Category: Years

Henry’s Produce & Market

The SBDC and Henry’s Produce grow business in Duffield

Received $6,500 award from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) and a $25,000 Virginia Food Access Investment Fund (VFAIF) Grant; created 4 jobs.

After losing his job due to COVID cutbacks early in the pandemic, Henry Morris returned to what he knew best — selling produce. He credits the Mountain Empire Community College SBDC for making Henry’s Produce and Market the thriving success it is today.

“I’ve been in produce most of my life,” Henry says. “I sold produce with my father from the back of an old station wagon when I was 10.”

Henry’s latest venture started in Duffield, with three tables, two tents and — as his wife, Renee, put it — a dream.

“Customers told us about Becki O’Quinn at the SBDC,” Henry relates. “She’s helped us like no other!”

Becki’s first step was advising Henry and Renee on putting together a business plan.

“It’s great to have a dream, but getting it on paper makes it real,” Renee says.

Next, Becki helped Renee write a grant application. The result was a $6,500 award from the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA). This award allowed Henry and Renee to purchase a heating and cooling unit, walk in cooler, roadside and other signs, which bolstered the business.

Henry and Renee additionally applied for and received a $25,000 Virginia Food Access Investment Fund (VFAIF) Grant, which is a program that aims to improve fresh food availability in low-income areas. This allowed them to upgrade their building with additional walls, insulation, and a covered porch.

Together, these improvements have allowed Henry’s Produce to operate year-round with produce procured from Florida and Georgia during the winter months.

“We also started the Virginia Fresh Match, a program to discount fresh produce 50 percent for customers using an EBT card,” Renee says. “I’ve had customers cry when they got a bushel of beans for $24.”

In July 2021, Henry’s Produce marked a successful first year with a visit by Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Joseph Guthrie.

“Mr. Guthrie was pleased with what we’d done,” Renee notes.

Others in the community have also noticed their efforts. Henry’s Produce now supports four employees and created a local hub for fresh foods. The business continues to successfully grow.

“Becki told us other businesses have looked at us and said, ‘If Henry can do it, we can do it!’” says Renee.

Henry and Renee are pleased that Henry’s Produce has shown others what a successful business in Duffield looks like and inspiring them on their own entrepreneurship journeys.

“We couldn’t have done it without the SBDC,” Henry concluded. “The SBDC is a fantastic organization — we hope it’s around forever.”

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JD Ross Consulting

The SBDC helps JD Ross Consulting stay local and grow

Purchased their own building, increased the number of employees by 4 and expect 2022 income of more than $600,000.

Johnathan Ross launched his software development company, JD Ross Consulting (JDRC), with two goals: keep it small and stay local. With the assistance of the University of Mary Washington SBDC, he achieved both these goals and surpassed them.

“In the past I worked for big companies where people were just a number,” Johnathan says. “I wanted a business that would be more personal.”

To achieve the small-town feel, Johnathan consulted UMW SBDC Director Susan Ball. She showed him the value of purchasing property and connected him with the right people to grow his business.

“I met Susan at a symposium, and out of the blue she asked, ‘Hey Johnathan — want to buy a building?’” Johnathan relates. “That had never crossed my mind, but I started thinking about it — six months later we bought a building!”

After receiving valuable guidance on property insurance coverage and deeding, Johnathan contacted the SBDC for advice on another venture, a nonprofit to provide a safe space for local teens to engage in eSports. With extra space in the new building, JDRC decided to expand its community involvement policy.

“Since I didn’t know how to start a nonprofit, I asked Susan,” Johnathan says. “She gave me the steps I needed to follow.”

SportingNextLevel, which includes a youth soccer program, will launch later this year.

To date Johnathan is pleased with the growth of his company and nonprofit venture.

“JDRC started with one employee, and now we’re up to six,” he says. “Business is really starting to snowball — we anticipate income of more than $600,000 in 2022.”

Johnathan credits the SBDC with providing business details needed to help his business grow.

“I knew how to do government contracts, but I didn’t know how to set up Quickbooks or pay taxes,” he adds.

Johnathan readily recommends the SBDC.

“I tell other business people who ask about our success to check out the SBDC and have a consultation,” Johnathan concludes. “The SBDC will definitely benefit anyone starting a business.”

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MSM Technology

The SBDC mentors MSM Technology through reset and growth

Created 61 new jobs and achieved $4 million in sales growth in 2021; increased staff to 100 and nearly tripled sales growth in 2022.

