The Vermont office of the Small Business Administration has given the Family-Owned Small Business Award to James and Karen Mount of Mount Family Group. Mount Family Group (MFG) was originally started in Burlington as a family-owned business in 1982 by David and Francis Mount. MFG is in the personnel placement business, specializing in temporary help. From $25,000 in sales when it began, MFG has grown to a nearly $30 million company.
In 1995, the Mounts began to look among their five children for a family member who could become involved with the company and eventually take over as manager or owner. Karen, the wife of their eldest son Stephen, joined the company in 1996 and learned every aspect of its operations. She became David Mount's main adviser in administration and marketing matters. Karen became instrumental in training employees, in helping open new offices and eventually took on the role of Director of Administration. In 1997, James Mount, the Mount's second son, joined the company and served for several years as a personnel recruiter and customer service representative. The Mounts established the company on five principals for dealing with workers and customers, the first of which they listed as 'outrageous customer service'. They also emphasized integrity, respect, fun and keeping the business family friendly.
In the fall of 2010 the transition to the second generation was completed with James Mount assuming 60 percent of the shares and Karen Mount 40 percent. James Mount says the company is looking at breaking all sales records this year. He also noted how pleased the company was to be recognized by the SBA. His father David also was pleased with the honor. 'I thought that award was fantastic,' David said. 'It validates the things we've been doing over the last 30 years. I'm very, very proud of our son James and daughter-in-law Karen. They've taken over the business and are doing a wonderful job.'
Five small business owners, four small business champions and a lender have been selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for outstanding success in their chosen fields.
Charles “Chach” Curtis Jr. CEO of Draker Laboratories, Inc., Burlington, Vermont has been named the SBA 2012 Vermont Small Business Person of the Year. Nominated by Cairn Cross, Managing Director, Fresh Tracks Capital, Curtis was selected for outstanding leadership related to his company’s staying power, employee growth, increase in sales, innovative ingenuity and contributions to the community.
Draker Laboratories, Inc., Burlington VT, provides monitoring, diagnostics and asset management services to commercial and utility-scale renewable energy systems. After pioneering the concept and cutting-edge means of evaluating solar power generation, Draker Laboratories, Burlington, VT, had a well-deserved reputation for technical leadership. The company’s founder, A.J. Rossman, had worked with one of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s resource partners, the VT Small Business Development Center, receiving information and counseling on the Small Business Innovation Research Program. Following its founding in 1999, and for several years, it remained a scrappy startup with mixed success in an emerging industry and challenging market.
In 2009, Charles “Chach” Curtis joined Draker Labs as its new CEO. Curtis restructured every aspect of the business in a dynamic stream of change producing commensurate growth at every turn. Curtis expanded product and service offerings, broadened the customer base to include global energy developers like Johnson Controls, Chevron Energy Solutions, ConEdison Development, BP Solar, and Siemens Energy Technologies, and increased Draker’s staff from 8 to 47 employees.
In addition, Curtis raised more than $5.5 million to support the company’s rapid growth: $3.5 million of new private equity capital; $525,000 of state and federal debt financing from the Vermont Economic Development Authority and ARRA; and a $1.5 million credit facility. Under the leadership of Chach Curtis, Draker Labs posted two consecutive years of more than 250% revenue growth and is projecting another year of triple-digit growth in 2012. The company is currently delivering products and services to the largest solar project ever built in Canada.
As a former renewable energy developer himself, Curtis understood well the needs of Draker customers. Propelling the company’s rapid growth were several key insights, including the creation of tiered product and service offerings at escalating price/value points for each segment; expanding the company’s focus on selling value-added software services; anticipating the growth in large, utility scale solar power plants and championing Draker’s design of monitoring solutions to meet the requirements of these more complex utility-scale projects.
Further, Curtis realized customers are not adequately trained to understand Draker’s sophisticated performance analysis tools. With this in mind, he led the development of a network operations center to monitor, interpret, troubleshoot and recommend solutions to customers. The operations center also represents a new source of revenue and profit that will accelerate the company’s positive earnings. These and other Curtis initiatives have increased Draker’s domestic market share three-fold, from under 10% in 2009 to 25% today.
