years ago and never looked back. She celebrates the 10-year success of Reflections.

“I wanted to get into something to make a difference,” she says. “It started when my son’s doctor asked if I would take a quality control look at his practice. I really enjoyed adding my skills to a profession that made people look and feel better.”

When she discovered the Loudoun SBDC a few years ago, LaSondra experienced her own feel-better moment. Her initial contact, Loudoun SBDC Director Eric Byrd, connected her with a team of advisors, including Business Advisor Subodh Nayar.

“Subodh is amazing,” LaSondra adds. “He’s committed to making sure my business is successful — that means a lot.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, SBDC resources were especially helpful.

“I received a Rebuild Virginia Grant and Economic Injury Disaster Loan,” she says. “The SBDC team helped keep my business going during the pandemic.”

LaSondra did not idle during her COVID shutdown; she used the time to develop a virus-fighting product line.

“The SBDC connected me to the Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), and I was able to get my product out to local hospitals,” she explains. “Our product concept was selected for invitation to the National Science Foundation’s Project Pitch.”

The SBDC also assisted with marketing.

“The SBDC helped me take baby steps into digital marketing,” says LaSondra. “Our Purity Kit products developed during the pandemic will soon be available to the public.”

LaSondra is enthusiastic about continued partnership with the SBDC. With its guidance, the Reflections Image Center has doubled its staff and increased revenue by 20 percent.

“The SBDC is an amazing resource,” she concludes. “It makes sense to capitalize on that experience to help your business grow.”

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Dinamic Cuts

From old school to top of the class with the SBDC

Received $13,000 in grants; created 1 job.

https://www.dinamiccuts.com/

Diane Madden began her career as a hair stylist going door-to-door with a portable hair dryer.

“I was laughed at, but I was determined,” she recalls.

However, those early difficulties helped Diane strengthen her resolve, and in 1995 she opened her hair and barber salon, Dinamic Cuts, with little more than word-of-mouth advertising and determination.

“I was old school,” says Diane, who recalled that her salon didn’t even have a phone when she first launched.

Diane’s relationship-driven business model survived for decades through personal grit, but in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to close. However, that setback proved temporary, as Diane tapped into her personal fortitude and took steps to reopen, including advising from the Shenandoah Valley SBDC.

“That’s when I met Business Advisor Diane McCarthy,” Diane Madden relates. “I needed to connect with someone who saw my vision; Diane [McCarthy] really did.”

With updated business tools and techniques, McCarthy took Diane’s business from old school to top of the class in two years. First, McCarthy helped Diane acquire a small local grant to purchase touchless soap, sanitizer and towel dispensers. Next, the SBDC offered Diane support to apply for a Comcast RISE grant.

“The RISE grant gave me $10,000 that provided a desktop computer, a year of internet service, two phone lines, a fax line and iPad,” Diane says. “I also got a Square POS system to take card payments and manage sales, inventory and appointments.”

The SBDC offered more ideas on updating the salon, including lighting and a new sign. Diane procured another local grant – for $3,000, awarded in September 2022 – that she will use for the new outdoor sign.

With help from McCarthy and the SBDC’s webinars, Diane learned how to build a website and market on social media. McCarthy also helped restructure Dinamic Cuts into an LLC.

“When I got my computer, Diane [McCarthy] sat down with me and showed me how to use it,” Diane relates. “I keep all the webinars so I can review them. If you take the knowledge presented and apply it, things will happen for your business.”

Previously the sole employee at Dinamic Cuts, Diane recently added a barber. Her optimism, paired with the SBDC’s expertise, point toward the hiring of new employees in the near future.

“I’m living testimony to what the SBDC can do,” Diane concludes. “Help is there at the SBDC. All you have to do is listen — and not give up!”

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Unique Styles & Designs Floral Boutique

SBDC advice grows floral boutique in Martinsville

Grant for over $1770 and a 50% increase in business.

https://www.uniquestylesfloralboutique.com/ 

Shatera Robertson, owner of Unique Styles & Designs Floral Boutique in Uptown Martinsville, built a successful business over the past year with facts and expert guidance. She credits the Longwood SBDC for providing the information that led to that success.

“The key to anything you do in life is wisdom and knowledge,” Shatera says.

Shatera began her journey into floral design 14 years ago with a birthday party for her daughter.

“My interest in doing events grew from there,” she adds. “I actually started my business in 2016.”