Armed with an extensive background in IT and project management, Manisha Morris felt confident about opening MSM Technology in 2004. However, as her infrastructure modernization company expanded, Manisha discovered that growing a small business required guidance. Wisely, she contacted Timm Johnson, Director of the Mason SBDC.

“I reached out with a plea for help,” says Manisha, who has spent 18 of her 25-plus years in the IT field as president of MSM. “By 2021, MSM Technology was up to 35 employees and growing. I needed a resource to help prepare for doubling or tripling my company.”

When Manisha initially launched her business, she worked on a single IBM contract for ten years. But as her business expanded, so did her workforce and, by extension, her responsibilities as a business owner.

“In 2018 I decided to take a step back and restart the company,” she explains. “I needed to know how to grow the back-office infrastructure to support the growth we were experiencing. As a business owner, I needed an advisor.”

Timm easily stepped into that role.

“Our first conversations were about basic things like loans and a line of credit,” Manisha relates. “I was worried about making payroll if we won a large contract.”

That foresight paid off, and when opportunity came calling recently, Manisha’s work with Timm and the SBDC put her in a position to succeed.

“We just won a $70 million contract that needed staffing in three weeks,” Manisha relates. “Thanks to the SBDC’s help we now have a great recruiting team and were able to meet those staffing needs.”

The SBDC also helped Manisha revamp the company’s accounting system to align with the Defense Contract Audit Agency’s (DCAA) standards. Additionally, Timm assisted with setting up a spreadsheet solution for transferring data from payroll into accounting.

Through 2021 MSM’s growth continued, adding 61 new jobs and realizing a sales growth of $4 million.

“In 2022 our staff has increased to 100 employees, and sales have probably tripled from the $4 million last year,” Manisha comments.

Now that she’s discovered the SBDC, Manisha plans to keep that connection.

“The SBDC offers help wherever you are — from a company with one employee to a business like mine with 100 employees,” she concludes. “On every level, the SBDC is an invaluable resource.”

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Liquet Medical

SBDC advice helps Liquet Medical improve critical care

Invested $650K in personal assets into the business.

When John Schindler and Derek Hall co-founded Liquet Medical in 2020, their goal was to develop a medical device that gave ICU doctors better options to treat patients who were critically ill with vascular disease. But while their technology was certainly revolutionary, they launched the business with more than profit in mind.

“My mother passed away from a pulmonary embolism in 1971, so I had a personal attachment to this technology,” John explains.

In 2020 John and Derek started Liquet Medical, a company centered on an innovative medical device that treats both lungs simultaneously. Placed in a patient’s lungs, the Versus Catheter provides real-time pressure monitoring that allows for better critical care decisions.

Designing new technology while growing a business from the ground up is no small feat. Throughout the process, John and Derek sought startup support and business development assistance from two important resources: the Virginia SBDC Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP) and Central Virginia SBDC.

“Before we were entrepreneurs, we both had strengths in sales and marketing,” Derek notes.

Before launching Liquet Medical, the two innovators had worked together for multiple companies in the vascular field. John’s activities revolved around new market creation for emerging technology and product development, while Derek specialized in biomedical engineering.

“ICAP helped us strategically early on,” John comments. “ICAP’s Life Science Mentor William McPheat gave us a great introduction on ways to build our company and advised us on key elements to present to the medical community.”

ICAP, under the SBDC network, offers an intensive startup assistance program that includes one-on-one advising from experienced ICAP mentors.

Central Virginia SBDC Director Rebecca Haydock provided connections and offered advice on investor presentations.

“Rebecca was instrumental in prepping us for meetings with investor groups,” John relates. “Rebecca advised us on how to tell our story, which was very helpful.”

While the Versus Catheter is currently in an estimated nine months of clinical trials, the Virginia SBDC team stand ready to help the company move into its next phase.

“ICAP and the SBDC helped us create a solid foundation to build the company into the future,” John adds.

That future will include marketing and a permanent location.

“We look forward to Virginia SBDC assistance as we establish a brick-and-mortar location and hire local talent,” Derek says. “It’s great to know we can rely on these ongoing resources.”

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Inspired By The Dress

Inspired By The Dress relocates, grows thanks to SBDC pitch competition prize

Won $15,000 pitch competition prize; opened downtown brick-and-mortar store.

