Small AND Mighty: Delaware Small Business Supercritical Fluids Technologies Goes Global…with a Little Help from the Delaware Small Business Development Center and the SBA

An old American Proverb holds that “from little acorns mighty oaks do grow.”

 

For Newark, Del. technology firm Supercritical Fluids Technologies (“SFT”), that maxim holds more than true.  Indeed, the upstart small chemistry business is stretching its sleepy college town roots toward next-level success, exporting its products from its headquarters in a state known as the “Small Wonder” to a growing list of customers across the globe.  SFT develops products that use commonly obscure organic chemistry technology to revolutionize the reaction chemistry behind many of the products and industries of modern life.   And, thanks to a little help from the U.S. Small Business Administration and its partners, STF has made a successful science of taking its inventions from the lab to the marketplace.   Today, SFT’s equipment is found in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, and its principles collaborate with Fortune 500 businesses, major universities, government research centers and smaller specialized organizations worldwide to advance research in supercritical fluid separation, reaction chemistry and high pressure applications. 

 

In turn, SFT does its part to give back, working to grow the small business ecosphere to benefit other small businesses.  Quite recently a one-person operation, itself, STF mentors newer firms in the Delaware Technology Park tech firm cluster that it calls home, becoming the “go-to” expert for neighboring firms’ export-related questions. 

 

For SFT, its community, and, indeed, the world, what began as the seed of SFT-founder Kenneth James’ single scientific hypotheses has blossomed into a virtual fountain of possibilities-turned-reality.  In all, SFT’s growth journey spanned more than two decades, but its next-level business expansion began with a single call – a call to its local SBA-backed Small Business Development Center. 

From Small Beginnings

SFT founder Kenneth James was a student studying organic chemistry at the University of Delaware in 1994, when he founded SFT to develop specialized equipment for use in separation and reaction chemistry.  James knew that the use of substances known as “supercritical fluids” (like carbon dioxide) were replacing other types of solvents in chemical laboratories as the processing solvent of choice, because that method was safer for end users and the environment than older methods.  So, using his knowledge of supercritical fluid technology, James founded SFT to develop, design, and market equipment that uses carbon dioxide to separate and react materials.

By 2013, James industry expertise yielded 11 supercritical fluid technology products and a business on the brink of next-level expansion.  Over the years, James had become a businessman but, at heart, he was a scientist.  So, for James, the only way to effectively expand SFT would be scientifically.  James would methodically create a de-facto board of marketing, finance, and small-business technology experts to streamline SFT’s online outreach, identify new business, and build an exporting business.  To accomplish that lofty goal in a single step, James turned to his local Small Business Development Center. Together, James and his Delaware SBDC counselors would devise a step-by-step plan to upgrade SFT’s online profile and break into international markets.  Essentially, together the SFT-SBDC team set a plan in place to “conquer the world” with its detailed exporting plan. 

 

Every day, the SBA-backed Delaware Small Business Development Center advises entrepreneurs like James on everything from business plans to day-to-day operations to breaking into new markets like exporting or online ventures.  Through the SBDC’s Digital Compass Program, the SBDC brings together promising small businesses and web/IT/communications vendors to develop high-impact digital strategies and e-savvy marketing plans using digital tools and analytics.  And, best of all, these services are offered free-of-charge or for a nominal fee to cover included materials.    

Finding a Path Forward…and Abroad

The Delaware SBDC worked closely with SFT to focus its growth plan.  Immediately, the SBDC team helped SFT craft a multi-pronged plan to take its products worldwide.  Beginning with modern marketing’s fundamentals, the SBDC’s Digital Compass team refined SFT’s online profile by upgrading its website.

 

Then, the team set its sights abroad.

 

As a scientist, James knew that the market for his products abroad could match or even exceed the market domestically.  Science knows no borders, so SFT’s challenge would be crafting the best plan to cross them, groundbreaking products in tow. 

 

And that’s where SFT’s SBDC advisors, once again, came into play. 

 

As small business experts, the Delaware SBDC team knew that, for SFT to go global, SFT would need a plan, including targeted customer pools and financing. 

 

In short, the Delaware SBDC team knew that SFT needed a little help from the SBA.

 

SBA’s STEP grant program makes matching-fund grants to states to help small businesses like SFT achieve their international exporting goals.  All across the United States, STEP grant funds help small businesses: learn how to export; participate in foreign trade missions and trade shows; obtain services to support foreign market entry; develop websites to attract foreign buyers; design international marketing products or campaigns; and more.

 

 

Since 2011, the Delaware SBDC has helped SFT apply for and win multiple STEP grants, allowing it to exponentially expand its international distributor network.  Through the STEP Program, SFT representatives have traveled on trade missions to South America, South Africa, and the Middle East.  Today, including relationships SFT built through the STEP Program, SFT has sold products in many countries, including: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territory, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam.

 

And, today, SFT continues to work with the Delaware Small Business Development Center, turning to its SBA-backed SBDC team for practical business advice in marketing, technology, exporting, and small business financing.

 

To learn more about how your small business can tap into SBA assistance – including free and low-cost small business counseling from the SBA-backed SBDC, SCORE and the Women’s Business Center – to start or grow your Delaware small business, visit http://www.sba.gov/de.