Christina DeAntonia, born and raised in Morgantown West Virginia, had a dream - a dream of Hollywood and fashion. She, as the daughter of an entrepreneur, also had determination - so at the age of 19, she moved to Tampa Florida to purse her passion at design school.
In 2005, after completing her education, Christina moved to Hollywood to achieve her dream of being a wardrobe stylist. During her five years in Los Angeles she did just that. Christina had the opportunity to work on commercials, music videos, independent films - and her overall dream, a feature film. After conquering all she went to LA to accomplish, she was ready to continue her stylist career in the hometown she loved - Morgantown.
Christina wanted to do something no one else was doing in Morgantown, so she decided to open her own boutique and bring Melrose Avenue to Morgantown. She had the dream but knew she had to pitch it to find the funds.
After shopping her dream around to multiple banks she ended up in the office of the Small Business and Development Center (SBDC), speaking with business coach, Sharon Stratton. At the age of 29, Christina didn’t have the collateral required by most banks and wasn’t sure where to go next. Stratton helped Christina in preparing her business plan and put her in contact with the Washington County Council, who is an SBA’s microloan guarantor.
“I loved the fact that I could sit down and talk with someone open and honestly,” said Christina when asked about her experience working with the Washington County Council. “They really listen to your concerns and questions and they are there to help you succeed.”
Christina has words of wisdom to other young entrepreneurs who may face the same challenges, “Contact your local SBDC office and get started on your business plan,” she said. “If you can’t put forth the effort it takes to plan your business, then you aren’t ready to dedicate your life to it.”
Christina had the hard work and dedication needed to launch a new business. In April of 2010, she opened the doors to Altered Ego Boutique. Now, after being in business for three years, she is pursuing a new dream – Christina will soon launch an online version of Altered Ego Boutique.
“I owe a great amount of gratitude to Sharon at the SBDC and also those involved with the SBA microloan program,” she said. “They helped me accomplish my dream.”
To contact the WVSBDC call the Business AskMe! Line at 888-982-7232. For more information on loan guarantee programs visit sba.gov.
A day in the life of Shahram and Shana Shafii, owners of the Donut Connection in Fairmont, includes being the boss, repairman, accountant, business manager, night-shift production employee, marketing representative and cheerleader. Pretty much it means working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Although Shafii’s life now revolves around his business, you will never hear him complain. What you will see is him tackle his day with a contagiously positive attitude and sweet demeanor.
The Donut Connection has seen quick success during their first year of operation. Shafii’s eyes lit up when he spoke of what the future holds. “It’s exciting, we are so blessed to be in this community,” Shafii said. “We have great employees and Fairmont has really embraced the shop. Because of this, we are currently looking into a larger space and expanding our product line.”
Although the success he is experiencing is sweet, it hasn’t always been easy. Getting a loan to open the franchise was a challenge. Since it was a start-up loan in the restaurant industry, many banks that Shafii visited wouldn’t take the risk. That’s until he was connected with Tim James from First Microloan of West Virginia.
First Microloan of West Virginia is a designated lender for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Through the SBA microloan program, First Microloan of West Virginia is able to provide up to $50,000 of capital to higher risk small businesses. They don’t take business away from banks, but offer banks another option to provide their customers.
“Shahram was great to work with, he knew exactly what he wanted and he did his homework,” said James. “He really took the time to do research and then asked questions.”
Shafii, a former college football coach for Fairmont State University, has the same determination in business as he had on the field. “You have to see it - have the vision, smell it - be persistent, and taste it - don’t take no for an answer,” Shafii said. “I wasn’t going to let one, two, three or even a hundred banks telling me no, stop me from pursing my dream.”
It is because of that persistence that Shafii is now a small business success story. When asked his words of wisdom for other’s who may be experiencing the same struggles, Shaffi said, “You have to do your research, you have to find people like Tim James and ask them questions, and you have to follow through.”
Michael Baher found himself in a situation we are all too familiar with these days… unemployment. He constantly searched the classifieds and interviewed with local companies, but wasn’t satisfied with the available positions. He then decided to put fate in his own hands and become a small business owner.
Michael and his wife Cheryl saw a need for a packing and shipping store that would be open for extended hours and allow customers the capability to compare shipping rates. The duo started researching franchise opportunities, but quickly realized the upfront cost just wouldn’t work for them. They decided to open an independent store where they had the flexibility to ship with all carriers instead of just one.
Michael and Cheryl emptied their 401k and embarked on a great adventure. In November of 2010, that adventure took on the West Virginia friendly name of Mountain State Pack & Ship, LLC.
Michael and Cheryl were able to open Mountain State Pack & Ship with no financial loans. In 2011, after having a successful first year, the owners were ready to grow the business and expand their services. After visiting multiple banks, the two found themselves in a difficult situation. They were being turned down for loans because the business, that had shown growth since the day it opened, had no credit history.
Michael and Cheryl, who have always banked locally, had a change in luck when they met with Shelby Cain and Mike White from Huntington Bank. They were able to get the husband-wife business team set up with a loan through the SBA 7(a) Fa$track loan guarantee program.
“Mountain State Pack & Ship was an ideal customer for Huntington Bank to introduce the SBA 7(a) loan guarantee program to,” said Mike White, Vice President of Huntington Bank. “They were a good customer and we were happy we could help them out in their early stage of growth.”
In just a couple of weeks, with the help of the loan guarantee from the SBA, Michael and Cheryl were able to purchase equipment they needed in order to expand their business. “The SBA was there and backed us when no one else would,” stated Michael. “The process was quick and painless and I only have good things to say about the SBA program. It just made sense for us!”
Mountain State Pack & Ship employs two part-time employees on a regular basis. During their busy season, around Christmas, they employ five full-time employees. The business started out as a packing and shipping company however, with the SBA loan guarantee program they have expanded and now offer even more services. With capital from the loan, the company was able to purchase a foam-in-place machine that allows them to ship fragile items safely and cost effectively, and a wide format printer to enlarge photographs and print banners.