IN THE NEWS!!! – The 2011 NJSBDC Network Success Award Winners Pictures
· Technology Commercialization
As the first repeat winner in the history of the NJSBDC Success Awards program, Rick Weiss’ VioCare Technologies, Inc continues to grow, develop new products and land new grants. As anyone who has ever tried soon finds out, grants for small businesses are few and far between. However, the high technology arena is where federal programs make funds available for innovators like Rick. His company makes technology tools for health professionals, such as software for dieticians to track their patients’ eating habits.
Rick worked with Randy Harmon and the NJSBDC Technology Commercialization Center to get his business (incorporated as Princeton Multimedia Technologies, Inc., and doing business as VioCare Technologies) off the ground initially, winning a NJSBDC Success Award in 1998. He utilized Rutgers Business School’s MBA Team Consulting Program to assist with the businesses market analysis and has been developing new products and programs ever since.
Rick won a Small Business Innovation and Research (SBIR) grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop handheld technology for individual consumers to track their diet and physical activity. The long-term goal is to have someone determine his or her proper energy balance and intake for the day. According to Rick, the key to maintaining a healthy weight is quite simple: “If there is more coming in than going out you will gain weight.” He went on to explain that current research indicates that protein has the highest satiety (feeling full) factor of foods. He advises a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and soups (non-cream based) to feel full, eat less, and maintain a healthy weight.
Rick will soon have more data to test out his concepts and products. VioCare won a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease to run a two-year nutritional program for 50 subjects and up to 1,000 participants in Princeton. Part of the study will be to determine whether programs can be designed for large community groups that become self-sustainable.
VioCare is primarily a research and development company with a few commercial products for professionals. “Almost all of our R&D money is coming from grants,” said Rick. His two commercial products are ProNutra, which is used in major research centers around the county as a standard tool for metabolic feeding studies (where researchers with kitchens serve food to subjects) and VioScreen, a web-based online dietary assessment questionnaire that is used by clinicians such as dieticians to get information for counseling their patients.
· Procurement Services Program
Anisa Balwani left a corporate job to raise her family and worked with her husband Raj to open an information technology consulting company. Twenty years and 60 full-time employees later, Anisa is running the business with 60 percent ownership. Raj, on the other hand, has opened an upscale club in Woodbridge, not far from RCI Technologies, Inc in Iselin.
Anisa has a long history of working with NJSBDC Procurement Director Stephanie Burroughs, who has helped her maintain all the right certifications, registrations and connections necessary to do business with both the government (currently 30% of business, may go up to 40 percent with projected contracts) and private corporations. Both sectors are interested in Anisa’s certifications for their supplier diversity programs as well as her expertise.
Stephanie recently met with Jannelle Moody, RCI Technologies’ business development person, to identify leads and discuss the current status of the company’s private contracts with such major players as AT&T, SBC, Citibank, Englehardt and Unilever. Stephanie called up the NJSAVI database to check on the company’s State status and noticed outdated information. Since Anisa is going after contracts from the State’s Office of Information Technology it was critical to have their accurate information reflected.
A New Jersey “S” Corp, RCI Technologies graduated from the size requirements of the federal 8(a) program and is working on the federal side with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services.
Over the course of her business growth, Anisa has seen significant changes in the information technology market. “When I started, we did a lot of telecommunications work, then we went into web development. Now, over the past four years, we have focused on data warehousing,” Anisa said. After 9/11, RCI Technologies, like the rest of the IT market, took a dramatic hit. She shut down a DC office and had to rebuild the business. “In 2004, we rose back up and in 2005 we are really doing well,” she said.
· Rutgers-Newark SBDC
Family Food Distributors
When Patricia Mendez met her husband in 1999, they shared a common passion—food. Patricia had thirteen years’ management experience in the food distribution industry, and her husband had owned a supermarket and a restaurant. As an immigrant from Ecuador in 1989, Patricia recognized a niche that needed filling: supplying nostalgic food products to Ecuadorian immigrants who missed their favorite homeland foods. Patricia and her family were eager to start a family business. With little money, they purchased their first vehicle, an old van for $700.
They began operations in February 2002 from their home. Within two months, the house was crammed with pallets of products. Patricia found a warehousing company that rented them affordable space for two to three pallets, which quickly grew to two to three truckloads. Research indicated that competition was less fierce in outlying areas such as Connecticut, so they marketed to areas outside of the larger cities, selling to supermarkets, specialty stores, and travel agencies. “Smaller stores move as much product as large ones,” says Patricia. “They are as important to us, and we give great customer service. We aren’t and don’t want to be the cheapest, but we do supply a complete line of products.” After two years, the warehousing company was moving, so the business had to move.
