Bia Diagnostics is the manifestation of a long-term science bond shared by father and daughter, Thomas and Hannah Grace. One of Hannah’s first memories is of observing, at the age of three, the division of cells through her father’s microscope at a UVM lab. “I remember that as being the most amazing experience,” Hannah said. Thomas and Hannah’s mutual love of science deepened over the years and prompted the co-founding of the company in 2007.
Bia Diagnostics, a Burlington food-testing lab, specializes in detecting allergens, gluten and trace contaminants in commercially-produced food products. With funding assistance from an SBA-guaranteed loan, Thomas and Hannah Grace set up their own lab and office, purchased testing equipment, and began reaching out to potential customers. “Without the SBA loan, we couldn’t have done it,” Thomas Grace said. “We used it to buy equipment and create a buffer zone for things like rent and electricity until we could increase our income.” In the first two months of 2011, Bia Diagnostics grossed more than it did during its entire first year. Since its founding, the company has quadrupled its income stream.
The lab services offered by Bia Diagnostics not only protect consumers from exposure to food allergens and complications of autoimmune disorders such as celiac disease, but also protect food companies from potential recalls or lawsuits which could cost millions of dollars. “Fulfilling the responsibility of protecting both the public and the company is the rewarding part of what we do,” said Thomas Grace. The detective work of identifying the presence of a substance like peanuts or gluten, casein (a protein in milk), soy, or egg, as well as its exact origin in production, enables food companies to avoid costly recalls.
“Food companies send samples to our lab before they distribute food to the public,” Grace said. “Our business model is to be the personal laboratory of each customer so they can avoid a loss of credibility and fulfill their promise to those whose very lives may depend on it.”
Bia Diagnostics has become the lab of choice for many local companies as well as food producers throughout the United States and Canada. As the company completes the process of lab certification under the auspices of the International Standards Organization, Thomas Grace said he sees a potential for doubling and possibly tripling the business in the next five years.
Asked why food allergies appear to be on the rise, Thomas Grace suggested several possibilities, including the global nature of the contemporary food chain. “If you and your ancestors have been exposed over many generations to only local foods and suddenly you introduce something exotic into your diet, your body will somehow, somewhere recognize it as a foreign substance,” said Grace.
Bia Diagnostics analyzes cereals, beers, wines, pre-made packaged, frozen foods and ready-to-eat foods like sausages. In addition, the business makes and sells nutritional labels, provides research and analysis on food safety issues, and sells testing kits and swabs so companies can check both equipment and product. Thomas Grace also consults with and trains companies on testing their facilities for allergens, bacteria and mold.
“Bia” is Gaelic for “food,” reflecting the Irish background of Thomas Grace, who moved with his family from Dublin when he was five years old. Grace’s extensive background in science includes degrees in biochemistry and chemistry from UVM, research on cancer at Dartmouth and the University of Vermont, and developing testing procedures while employed by BioTek Instruments in Winooski, Vermont. Having also completed courses in business, Grace helped BioTek develop the North American market for food testing kits, and through that role, generated contacts with major food producers like Kraft, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Post, and Hershey as well as major food safety organizations like the FDA, USDA, and Health Canada. He recently developed a unique method of speciation for detecting gluten in foods and determining its source, specifically wheat, barley or rye.
“My amazing father has the ability to come up with new technologies at rapid speed,” explained Hannah Grace, who was a volunteer lab assistant before she was old enough to apply for a paid position. As Bia Diagnostics has grown, she says she has found her own niche in administrative and financial areas, as well as public relations.
The third ownership member of the Bia team is Thom’s wife and Hannah’s mother, Robin Grace, who has recently taken a more active role to help manage the growing company. Twenty-five years ago, Robin Grace started a home-based baking business while parenting the Grace’s three young children. The specialty at Skopje Bakery, named after the city in Macedonia where Robin’s grandparents once lived, was “borekas,” phyllo dough pastries based on her grandmother’s recipes. Robin said her borekas were extremely popular items at farmers’ markets, festivals, and co-ops all the way from Massachusetts to Canada. Prior to that, she had worked with families and young children in Headstart and pre-school settings. She has spent the last twenty-five years working with young children experiencing trauma and, in addition to her role at Bia, consults with non-profits and early childhood professionals in the areas of childhood development and the prevention of family violence.
“An area of passion for me,” Robin said, “is being part of and supporting a socially-responsible, employee-centered company.” Bia Diagnostics’ is a company of five employees, including all three members of the Grace family team plus two lab technicians, Teri Massey and Luke Emerson-Mason.
