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EMSEAL: How a $10 Thousand Grant Turned into a $1.5 Million Sale

Federal grants for starting a business do not exist -- but there are certain grants for growing a business and other initiatives that help achieve specific agency agendas. For example, in order for America to be competitive globally -- the SBA administers grants for small businesses conducting scientific research & development and innovation in high-tech (SBIR/STTR). Government grants are very competitive and have strict rules for what the funds can be used for.  The STEP (State Trade and Export Promotion) grant originated because of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.  Part of this law builds on the President’s National Export Initiative, supporting and promoting American companies to grow sales outside the United States and create jobs – which is why we have the STEP program.

Westborough, Massachusetts-based EMSEAL took full advantage of SBA’s STEP program in 2013 -- using a 10K grant to fund a trade mission to the United Kingdom and a targeted print media campaign to raise awareness about the company.  EMSEAL leveraged this opportunity to connect with key decision-makers in the architectural design and engineering fields responsible for the construction of large commercial and public projects around the world.  EMSEAL’s closing of a $1.5 million sale to help fortify the new construction of King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – was one of the many successes as a result of the STEP program nationally.  In addition to the export contract won in Saudi Arabia, other notable sales that year included London’s Heathrow Airport and the San Francisco 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium domestically – making a record year for the company.

How did they do it?  Since 2004, EMSEAL has been guided by the free business advisory services of the Massachusetts Export Center, which is part of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center – supported by SBA, the Massachusetts Department of Business Development and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Isenberg School of Management.

As a result of developing a longstanding relationship with their local international trade specialist – Julia Dvorko, PhD., Central MA Regional Director for MA Export Center – EMSEAL has been able to identify and evaluate international distributors in numerous foreign markets and significantly increase its geographic footprint into some very challenging emerging markets, including: Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Jordan, Indonesia, India, among other nations.   Julia worked with EMSEAL’s International Project Manager, Bashar Moussallieh to access expert resources such as U.S. Commercial Service and the State of Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment that led to valuable connections paving the way to exponential export growth.  In 2014, exports accounted for about 12% of the company’s total revenue – growing about 30% from the previous four years.  As a result of the new business and growing interest in their products worldwide, EMSEAL was also able to create eight new jobs.   Today, EMSEAL has about 60 international distributors in almost 50 countries worldwide and is poised for a much stronger increase in export sales over the next several years.

“Export has always been a part of our business, my father and family immigrated to Massachusetts from South Africa in 1979 -- and I think that we brought with us the feeling that the world is not such a terribly big place after all, and with the right approach, you can benefit from it in business.” said Lester Hensley, CEO of EMSEAL at an export event.

This year, EMSEAL was recognized doubly for all their success, being awarded with the 2015 New England Exporter of the Year and also 2015 Massachusetts Exporter of the Year.

“The Exporter of the Year award by the SBA is significant and it is noteworthy that EMSEAL was named not only the MA Exporter of the Year, but also the New England Exporter of the Year.   The rallying wisdom at EMSEAL is “This is not our recession – we will not participate” and the numbers show the results…a fantastic business that has expanded over time with increased revenues, profitability, territories and employees.” said Robert H. Nelson, Massachusetts District Director.

For more information about theSBA State Trade and Export Promotion grant, please visit: