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Small Business Week Winners Offer Up the Best in Cornhusker State Entrepreneurship

While each of these five winners in 2014 has a different story to tell, they all have one thing in common: Setting the standard for small business start-up success in Nebraska.  Start with Zack Zimmerman (upper left), the Region 7 Small Business Development Center Excellence and Innovation Award winner. Since taking the role as director of the Nebraska Business Development Center's Lincoln office in December 2012, Zimmerman has leveraged his background in banking to direct more than $2.5 million in capital to emerging entrepreneurs and has helped entrepreneurs start 40 new small businesses.  He met with area bankers to convince them to refer potential small business owners to NBDC’s services, increasing new and long-term clients to the center’s new location in Southeast Community College's Entrepreneurship Center.

Zimmerman also strengthened the center’s relationships with Lincoln’s Chamber of Commerce and the Lincoln Independent Business Association, among other community-focused business groups.  As a result of the jump in demand for NBDC services, Zimmerman brought aboard two interns to help handle the traffic, and pick up real-world experience serving small business clients.  

Finally, Zimmerman kicked off a monthly question-and-answer column in Nebraska’s largest newspapers, tackling thorny issues affecting small business owners such as hiring employees, how to seek private investor financing and incorporating a small business.

Women in Business Champion

Brooke Robbins (upper center), the assistant director of Southeast Community College's Entrepreneur Center, has been named the SBA Nebraska Women in Business Champion for 2014.

Women in Business champions are judged on their efforts to increase business and financial opportunities for women and effectiveness in improving the environment for creation and expansion of businesses owned and operated by women.

Robbins, who has served with the Entrepreneurship Center since 2006, works with small business clients through its incubator, creating educational opportunities and events for nascent entrepreneurs and coaching potential and current small business owners on customer service, strategic planning and developing systems for sustained success in the marketplace. She also has developed a structured 10-week program for potential entrepreneurs to design, start and sustain a small business.

Robbins also has helped coordinate speakers and events for Lincoln’s Ladies Who Launch, a business group in the city supporting and encouraging women-owned small businesses.

Design and Printing Firm Top Business in 1st Congressional District

Argyle Octopus and its owner, Jennifer Rosenblatt (upper right), were chosen as the 1st Congressional District’s top small business by the SBA based on its history as an established business, growth in number of employees, increase in sales and unit volume, response to adversity and innovation in products and services offered.

The business was nominated for the award by Lincoln NBDC Director Zach Zimmerman.  

Argyle Octopus, a successful participant of the Entrepreneurship Center’s incubator, is a custom design and printing firm meeting marketing needs of startups and existing small businesses, offering products from die-cut business cards to seasonal direct mailers and postcards, to developing successful social media strategies.

Rosenblatt has grown her company from a laptop, cell phone and minivan generating $55,000 in sales in 2011 to some $125,000 in sales two years later, creating two new full-time positions as a result. Her company leverages partnerships with local commercial printers and vendors to provide a wide range of customer services for her clients, including small printing runs, while also eliminating the need to purchase costly equipment and inventory. As she works on growing her business, Rosenblatt also offers presentations before Southeast Community College business classes and worked with students in the Lincoln Public Schools’ Entrepreneurship Focus program.

Specialty Pet Store Small Business of the Year for 2nd District

Pet owners in the Omaha area have come to rely on The Green Spot for a fun and edgy twist to an ordinary pet store experience by offering organic, holistic and eco-friendly foods, treats, advice on nutritional needs, and toys for dogs and cats.

Jennifer Haines and co-owner Jessica Ellis (below left, with Guppy) began working with the Omaha NBDC in 2011, and with an SBA loan approval soon after, opened their storefront in Jan. 2012; eight months later, the two launched an online retail outlet.  In May, to meet the demand of its growing customer base, the business will expand from 1,300 square feet to 3,300 square feet of retail space.

Haines credits NBDC not only with its business plan advice, "but the charts and reports, financial projections and advice they provided really helped," she explained.

Part of The Green Spot's success is an innovative "Spot Lounge," where pets can play in a fun setting while owners can sip a cup and surf on the free Wi-Fi, and recently added a pet food truck, dubbed "Off the Chain!" to offer locally-made natural treats and a full menu of meals for pets, as well as full-service party planning and catering for private and community events.

Haines and Ellis met through a non-profit rescue operation, and personally foster homeless animals, and in 2013, raised more than $12,000 for Pug Partners of Nebraska.

Western Nebraska Families Count on Groceries from 3rd District Winner

Chris Donnelson (below, right) started working at a local grocery store doing carry out duties when he was 16, eventually moving up the ranks to night manager.  But when an opportunity came up to buy the store in nearby Morrill, he jumped at the chance to own his own store.  Donnelson met with Ingrid Battershell at NBDC to work out cash flow projections for his business plan, and after getting an SBA guaranteed loan, bought D-L Foods in Dec. 2009.

By 2011, Donnelson could tell KOTA-TV sales at the grocery jumped 20 percent, and that annual sales have been steady, up more than $100,000 since he took over.  With a good selection of fresh cut-to-order meats, including inviting homemade garlic sausage, a customer favorite, and crispy fresh produce, the store serves a rural base of fewer than 5,000 who otherwise would have to head some 20 miles away for shopping.

"We're glad to be here," Donnelson said, "and the community really supports us."

D-L Foods is a staple of local volunteer efforts, including fundraisers for the Future Farmers of America, Future Business Leaders of America, the Morrill Community Development Association and grade and middle school classes.