Her goal was a storefront location, and during the pandemic, she learned of a vacancy in Uptown Martinsville. After six months of renovations, Shatera held a formal grand opening in June 2021.

“I first met Longwood SBDC Business Analyst Michael Scales when he came to my opening event,” Shatera relates. “He seemed very knowledgeable about business.”

Shatera emailed Michael to see if she could learn more.

“I made an appointment, and he told me about the SBDC services that could help my business grow,” Shatera adds. “He also told me about the Startup Martinsville-Henry County (Startup-MHC) and Grow Martinsville-Henry County (Grow-MHC) programs, so I decided to enroll.”

Startup-MHC and Grow-MHC are mentoring programs that help establish new businesses and grow existing ones through “business boot camps” and have graduated 283 participants since 2016. Michael is a co-facilitator for both mentoring programs.

“Going through the GROW program helped a lot,” Shatera comments. “We received information that a lot of business owners don’t have a clue about. We learned about networking with other business owners, important tax tips and how to write business plans.”

At the conclusion of the program, Shatera presented her business plan to a panel of experts. The result was a grant for over $1,770.

“When I opened my business last year, I financed everything myself,” Shatera says with a note of pride. “I’m a registered nurse and was able to work extra hours in the emergency room during the pandemic to fund my business.”

Since she connected with the SBDC, Shatera has seen a 50 percent increase in that business.

Planning for the future, Shatera is certain of one thing: the SBDC will be front and center.

“The SBDC gave me the information and motivation to keep going and grow,” she concludes. “I recommend the SBDC to other business owners so they can grow as well.”

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The Dog-Eared Page

The SBDC helps launch a dream in Danville

$25,000 grant from Danville’s River District Association’s Dream Launch program.

Facebook Page

Catherine Carter turned the page on a new career when she started a book club to help coworkers deal with the pandemic. Now, with help from the Longwood SBDC and Danville’s Dream Launch program, she has her own bookstore, The Dog-Eared Page.

It started with a dream to open a place for book clubs to meet and buy books. When Catherine learned about Danville’s Dream Launch program, it seemed like fate.

“I contacted Kelvin Perry, Danville’s project manager for economic development, and he encouraged me to apply,” Catherine relates.

The Dream Launch program, sponsored by Danville’s River District Association, features a six-week bootcamp and grant money presented to winners of a business pitch competition.

“Lin Hite, Kelvin Perry, and Michael Duncan from the SBDC all taught classes,” Catherine explains. “Lin, my mentor, helped me with a business plan and pitch for the competition. Throughout the whole experience I felt nothing but support.”

That preparation paid off. The pitch Catherine presented was awarded a $25,000 grant that enabled her to launch her dream.

“Danville hadn’t had a bookstore since I was in elementary school,” she relates.

The bookstore’s location on Main Street in Danville’s downtown revitalization district was also a plus for Catherine.

“It’s awesome to be part of what’s happening downtown,” she adds. “It’s rewarding to see people coming back downtown.”

In addition to the grant, Catherine received a loan from a local bank.

“The River District decided I needed more capital and connected me with American National Bank,” she says. “I didn’t expect to get support from bankers!”

Catherine continues to be amazed by support from the community.

“During our grand opening the store was packed,” Catherine recalls. “It’s a day I’ll never forget.”

Now open six months, The Dog-Eared Page is thankful for continued SBDC support.

“SBDC consultants still call and come by,” Catherine explains. “When I first opened, Lin Hite prepared me for lower volume months ahead. Due to that advice the shop isn’t struggling now.”

Catherine readily recommends the SBDC.

“Even after the doors of a business are open, the SBDC is there to help you,” she concludes. “I’m eternally grateful for that support.”

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In-Depth Productions

Turning passion into profit with the SBDC

$15,000 award from the Town of Blackstone; 3 employees.

https://www.indepthproductions.work/

In-Depth Productions’ is opened for business on Main Street in Blackstone. Partnering with the Longwood SBDC, Carl Bassfield turned a passion for photography into a profitable business.

In-Depth Productions, a full-fledged media company, now offers photography and cinematography as well as music engineering and production services.

“Photography is just something I’ve always loved,” Carl explains.

Carl started taking photos at his church with his iPhone. Later, while working at Fort Pickett, he picked up more skills.

“I wanted my passion for photography to become a reliable source of income,” he adds.

