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.
When Junea Rocha moved to the Pacific Northwest from Brazil to be with her husband Cameron, it didn’t take them long to realize that something was missing. The delicious pão de queijo (cheese bread) that graced their every social occasion in Brazil, from visits with grandma to sophisticated evening functions, was nowhere to be found. Junea, determined to satiate her taste buds and share this culinary treat from her native country, set out to replicate her family’s recipe for what they now refer to as “Brazi Bites”.
Recreating the right flavors was difficult using only local ingredients. Junea and Cameron sampled at least 70 recipes with 30 different types of cheeses before perfecting their dish. As friends tasted and raved about the final result, the idea to start a company was born.
“We’ve always been really passionate about food, and good quality food. We thought it was worth sharing with more and more people,” said Junea.
With the support of the Get Your Recipe to Market program offered by the CLIMB/Small Business Development Center at Portland Community College, Junea and Cameron started learning about the food industry--food safety, regulations, and marketing requirements. Junea and Cameron also began to develop their hands-on experience working in a commercial kitchen at a culinary incubator called KitchenCru. Their first retail account came just a few months after their product launch at a food and wine festival in 2011.
Since then, Brazi Bites’ production has moved to a dedicated gluten-free facility in Tigard, where Junea and Cameron will scale up their yield to meet market demand. Their sales are doubling month-to-month, with a presence in 40 stores and through a new partnership they have developed with a nationwide distributor.
“Continue to learn every day about your product, and always be able to adjust your strategy,” Junea recommends to other artisanal food entrepreneurs.
Though both Cameron and Junea each had full-time jobs when they started Brazi Bites, they needed a boost of capital to purchase specialty equipment and promotional materials to grow their company. Brazi Bites’ owners found this capital in the form of an SBA Express Loan product, introduced to them by their advisor at the Small Business Development Center. Now, Junea works full-time managing Brazi Bites sales and operations.
The Brazi Bites team can be found offering tastings in grocery stores in Oregon and Washington, and alongside the “BB” promotional van at special events. This year, Brazi Bites also will be a featured vendor at Feast Portland.
“I enjoy meeting people in the food industry in Portland and tasting their amazing foods. I love when people are in the store tasting Brazi Bites, and they close their eyes and say ‘mmm, this is so good,’” Junea shared.
For more information about programs and services offered by SBA and SBA partners, visit www.sba.gov/or, or call 503-326-2682.