“Life is an adventure and you live a greater adventure when you are willing to take more risks,” reads the legacy in Carmen Nazario’s high school year book. Though she didn’t have a crystal ball, Carmen’s quote selection would be foretelling of her future. While attending a university in her native home of Puerto Rico, she decided to take her first big risk. She followed in the footsteps of her father, a World War II Veteran, and joined the U.S. Army, hoping to see the world.
Carmen served as a computer programmer during the Vietnam War; gaining skills that much later would help her establish her own company. After leaving the Army, she attended school, got her Bachelor’s degree and started work as an Information Technology professional. Nearly 20 years later, Carmen took another huge risk. As a single mother of three she decided to start her own business in the field she knew best, software development and consulting.
“I knew there must be a better alternative to the way the company I worked for was doing things,” said Carmen. “I thought I could do it and that I could do it better.”
And she did, although it wasn’t easy. For the first two years, Carmen ran her business out of her home, hiring one or two employees as she would get contracts. Before long, she realized that in order to grow Elyon International into the business she knew it could be she would have to find some financing.
Getting access to capital as a small business with few assets proved difficult. That’s when she turned to the SCORE Association, Counselors to America’s Small Business, office in Portland. “Their knowledge and expertise helped me obtain my first loan, allowing us to grow and expand our reach,” said Carmen. Elyon International received assistance through the SBA’s CAPLines program, which helped them get the short-term capital they needed to grow.
Designed to help small businesses meet their short-term and cyclical working capital needs, the CAPLines program can be used to finance seasonal working capital needs, the direct costs of performing certain construction, service and supply contracts, operating capital and to consolidate short-term debt.
Carmen also took advantage of all the training and classes that were offered through the Portland SCORE office and local Small Business Development Centers. Eventually, Elyon International became a certified 8(a) firm and Carmen continued her training through the SBA’s 8(a) business development program. Elyon International actually won their largest contract to date while they were still an 8(a) firm. It was a sole-sourced contract totaling $3.5 million.
Recently in 2011, when Elyon International was looking to expand further, Nazario used the SBA’s Patriot Express loan program. Designed to help veterans and members of the military start or expand small businesses, Patriot Express loans feature the SBA’s lowest interest rates for business loans.
Elyon International’s reach has grown; providing comprehensive programmatic, organizational and project based support services including information technology, geospatial support and professional staffing to both government and commercial customers. Carmen says that establishing her own corporate culture and working with her 36 employees is what she loves most about owning her own business.
All three of Nazario’s children have grown up to run their own businesses as well. Friends and family often come to her for mentoring and advice, which she is happy to provide. “I tell them if it’s your calling, then stick with it and never give up. You must have perseverance,” and Carmen adds, “then I send them to the SBA and tell them to take advantage of SCORE and SBDC classes.”
For more information about SBA’s resources and programs, visit the Portland District Office’s webpage at sba.gov/or.