Reflecting on their accomplishments, Robin Grace rated starting a brand-new business in a tough economy at the top of her list. “And,” Hannah said, “we did it from the Old North End of Burlington and reached customers across all of North America.”
“I feel proud to be part of a company that has created a good place for people to work, and that benefits our community and the society as a whole,” Robin said. “Being able to work together successfully as a family is pretty amazing too.”
“It’s not just doing our daily thing, which is testing,” Thom added, “but giving back to our community. If you just think about the bottom line all the time, you miss the important thing, which is the people.”
“To be able to donate a percentage of our profits to important causes like Amnesty International or Women Helping Battered Women is very important to us,” Robin said.
As a whole, the Grace family agreed that social responsibility plays a meaningful role in their lives and their work. For example, during 2010, Bia Diagnostics donated over 400 hours and more than twenty percent of its profits to Women Helping Battered Women, the Town of Fairfax’s Recreation Fund, The Celiac Sprue Research Foundation, and Amnesty International. Three years ago, the Grace family introduced and helped implement the “Run for Empowerment” on the Burlington Waterfront as a fundraiser for Women Helping Battered Women. Over the course of the past three years, this annual event has raised more than $28,000 for Women Helping Battered Women.
“The state of Vermont is itself like a small town,” Hannah commented. “And it has provided resources to me personally. To ensure those resources are here for somebody else is as important to me as having this business be successful.”
Bia Diagnostics was selected by the U.S. Small Business Administration as Vermont’s Micro-Enterprise of the Year. Nominated by Greg Huysman, Small Business Lending Manager, Opportunities Credit Union, the business was chosen for the award based on growth, rising revenues over a three-year period, and service to the community. The company was honored by SBA during the Vermont Small Business Awards ceremony at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn on June 16, 2011.
Although she’s only twenty-five, Mollie Breault-Binaghi’s interests and education have given her a giant leg up in two businesses: Copy World, a printing services company in Barre, and Eternity Web, a web design business in S. Burlington. When she was twelve, she taught herself web design and programming. Later at Spaulding High School, she was editor-in-chief of The Sentinel. At St. Michael’s College, she majored in journalism and minored in art and focused on computer and graphic design.
Since purchasing the company in 2009, Copy World revenues have grown by fifty-six percent. Mollie attributes her dramatic success to an increase in digital options and services. She said Copy World is valued in the area for its customer service and excellent quality for the price. “It’s always shocked me how many people will go to the big box stores thinking they’re going to get the best deals there, and 9 times out of 10 we’re less expensive and faster,” Mollie said.
Working from all platforms and media, Copy World offers a full line of graphic design and printing services including wide-format architectural and engineering drawings, full-color banners and posters, booklets, newsletters, business cards and promotional materials, greeting cards, calendars, color & black-and-white reproductions and finishing services.
While her achievements are uniquely her own, Mollie’s family and friends have provided significant support. With input from her boyfriend and her family, she spent considerable time working out the details of a business plan. “When you’re going to be investing not only money but your time, you need to invest an equal amount of energy laying it out on paper before you jump in,” Mollie said. After completing the plan, she asked SBA resource partner and VtSBDC Business Advisor Dave Rubel to review it. “It was really helpful because Dave was able to show me where I was still missing some important details,” Mollie noted. With a small loan from her sister plus a personal loan from her stepfather, Mollie and her mother, Linda Aschnewitz, co-purchased Copy World in 2009 from her maternal aunt, Diane Fontana, who started the business in 1994 as an independent company.
In her alternate role as vice president of Eternity Web, a web design and development business launched in 2000 by her boyfriend, Michael Lannen, Mollie is both partial owner and employee. As a team, Mollie said she and Michael exchange inspiration and encouragement. Mollie encouraged Michael to launch a full-fledged business based on his web design work, and Michael persuaded Mollie to buy her aunt’s business.
At Copy World, Mollie does everything from customer service to graphic design and when appropriate, makes client referrals to Eternity Web. The two businesses mesh well because their clients often have complementary needs for both print materials and web-related assistance. Michael Lannen is in charge of sales and project management at Eternity Web, while Mollie handles the administrative work, including finances and human resources, as well as marketing through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Asked to describe what success means to her, Mollie replied, “To me, business success is a mixture of the feelings you get from helping customers and also from helping your employees. When you help your customers solve a problem they’ve been struggling with for hours or weeks, it can feel like magic to them, and it makes their day. And because employees are the people who help me help our customers, it’s really gratifying if I can provide an environment where everybody loves their job.”