In summer 2003, needing help and financing, Patricia met with Assistant Regional Director Dennis Rasugu of the Rutgers-Newark Small Business Development Center. After learning that Patricia had no business plan, Dennis helped her enroll in an eight-week course at the Entrepreneurial Training Institute, where she learned valuable business skills and how to prepare a business plan. Upon graduation, she was assigned a mentor for eighteen months. Good things started to happen: The R-N SBDC arranged for the business to be highlighted in The Star Ledger, and it also appeared on News12, WMBC News and in the book, Business for Beginners.
The Center also assisted the business with applying for and obtaining a commercial loan for $98,500 through a collaboration of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority and the Greater Newark Business Development Consortium.
“The SBDC has been so resourceful and helpful,” says Patricia, “and their help is free. You have to be persistent and willing to work hard—we work twelve to sixteen hours a day. My daughter Andrea is 23, and she works full-time with us and studies business management full-time at Rutgers University.” Family Food Distributors Inc. now has an office and warehouse of five thousand square feet, a subleased truck and new van, and six full-time and two part-time employees. Its continued growth and success should give new entrepreneurs some real food for a thought.
· Emerging Markets
James Rodgers, Dona Harris
Ramirez Enterprises, Inc.
When the opportunity to buy Newark based Ramirez Enterprises became available, James Rodgers, Owner/CEO and Business Manager Dona Harris met with Charles Jackson, Director, Emerging Markets/Special Projects, for advice on how to proceed. After considerable due diligence, James purchased the general construction/building supplies company in October 2001 and has continued the relationship with NJSBDC ever since. During that period, James and Dona attended several training events offered by NJSBDC and Rutgers-Newark Small Business Development Center, and have continued to seek advice and counsel from Charles.
Ramirez Enterprises had been in business for 25 years. James recognized the company’s potential and immediately sought out new markets by becoming involved in government construction contracting. He turned to NJSBDC for assistance in completing the various state and local registrations and certifications required to make the company a viable player in the public and non-profit sector. After their successful entrance into public work with such clients as Rutgers University-Newark, UMDNJ, NJ Transit and several non-profit agencies, Ramirez and Harris again sought the assistance of NJSBDC for financing to expand operations and take the company to the next step.
Located in Newark’s Urban Enterprise Zone, Ramirez Enterprises has become the “preferred” contractor for Rutgers University, Newark and the University of Medicine and Dentistry, Newark. This successful relationship is evidenced by the unique projects that they have undertaken for these and other prestigious clients.
These projects have included: renovation of labs; renovation of the kitchen area, and installation of Quiznos Sandwich Shop in the student center; and construction of a new “bug room” complete with netting in a biology building. At UMDNJ, the company has installed or renovated areas in the facility’s patient account area, emergency room, international center, and hospital patient rooms.
NJSBDC, Rodgers, and Harris continue to work together in order to pre-qualify Ramirez for opportunities with NJ School Construction Corporation as a prime contractor, mainly by assisting with securing and completing the necessary applications for registration and certification. NJSBDC also assisted Ramirez with the development of a loan package submitted to City National Bank with an initial funding of $250K and will be converted into a 504 Loan Package so that a new facility to house operations can be purchased.
During their three-year history with NJSBDC, Ramirez has secured contracts in excess of $4.9 million, a testament to their hard work and perseverance.
· Rutgers-Camden SBDC
Prizm Solutions in Medical Management
Prizm Solutions is owned and operated by Linda V. Diekmann, RN, BA, CPUR, CPUM. She is a Licensed Registered Nurse and a Certified Professional in Utilization Review and also Utilization Management. With pre-certification as her specialty, Linda was a key decision maker in the development and implementation of a pre-certification program in the automobile industry, which serviced over one million customers.
Prizm Solutions in Medical Management offers services to automobile, workers compensation and health carriers to control costs. These services include bill reviews, medical reviews, pre-authorization of medical services and independent physician examinations.
Linda worked with Rutgers-Camden SBDC Regional Director Gary Rago to write her business plan during the fall 2001. Today, her company is working primarily with NJ insurance companies and has 32 employees, mainly registered nurses who review claims and bring suspicious levels of activity to the attention of doctors. “We are cutting down on fraud and abuse,” said Linda. The goal of the service is to lower the cost of claims for insurance companies. “We are hired by insurance companies to review the medical portion of claims to ensure that the patient truly needs the level of treatment provided,” said Linda.
