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Success Stories

December 22, 2014

Local Entrepreneur Receives SBDC Expertise on Life Story Publishing Project

Bringing people together to share their life stories, entrepreneur and Chief Story Publisher Mike Stith created The new business preserves experiences for the ages while individuals are still around to tell them firsthand.  

Stith, 60, an Edwardsville resident, knows well that life sometimes leads you down a different road than the one you may have planned. One of those divergent roads, a road Stith himself has traveled, included the bittersweet experience of caring for loved ones near the end of their lives. In the same month that he was laid off after nearly 30 years as a global call center executive, Stith’s mother and sister became terminally ill. These unexpected challenges came to Stith when he was already functioning as the primary caregiver for his father.

 “I was honored to be with my mom and my sister at the end of their lives, and I was privileged to care for my dad, who is still with me,” said Stith. “It was something I didn’t aspire to in my life plan, and yet now realize that my entire career had been preparing me for this next chapter.

“It has been a true journey. When you go through these life-changing moments, it’s the people around you and their real-life stories that shape who you become.”

Stith’s journey made him realize how many untold stories there are, stories best told by those who lived them. To that end, he came to the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center with a business concept that keeps these stories alive through

 “OneLegacy is a global story-sharing project, a digital publishing platform and an online community of individuals who are interested in reading and sharing stories about personal legacy,” said Stith. “OneLegacy is for each of us. These stories connect us and remind us of the pivotal moments and lessons in our lives. We want to help promote growth and healing through these life stories.”

To help OneLegacy reach its potential, Stith is in the process of raising $10,000 by Feb. 2 via a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. The money will enable OneLegacy to more extensively gather, preserve, write, edit and publish more life stories.

To learn more about OneLegacy and/or contribute to the campaign, go to

 “There are moments of legacy everywhere we turn,” Stith said. “We’re on a mission to curate and publish one million inspirational stories from around the world – stories that may otherwise be lost.”

Turning to the Illinois Metro East SBDC proved to be a wise path for Stith and his company. Prior to the launch of his website in February 2014, Stith received no-cost business expertise and counseling from SBDC Small Business Specialist Jo Ann Dimaggio May.

 “I called upon Jo Ann and the SBDC during my research process,” Stith said. “Jo Ann provided example business plans and an extensive number of contacts. She continues to share expertise with me as we fully develop OneLegacy’s potential. I consider Jo Ann to be an important resource and dear personal friend as well.”

May said assisting Stith – which also included utilizing Southern Illinois University Edwardsville School of Business students to evaluate OneLegacy’s business model – was both professionally and personally rewarding.

 “Mike Stith has worked diligently to create a valuable network of people and resources around him,” May said. “I am privileged to be part of his network and look forward to supporting Mike and his business endeavor.

“It is the human element of life that connects us all. Mike has found a wonderful way to share this connection through story telling. OneLegacy is a true treasure.”

Celebrating its 30th year, the Illinois Metro East SBDC assists start-up ventures and existing businesses headquartered in the nine-county Metro East region of Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph. It is a no-cost service to the community that is supported, in part, by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

By aiding entrepreneurs and companies in defining their path to success, the Illinois SBDC Network positively impacts the Metro East by strengthening the business community, creating and retaining new jobs and encouraging new investment. It enhances the region’s economic interests by providing one-stop assistance to individuals by means of counseling, training, research and advocacy for new ventures and existing small businesses. When appropriate, the SBDC strives to affiliate its ties to the region to support the goals and objectives of both the SIUE School of Business and the University at large.

To learn how the SBDC can help your own small business, visit or call (618) 650-2929. 


Photo: OneLegacy’s Mike Stith. 

The Winery at Shale Lake Showcases Couple’s Entrepreneurial Success

6 September 2014, 3:22 pm


Spurred by a commitment to make and sell wines, David and Susan Wesa have turned their dream into reality with the opening of The Winery at Shale Lake near Williamson.

This family-oriented travel destination includes a vineyard, winery, large cabins, bed-and-breakfast-style cottages, horse stables, fishing and trails. Approximately 40 miles northeast of downtown St. Louis, The Winery is located southeast of Staunton between U.S. I-55 and Historic Old Route 66.

