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In 1976, Watertown native Randy Yerden was a lab technician at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine when he found he was unable to control cellular oxygen levels using conventional lab equipment. Necessity is the mother of invention, and when Yerden realized he could create a new design to provide a better environment for cell cultures, the first product that would eventually evolve into the Xvivo System was born.
Yerden started manufacturing and selling the device from his garage in 1982 and worked for years developing and selling improved versions of the invention. After hiring several employees the garage space quickly became inadequate and Yerden relocated the business. With room to grow in Lacona, NY, staffing levels grew to more than 20 as Yerden developed new designs for incubators, glove chambers and other laboratory equipment. The Xvivo System is a modular, scalable and custom configurable “clean room in a box” that allows for cell incubation and experimentation in a closed optimized environment. By approaching equipment design from the perspective of cellular needs, Yerden’s fully realized Xvivo System is able to offer new capabilities to any laboratory previously available only to cutting edge scientists.
“Our unique equipment means that cell therapists are no longer dependent on the limited number of multi-million dollar clean rooms, usually only found in large tertiary hospitals and research centers. The Xvivo System’s modular nature fits any cell production process, and is extremely affordable,” explains Yerden.
Though not Yerden’s intended market, medical researchers discovered the Xvivo System’s capabilities for cell research and the global demand for the Xvivo System spiked dramatically. Yerden turned to the Oswego Small Business Development Center in 2010; with their help, Yerden developed a business plan to target foreign markets and for economic development funding from the Oswego County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) for increased production capacity of the Xvivo System. The company was able to ramp up production to meet demand, and with product exported all over the world, has grown to employ 58 in a rural Oswego County town with population of 582. Today there are hundreds of Xvivo Systems currently used in biomedical research to find cures for numerous diseases, including in Hong Kong for leukemia and neuroblastomas, in Finland for diabetes, in Canada for lung injury and cornea repair, in Scotland for cancer and in Poland for skin and cartilage repair, among many others.
In April of this year the Xvivo System was used in a revolutionary operation at Children’s Hospital of Illinois to produce a tissue-engineered trachea for a 32-month-old Korean toddler born without a windpipe. The little girl’s stem cells were isolated from a simple blood draw and seeded onto a trachea-shaped plastic scaffold provided by Harvard BioScience. The new man made trachea was produced and grew inside the Xvivo System and then successfully implanted, marking the first time a child has received a tissue-engineered trachea. Avoiding donor tissue virtually eliminated the chances of her immune system rejecting the transplant. The ability to locate the Xvivo System inside the surgical suite made the innovative procedure much safer and much easier. The new trachea was only transported a few feet to the patient instead of a 150-mile flight from the nearest clean room in Chicago.
Yerden views the company’s experience in the ground-breaking surgery as pivotal: “Our company was able to quickly build and deliver the FDA compliant system for the trachea production in a matter of weeks. This is unprecedented in the history of the industry. It proves these exciting new therapies can be performed in any hospital.”
Under Randy Yerden’s leadership, BioSpherix has grown from a startup in a garage to a multi-million dollar business with innovative products shipped across the world. Last year, experienced business executive Michael Bovalino was hired to run day-to day operations and Yerden’s son Peter started learning the different company divisions on a rotational basis. The growth and success of the company was highlighted when Yerden was honored as the SBA Syracuse District Small Business Exporter of the Year in 2012. Relentless growth is anticipated, and BioSpherix is expanding to a second location in Oswego County in order to accommodate swelling demand for the Xvivo System. Yerden has spent 30 years building his business by staying one step ahead of the competition with lean manufacturing and nimble design processes, and plans continued growth and commercial success for many years to come.
In 2003, Ryan Franklin, and his wife Darla, identified an opportunity to purchase Sheridan Electronics, a Radio Shack franchise, in Sheridan, Wyoming. They believed that a franchise would offer significant benefits in terms of marketing, brand recognition, and connections with reliable suppliers. Ryan liked that his franchise agreement would also let him carry other brands, so he could tailor this business to his market. Ryan and Darla also believed Sheridan would be a great place to settle and raise their family.