Based on her knowledge of the industry and her work with Gary on the business plan, Linda felt her business had real potential, and that she should concentrate her efforts on every aspect of running it. A partner she had started the business with looked at the process and decided she did not want the responsibility. “When you sit down and put it all in spreadsheets, it really puts it all into perspective,” said Linda. Willing to proceed alone, Linda was referred by CPA Steve Applebaum to the Cooperative Business Assistance Corporation, where she took her business plan and received a micro-loan that enabled her to buy out her partner’s share and move to an office. “The timing was perfect for a loan,” said Linda.
In addition to the help she’s received from Gary, Linda has taken a marketing class at the Rutgers-Camden SBDC to learn more about marketing for her specific segment. She has also contacted and listened to what the largest insurance companies are looking for in medical management. To differentiate Prizm from other services, she had software developed that allows adjustors to log onto the system and get all their documentation electronically. “I kept talking to customers and hearing them talk about technology,” said Linda. Because of the software, Prizm has been awarded three contracts in last six month and expects more. “Technology is our main marketing differentiating factor,” she said.
Dr. Dan Bistrimovich, Joe Scamuffo
Dr. Dan Bistrimovich is an injury prevention consultant who works with corporations and individuals to prevent injuries, promote good health and educate people about the importance of good posture. He has been associated with healthcare for 25 years, as an Emergency Medical Technician, Board Certified Medical Technologist, Doctor of Chiropractic, and licensed Injury Prevention Specialist. He is also an ergonomic technical advisor to a network of over 1,200 Doctors and Physical Therapists in the United States and Canada.
Dr. Dan and his partner Joe Scamuffo started working with The College of New Jersey SBDC in November 2004 with the goal of increasing Dr. Dan’s business outreach and getting online. They met with several consultants on TCNJ staff, including Ellen Silverman and Mike Hersh. To plan their web site, they were referred to Nat Bender.
In working on a plan for the site, Dr. Dan, Joe and Nat identified the important categories for their service-based business and integrated those with a sales component. An instructional CD, called Smart Move, is available on the Postureman site, along with several other fitness related products. The web site has a flash movie integrated into the html home page, and features short audio clips from the CD with Dr. Dan talking about the importance of footrests, video/computer monitor viewing height, and other ergonomics factors.
The plan for the site also called for an e-mail newsletter, and enough information about Dr. Dan to help clients feel comfortable and encourage them to contact him for their personal health or organizational training needs. After interviewing several of the web site developers that Nat provided, Dr. Dan and Joe chose to work with NJSBDC 2000 Success Award winner Dana Hutchins of Inforest Communications in Trenton.
The Postureman site gives Dr. Dan a great selling tool for bringing in new clients as well as reinforcing his sales and marketing outreach efforts. With homes and workplaces prone to a multitude of stresses and strains, Dr. Dan’s site positions him well and is a great example of an integrated approach to web marketing. By combining product sales and information with a newsletter and overall informative approach, Dr. Dan hopes to provide a better quality of life to those who choose to follow his recommendations.
Taste of Crete
50 Claire Drive
Taste of Crete, a gourmet food company, models its products based upon the healthy diet of Crete. According to Taste of Crete (TOC) founder, Esther Psarakis, “Taste of Crete was born out of a personal passion for the people, culture, history and food of Crete.” Ms. Psarakis, born and raised in America, married into a Greek family. After several annual excursions to her husband’s family farm in Crete she began to understand the history and dietary importance of olive oil in the Greek culture.
In February 2003, Ms. Psarakis began working with the Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC) SBDC on formulating a business idea, product development, pricing, import and marketing strategies. She obtained valuable import/export information from the late RVCC SBDC counselor Axel Veldon. “Axel was extremely knowledgeable with import/export issues and was particularly savvy in product shipment, especially how to protect your product during shipping.” She also worked closely with counselor Vicki Lynn Morgan, a marketing specialist, who guided Esther on how to prepare for trade shows, booth design, drafting press releases, data base management and pricing policies.
Taste of Crete opened its doors for business in 2004 and began importing Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Crete. The oil carries the “PDO, Protected Designation of Origin” seal, a highly coveted European Union recognition for quality. Also unique to this product is the fact that some of the trees from which the Koroneiki olives come from are over 3,000 years old. To help her with the start-up process and to provide a practical learning experience for a future entrepreneur, Ms. Psarakis participated in the RVCC SBDC Student Internship program. The RVCC student gained valuable practical experience in setting up the general ledger and developing key financial reports. TOC also provides job opportunities for the developmentally disabled by employing students from the Midland School Adult Services for packaging and shipping.