Carl took a step in that direction last year when he signed up for the CO.STARTERS Core program, a joint effort of the Longwood SBDC and Downtown Blackstone, Inc. CO.STARTERS Core is a three-month, cohort-based program that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships, and tools needed to turn ideas into action and turn a passion into a sustainable and thriving endeavor. The program has become a community staple of the regional GO Virginia initiative – RISE Collaborative.

“About 10 to 15 business people took that 10-week course led by SBDC consultants Brandon Hennessey and Katherine Beale,” Carl explains. “We were a very diverse group, but we helped each other grow.”

Topics ranged from finances to analyzing the market to finding target customers. At the completion of the course, each business was offered a chance to compete for a portion of a prize pool offered by the Town of Blackstone.

Cash awards totaling $46,000 were distributed to five business owners; In-Depth Productions received second place and $15,000, which Carl used for equipment and to set up his new Main Street location.

Carl’s biggest take away from the program was a better understanding of a successful business structure.

“I went into the program with a lot of ideas that I was trying to do all at once,” he relates. “I had to realize that I couldn’t do it all myself.”

Subsequently he turned over the video work to a videographer and added a music technician to round out his staff of three full-time employees and three sub-contractors.

Carl readily recommends the SBDC to others.

“I look at Katherine and Brandon as extended family,” he concludes. “The SBDC provides you with life-long resources. Having continued access to those resources — I consider that invaluable.”

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A New World of Learning Bilingual Academy

SBDC connections help bilingual academy grow

Received $43,000 in grants: Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan for $10,000; Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) grant totaling $10,000; and Department of Education CARES Aid totaling $23,000.

https://www.nwlbilingualacademy.com/

Sandra Eduardo and daughter Ebony Vargas possess the qualifications and experience to operate an early childhood education center. They lacked a business plan that would allow expansion and growth. When Hampton Roads SBDC Advisor Bill Holloran joined the mother-daughter duo, a plan for growth took shape.

“My mother was an educator for 25 years and wanted to share her Hispanic culture and native tongue,” Ebony says, remembering A New World of Learning Bilingual Academy’s launch in January 2018. “I was in college and wanted to learn about being a business owner. During an SBDC-sponsored course for child care facilities, Bill was assigned to be our mentor.”

When the pandemic arrived in 2020, that educational course, as well as plans for expansion, were put on hold.

“When things opened up again, Bill reached out,” Ebony explains. “He was a phenomenal mentor and immediately helped us apply for relief grant funding.”

Those connections resulted in grants through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) totaling $10,000; Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) for Hampton Roads totaling $10,000; and four rounds of Department of Education Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES act) totaling $23,000.

Bill also helped Sandra and Ebony make practical connections.

“Bill connected us to a science firm that provided us with a laser jet printer with a lifetime guarantee,” Ebony continues. “He also suggested a USDA subsidy that reimbursed food purchased for the school.”

Today the Learning Academy’s most pressing issue is expansion. The school is thriving, and a larger facility has become a necessity. The SBDC’s projections helped set an expansion plan in motion, and Ebony and Sandra’s partnership with the SBDC has grown alongside their business.

“We have three waiting lists,” Ebony notes. “Our current location accommodates 30 preschoolers with six older children before and after school. Bill showed us the fundamentals of business growth. Currently, we’re working with a loan officer to find a property we can own.”

With the SBDC on their side, Sandra and Ebony are confident of success.

“This process would have been five times harder without the SBDC connecting us to all these resources,” Ebony says.

“The SBDC is always looking out for us,” Sandra adds. “Support is very important, and the SBDC supports us 100 percent!”

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Blue Dragon Publishing, LLC

The Virginia SBDC salutes Small Business Veteran of the Year

When the Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year Award was established 22 years ago, the SBDC had someone like Dawn Brotherton in mind — a veteran whose business ownership has made a significant contribution to the economy and a difference in the community.

Comments Jolie Spiers, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC, made during the 2022 Virginia SBDC Veteran of the Year presentation, summed up the award’s criteria.

“Dawn Brotherton, owner of Blue Dragon Publishing, is a decorated veteran,” the SBDC Director noted. “She is also a distinguished business owner and a dedicated citizen of Hampton Roads who supports our community organizations.”

As an employer, Blue Dragon Publishing, LLC., is a certified Virginia Values Veterans (V3) company and champions hiring veterans. She takes on interns through the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, the College of William and Mary, Christopher Newport University, and James Madison University. Dawn also supports community organizations such as the summer reading program in Newport News; Bacon Street Youth and Family Services; Williamsburg Book Festival; Richmond Book Lovers’ Festival; and Rappahannock Writers’ Conference.

