Since 1986, the Virginia Aquarium has offered a uniquely personal view of the marine environment. In 2020, when COVID challenged the aquarium’s mission, Director Cynthia Spanoulis wisely turned to the Hampton Roads SBDC for help.
Cynthia, who holds a master’s degree in public administration, started her career in economic development. It was her work for the Department of Economic Development that led her to the SBDC. “That’s where I met Jim Carroll, Executive Director of the Hampton Roads SBDC,” Cynthia relates.
When the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant for entertainment, museum, and theater venues was announced, Cynthia called the SBDC. “We’re a government entity and that made the process of applying more complicated,” she relates. “For example, they asked for a tax return, but the city of Virginia Beach doesn’t have one. Another challenge was to document payroll. What documents could I print from the city’s payroll system? I had a whole list of questions.”
The SBDC provided clarification on all of those questions. “Jim helped me with the nuances in language in the grant application,” Cynthia says. “We lost significant revenue due to COVID, so the SBDC’s help in applying for that grant was especially valuable.”
The aquarium received a grant for $4.5 million in July 2021, which presented an accounting problem. “July was the start of a new fiscal year, and I had to figure out which expenses to report in which fiscal year,” Cynthia adds. “Jim walked me through the accounting with that as well.”
Cynthia views the SBDC as the lifeline that connected the aquarium with much-needed grant funding to continue operations and implement COVID-related changes. “COVID did have a few shining lights,” Cynthia says. “With COVID, our educational programs all went virtual, so now we’re able to get programs into more school systems across the state. That’s always been a goal of mine.”
With the end of the pandemic not yet in sight, the aquarium plans to maintain its relationship with the SBDC. “I recently found out about another federal grant for entities that provide STEM education,” Cynthia says. “I plan to reach out to the SBDC about that as well.”
Cynthia enthusiastically recommends the SBDC. “If SBDC doesn’t have the information you’re looking for, they’ll find someone who does,” she concludes. “Whether you’re starting a new business or applying for a grant, SBDC’s advice and one-on-one assistance is invaluable.”