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Success Stories

Hands-on training, customized to the client’s unique needs, has made the Illinois SBDC at the Women’s Business Development Center a trusted and frequently-visited resource for Chicago small business owners. In testimonials from businesses as diverse as a tech start-up, a music company, and a home organizer, the value is clear: the SBDC staff members are candid, encouraging coaches well prepared to share their technical skills with entrepreneurs. The SBA has recognized these accomplishments and presented the Illinois SBDC at the Women’s Business Development Center with its 2017 Illinois SBDC Excellence and Innovation Award.


SBDC Director Karen Goldner and Director of Entrepreneurial Programs Meg Herman together provide programming that not only has an economic impact, but also helps clients bring their products to the market and realize their dreams. They listen closely to what small business owners want and need and are flexible when it comes to adjusting their... Read More

Wilbur Milhouse

Milhouse Engineering & Construction of Chicago has a strategy for success: staying small and nimble. President and CEO Wilbur C. Milhouse believes the competition isn’t always agile, but his company’s size and lack of bureaucracy allow it to answer customers’ technical inquiries quickly and effectively. On top of that, the firm strives to be cost-effective and offer innovative solutions. The SBA is recognizing Milhouse’s efforts and success, naming the company its 2017 Illinois 8(a) Graduate of the Year. (Milhouse also won the same award for SBA’s Region 5, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio.)

A University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign alumnus with more than two decades of diversified civil and structural engineering experience, Wilbur Milhouse founded his namesake small business in 2001. The professional full service engineering and architecture firm has offices in Chicago and seven other locations. Their projects address community... Read More

Fari Maissami

Small business owner Fariborz Maissami saw big potential in manufacturing small items. Denbur Inc., of Westmont, Illinois, makes products for the dental, hobby, beauty, and automotive industries, such as interdental brushes and picks, diagnostic instruments and light enhancing devices, makeup applicators, and more. Uniquely designed dispensers ensure users can access products easily and sanitarily. Throughout the company’s history, strong relationships with clinicians and dental schools have helped Denbur stay ahead of the competition and anticipate their customers’ needs. 

Because of his successful history serving clients both domestically and abroad, the SBA has named Maissami its 2017 Illinois Small Business Exporter of the Year.

Founded in 1979 as a consultant for European dental articulator manufacturers, Denbur began importing products in 1990 and, five years later, manufacturing products of its own. Currently, Denbur employs 30 people full time. As the company... Read More

Robert Birnecker and Sonat Birnecker Hart

Koval Distillery, a Chicago-based organic whiskey, liqueur, and spirit producer, was born in 2008 when Sonat Birnecker Hart and husband, Robert Birnecker, were living in Washington, D.C., but were ready for a change. The couple was starting a family and had always loved Chicago - Sonat grew up in and around the city – so, inspired by Robert’s family business, an award-winning distillery and winery in his native Austria, the pair launched Koval Distillery. It was Chicago’s first distillery since the mid-1800s.
In its nine years, Koval has grown to a $2.5 million company that employs more than 40 people in multiple states and countries, and the SBA has recently recognized Sonat and Robert’s achievements, naming them the 2017 Illinois Small Business Persons of the Year. Support from the SBA and its resource partners has helped Koval along the way. An SBA-guaranteed 504 Loan is being used to centralize production, storage, and shipping at one site, in order to improve service and... Read More