Teri Butler sewed her own wedding dress at age 19. Years later, she purchased the same fabric to design her daughter’s wedding gown, which became the debut dress for Inspired By The Dress, a design studio for custom creations and wedding gowns Teri started in her home in 2013.

“That was when I thought, ‘I really enjoy making brides look beautiful,” Teri recalls. “Any body — and I mean body shape or size — can wear a beautiful garment if it’s made and designed for that shape. I am really drawn to making every body look good in what they choose to wear.”

Like any small business owner launching a new venture, Teri navigated personal and professional obstacles. At different points, she pulled back and stopped advertising, but word of her beautiful designs kept brides knocking on her door. When Teri connected with the Central Virginia SBDC in 2022, her business blossomed.

Teri applied for the Scottsville Community Business Launch program run by the Central Virginia SBDC in collaboration with Community Investment Collaborative (CIC) and the Town of Scottsville. Alongside a cohort of entrepreneurs, she attended seven training programs that covered topics like marketing, branding, pricing and recordkeeping.

What Teri did not realize when enrolling was that the program’s final week included a pitch competition. Her program advisor, Central Virginia SBDC Assistant Director Greg Dorazio, helped Teri build a business plan and practice her final pitch.

“Greg helped me do some local research on the Charlottesville/Albemarle County area,” Teri explains. “We wanted to focus on how Inspired By The Dress could benefit the Scottsville community and support local businesses.”

Greg was Teri’s business advisor and cheerleader.

“We really connected,” Teri recalls. “He absolutely wanted my success, and he felt the energy that I had for this dream and this desire to be successful.”

Teri’s pitch won her a $15,000 prize, which she used to lease a storefront in Downtown Scottsville and rebuild her website. She is currently planning for a future where her studio can be a place for aspiring designers to learn the artisan skills of dressmaking and pattern-drafting.

Teri continues to work with the SBDC as she receives brides by appointment in Scottsville. SBDC advisor Ellen Martin assists her in managing QuickBooks and her payment system. In Teri’s opinion, the SBDC is a well-kept secret that should not be so well kept. She is working to spread the word.

“I tell everyone that if you’re an entrepreneur, you need to check them out,” she says. “It really is a wealth of resources.”

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Amplitude9’s robotic team upgrades the workplace with innovative solutions from the Virginia SBDC-ICAP program

Achieved 200% growth in 3 years; acquired 9 clients.

Amplitude9‘s Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology can reduce data-entering processes from 16 hours to 25 minutes. To make this happen, the company employs digital assistants to help perform mundane tasks previously completed by humans.

Anthony Fung, former Deputy Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, spent much of his career driving opportunities for new technologies to help with government operations. In 2019 he launched Amplitude9 to offer digital solutions to increase employee productivity, cut organizational costs, and improve service delivery.

“Using RPA allows employees to focus on tasks of higher value to their organization,” Anthony says.

With assistance from the team of digital assistants, the Mason SBDC and the Virginia SBDC’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP), Amplitude9 is working to change today’s workplace. Amplitude9 is currently experiencing rapid growth – 200 percent in several key indicators – in the process.

To market his concept to prospective clients, Anthony turned to the SBDC’s ICAP program, which offers expertise in launching innovation-focused companies. He worked with Mason SBDC Director Timm Johnson and ICAP Director Josh Green. Timm advised Anthony on strategy, discussed concepts around building a robotics business, and worked with Anthony on finance, market analysis and digital marketing.

ICAP provided key pieces of guidance on customer discovery.

“Mason Mentors helped me identify my core market customer base,” Anthony notes. “Both the SBDC and ICAP advised me on future growth.”

That future growth includes plans for a “bot store” where Amplitude9 customers can easily purchase their own off-the-shelf robots.

“With a bot store, customers could pull a bot off the shelf and very quickly realize the benefits,” Anthony says.

Amplitude9 has already achieved impressive growth. In three years, the business has acquired nine clients, including George Mason University, and has experienced a growth of 200 percent. As the company continues to thrive, Anthony plans to keep the SBDC relationship and confer with the ICAP mentors as the company scales in growth.

“The SBDC is available and ready to offer valuable advice,” Anthony concludes. “As the CEO of a small business, I find it helpful to have the perspective of experienced entrepreneurs.”

