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Stella Penizotto received an Associate’s Degree with Honors from Onondaga Community College in Early Childhood Education in 1990 and her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education in 1992 from SUNY Oswego. Soon after graduation, Stella realized that teaching jobs were scarce and decided to return to her first passion – working with young children. In July of 1994, Stella opened Shining Stars Daycare, Inc. in East Syracuse, NY. The initial center had a capacity of 32 children and employed four people. Over the course of the next 15 years, Shining Stars expanded to three full-time centers with a combined capacity of 363 children and 78 employees.
The road to such remarkable success was not without obstacles and Stella took each in stride, never giving up until Shining Stars achieved the next level of expansion. Over the past 12 years, Stella and her husband John have worked with the Small Business Development Center at Onondaga Community College. Stella first contacted the SBDC for assistance when running out of room at their current location provided an opportunity to expand. In 2001, Stella purchased a 7,000 square-foot facility in Manlius, NY securing an SBA guaranteed loan from CIT Lending.
In 2006, Stella and her husband secured another SBA guaranteed loan to help finance construction of a second location in East Syracuse, NY. Shining Stars moved the original center into the newly constructed building. Stella designs each center keeping in mind the needs of parents, children and staff. They are bright, cheery and inviting with state-of-the-art amenities like heated floors for crawling young children and indoor gymnasiums specifically designed for certain age groups. Stella’s philosophy is that children need a place where they can flourish socially, emotionally, physically and intellectually in an environment that encourages creativity and individuality.
In December 2008, Shining Stars added a third location in Liverpool, NY supported by another SBA 504 loan. Despite set-backs each time Stella made the decision to build a new center, she preserved against all obstacles, from environmental issues to grant funding suddenly becoming unavailable, to finish the center. Stella always kept a positive attitude until the project was completed. In that same year, Shining Stars was inducted in to the New York State Small Business Hall of Fame. Stella Penizotto was named the New York State Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2010.
The child care industry is notorious for high employee turnover and low wages. Stella recruits and retains superior employees because she is a fair and hard working manager who recognizes her employee’s strengths. She offers competitive wages and benefits that include paying 50% of health insurance for employees who work more than 20 hours per week and paid training for the benefit of their individual careers and the quality of care at the centers.
Shining Stars gives back to the local community throughout the year. Children at all three centers raise proceeds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital through a Trike-a-thon and older children raise money for the MDA and American Heart Association via a Hop-a-thon. The staff participates in the Breast Cancer walk every October and May and the centers donate to local fire and police departments, schools and other worthy causes. In 2007, they raised and contributed $5,688 and $6,915 in 2008.
As an architect, Anthony Catsimatides spends his days translating residential and commercial client design concepts into reality. As a small business owner, Anthony has been his own toughest customer during the renovation of Open Atelier’s new location in downtown Syracuse. The 6,000 square-foot Warren Street building represents more than just room to grow for Anthony’s architecture firm, Anthony explains, “I’m a big advocate of revitalizing downtown Syracuse, and part of my desire to buy this building is to stake hold and become part of the community.”
With the financial partnership of SBA, M&T Bank and the Greater Syracuse Business Development Corporation through the 504 loan program, Open Atelier acquired the building in 2009 and transitioned from the Cazenovia location in early 2010. To achieve an open, light-filled work space, Anthony supervised deconstruction of the cubicle-creating partition walls, fixed windows and dropped ceilings inherited from the building’s previous owner. The result features new windows on opposing sides of the building that can be opened for natural cross ventilation, skylights for natural lighting as well as an open floor plan emphasizing original architectural features such as pilasters and terrazzo flooring as focal architectural elements.
2009 was a busy year for Open Atelier- in addition to designing the new office space, Anthony’s firm worked with private homeowners, small businesses and completed designs for larger institutions such as Cazenovia College and multimillion dollar facilities for furniture retailer Raymour & Flanigan, headquartered in Liverpool, NY. For Anthony, working on projects is a collaborative creative process: “I tend to be very loose with my employees in a democratic process to allow them to come up with a broad range of ideas. No idea is too crazy, because ultimately we refine it to make it practical. That’s how we come up with very innovative and creative approaches to everything we design, whether it’s a small addition to a house, a multi-family housing project or a commercial building design.”
Open Atelier’s architectural design philosophy is a guiding influence on each project, taking into consideration more than just the building’s purpose, physical measurements and a multitude of constraints that is inherent in almost all projects. “We’re not designing just a building-when you go through the right process and the right approach, a successful building emerges, influenced by the surroundings, technology, aesthetics and the environment around it. The finished product is ultimately a better design when it is informed by the process,” Anthony adds.
In 2008, U.S. Navy veteran Leonard Lehman saw a television news broadcast about an upcoming veterans business conference called Operation: Start Up & Grow. Leonard had been driving limousines for other companies for 17 years, and since he had always wanted to have his own business, he made it a point to attend the conference two weeks later. Leonard found a lot of the information he needed to pursue his dream and said to himself, “I think I can do this.”
While starting a business is never easy, Leonard found the tools available at Operation: Start Up & Grow helped him along the way. The Syracuse SCORE Chapter assisted him in developing a thorough business plan and financial projections. Leonard found financing to purchase a black SUV limousine with an SBA-backed Patriot Express loan from Adirondack Bank.
“Other banks didn’t want to take the risk on me because I was a startup, even though I had 17 years of experience in the industry. I was very happy working with Mike Shaler at Adirondack Bank and with the interest rate on my loan,” said Leonard of his loan experience. “It was a lot of paperwork, but it was worth it.”
Three months after attending the 2008 Operation: Start Up & Grow conference, Leonard opened the doors of Legacy Limousines in Clinton, New York with a focus on offering top service at reasonable prices for his customers. After years of working for other limousine company owners in the area, Leonard knew the average prices for limousine service and stayed within a competitive range. Legacy Limousines provides transportation for weddings, proms, Finger Lake wine tours, and concerts as well as to the Albany, Syracuse and Rochester airports.
Legacy Limousines celebrated its third anniversary in 2011 and with Leonard’s leadership, the company has achieved profitability and a great reputation in Central New York. Leonard’s donated limousine service for charitable events such as the Alzheimer’s Walk and the Diabetes Association events has helped add to his best form of advertising-“word-of-mouth”. With many satisfied customers, Legacy Limousines has a head start on the road to success.
In March, Leonard attended the 2009 Operation: Start Up & Grow conference to network with other veteran business owners and learn new ideas to optimize his business. “If I didn’t go to the first conference, I wouldn’t be living my dream right now. The tools I found at the conference were excellent and helped me start my business. It’s a lot of work but I think anyone can do it if they put their mind to it,” commented Leonard.