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San Francisco District Office

Success Stories

Success Stories

Helen and Brooke

Twenty years ago, in the back of a small garage in Marin County, CA, Helen Russell and Brooke McDonnell were working on a big idea. Brooke had pawned her mother’s wedding ring to buy a small Italian coffee roaster, and Helen was fine-tuning a marketing plan for their new wholesale coffee roasting company. Brooke held a creative vision, and Helen distilled it into a business plan. Together, they were about to launch Equator Coffees & Teas, one of the first coffee projects of its kind. Eventually, it would grow into something larger than they’d ever imagined. But first, they had to start small.

The idea came to Brooke and Helen when they were still flipping houses in the Northeast. “We were sitting in front of a Starbucks in Portland. Brooke was having an espresso and I was having my mocha, and she was describing all the nuances of what she was drinking. I said ‘I love business, you love coffee. Let’s do this.’ So we wrote a business plan for a café; we drove down to San... Read More


With over 20 years of experience in the business of making high tech furnaces for the fabrication of semiconductor wafers, Jonathan George, President of Expert Semiconductor Technology, a small business located in Scotts Valley, CA, has seen a lot of change in the industry.  His Expertech furnaces, or reactors, are integral to the manufacture of not just semiconductors, but also for solar cell and micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS) fabrication.  And with the global explosion of the semiconductor industry, the market for these reactors is now global as well. 

“To stay competitive in a dynamic international setting requires both cutting edge innovation and fiscal prudence,” notes George.  Expertech has made big strides on both fronts.  Its latest Compact Thermal Reactor (CTR) line offers a small footprint furnace ideal for R&D work in university and government labs and for pilot lines worldwide.  Demand is growing and sales to foreign buyers now constitute about a... Read More

Bear Republic Brewing Co.

Bear Republic Brewing Co. is a family owned business founded in 1995.  Rich and Tami Norgrove have been working alongside Sandy and Richard Norgrove Sr. since even before that first day.  The family visited every brewery from Canada to Mexico along the west coast, visited trade shows, and scouted potential sites for their brewery together.  The family dinner table at which the business plan was written over twenty years ago now serves as the meeting table in the conference room of their 152 employee business.

Brew Master Rich had apprenticed at Marin Brewing Company to learn the trade.  He was originally heading down a path as a graphic designer.  In the beginning, he was the only full time employee doing both the brewing and the marketing while everyone else kept their day jobs.  Tami had a non-profit and environmental career, and Richard Sr. had worked in logistics for Optical Coating Laboratory, Inc. and was a Navy veteran.

Since the soft opening of the brewery and... Read More

Training operations team April 2015

The recent experience of Lyncean Technologies, based in Fremont, California, and led by Dr. Ronald Ruth, is a case study of a breakthrough technology mastered with small business acumen and sold to the world. 

In 2002, Lyncean licensed an x-ray technology from Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.  Supported in part through a series of far-seeing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants, Lyncean went on to develop “Compact Light Source” (CLS) – the world’s first miniature X-ray probe employing state-of-the-art laser and electron beams.  Remarkably, Lyncean’s CLS can replace a traditional, stadium-scale synchrotron with a lab-size machine at one percent of the cost.  

A big opportunity came from a university research consortium in Germany, the Center for Advanced Laser Research, which was eager to employ CLS in cancer research. 

The lag time between buying materials, assembling a product, shipping it, and finally receiving payment can create a... Read More