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.”
Lori Oswald-Kosmas and Toni Hyde were drawn to entrepreneurship from different places. Lori didn’t like the desk-bound nature of her former corporate job and decided she wanted a change; Toni entered the industry after her father’s terminal illness forced her to leave college and return home to work and care for him. Toni’s father was an entrepreneur and instilled that drive in Toni before passing away.
Following their natural inclinations and recognizing they each had a flair for sales, in 2004 Lori and Toni teamed up to start Beyond Uniforms & Apparel in Hillsboro, Oregon. With over 30 years of combined marketing industry experience, this duo had strong ideas about how to start their company. Eight years later, Toni and Lori continue to work together selling uniforms, flame resistant clothing, safety clothing, promotional marketing products and corporate apparel to customers all over the United States. Impressively, their revenue doubled in 2011, and they now proudly employ seven people.
In combination with offering the highest quality products, Toni and Lori believe what sets them apart is the customized services and marketing expertise they provide to their clients. They are motivated by their customers, creatively addressing their needs and nurturing the relationships they’ve built over the years. It is largely through past client referrals that Beyond Uniforms & Apparel has measured consistent growth.
Beyond Uniforms & Apparel represents a fusion of the owners’ unique styles, creative minds, and business vision. Recently, Lori and Toni have learned to reevaluate their business approach with the help of SBA’s Emerging 200 Initiative (e200), a seven-month commitment to intensive business management learning. As graduates of the 2011 e200 cohort, Toni and Lori commented that, ‘from day one starting their business they’ve been working in it, and never on it.’ Now they have adopted a whole new methodology, ‘spending a couple days a month working on their business.’
“After completing the e200 program this last year, we became more aware of all the assistance out there for small businesses. The SBA office alone has numerous resources such as books, online modules, and classes; all available for free to small businesses,” Lori shared.
Beyond Uniforms & Apparel provides a range of services including silk-screening, embroidery, heat-sealing, and imprinting, to schools, medical, public safety, construction, restaurants, corporations, and casinos. With the diversity of products offered and the mix of clientele, Toni and Lori believe that their product offerings are endless.
“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.