In 2010, with several years of business experience behind them, Ryan and Darla were ready to refinance their business without a guarantor. John Mueke, Community Lender, Security State Bank, suggested that he could provide this refinancing at favorable terms by using an SBA Patriot Express Loan Guaranty. The loan allowed them to remove the family guarantor and transfer full ownership to Ryan and Darla. Patriot Express loans are designed specifically for veterans and their spouses and are offered by SBA’s network of participating lenders nationwide. Patriot Express loans are available in amounts of up to $500,000 and feature SBA’s fastest turnaround time for loan approval. SBA has guaranteed over 2.5 million dollars in Patriot Express loans in Wyoming. In the three years since John and Darla received their SBA loan, they have grown their business in several ways.
Despite the sluggish economy, Ryan says “The last two years have been the best.”
Ryan credits his strong work ethic and electronics experience he gained in the U.S. Navy for his success in owning and managing Sheridan Electronics. His education taught him general business principles, how to think critically, and the importance of meeting deadlines. He also believes customer service and a positive attitude are vital to his ability to compete with larger box stores.
Ryan and his wife Darla are dedicated members of the community in Sheridan. He has been a member of the Chamber of Commerce for six years, and served as its president for the last two years. He has also served as the president and treasurer of the Travel and Tourism Board of Sheridan.
Ryan is optimistic about the future, but would tell new business “Don’t try to expand too fast, be patient so you are in the position to survive a down economy.”
The SBA does not endorse the opinions, products or services of any private individual or business entity.
By Scott Swingle, U. S. Small Business Administration Northern Area Manager (Fairbanks, AK)
AGVIQ LLC Two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle and 4,359 miles from Washington, D.C., Point Hope, Alaska, is the oldest continuously-settled Native American site in North America. This community of approximately 900 residents is home to the Tikigaq people, who in 1971, under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, established the Tikigaq Corp. With 1,000 Inupiaq shareholders, the corporation provides arctic construction, rural and urban environmental expertise, and logistics services experience. AGVIQ LLC, which was later created as an environmental subsidiary of Tikigaq Corp. and qualifies as a minority owned (Native American) small business through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 8(a) Program, partners with clients to provide a wide variety of environmental services with a commitment to proven technical solutions, health and safety, and quality. However, as a small, Native Alaskan Village Corporation, AGVIQ’s ability to develop business outside of Alaska was limited. That changed in 2002, when Tikigaq Corp. formalized an SBA-approved mentor-protégé relationship with CH2M Hill. The mentor-protégé relationship was approved by SBA on July 25, 2002, making the start of a successful six-year partnership between AGVIQ and CH2M Hill. The business elements and supporting structure of the relationship became the foundation for three SBA-approved joint ventures between AGVIQ (as the 8(a) concern) and CH2M Hill (as the joint venture partner). Each joint venture was strategically developed over the past five years for its unique contracting opportunity, and each has benefited both firms as well as their U.S. Navy clients. “This partnership between AGVIQ and CH2M Hill has been very successful, delivering more than $191 million of high-quality work for our clients,” says Ray Tyler, Director of Navy Programs, CH2M Hill. The completed projects included 120 individual work orders to date and more than 400,000 hours of work with impressive safety statistics. Through the formal SBA mentor protégé program, CH2M Hill mentors AGVIQ in the areas of financial management, business development, business planning, project delivery and technology transfer. The program is intended to improved AGVIQ’s overall efficiency and competitiveness by reducing operational costs, enhancing the performance of environmental engineering and remediation services, developing marketing programs, expanding AGVIQ’s federal and commercial markets and transferring selected CH2M Hill technologies. The formalized partnership has been instrumental for both firms, and each firm looks after the well-being of the other. For example, rather than engaging in a proprietary struggle, there is open sharing of information and resources that are in the best interests of both the business partnership and mentoring relationship, which ultimately services the best interests of the client. This approach enables the team to deliver client work seamlessly while meeting client needs in an efficient way from a cohesive team. In addition, through the mentoring and joint-venture relationships, the AGVIQ-CH2M Hill team can self-perform work by drawing on a large pool of resources available to both partners. To date, more than 70 percent of the available labor efforts have been self-performed. AGVIQ has also benefited in all areas of the mentoring relationship. Receiving guidance on establishing the policies, processes and procedures necessary to compete for government contracts has been instrumental in AGVIQ’s success. With a staff of 35employees, AGVIQ has enriched its skills and professional development opportunities through its exposure to CH2M Hill technology and experts. Health and safety continues to be the primary focus for both firms, and the mentoring relationship supports this by leveraging CH2M Hill’s Target Zero safety commitment culture and training programs.