Dawn, who retired as an Air Force colonel, transitioned into the publishing business in 2010 for a practical reason — she wrote a book and wanted to publish it.

“During my first duty assignment in the Air Force, a stalker broke into my house,” she explains.

That experience inspired Dawn’s first book, The Obsession, which sparked the start of her publishing business. She didn’t want to simply self-publish; she wanted to create professionally published books. The recent release of her fifteenth book attests to the focus on professionalism and shows how much her company has grown since she launched it more than a decade ago.

“A few years after I started my company, people started coming to me for advice,” she notes. “When I decided to take on clients, that’s when I went to the SBDC.”

“Once a month, an SBDC advisor came to the Williamsburg Launch Pad, a place dedicated to working with new business owners,” Dawn recalls. “It was really helpful to bounce ideas around with him.”

Those idea sessions bounced back with benefits.

“To date, I’ve helped over 80 authors through Blue Dragon,” Dawn says.

When Dawn was ready to expand, she went back to the Hampton Roads SBDC for advice. They talked her through the paperwork required for payroll and best hiring practices.

“When COVID hit, I decided to shift gears and offer coaching to people who wanted to publish instead,” she relates. “I don’t have a marketing background and honestly hated that part of the business. Now I’m having much more fun helping writers become authors.”

Combining her coaching skills with her military background, Dawn recently launched a new project on behalf of the Women Veterans Alliance titled “Sisters in Arms: Inspiring Future Generations.” Dawn says the goal of the anthology is to inspire women veterans to share their experiences with women joining or considering joining the military.

For the writers, it’s about more than getting published. It’s about learning how to be an author, and that includes working with a writers’ group to give and receive feedback.

“Being part of a team is an absolute requirement,” she says.

From her time in the Air Force to her work with the SBDC, a team-centered approach has been a constant throughout Dawn’s career. It’s a valuable asset, Dawn says, and one she encourages others to pursue.

“I’ve recommended the SBDC many times,” she concludes. “The SBDC is a great resource when you need them.”

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Dogma Grooming + Pet Needs

Mission possible: From employees to business owners with the SBDC

Received $180K loan; retained 13 employees.

https://www.dogmagrooming.com/

Megan Solomon and Rhiannon Gamble, dog groomers for 13 and 17 years respectively at Dogma Grooming in Richmond’s Carytown district, considered owning a business to be little more than a dream. However, with help from the Capital Region SBDC, their dream became reality in August 2022.

“We both worked at Dogma and loved the small business feel there — we’d found our niche,” Megan says.

That niche was obvious to Dogma’s owner, who looked to Megan and Rhiannon when she decided to sell the business.

“The owner mentored us for a year,” Megan continues. “She was the one who recommended the SBDC.”

It was good advice; helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams is the SBDC’s mission. The business partners contacted SBDC Business Advisor Charese Chambers, who offered encouragement, business basics, and financial projections.

“Charese was wonderful,” Megan says. “She was in constant contact throughout the acquisition process and showed us the ins and outs of getting started. She helped with our business plan, explained lease renewals and put us in contact with the right people.”

Following the SBDC’s pointers, Megan and Rhiannon were approved for a $180,000 bank loan and added $20,000 in owner investment.

“Charese showed us ways to raise funds for our investment as well as how to deal with loan details,” Megan notes.

The business came with 13 employees,. “Fortunately we had employee experience and looked at our employees as family — some have been here over 10 years,” Megan says. “We do have a bookkeeper, and Rhiannon helps with payroll.”

Future plans include taking SBDC classes to add to their business ownership knowledge.

“We plan to hold steady for a year or two before expanding,” Megan adds. “If we stay on the same path we’ve been on, we’ll be fine.”

Megan and Rhiannon don’t hesitate to recommend the SBDC.

“We didn’t know an organization like the SBDC existed,” Megan concluded. “It’s an awesome resource for employees like Rhiannon and me who never thought we could own a business. I hope we can inspire other women to do the same.”

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LAT Dentistry

LAT Dentistry inspires healthy smiles with a little guidance from the SBDC

Received $550,000 in loans; created 1 part-time and 2 full-time jobs.

https://www.latdentistry.com/

In March of 2022, LAT Dentistry opened its doors to a purposefully different dental experience in Roanoke. Since the practice’s beginnings, founder and dentist Dr. Lindsay Thorn set a vision: to make every patient feel heard. Her intentional, personalized approach puts relationships at the heart of her business, empowering patients to take control of their long-term wellness.

