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Some people start a business for financial gain, others to engage in an activity they enjoy. Leah Brown's business was born out of a tragedy, the death of a loved one.
At the age of 25, Leah was commuting to Manhattan, working twelve hour days for a Fortune 500 company. She was happy to be a part of the fast-paced New York life style back in the mid-eighties. Some days, rather than make the long return trip to New Jersey, she would stay at her uncle's apartment in the city. Leah was very close to her uncle. To Leah, he was a friend, a confidant, a parent. She was absolutely devastated when he lost his life to AIDS. After years of pain, she decided to turn her misery into a successful business enterprise. She wanted to make sure that treatments could be made available as soon as possible to save uncles and aunts all over the world.
In 2004, ATEN (A10) Solutions, Inc. was born. Brown's mission was to support research and healthcare delivery. A10 helps its clients get investigational drugs to market faster and safer by managing critical clinical trials. These trials contribute to FDA approval of these drugs and treatments. This support takes many forms. It can be one employee monitoring the progress of the trial, or providing a dozen to collect data from patients. While combating HIV was the driver of the firm, the firm also focuses on other diseases that greatly affect the African American community.
Brown sought SBA help to grow A10 and help her achieve her goals. She took advantage of SBA sponsored counseling through the North Carolina Small Business & Technology Development Center and the SBA Women's Business Center of North Carolina in Durham.
In 2009, A10 was accepted into SBA's 8(a) Business Development Program. The 9-year development program offers incentives to help socially and economically disadvantaged firms increase opportunities with federal prime and sub contracts with the U.S. government. Prior to entering SBA's 8(a) program, A10 employed 78 and had sales over $5 million. The firm as grown to almost 200 employees with $11.3 million in revenues.
"The SBA served as our compass as we hiked our way through the federal government maze," said Brown.
You might say that it was Guadalupe Chavarria’s destiny to own his own salon. He has been immersed in the hair styling industry as long as he can remember. Growing up in Austin, Texas, he’s wanted to work in a salon since the age of seven. As he grew, his parents began teaching him classic hair design and barber techniques.
Guadalupe knew success depended on training and study. At 19, he began a series of apprenticeships under some of the world's most esteemed stylists and mentors, working with various stylists throughout California, Chicago, and New York before returning to Texas.
Today, Guadalupe's long list of credentials reaches from Texas to New York, and Los Angeles to Paris. He is recognized nationally as a trainer and style director, and has studied and taught under the most admired schools of hair design. Guadalupe has been featured multiple times by national salon magazines, mainstream media and the foreign press.
His teachers not only taught him hair care skills, but showed him finer aspects of the craft: the art of listening and conversation, making an appointment an “experience” for a customer.
In 2001, he opened Studio Chavarria in Asheville, NC. Guadalupe and his staff pamper their clients with one-on-one hair cutting, styling, coloring and more.
He credits his success to hard work and a $175,000 SBA-guaranteed loan from Self-Help Credit Union. The loan enabled him to move to his current location and hire additional staff, which now totals seven.
“Self-Help and Jane Haley made the loan application process quite easy,” said Mr. Chavarria. “I was impressed with the customer service. As a business owner, I know how important it is to keep your customers happy.”
Oscar Wong, President
Highland Brewing Co., Asheville NC
Oscar Wong, President of Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, NC has been named the 2012 North Carolina Small Business Person of the Year. After selling his engineering business and retiring to the North Carolina Mountains, he opened the first brewery in the Asheville, NC area in 1994. Highland Brewing Company now employs 34 people. Wong recently built a new state of the art production facility and tasting room. With the help of an SBA 504 loan of $813,000, from Avista Business Development Corporation, Oscar was able to get needed equipment including giant stainless steel tanks. Combined with a loan from BB&T, the finance package total was $1.9 million.
Wong grew up in a family business in Jamaica. His parents emigrated from China and started a mom and pop grocery store.
With his engineering background, he recognized that commercial dairy tanks would be excellent for the fermentation and storage of his ales. These could be acquired cheaply and re-designed for beer production.
Wong started the brewery with three employees in 4,000 sq. ft. of leased space in the basement of a tavern. Highland then could produce up to 6,500 barrels of beer per year. At that time, the beer was sold in kegs only. The basement had no room for a bottling line.
In their current location, they now can brew over 35,000 barrels annually. Highland offers ten varieties of Ales, Porters, Stouts, Lager and Wheat beers which are sold in seven Southeastern states.
Oscar is exploring new markets for his product. His plans have evolved to offering beer as a component of other products made by small local independent manufacturers. These include mustards, ice cream and shampoo.
Wong has had a tremendous impact on the region. Eight other local breweries have opened in the area. This led to Asheville’s being recognized in 2011 as “Beer City USA” by the National Beer Examiner for the third year in a row. Competing cities for this honor include Milwaukee, San Diego and Portland.
In 2011, The Asheville Chamber of Commerce awarded him the William A.V. Cecil Tourism Leadership Award.
This award recognizes a leader in the hospitality industry who has helped guide the tourism industry for Western North Carolina. The Cecil award named after the owner of the Biltmore Estate and Winery, the largest privately owned residence in the U.S. that brings a million visitors a year to Asheville.
Oscar routinely gives back to his community. He supports organizations like the local ARC (previously the Association of Retarded Citizens and the Manna Food Bank. Oscar is also active in the Rotary Club and the Asheville Chamber of Commerce.
Highland offers tours of the brewery complete with a tasting for a donation to the food bank or a contribution of non-perishable food as the price of admission. Highland provides a venue for several non-profit fundraisers and also actively supports the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, The Blue Ridge Parkway, Trout Unlimited and more. Oscar and his wife Anna have two daughters.