Under Curtis’s leadership, the company tripled its office space in Vermont to 12,000 sq. ft. and opened a new West Coast office in California. Draker Labs also plans to open a New Jersey office by the end of the year. The company also expects to continue adding to its employee base. The company’s 2012 budget calls for hiring an additional 45 employees, which would bring total staffing to a projected 92 by year-end 2012. Approximately 15 of these new positions are already posted for immediate hire.
Throughout this rapid evolution, Curtis provided exceptional leadership and turned the company around by changing its organizational structure, providing clarity, raising private capital and delivering record growth. In fact, Draker quickly became a leader in Vermont’s “green economy” by providing high-paying, sustainable jobs in the fast-growing renewable energy market. Many of Draker’s recent hires, including top engineers and software developers both locally and from around the country, were attracted by the company’s entrepreneurial culture, rapid growth, market position and prospects for continued success.
According to Curtis, Draker Labs promotes a company culture that encourages and values employee contributions to local communities. Each quarter, Draker sponsors a specific community project, event or charity and encourages employees to contribute time, resources and/or money to support the cause. Past projects/events include: Penguin Plunge (a February swim in Lake Champlain) to raise money for the Special Olympics; food drives to benefit the Chittenden County Emergency Food Shelf, Coats for Kids, Toys for Tots, and the Art Hop, a local event that allows artists to showcase their art. In addition, Curtis also gives employees two days of paid time off per year for volunteer services supporting a charity of their choice.
Curtis himself is an active and respected member of his local and business community and regularly volunteers his time to serve on local boards, mentor new entrepreneurs, and coach ski programs for kids. He is also a regular financial contributor to numerous state and national environmental organizations and children’s advocacy groups.
Mr. Curtis will compete for the national title at National Small Business Week ceremonies in Washington, D.C. May20 -22, 2012. Mr. Curtis will be locally honored by the U.S. Small Business Administration on June 14th at a ceremony presented by Vermont Business Magazine in the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, Shelburne, Vermont.
The June 14th Vermont Small Business Award celebration will also honor the following winners of the 2012 Small Business Awards:
Financial Services Champion
Vermont Economic Development Authority
Jo Bradley, CEO on behalf of the VEDA Team
Small Business Exporter
Joel Melnick, President, Nathaniel Group, Inc.
Home-Based Business Champion
Simeon Geigel, Small Business Development Specialist, CVOEO Micro Business Development Program
Jeffrey Butland Family-Owned Small Business
James Mount and Karen Mount, Owners, Westaff
Women In Business Champion
Sarah S. Spencer, Founder/President, Got Clicks?
Andrew Boutin, General Manager, Pellergy, LLC
Vermont Community/Rural Lender
Passumpsic Savings Bank
Bob Bishop, Executive Vice President on behalf of the Passumpsic Team
St, Johnsbury, Vermont
Vermont Special Award for Disaster Assistance
Linda Rossi, Associate State Director, Vermont Small Business Development Center
Freshwater Vermont is not the place one might expect expertise in the removal of salt from seawater, and yet St. George, Vermont is the home of Industrial Services, Inc., a thriving international company focused on desalination. In fact, it’s owner and founder, Scott Shumway, chose Vermont as an ideal place from which to conduct business. In 1999, he and his wife and children moved from Bermuda to Vermont to start his global business and to enjoy the state’s beauty and outdoor activities. “No matter where you’re located,” Shumway explained, “this is a field where you’re going to be working internationally. For me, moving to Vermont was a quality of life issue.”
Industrial Services Inc. (ISI) provides both the know-how and the equipment to convert millions of gallons of seawater into drinking water for municipal water supply companies and hotels and resorts around the world. Since its founding in 2003, ISI revenues have increased from $200,000 to nearly $8 million in 2010. The company includes a varying number of subcontractors; two full-time office employees to handle accounting, export issues, personnel and payroll; and six full-time engineers with flexible work assignments around the globe.
With funding from several loans guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Shumway developed a unique customer tool he calls a “plant configurator,” which allows customers to design their own desalination plants and give them direct, transparent access to equipment pricing. “Our goal was to empower the little guy so he wouldn’t be stuck talking to a distributor or manufacturer who might be marking up the equipment excessively,” Shumway said.” The SBA loans were also helpful because ISI needed up-front cash to support construction costs. “International transactions are commonly based on letters of credit, so the SBA loans provided us with access to cash when needed,” he explained.
