Yakima Valley Winery Named 2019 SBA Seattle District Rising Startup of the Year

Fortuity Cellars Owners To Be Honored at Celebration to Recognize All Local SBA Award Winners May 8
Release Date: 
Monday, April 29, 2019
Release Number: 
2019-04-29
Advisory Date: 
Monday, April 29, 2019
Contact: 
Lisa White | lisa.white@sba.gov | (206) 553-7050

SEATTLE – The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 2019 Seattle District Rising Startup of the Year is Fortuity Cellars in Wapato, Washington co-owned by husband and wife Lee and Emily Fergestrom.

Fortuity Cellars is a boutique winery based in Yakima Valley focused on premium wines crafted from Bordeaux and Rhone varietal grapes.

Lee Fergestrom’s previous professional roles centered on executive level product strategy and business management at five Seattle tech startups. Emily Fergestrom comes from a background of strategic communications. After spending more than 20 years working for other people, the couple decided to use their talents to work for themselves and make their dream of opening a winery come true.

In 2017 the Fergestroms started Fortuity Cellars when they hired Winemaker Johnny Brose, connected with local grape growers and leased a space at the Yakima Valley College to produce wine.

The following year they launched the Founder’s Wine Club before they had even produced their first bottle. They secured new customers, started applying and winning wine awards, and launched their e-commerce website. They purchased property and partnered with local architects and engineers to design their future winery.

Fortuity Cellars generated $100,000 in revenue and signed up more than 100 wine club members in the first nine months without a dedicated retail location.

“Fortuity Cellars demonstrates how a well-planned startup can hit the ground running through the use of innovative marketing and tools like e-commerce,” SBA Seattle District Director Kerrie Hurd said. “Their early success also indicates that Washington state continues to be a great place to start and grow a small business, especially one based on locally produced products.”

The SBA Rising Startup Award – part of National Small Business Week May 5-11, 2019 – recognizes a business with one to three years in operation and less than five employees that has utilized one or more SBA services and shows potential for growth. Winners must also show growth in net worth and business expansion, increase in sales, innovativeness of products or services, response to adversity and contributions to community-oriented projects.

As a small business with less than three years of revenue, the Fergestroms found it difficult to obtain a conventional loan from traditional banks. Fortunately, they were encouraged to pursue funding through the SBA Loan Guarantee Program.

The couple reached out to their local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in 2018 and worked with Certified Business Adviser Sarah Truglio to develop and refine business projections and assumptions to apply for an SBA loan.

Thanks to Truglio’s financial preparation help, Fortuity Cellars was approved for an SBA loan through Columbia Bank in April 2019 for funds to construct their permanent winery facility.

“Starting any small business, particularly a winery, takes a lot of grit and perseverance,” Emily Fergestrom said. “The assistance provided by SBA and SBDC enabled us to continue on early progress and make our winery a reality. We can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

In addition to expanding their winery, Fortuity Cellars is also in the event-venue business and plans to grow through hosting weddings, corporate events and other large gatherings in the future. Once the winery construction is completed, they project increasing wine production five times current volumes.

The Fergestroms’ early success has allowed them to make a difference in their community. They set aside a certain amount of wine and tasting experiences to donate to non-profits with missions to support farmers and growers and to organizations that champion small business and the arts – particularly those located in the Yakima Valley. They also donate wine to local charitable fundraisers and encourage employees to take time off for community service and volunteerism.

"National Small Business Week is a time to recognize the impact of small businesses, which make up 99 percent of all businesses in the Pacific Northwest and create two out of every three net new jobs,” SBA Regional Administrator Jeremy Field said. “Small business owners represent our country’s best. They are innovators, job creators and community leaders. Shining a spotlight on their inspirational stories and journeys is an honor.”

A celebration honoring local SBA winners from Washington state and the SBA Seattle District – which serves the state of Washington and northern Idaho – will be May 8, 2019. Other SBA local awards that will be recognized at the celebration include Small Business Person of the Year, Exporter of the Year, 8(a) Graduate of the Year, Veteran-Owned Small Business of the Year and Small Business Champion of the Year.

Each year since 1963, the President has issued a proclamation calling for the celebration of National Small Business Week. SBA recognizes outstanding small business owners for their personal successes and contributions to our nation.

For more information about National Small Business Week, visit www.sba.gov/nsbw.

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About the U.S. Small Business Administration

The U.S. Small Business Administration makes the American dream of business ownership a reality. As the only go-to resource and voice for small businesses backed by the strength of the federal government, the SBA empowers entrepreneurs and small business owners with the resources and support they need to start, grow or expand their businesses, or recover from a declared disaster. It delivers services through an extensive network of SBA field offices and partnerships with public and private organizations. To learn more, visit www.sba.gov. The Seattle District Office serves most of Washington and northern Idaho with office locations in Seattle and Spokane.

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