Judy Sheppard is a lot like the Energizer Bunny. As the president and CEO of Professional Services of America, Inc. (PSA, Inc.), Sheppard is constantly on the go seeking business opportunities for her human resources and human resources development business headquartered in Parkersburg, W.Va. She also is a strong advocate of women-owned and West Virginia businesses, two groups she relentlessly promotes throughout her travels around the country. “Each day I set a goal to do something that will make a positive impact on West Virginia’s business climate,” said Sheppard. “Making a difference in West Virginia and for West Virginia businesses is what keeps me going.”
Sheppard was recognized at the Women Impacting Public Policy’s national conference as the 2008 WIPP Member to Watch which demonstrates her commitment to the advancement of women-owned businesses.
PSA was incorporated in 1996 as a derivative from two companies established by Sheppard, Accumark Services, Inc. and Plastic Source Alternatives. As a result of being situated in West Virginia’s Polymer Alliance Zone, much of PSA’s work was reliant on the chemical industry. Sheppard felt even though PSA was doing well and growing, she needed to explore other avenues of growing the business. That is when she looked into the U.S. Small Business Administration’s certification programs. “I knew in order to take the company to the next level, government contracting was the way to go,” stated Sheppard. “Being a Native-American, woman-owned small business fit SBA’s certification program criteria and provided the channel into the world of government contracting.”
“Two words come to mind when I hear the name Judy Sheppard; passionate and believer,” said Melissa Loder, Business Development Specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s West Virginia District Office. “She believes in West Virginia; in her fellow small business entrepreneurs; in doing her absolute best; and she believes all this with great passion. A person like this is always a pleasure to work with.”
The U.S. government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services – from spacecraft and advanced scientific research to paper clips and landscaping services. Federal agencies are required to establish contracting goals, with at least 23 percent of all government spending targeted to small business. The SBA’s certification programs are aimed at leveling the playing field to allow small businesses to obtain a fair share of these government contracts
“The fact that PSA, Inc. is an 8(a), Small Disadvantaged Business and HUBZone certified company has helped my business achieve higher margins,” added Sheppard. “It really makes a difference when competing against larger companies.”
The 8(a) program is an essential instrument for helping socially and economically disadvantaged entrepreneurs gain access to the economic mainstream of American society. The program provides access to sole-source federal government contracts. “So far, we have been able to obtain approximately a dozen government contracts through certification programs,” said Sheppard. “Though each contract is a bit different, they all have been well worth the effort. I would encourage anyone remotely interested in government contracting to take the initiative and see if they qualify for any of the certification programs. I am certainly glad I did.”
Sheppard was recently recognized for her outstanding business achievements by West Virginia University at Parkersburg. She received an honorary degree at the institution’s graduation ceremony this past December.
If you are interested in learning more about government contracting, contact Melissa Loder at SBA’s West Virginia District Office at (304) 623-5631 extension 224 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org), or visit the SBA’s web site at www.sba.gov and select Contracting Opportunities under the Services heading.
Joe Lillard relocated to the Berkeley Springs area 35 years ago from the Washington D.C. metro area to try his hand at farming. But it was farming that eventually directed him to homeopathic medicine and entrepreneurship. That journey from country farmer to small business owner resulted in Lillard, president of Washington Homeopathic Products, being named the West Virginia 2009 Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Lillard attended the 46th annual National Small Business Week Celebration in Washington D.C. and was presented with his award by SBA's Administrator, Karen Mills, as was entrepreneurs from each state of the union. Lillard was also recognized as Small Business Person of the Year at the 2009 West Virginia Business Awards Celebration on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at the Tamarack Conference Center in Beckley.
As a farmer, Lillard soon discovered the cost of veterinary care generally outweighed dollar value of his livestock. In order to curb costs, he began looking into homeopathic medicine. A neighbor, who happened to be a veterinarian, had a goat with an abscess that wouldn’t heal. After trying conventional medicine, which didn’t seem to be helping, they concocted a homeopathic remedy which worked. It was at this point Lillard became a homeopathic believer.
For the next two decades, Lillard made the daily commute to Bethesda, Md., to work at a homeopathic pharmacy and study the benefits of homeopathic medicine. When an opportunity to purchase the business, then called Washington Homeopathic Pharmacy, arose in 1991, Lillard jumped at the chance.