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Thinkblot Behavioral Sciences

The SBDC helps Thinkblot build community security

Received $100K loan; saw $165K sales growth; created 4 jobs.

Thinkblot Behavioral Sciences CEO and Founder Serena Castelda left the teaching profession for a career aimed at addressing the concerns of an anxious world. A key component of that work is screening, assessing and selecting employees in high-trust positions, including public safety and government agencies.

“What we do is important work,” Serena says. “We do a lot of law enforcement, EMT and firefighter screenings. In today’s climate, we need to know that people protecting us are psychologically sound.”

Thinkblot currently provides screening for the City of Alexandria, Fairfax, and Prince William counties, and the smaller towns of Herndon and Vienna. They also serve private security firms in addition to the county and local contracts. The company offers behavioral science research, workforce resilience, leadership development and coaching, mental health counseling, insider threat mitigation, and survey design.

Serena’s husband, Bryan, serves as operations manager and senior psychologist, while Serena manages the business. She does that with the SBDC at her side, leaning on Mason SBDC Director Timm Johnson throughout her entrepreneurial journey.

“When you leave one career for another, you don’t always know which end is up,” she says. “Timm always pointed me up.”

Early on, Timm assisted Thinkblot with an acquisition of another practice in the same industry, advising on the structure and negotiation of the deal, financing and steps for post-integration. He also assisted Thinkblot on soliciting bids through county requests for proposals (RFPs), provided periodic reviews of the company’s accounting, and offered next steps for promising contracts.

“It’s like having a business advisor invested in your success,” Serena says.

However, Timm and the SBDC’s contributions to Thinkblot’s success have gone well beyond that acquisition. Since partnering with the SBDC, Serena has expanded Thinkblot’s mission substantially through capital investments nearing $200,000, the creation of four new jobs, and $165,000 in sales growth.

“The SBDC is one of the reasons we’re here today,” Serena concludes. “At the SBDC you’ll learn things you need to know from someone who has the experience to help your business grow.”

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Toasters Deli

Toasters Deli serves up bagels and community with support from the SBDC

Raised $80,000 in capital; created 7 jobs and built a strong online presence.

Growing up in the back of his dad’s Brooklyn pizzeria, Joe LaMonaca cultivated a taste for the culinary arts and close-knit relationships. Today, he’s brought an authentic, New York-style neighborhood deli to the small town of Hillsville, serving up delicious, scratch-made bagels with a heaping side of community.

Soon after launching Toasters Deli in April 2021, Joe sought marketing support from Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC Advisor Teresa Catron.

“We started to build a relationship,” Joe explains. “She’s given me a lot of insight and information on different marketing channels.”

Teresa’s advice initially helped Joe connect directly with his audience through mailers and social media. Long-term goals include increasing online presence and community support.

For Joe, the work of developing community comes naturally. As a vendor with the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for the City of Galax, he spent eight months providing meals for the local nonprofit God’s Storehouse and Soup Kitchen. For the deli’s six-month anniversary, he donated 15 percent of the company’s net profit from that day to the town’s inclusive playground project, Britni’s Discovery Park. Recently, Joe has begun donating cookies and milk to the Carroll County Public Library’s story time.

“You gotta take care of the kids,” he says. “It’s nothing big. It doesn’t cost me much, but it puts a smile on all the kids’ faces.”

Joe’s community engagement has garnered Hillsville’s support. However, recent inflation has posed a major challenge for his business, with costs rising 60 percent. That has prompted Joe to develop more environmentally friendly practices, including switching plastic containers for fully compostable sugarcane boxes and purchasing fresh produce from local orchards.

“We try our best to be good stewards of the earth and the community,” he explains.

As Toasters Deli pivots to meet recent challenges, the Blue Ridge Crossroads SBDC has supported Joe with industry research, marketing guidance, and training on tools such as Facebook, Google My Business, Yelp and Tripadvisor.

In turn, Joe has built a strong online presence and created seven jobs, retaining happy employees during a time when many businesses have struggled with labor shortages.

“One of the best assets you have as a business owner is the great people around you,” Joe explains. “Toasters is helping to support them, and the community is helping to support us.”

Toasters Deli continues to thrive, in large part due to Joe’s ability to cultivate relationships with his employees, his community and the SBDC, which he readily recommends to potential business owners.

“The SBDC is a great tool with a lot of information and a lot of helpful people. It’s a very good idea to be connected with them if you’re going to open a new business.”