In late 2006, the couple purchased the 212-acre rolling tract of land, once owned by the Boy Scouts, while searching for a vineyard site. The property had been part of one of the largest operating coalmines in the region from 1904 to ‘57.

Since the purchase, David and Susan Wesa have continuously developed Shale Lake into an attractive recreation option for individuals, families and groups. As their business financing needs evolved, they called upon the Metro East SBDC for assistance in one particular area: finding an appraiser.

“Jo Ann Di Maggio (small business specialist) and Patrick McKeehan (director) were really helpful in meeting with us and helping us retain the services of a good appraiser within a short period of time,” Susan Wesa said. “Due to the economy, we had been to several different banks to try to get that done. The Metro East SBDC’s clout opened a door for us that enabled us to continue moving forward.”

“Our extensive network of partnerships made this success possible,” explained Di Maggio. “In this case, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity was extremely valuable in identifying an appraiser, ultimately securing the needed financing.”

Read More at:

Metro East SBDC Salutes Signature Virtual Assistance As Success Story

20 July 2014, 3:23 pm

Nelson_Lorie-at work

Lorie Nelson, founder and owner of Signature Virtual Assistance, knows that the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center’s path crossed with hers at just the right time.

The entrepreneur credits the local SBDC and its director, Patrick McKeehan, with providing the right expertise on her marketing brochure. Thanks to the Illinois Metro East SBDC, says Nelson, her company learned precisely how to reach the ideal clientele.

After 32 years of working for others in multiple administrative assistant and bookkeeping capacities, Nelson launched her admin firm, Signature Virtual Assistance, in August 2012.

“My previous employer is now one of my top clients,” Nelson said, who is a motorcycling enthusiast. “I was on the plane coming home from a 3,000-mile biking adventure in Alaska a couple of summers ago when I knew it was time to follow my dreams and start my own company doing what I love.”

By the time Nelson’s path intersected with the SBDC, she’d had a number of key elements already in place including a board of directors, a clear knowledge of the virtual administrative services she planned to offer and a website. But where the SBDC was able to step in quickly and support her was in identifying her market – small businesses – with instructions on how to specifically target to them.

“Patrick and the Small Business Development Center helped me categorize my services, introduce testimonials into my marketing, describe my professional background and skills, and then identify my primary target market,” said Nelson. “The SBDC provided constructive criticism of my existing marketing pieces and worked with me one-on-one to improve them.”

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Granite City’s New Coffeehouse Thrives from SBDC Business Expertise

12 June 2014, 1:27 pm

The freshly brewed aroma of success is wafting through a new coffeehouse in Granite City thanks to top-notch business expertise provided by the Metro East Small Business Development Center.

Kool Beanz Café, 1316 Niedringhaus Avenue, opened Tuesday, April 15, as a much-needed addition to the city’s new downtown arts and entertainment district. Founder and Granite City native Victoria Arguelles, along with her husband Eduardo and brother David Edrington, had planned this start-up for years. When the team intensified efforts in 2013 to put Arguelles’ childhood dream into action, they called upon the Metro East SBDC.

At no cost to Arguelles, the Metro East SBDC provided extensive one-on-one business services including marketing research, business plan review and expertise on preparing financial documents and loan request. The SBDC’s goal, according to Director Patrick McKeehan, is to provide timely and effective assistance to entrepreneurs like Arguelles to increase their chances for success.

“Victoria did the right thing by reaching out to us early in her business planning process,” said McKeehan. “My staff and I were immediately impressed by her focus, determination and cooperation.”

Kool Beanz, open early Monday through Saturday, offers specialty coffees, gourmet teas and fresh baked goods to morning patrons. The Café also features a healthy lunch menu of freshly prepared sandwiches, salads, soups, fruit smoothies and desserts. It reopens Saturday nights from 6 -11 p.m. featuring coffeehouse drinks and live entertainment. Conveniently located within a recently renovated historic building across from the city’s new movie theatre, the Café attracts both music lovers and movie enthusiasts.

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Custom Bat Manufacturer Hits Home Run as Entrepreneur

22 May 2014, 10:24 am

SIUE Metro East Start-Up Challenge 04-28-14

Swansea resident Todd “Dutch” Eschman is batting a thousand as the first-place winner of a regional business plan competition that is driving his entrepreneurial venture toward success.