Copy World employs three full-time workers, one intern from Vermont Works for Women, and one part-time worker, Mollie’s cousin Chantel Avery. Eternity Web employs three staff members in addition to Mike and Mollie. Among the perks Mollie offers are a game lounge at Eternity Web and a barter system with local restaurants. “I try to take time each week to let them know how much I appreciate them,” Mollie said of her employees.
Mollie’s advice for other young entrepreneurs is simple. “Plan!” she said. “And you have to be passionate about it. Otherwise it’s not worth doing. Owning your own business is not easy and it’s not going to make you rich quick. You’re going to be in it for the long haul so it’s got to be something you love.”
Mollie Brault-Binaghi, President of Copy World in Barre and Vice-President of Eternity Web in South Burlington, was named Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Nominated by Dave Rubel, Business Advisor, VT Small Business Development Center, Mollie was chosen for the award based on her company’s success as measured by increased sales and employees. She received her award on June 16, 2011 at the Vermont Small Business Awards ceremony, which took place at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, Shelburne, Vermont.
When Valerie Beaudet learned Flowers by Emslie & Co. was for sale in 2002, she bought the business with an $80,000 SBA-guaranteed loan plus funding from personal resources and immediately turned her attention to customer service and expanding her product line. The business was successful, and Beaudet began looking for another space in 2005.
Because the Barre City Fire Department had outgrown its original quarters, built in 1904, it relocated to a new public safety complex on the north end of town. Subsequently, the Barre City Council placed the historic firehouse on the real estate market, hoping the new owner could generate tax revenues, offer local employment, and retain the building’s historic character. Potential purchasers were asked to submit bids for review by the Council. Beaudet's bid was the only one to outline a plan which more than satisfied all three City Council parameters.
“From the very beginning, Valerie’s offer stood out,” said Mayor Thomas Lauzon. “Her vision of what the firehouse could be was extraordinary – a true community gathering place housing a café and several local businesses.”
Beaudet co-purchased the firehouse with her husband, Richard Beaudet, in 2006. “I couldn’t have done it without Richard,” said Beaudet. “He’s been right there beside me all the way.” Dedicated to preserving the firehouse as an historic resource, she undertook renovations that would honor the past by integrating it with the future. More than 200 historic firehouse photos adorn the walls throughout the building, and the Beaudets paid $4,000 for a replica of the original weathervane, valued at $1 million and housed at the Vermont Historical Society. “The firehouse just didn’t seem complete without it,” said Beaudet. “When I’d drop my son at daycare, I’d see the hose tower as I came down the hill and I’d think ‘it really needs the weathervane.’”
Three months after purchasing the building, Beaudet moved her staff, which currently numbers eight employees, and Flowers by Emslie & Co. into the firehouse. The store occupies roughly one-third of the ground floor with three different businesses occupying leased space in the upper story. Beaudet leased the remaining downstairs space to two different restaurant tenants over a two-year span, and when neither was successful, launched her own restaurant, Ladder 1 Grill, in July, 2009.
Ladder 1 Grill, open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., offers steaks, seafood, pasta dishes, pizza, salads and more than 25 appetizers. Since opening, Beaudet has tripled the Grill’s seating capacity, increased her employees from six to fifteen, and expanded the wine and beer selection to a full liquor bar. According to Beaudet, the Grill served roughly 4,500 customers last month and anticipates even more with the arrival of summer.
Today, Ladder 1 Grill is a vibrant hub of activity in Barre City. “People say it’s the hottest place in town,” Beaudet said. Asked if she thought the renovated firehouse had helped revitalize the downtown area, Beaudet responded, “Absolutely. We’re like the poster child with the City of Barre Planning Commission.”
“Under Valerie’s stewardship, one of Barre’s most significant landmarks has new life, houses 4 operating businesses, and has become a center of community activity,” said Stephen Gurin, Jr., Regional Vice President, Community National Bank, Barre.
As a volunteer, Beaudet directed Barre’s first downtown Oktoberfest in 2009 and has served on the Barre Partnership, a non-profit, volunteer organization dedicated to creating a thriving downtown. She currently serves as a board member of the Barre Area Development Corporation.
For her unwavering support of and contributions to the revitalization of downtown Barre, Valerie Beaudet, owner of “Ladder 1 Grill” and “Flowers by Emslie & Co.”, Barre, was chosen by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) as the recipient of the 2011 Vermont Community Spirit Award. She was honored at the 2011 Small Business Awards ceremony on June 16, 2011 at the Shelburne Farms Coach Barn, Shelburne, Vermont.