- 1 of 3
Dean Atchison, Spectrum Aeromed, has been selected as the U.S. Small Business Administration's 2014 North Dakota Small Business Person of the Year. This annual award recognizes exceptional business owners who demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit in starting and growing a successful business. Atchison was selected following a statewide competition.
The air ambulance industry is one that typically flies under the radar, with few competitors and complex products. Spectrum Aeromed spent sixteen years trying to establish itself in that market but ended up struggling financially and facing bankruptcy. Seeing a challenge worthy of leaving his established career in banking, Dean Atchison decided to acquire the company in mid-2007 with high hopes to improve their design and manufacturing of customized air ambulance medical interiors. He knew substantial changes would need to be made, and started with the vision to be the best in class and save lives. He wanted to move the company from selling fairly basic systems to begin creating “solutions” for the customer. This message was embraced by the team, who were all encouraged to think outside of the box. It was during this time that Dean and various team members reached out to the ND SBDC for assistance with budgeting, contracting and exporting.
Dean’s background, and his willingness to reach out, allowed him to develop a strategy to better manage and generate cash flow. Since the first full year of his ownership, sales have increased an impressive 164%. During this same period, the number of units sold has more than tripled. These trends are the result of expanding both geographically as well as increasing the overall customer base. In 2008 the business was moved from rural Minnesota to Fargo, North Dakota to both use a state-of-the-art facility at the Fargo airport and also to take advantage of the workforce pool. Over the past six years the company added nine full-time and five part-time for a current total of 26 full-time employees and 7 part-time employees.
Spectrum Aeromed was recently listed on the Inc. 5000 Fastest Growing Companies for the third consecutive year. It moved up on the list with three-year revenue growth of 213%, and is ranked number in the top 100 in the State of North Dakota and number 44 in the top 100 manufacturing companies. Dean’s commitment to the company extends to the greater community as well, serving as Chair of the Board of Trustees for United Way of Cass County since 2010, as well as supporting March of Dimes and the Medevac Foundation International.
Atchison, along with other top entrepreneurs from across the nation, will be honored at the SBA's National Small Business Week events, May 15-16, in Washington, D.C.
Building a successful business from scratch is one of the most challenging endeavors anyone could undertake. This process often requires business owners to start on a shoestring budget and reinvest earnings back into their business for several years until the company has enough capital to sustain its operations. Such was the case for Agency MABU, a North Dakota-based company specializing in marketing, advertising and website development.
Agency MABU’s owner Mike Mabin had a burning desire to start a business from a very early age; however, his parents who were successful entrepreneurs during his childhood went through a devastating bankruptcy in Mabin’s Senior year of high school. The family lost nearly everything - an experience that deeply impacted Mabin’s dreams of starting his own business.
He worked his way through college on a part-time basis and attained a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree over a 10 year time period. While attending college, as well as after graduating, Mabin worked for over 20 years at a regional medical center where he ultimately served as a member of the administrative council. Although successful in his career, Mabin decided to fulfill his life-long goal to start a business at the age of 43.
With $5,000 in cash, a computer and desk, Mabin opened Agency MABU on November 19, 2001, as a one-person consulting company. As his client base has grown, Mabin has slowly and steadily expanded staff and services. Today, the company has nearly 20 full-time and part-time employees, offices in North Dakota and Virginia, and revenue exceeding $2.5 million annually.
During his 30 year career as a business executive and entrepreneur, Mabin has been actively involved in his community as a board member of the area Red Cross, Chamber of Commerce, United Way and other non-profit service organizations. He is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and has proactively hired and contracted with numerous minority individuals and organizations.
According to Mabin, the SBA’s 8a Business Development Program has enabled his firm to compete for federal contracts among a smaller pool of competitors of similar size and service offerings (e.g., other 8a firms and small business enterprises). “By narrowing the field of competition, my firm was able to secure a handful of federal contracts which had a significant and positive impact on my company’s growth and development,” says Mabin. These contracts tended to be long term in nature and substantial in scope. Thus, they had a positive effect on growing Agency MABU’s revenues, workforce and capabilities.
Mabin says this also contributed to building a strong reputation for his company among non-federal clients. These clients were impressed by the fact that his company had experience working on large federal contracts; therefore, they felt confident MABU could handle their project requirements. Lastly, the program offered Mabin and his company with access to a wide variety of technical assistance services and networking opportunities.
When Casey Steele decided to combine her love of baking with the desire to own a business, she knew she was in for a lot of work. Her friends and family offered up encouragement, but she felt uncertain about business planning. Then her dentist referred her to the SCORE mentoring program. SCORE mentors provide free, confidential counseling to small business owners nationwide. Casey was able to connect with a mentor who helped her find answers to the tough questions, provided her with relevant information, and stayed with her as the business changed and evolved. Learn how Casey turned her dream of owning her own business into the first kitchen incubator in North Dakota.