Eschman, 44, is the sole proprietor of Old Dutch Classic Bats (, a manufacturer of custom bats for vintage baseball players. Vintage baseball is a rapidly growing sport that recreates the game as it was played in the 1860s by replicating rules, period uniforms, style of play, language and equipment – including bats.

The entrepreneur’s business idea to manufacture and sell custom-made bats came from his passion to play vintage baseball, which began three years ago.

“I’ve always played baseball and have coached my kids’ teams,” said Eschman, whose day job is general manager of community publications for the Belleville News-Democrat and who began his journalism career as a sportswriter. “In August 2011, I got wind of a vintage baseball game between the St. Louis Unions and Lafayette Square Cyclone BBC and decided to check it out. After watching one game, I was hooked.”

A year later, Eschman and friends formed a team and started competing in local leagues.

Eschman and his friends were not the only ones fascinated with vintage baseball. The game’s quick growth led to the formation of the Vintage Base Ball Association with 161 member clubs across 26 states, most of which include multiple teams of 15 to 20 players each. This surge in popularity motivated Eschman to take his passion for the game to the next level.

Read More at:

Lebanon Arts & Antiques Shop Showcases Dozens of Local Artisans

13 April 2014


Holly and Jim Lovell have successfully channeled their military family experience and love of art into a thriving startup business that showcases the talents of more than 65 area artists.

The Tiadaghton House (tie-a-dotten) features arts, antiques and American crafts. It is located within a two-story, turn-of-the-century red brick property in historic downtown Lebanon. The shop’s unique name stems from an Iroquois word for River of Pines and the small creek in central Pennsylvania near where Holly and Jim first met and grew up together.

Starting a business in a community where one lives is challenging enough. The Lovells upped the ante considerably by launching their new enterprise from the East Coast.

Jim, a career U.S. Air Force officer assigned to the Pentagon, noticed an ideal location for their future business had popped up for sale. The central Pennsylvania natives still owned a Metro East home from the period when Jim was stationed at Scott Air Force Base. With a strong desire to return to the area, the Lovells purchased the Tiadaghton House in late 2012 with a clear mission to be in business in less than 12 months.

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Metro East SBDC Small Business Inks Deal with Dierbergs

10 April 2014

Code 3 Spices

Maryville-based Code3 Spices’ unique barbeque spice blends are now on shelves in every Dierbergs grocery store in the St. Louis metropolitan area.

The business startup, which launched in late 2012, inked the deal in early March. The upscale grocer has 24 stores across the bi-state area plus one store at Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.

According to founders and co-owners Chris Bohnemeier and Mike Radosevich, Code 3 Spices shipped its first product to the Dierbergs warehouse in late March and the stores began carrying it days later.

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Metro East SBDC Salutes Happy Up As Business Success Story

6 March 2014, 10:13 am

Hard-working co-owners Shawnta’ Ray and Rick Harmon are living examples of entrepreneurs who can toughen up when life throws them a steep challenge. They also know how to “Happy Up,” which is why – eight years ago – they incorporated their toy store business under that moniker.

The duo’s successful business, which currently includes storefronts in Glen Carbon, Ill. and Clayton, Mo., are solidly operational due to their own tenacity, extremely loyal customers and the support of the Small Business Development Center.

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"In November 2013, I formed a small business called, in Edwardsville IL. It's been an exciting journey all the way, with the expected, and unexpected glitches from time to time. Throughout the process, I have been supported in so many ways by SBDC. They have exceeded all of my expectations, by providing research assistance, referrals to community resources, they even reviewed my business plan. My business is live now and SBDC is still an active partner. It's great to have their support. A special thank you goes out to Jo Ann Di Maggio, of Illinois SBDC. She has been outstanding in her support of my business. I wouldn't be this far without her.  To anyone starting a small business, I highly recommend contacting SBDC. Thank you so much!"

-Mike Stith, Founder, One


"I truly have been lead in the right direction; I did NOT know where to begin considering this is the very first time I've ever reached out in this way as far as business is concerned. SBDC has provided me with the help I needed to get started, things are really looking good and I didn't go through any hassles or red-tape as some may put it. I received prompt, courteous help in a matter of days. Your believing in me has even boosted my motivation even greater than where I was before. I thank you all for what you've done and look forward to an even brighter future. Again, thank you soooooooo MUCH."

-La'Shounda D. Bennett


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