“I’d worked at a handful of different offices, and I just realized that I had more to offer,” Lindsay says. “I wanted to spend more time with people to get to know them and not feel so rushed. I got to a point where I was like, I really think that there’s a different way to go about delivering dentistry.”

With more than a decade of experience, a DMD in dentistry, a master’s degree in microbiology and immunology, and a bachelor’s in chemistry, Lindsay possesses a wealth of professional knowledge. As she began to navigate the complex process of launching a small business, a friend introduced Lindsay to Roanoke Regional SBDC Advisor Tom Tanner, who helped her begin a new journey of entrepreneurship.

“Tom walked me through every step of the process and made it feel easy and simple,” says Lindsay. “He was also really good about putting me in touch with other local business owners.”

Tom helped her find an appropriate location and analyze demographics. He introduced Lindsay to Roanoke’s small-business network, including real estate brokers and marketing professionals. The SBDC completed a complete review of LAT Dentistry’s social media campaigns and mailers, which was crucial for business growth.

“The marketing team connected us to similar businesses so that we could see what they had done,” Lindsay explains. “Our initial influx of patients were people that followed us on social media. Now, most of our new patients come from Google reviews.”

Today LAT Dentistry treats between 30 and 40 patients per week. With one part-time and two full-time employees, Lindsay built a practice committed to increasing accessibility to dental care, especially for families. Her SMILE club membership offers all-inclusive preventative care, lower rates for children, and a 10% discount on additional services.

While Lindsay acknowledges that starting a small business has been a massive undertaking, feedback from her patients confirms her decision on a daily basis.

“Hearing them say that they really feel heard and cared about — not just pushed through — has been really affirming,” she explains.

With LAT Dentistry now thriving, Lindsay consults Tom and the SBDC on an as-needed basis. She has also referred her husband, who is in the process of launching his own small business in commercial construction, to the SBDC.

“I have friends who have gone through starting their own businesses and practices in other parts of the country, and I can’t tell you how much they’ve paid for legal counsel and other things that the SBDC provided for free,” says Lindsay.

She recommends the SBDC wholeheartedly, “It’s a major gem that’s hidden in the state of Virginia that everyone should know about.”

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Coffee Hound

Welcoming Connections Fuel Coffee Shop Success

Secured $25,000 Harrisonburg Economic Development Loan

Coffee Hound Facebook Page 

For entrepreneur Hailey Rogers, owning a coffee shop is about creating an environment that encourages interpersonal connections and being the best local small-batch roaster serving a variety of specialty coffees. At the Coffee Hound on South Mason Street in Harrisonburg, you will feel welcomed and so will your canine companion. The dog-friendly space is a nod to Hailey’s love for dogs and an additional way to make customers feel at home.

“I was inspired to open a coffee shop because of how the coffee shop environment brings people together. I wanted to have a neutral space where anyone and everyone could feel welcome,” says Hailey.

The road to small business ownership was a whirlwind for the Harrisonburg native, who took over the former Shenandoah Joe in November 2021.

When Hailey, the manager of Shenandoah Joe, was unexpectedly offered the opportunity to purchase the café, she knew it was a path to fulfilling her dream of being her own boss. But she quickly experienced several obstacles; including needing to secure adequate, immediate funding to make purchasing the business possible.

Enter Allison Dugan, a business advisor at the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center, who helped Hailey with the necessary steps to make Coffee Hound a reality.

A high-interest personal loan got Hailey started, but becoming an SBDC client helped her work out the kinks of business development.

Allison helped Hailey form a business plan in order to apply for a loan through Harrisonburg Economic Development.

Hailey says, “Allison Dugan provided me with every necessary document I needed to complete my loan application. I found the cash flow projections she provided and helped me fill out to be extremely helpful.”

Hailey, who emphasizes the personal touch as part of her business philosophy, found that a personal connection with Allison was a definite plus. “Allison was always professional and able to answer any questions I had. She worked with my schedule to find time to meet with me via Zoom and give necessary feedback on my work. Her dedication to my success was apparent throughout every conversation we had.”

She goes on to recommend that other small business owners take advantage of the one-on-one counseling available through the SBDC, “Having an advisor right there with me to give input while I worked through what my business needed was crucial to my success.”

When you visit Coffee Hound, make sure to say hi to Gatsby, the Italian greyhound that inspired the name!

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