When she founded Escuela-Viva, Angie Garcia wanted to create an early childhood education program that would have a direct impact on the overall development of the children it served. “I wanted to create a community that would support the development of well-rounded children,” said Angie. In order to achieve this, it meant building a school, from the ground up.
Escuela-Viva is a bilingual preschool located in Southeast Portland that serves children and their families. Today’s thriving and successful enterprise began 10 years ago in Angie’s basement.
As the mother of a nearly two year old, Angie needed to work to support her family. Yet she could not find a preschool that fit her needs and she worried about the lack of socialization that a nanny would provide. So instead, she turned to her years of experience as a child and family social worker and set out to start her own school.
The school started with just a few children, including her own daughter. Before long, Escuela-Viva was growing rapidly due to Angie’s unique vision of a dedicated learning environment and families’ word-of-mouth marketing. The rapid growth forced Escuela-Viva to spread out into three locations which proved challenging for the children, their parents and the teachers. The school was at its maximum capacity and needed to expand.
Not sure how to proceed, Angie approached a few local lending institutions. She found that the amount she needed was too small for most traditional investment banks. Eventually she approached some smaller lenders and secured a loan for the school’s expansion through a SBA Microlender, Mercy Corps Northwest and a Community Development Financial Institution, Albina Opportunities Corporation.
The SBA Microloan program provides loans up to $50,000 to help small businesses and certain not-for-profit childcare centers start up and expand. The SBA provides funds to specially designated intermediary lenders, which are nonprofit community-based organizations with experience in lending as well as management and technical assistance. These intermediaries administer the Microloan program for eligible borrowers.
In 2010, Escuela-Viva moved to its newly renovated building on SE Pine Street. The new site provides five classrooms, kitchen space and an outdoor play area and garden. All of which builds on Angie’s vision of supporting the development of the “whole child.” One of Escuela-Viva’s 18 full-time employees is a nutrition specialist that works to feed all 89 children healthy home-cooked meals each day.
According to Angie, having the right staff and professionals is the key to having a successful business. “You need to have competent folks in your corner – professionals at what they do – and you need to be able to trust them,” said Angie.
Angie approaches business much like she approaches Escuela-Viva’s mission – finding the best, most effective way to do anything. “We strive to make the puzzle fit together in the most optimal way, not just the easy way,” said Angie. “And boy do I like a challenge.”
For more information about SBA Programs and Resources visit www.sba.gov/or.
When Debbie Eggers and Janelle Mikula met outside their daughters’ classroom six years ago, they had no idea they would start a business together. But, while shopping at a local candy store during a family vacation together, Debbie mentioned her dream of opening her own business, and Janelle thought it sounded like a great idea.
A few months and a lot of research later, Debbie spotted a flier in a vacant downtown Gresham storefront and realized that this was their chance. At the time, the City of Gresham was waiving building and licensing fees to encourage growth on Main Street. So Debbie and Janelle got to work.
“Our biggest struggle in getting started was creating a full-fledged business plan. Neither of us had any idea what this meant or how to get started,” said Debbie. “This is where the SBA came into play.”
Debbie and Janelle enrolled in a class for startup businesses at the Mt. Hood Community College Small Business Development Center, where they learned how to write a business plan and received free business advising to help them through the process.
Their business plan was so thorough and well organized, that Debbie credits it with helping them receive not one, but two loan offers through two different banks.
After securing the initial capital they needed, everything else started to fall into place. Before they knew it, their dream of owning their own candy shop came true. iCandy opened on Gresham’s Main Street in July 2011. Despite maintaining their other jobs, Debbie and Janelle, along with Debbie’s parents managed to run the store as they built up their clientele.
Within six months though, it was clear iCandy needed to grow. “I wish we could have seen how successful the store would be,” said Janelle. “We had people passing by, because there wasn’t room in the store for them to wait.”
A year after opening, their booming business and community support encouraged Debbie and Janelle to expand. They doubled iCandy’s floor space by leasing the storefront next to them, and removing a wall. “The community has been so supportive,” said Debbie. “They want us to be here, and it shows.”
“It’s been extremely rewarding to see our hard work go towards something I’ve been a part of building and know the possibilities are endless,” said Debbie. After being in business for nearly two years, iCandy now employees 11, has doubled their sales and is able to fill orders across the country through their website, www.icandygresham.com.
Hiroshi Morihara has had a long, distinguished career in business; from being a mechanical engineer, inventing silicon manufacturing processes, starting up manufacturing plants, working as a consultant in semiconductor and biotech industries and developing property. It wasn’t until the beginning of this century though, after his wife suggested he return to inventing, that he developed the idea for HM3 Energy. He had just finished reading a book about energy and hearing a speech on the environmental ramifications of coal plants, when it hit him. His invention would be a cleaner form of energy, and that’s just what HM3 Energy has developed.
HM3 Energy has a proprietary torrefaction process to turn biomass into clean fuel to replace coal in coal-fired power plants. HM3 Energy's TorrB briquettes can be made sustainably from readily available and abundant biomass sources such as urban wood waste, agricultural residue, and forest waste. Existing power plants designed to burn coal can use HM3 Energy’s torrefied biomass instead of coal, drastically reducing carbon and other harmful emissions such as mercury, sulfur and nitrous oxides.
Different from many other pellets made from wood chips or agricultural residuals, HM3 Energy’s TorrB torrefied biomass briquettes can be burned in existing coal plants without any plant modification. Torrefied biomass briquettes provide utility companies a reliable, clean and environmentally-friendly source of energy.
In order to get where they are today, HM3 Energy needed funding. They accessed that through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, a highly competitive program that encourages small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development that has the potential for commercialization. Through an awards-based program, SBIR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization.
The SBIR program is structured in three phases; the objective of the first phase is to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R/R&D efforts. Morihara received his first SBIR grant in 2010 to develop a waterless dirt removal system in order to clean the biomass without creating additional waste.
Once that was accomplished, the next step, phase II of the SBIR program, was to figure out how to scale up a pellet plant, specifically the torrefaction and densification parts of the process. In November 2012, HM3 Energy demonstrated commercial-scale densification through their phase II funding, becoming possibly the first company in the world with a proven process for mass producing biomass briquettes which are water resistant.
The third phase of the SBIR program is for the small business to pursue commercialization objectives resulting from phase I/II. Since the SBIR program does not fund phase III, Morihara is working hard to establish funding to build HM3 Energy's commercial plants.
When asked how he and HM3 Energy were able to accomplish what they have, Morihara immediately spoke of his employees, “develop a good team, you need all of your people.” He also added some advice for inventors and entrepreneurs alike, “if you think you know everything, you fail; you will need help along the way.”