Although ISI clients are global and its manufactured products are bound for export, Shumway said distance is no obstacle. Thanks to Internet connectivity, Shumway can troubleshoot desalination plants in the Bahamas or anywhere in the world, even to the extent of turning valves or pumps on and off through computer monitors in Vermont. Additionally, close proximity to the Burlington airport and the affordability of working near and living in Hinesburg have made conducting international business from Vermont completely viable. Finding a pre-existing reservoir of Vermont desalination experts has not been a problem because Shumway prefers training employees himself.
ISI’s recent project list includes the installation of a turnkey desalination plant for the Atlantis Resort in Nassau Bahamas with a second plant due for completion mid-year; the building and refurbishing of two desalination plants for the Marriott on Abaco Island, Bahamas; design and equipment support for a plant in Pakistan; and the rehabilitation of a plant in the British Virgin Islands, to name a few.
Shumway credits his international experience as a key reason for ISI’s success. “One of our greatest successes is that we very much understand the difficulties of keeping technology functioning in regions that don’t have the infrastructure to support it,” Shumway said. “The designs we offer have to be appropriate for the locations where the equipment is going. People are smart everywhere, so it really has nothing to do with their abilities. It has to do with the resources they have. If need be, we might convert a system to a 1960’s electro-mechanical model, which is reliable and easy to troubleshoot.”
Shumway lived for many years in various countries like the Canary Islands and the British Virgin Islands, and for seven years with his wife in Bermuda, where his son, now a sophomore at CVU and his daughter, now a sixth grader at Hinesburg Community School, were born. “If people have the opportunity, I encourage them to live outside the U.S. It’s a great experience because it gives you a better appreciation for the United States and also gives you additional perspective,” he said.
Currently, ISI is building the second of two desalination plants, which will produce 1.5 million gallons a day for the Atlantis Resort in Nassau. The Resort’s water supply systems take seawater out of the ground and convert it to drinking water which is then piped to the hotel, as well as to the resort’s waterpark pools and fountains. “We prefer to take the water out of the ground because it’s pre-filtered and basically cleaner,” Shumway explained. “We don’t have to get the fish and seaweed out, so it’s a less costly and more reliable process.” Working on the Nassau project are 10 electricians, pipe fitters and mechanical personnel, some of which are ISI employees and some are subcontractors.
“The desalination industry is maturing,” Shumway said. “It used to be that desalination was regarded as a last resort, but as traditional resources are being used up, the technology is becoming more efficient and much more mainstream.” As a result, ISI is beginning to standardize more of its products. “Ten or fifteen years ago, we designed from scratch every time. Now we still have to customize somewhat because water quality varies, but that’s mainly for the pre-treatment of the water. It’s difficult when you have high pressure, corrosion, and seawater-- a toxic mix. We have to design around all these issues for safety and equipment endurance.”
Originally, ISI started as a consulting business but gradually began to supply and then manufacture products for the systems they were creating. “These systems consist of many different parts, all of which have to be purchased and shipped and installed,” Shumway said. When they couldn’t find what they needed or had issues of corrosion or faulty performance with available products, ISI designed and built its own products. ISI now manufactures its own filter housings and markets them under their spin-off company, “Micron Filter Housing.” Shumway also invented an energy-recovery device now used in some of the largest desalination plants in the world.
Shumway’s own expertise in desalination was born of a love of the ocean (he is a certified scuba diver) and a fascination with other cultures. After growing up near two oceans, first in California, then in Maryland, Shumway graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in mechanical engineering, which offered flexibility and the potential for innovation. After looking for work on the ocean in Cape Cod, he got a job at a desalination plant in Boston. From there he followed his inventive hunches. “I think a lot of entrepreneurship is learning what’s out there before you jump in. If you do that, then you know what’s missing. If you offer what’s missing, people listen to you.”
Shumway’s advice to future entrepreneurs is based on the logic he used when considering his own professional path: “Find a niche. You don’t necessarily have to try that hard to create a profitable business if you pursue work that is not just another one of many. If you can find that niche and do a good job, I’m confident you’ll be successful.”
Scott Shumway, founder and president of Industrial Services, Inc., was selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration as the 2011 Small Business Exporter of the Year. Nominated by Ian Rutherford, Partner with Technology Strategies Group, Shumway was chosen for the award based on his company’s increased sales, growth of employment, and creative overseas marketing strategies. He was honored by SBA during the Vermont Small Business Awards ceremony at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn on June 16, 2011.