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.”
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.
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 (dutchbats.com), 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.
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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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.
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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-Mike Stith, Founder, One Legacy.com
-La'Shounda D. Bennett