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Turkish Coffee Lady

Turkish Coffee Lady brews success with the Alexandria SBDC

Received $215,000 in grants from the SBA Restaurant Revitalization Fund and transitioned from an online business to a successful brick-and-mortar shop in Old Town Alexandria.

Gizem Salcigil White’s venture into business literally started on the road. Like any road trip, she encountered several barriers, potholes, and unexpected detours along the way. However, with guidance from the Alexandria SBDC, the Turkish coffee enthusiast and award-winning entrepreneur ultimately found an ideal location for her business, Turkish Coffee Lady, in Old Town Alexandria.

“It all started as a nonprofit cultural diplomacy project and a coffee truck,” Gizem explains.

Fueled by a desire to share the unique Turkish coffee culture with the world, Gizem road-tested her business idea by traveling around the United States, Canada, and Europe dispensing free Turkish coffee. Her ultimate goal was a coffee shop where cultures and friends could meet.

“I wanted to bridge cultures one coffee at a time,” she says. “A Turkish coffee shop is where people meet over coffee and become friends — something we really need these days.”

Gizem started her business plan with the SBDC at the Community Business Partnership in Springfield and opened a brick-and-mortar store in Tyson’s Corner in 2017. As it turned out, that first venture was anything but smooth.

Gizem halted her entrepreneurial journey after being diagnosed with breast cancer, which led her to return to Turkey to seek surgery and chemotherapy. Once recovered, she returned to Virginia to restart her business but soon had to face a different health crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic forced Gizem to close down her business, but she refused to cut her journey short. She applied for and received a Small Business Administration (SBA) Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant and, with $215,000 in hand, she contacted the Alexandria SBDC.

“The SBDC was a great help,” she says. “Old Town is a historic area with many regulations. Assistant Director Gloria Flanagan connected me with the right people to get the permits I needed.”

Additionally, Program Services Director Philomena Fitzgerald offered advice on marketing strategies and engaging the media.

“Gloria and Philomena are life-savers,” Gizem reports. “If they hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have made it this far.”

Since opening in January 2022, The Turkish Coffee Lady’s success has continued to grow.

“I’m so grateful for the SBDC,” Gizem concludes. “Because the SBDC cared about me and my vision, I’m now able to pursue the dream I have for my business.”

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Adage Innovations

Adage Innovations steps up to success with the SBDC

Awarded an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) of $24,000; Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) Loan of $24,000; and a $10,000 Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) grant from Fairfax County; created 15 jobs.

When Adrien Douard launched his own business in 2012, it was a one-man show. Six years later, to set his company up for success, Adrien reached out to the SBDC at the Community Business Partnership in Springfield.

With the SBDC’s support, Adage Innovations has taken off and now employs 15 people and services an impressive list of customers from American Airlines to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, US Department of Health and Human Services, Appraisal Subcommittee. Like most entrepreneurial enterprises, the company started with one man’s ambitions.

First educated in Senegal, West Africa, Adrien received a grant as top student in computer sciences and pursued his engineering education in France where he was named one of ten engineers to work on an international project for American Airlines.

“We were the first generation of engineers of the global travel reservation system, Sabre,” he notes. With Sabre’s work completed, Adrien pondered his next steps.

“I wanted to deal with customers directly, so I decided to step into the shoes of an entrepreneur,” he says.

From 2012 to 2018, Adrien was Adage Innovations’ sole employee. In 2018 he contacted the SBDC for advice on ownership and diversity certifications, and much more.

“Since 2018 I’ve worked with SBDC Director Vijay Vaswani,” Adrien relates. “Among other things, I needed advice on becoming an 8(a)-certified company and contracting with the public sector.”

As Adrien realized the possibilities for his company’s growth, he signed up for multiple SBDC training seminars and workshops.

“I attended seven or eight SBDC sessions,” he notes. “Through those presentations my questions were answered.”

Previously Adage Innovations relied on private financing, but when COVID-19 affected the landscape, Adrien applied for support, netting grants of $24,000 each from an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Fairfax County also awarded Adage Innovations a $10,000 Relief Initiative to Support Employers (RISE) grant.

“Overall, the SBDC’s guidance has been very helpful,” Adrien concludes. “We see the SBDC as a counseling partner. We listen to the experience of the SBDC consultants and leverage that advice to help our company grow.”

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