2005 has been a banner year for TOC. First, TOC gained national recognition by winning a Silver Medal at the 2005 International Olive Oils of the World Competition. Next, TOC introduced Evangelia’s Traditional Greek Cookies to its line of products. The cookie is made with olive oil and wine and is named after Ms. Psarakis’ mother-in-law who was her inspiration to go into business. Finally, TOC purchased La Dolce chocolates. During the discovery phase of the purchase Esther worked closely with RVCC SBDC Assistant Director Bill Harnden and CPA Greg Gonzalez reviewing La Dolce’s business financials and attorney Robert Shanahan, Esq. regarding contract issues.
Ms. Psarakis is truly a model client. She continues to use the RVCC SBDC resources for every aspect of her business and is diligent in providing updates to the Center on the progress of her business.
· William Paterson University SBDC
Marta I. Galvan
About 12 months ago Marta Galvan walked into the William Paterson Small Business Development Center with determination and a dream. After a number of years of managing the billing and associated financial records for a large medical practice, she felt ready to step up and create her own medical practice billing firm. Today, she is the CEO of ESMBM. After a successful business launch, she is well on her way toward enlarging an initial customer base and achieving her planned goals.
The medical billing process encompasses an array of complex procedures and processes that are associated with the billing of insurance claims and Medicare plans, the processing of payments, and maintaining of patient accounts. With knowledge, determination and skill, Marta’s management of the billing process has generated 85% to 90% cash flow to the providers with whom she works. To manage this tedious business process, she required a loan that would enable her to acquire computer hardware and software capabilities, and a number of other infrastructure items.
An initial handicap was a less than stellar credit profile. Working in close consultation with the Center, she overcame this burden by carefully packaging the loan proposal and receiving coaching for the interview process. She prepared a business plan and a loan proposal that passed scrutiny on several levels and a loan was ultimately granted. The SBDC represented her to several funding agencies and ultimately won a $26,000 loan with the assistance of Adam Farrah of the UCEDC.
After a processing delay in closing on the loan caused her to lose potential clients, she bounced back and recruited new prospects, one of whom is now a full client, and she has several referrals from medical professionals whom she is now recruiting. She has been in business several months and has been receiving mentoring support in business operations from the Center and from UCEDC to ensure a successful outcome.
Marta Galvan is a success story because of her ability to overcome obstacles on her way to fulfilling her dream and because of her firm expectations of continued growth. She is a perfect example of how the William Paterson Small Business Development Center is assisting in sending entrepreneurs on their way to profitable ventures.
Long time friends Deen Solebo and Tola Talabi were both working in banking when they decided to form Old Columbia Spirits & Wines, LLC. Their vision is to establish or acquire retail wines stores in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. They presently operate Augie’s, a business that they purchased and re-opened in October 2004.
Deen, a successful investment banker in New York, and Tola, an assistant vice-president with Credit Suisse First Boston, first approached the New Jersey City University SBDC in January 2004. They met with SBDC business consultant Al Izzi for guidance in launching the businesses and for obtaining an SBA-backed loan to purchase their first store.
After several months of working with Al, they completed their due diligence and prepared a business plan and loan package. Their loan package was submitted to PNC bank in Hoboken in July 2004. Their SBA-backed loan for $215,000 (term loan for $195,000 and credit line of $15,000) was approved in September 2004.
After completing their purchase and making some needed renovations, they reopened Augie’s in October 2004. Deen and Tola were quick to incorporate their own personal touch by adding a very popular wine tasting party every Friday evening. To keep up with their success, the co-owners sought an increase to their line of credit in April 2005. The line would enable them to meet demand for more in-store inventory. After meeting with Al Izzi, they were able to obtain an additional $50,000 for their credit line (total $65,000) from PNC. A key factor in receiving the increase was their ability to demonstrate to PNC that their revenues/profits had exceeded their business plan expectations.
With Augie’s on the way to maturing into a successful business, the co-owners are planning to build a new wine superstore in 2006. Even though Deen and Tola were experienced bankers, they had to learn about entrepreneurial business from a completely different point of view. They relied upon Al Izzi’s expertise to guide them through the steps needed to set up and launch the business, and to facilitate the process of seeking funding through the SBA.