Sturbridge-based Optim is “STEP-ing” into New Markets with the SBA’s Resource Network

By Norman Eng, Public Affairs Specialist

Small businesses are leaving sales on the table without a strategy to compete in the world market. 

Exports are a significant part of America’s economic success. Companies that are involved in exporting are 8.5% less likely to go out of business and tend to grow faster than non-exporting companies[1].  According to the International Trade Administration, there were 9,193 small and medium-sized exporters in Massachusetts representing 89% of all statewide exporters in 2015[2].

Sturbridge-based Optim LLC is one of those small businesses – growing international sales exponentially over the past several years by utilizing the programs and services of the SBA’s resource partner network and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 


A Visualization Company
Optim makes security devices to detect contraband and medical devices that enhance visualization of the ear, nose and throat for doctors.  Founded in 1970, the company develops, manufactures and supports state-of-the-art endoscopy products that help medical professionals, law enforcement and other industrial customers work more effectively and efficiently wherever they are needed.

As a small business with a focused niche, Optim couldn’t grow revenue to its full potential by just selling to domestic markets.  With 96% of all of the world's consumers and nearly three-quarters of the world's purchasing power being outside of the United States, limiting your company’s sales to local or even national markets means you’re reaching just a small share of potential customers.


Region 1 Administrator Wendell Davis Tours Optim


“STEP-ing” into New Markets
Optim positioned itself to achieve export success by first connecting with counseling services offered by Julia Dvorko of the Massachusetts Export Center, to learn about all of the resources available to support their goals.  Optim worked with Dvorko on a strategy that included: revamping its’ international marketing strategy with a focus on assessing current markets and sales partners; and cleaning up the company’s processes and channels.  

This meant eliminating underperforming partners in Belgium and Denmark and adding new partners in countries such as Sweden, Israel and Chile. Optim also entered new markets with its security products to drive further growth, including: United Arab Emirates, Australia, Norway, and Greenland.

The STEP program is funded through a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to states that match a percentage of the award.  Starting in 2016, Optim was awarded STEP grants (State Trade Expansion Program) in consecutive years to assist with overseas business development activities.  Through a partnership with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Office of International Trade & Investment, these grants aim to increase the number of small businesses exporting to foreign markets and boost the value of American made goods and services.

  • The first grant in 2016 in the amount of $8,500 was used to provide local translations and Gold Key Matchmaking services to participate in the Arab Health trade show in Dubai. 
  • In 2017, Optim was awarded a STEP grant in the amount of $10,000 and utilized it to participate in the Security and Counter Terror Expo in London. 
  • In 2018, Optim was awarded a STEP grant in the amount of $12,000 to participate in the SOFEX Show in Amman, Jordan. 
  • Most recently in 2019, Optim was awarded the STEP grant in the amount of $12,000 which was used to participate at Medica in Dusseldorf, Germany, a U.S. Commercial Service Gold Key Matchmaking Service in UAE and upcoming participation in a European ENT Congress this June in Brussels.   

All of the international trade expansion activities would have been beyond Optim’s capacity without the assistance of grant awards and export resource providers. 


Optimal Growth and Stability
Grace Preston headshotIn the last three years, export sales have grown from approximately 5% of total revenue to over I0% of total revenue.  This growth has allowed Optim to diversity its’ revenue mix and not solely depend on the U.S. market.  Led by Director of International Sales, Grace Preston – Optim experienced a record increase for international sales growth by about 49% from 2016 to 2017. 

In 2019, exports are forecast to grow by another 20%.  In order to achieve these projections, Preston is deploying several targeted overseas marketing strategies to ensure optimal expansion.  The plan includes: fostering stronger relationships with distributors and resellers with in-market visits; participating in regional conferences and trade shows; setting sensible pricing strategies to overcome unfavorable exchange rates; and identifying specific product offerings that are more specific to individual markets.

For example, in Brazil, Optim’s premiere product is too expensive, so the firm offers their older product at a cheaper price – generating revenue which would not be possible otherwise because of customer price points.  Special pricing promotions are helping create interest and urgency in buying their products at specific in-country conferences and trade shows.     

As part of 2019 National Small Business Week, Optim was honored as the Exporter of the Year for Massachusetts and New England for their outstanding international sales activity.   Preston along with Optim CEO, Doug Hughes accepted the award in a ceremony at Assumption College in Worcester.

Optim SBW Awards



Export Resources

  • U.S. Commercial Service
    U.S. Commercial Service Boston is part of the lead trade promotion agency of the U.S. government. U.S. Commercial Service trade professionals in over 100 U.S. cities and more than 75 countries help U.S. companies get started in exporting or increase sales to new global markets.
  • Massachusetts Small Business Development Center
    The Massachusetts Small Business Development Center can help. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities and state economic development agencies, and are partially funded through a partnership with SBA. Their advisors offer free business consulting and low-cost training services.
  • Massachusetts Export Center
    The mission of the Massachusetts Export Center is to help companies throughout the Commonwealth achieve success in global markets, thereby contributing to economic growth in the state.  The Export Center’s goal is to meet the complex needs of exporters by developing and providing targeted, high-impact services delivered through a statewide network of international trade professionals.
  • International Trade Hotline
    The SBA’s Office of International Trade can help any small business that faces barriers in accessing international markets. The office publicizes the small business benefits of U.S. trade agreements and helps protect the rights of small businesses under these agreements. Contact the toll-free trade hotline at 1-855-722-4877.



Beginner's guide to exporting

Consider the following steps to approaching international trade, then take the SBA's online training course on exporting.

  • Assess your company's export readiness
  • Learn about the market
  • Develop an e-commerce presence
  • Arrange for financing and insurance
  • Participate in a trade event
  • Connect to buyers or distributors
  • Know the rules of trading and be compliant
  • Resolve trade issues
  • Get counseling and training locally


Export finance programs

Most U.S. banks view loans for exporters as risky. This makes it harder for you to get loans for things like day-to-day operations, advance orders with suppliers, and refinancing existing debts. That’s why the SBA created programs to provide lenders with up to a 90 percent guaranty on export loans.

To  learn more about SBA export loan programs, contact your local SBA International Trade Finance Specialist or the SBA's Office of International Trade.

  • Export Express loan
    Export Express lenders can directly underwrite a loan without getting prior approval from the SBA, which allows you to get capital quickly. Loans are typically approved within 36 hours, and can be up to $500,000.
  • Export Working Capital loan
    Export Working Capital loans allow small business owners to apply for loans in advance of finalizing an export sale or contract, giving exporters greater flexibility in negotiating export payment terms. These loans can be up to $5 million, and the turnaround time is usually five to 10 business days.
  • International Trade Loan
    International Trade loans help small businesses enter international markets and make investments to compete with other importers. These loans offer a combination of fixed asset, working capital financing, and debt refinancing with the SBA’s maximum guaranty of 90 percent on the total loan amount. The maximum loan is $5 million in total financing.



State Trade Expansion Program Grants

The SBA State Trade Expansion Program provides financial awards to state and territory governments to help small businesses with export their products. The Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment, in collaboration with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network and the Massachusetts Export Center administers the program.  The application period typically runs from late November to January.

STEP helps 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


(SBA Disclaimer of Endorsement:  Any reference obtained from this server to a specific product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA or the United States Government of the product, process, or service, or its producer or provider. The views and opinions expressed in any referenced document do not necessarily state or reflect those of the SBA or the United States Government.)

Company Name: 
Optim LLC
Sturbridge, MA