After years of commuting, Lillard decided to move the business a little closer to home and opened his Washington Homeopathic Products storefront in historic downtown Berkeley Springs. In 2004, he moved the entire operation to West Virginia.
Since purchasing the company, Lillard has transformed it from a five employee business with an annual income of $150,000 into a multi-million dollar operation with over 25 employees.
Homeopathic medicine is a form of alternative medicine that works on the principle of stimulating the body’s natural defenses to fight off illness and disease. It is not only for use in the veterinary field, but used by people throughout the world.
Washington Homeopathic Products has over 65,000 customers in more than 20 countries. Their clients include pharmacies, retail stores, practitioners, midwives, veterinarians, distributors and the general public. The business continues to grow as a result of web-based sales, superior quality product, and an excellent reputation for customer service.
Lillard has also utilized the services of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center to enhance WHP's workforce, more specifically their training grant program. The program provided funding to train key staff on crucial programs inherent to the homeopathic industry.
West Virginia SBA Director Judy McCauley said the company epitomizes the criteria for the Small Business Person award and is an excellent representative for small business success in West Virginia.
Lillard was nominated by Misty Householder, marketing director for Washington Homeopathic Products.
Scott Hedges and Mike Grady make a powerful team. As president and vice president of Power Sonix Inc., located in Martinsburg, this dynamic duo has designed and manufactured the most effective aircraft loud hailer systems available, gaining them a worldwide reputation.
It is this distinction that has led to Hedges and Grady being selected as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2010 Small Business Exporter of the Year for West Virginia.
Power Sonix originated in 1997 in the basement of Hedges’ home under the name Applied Electro-Mechanics Inc. Both men were previously employed at Applied Electro Mechanics Inc. in Point of Rocks, Md., Hedges as the plant manager and Grady as director of research and development.
“We tried to keep our new name similar to that of the original company so we could continue to do business with the foreign companies we were dealing with through our overseas agent at the time,” Hedges said. “We just added a hyphen to the old name.”
In 1995, Grady developed the world’s first, light-weight neodymium magnet, compression driver for high-powered speech projection devices used on ships and aircraft. The device was the precursor to the current technology used in the hailer systems now manufactured at Power Sonix.
It was just after the design of the light-weight driver that the company was sold to a British multi-national firm allowing Hedges and Grady to strike out on their own as entrepreneurs.
“The firm wanted us to go to work for them but we decided we could do better as their competitor,” Grady said.
What makes the loud hailer system so attractive to those in the aviation field is the minimal weight, compact design, and compatibility with most cockpit audio controllers. The system is engineered to project extremely clear speech and sounds over the noise of engines, rotors and other conditions at distances over a mile.
“A good example of the effectiveness of our system happened in Oregon in March,” Grady said. “A 4-year-old girl was located in the rugged terrain around her home after being missing 28 hours when she recognized her grandmother’s recorded voice being projected from an airplane circling a quarter mile above her. That gives you an idea as to the clarity of the speech projection capacity of our system.”
“We are probably 95 percent recognized as the world leader in this type of technology in speech communication,” he added.
The company exports to over 20 countries worldwide which accounts for nearly 95 percent of their business. In the United States, sales have been primarily airborne law enforcement organizations in seven states, but domestic sales are steadily growing as a result of word of mouth and reputation.
“The airborne segment of the law enforcement is a small community and a niche market,” Grady said. “They talk among each other at trade shows and via the Internet and those with our system tell others ‘if you want to talk to someone from the air, you need a Power Sonix system.’”
Hedges recalls an overseas incident where the Power Sonix system was being used to relay instructions at an event alongside of a competitors system. “The commander couldn’t understand what was being said through the other system but ours was crystal clear. Needless to say, we made a few more sales after that day.”
Both men realize they manufacture a well-made, successful product that fills a specific need in a niche market.
“It’s a great product when there is a need, but there has to be a need,” Grady said. “And with the durability of the system, they generally have a 10- to 12-year life span and a less than 1 percent return rate, it’s good in one sense, but in terms of resale, we don’t have as many opportunities to make a sale.”
As far as advice to other businesses looking into the world of exporting, Hedges and Grady offer the following: “Be realistic about your expectations; pursue quality and excellence in your products; make your customer relationships as personal as you can; persistence and believe in yourself is an absolute requirement; and deep pockets wouldn’t hurt either.”