Bridge Inspector Brings His Company to New Heights Using SBA Programs

Cleveland native Dave Nolan was rising in his career as a union painter when he lost his leg in a motorcycle accident. While struggling to adapt on a physical level, he was turned away from painting jobs—striking a devastating economic blow. His union suggested he pursue certification as a coatings inspector from NACE International, which works in corrosion control, and that advice eventually led him to entrepreneurship and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Dave earned advanced certifications in industrial coatings inspection. His talent and expertise garnered him senior bridge inspector positions in New York City, where he gained valuable project experience. Dave returned to his hometown and started Quality Control Services when he realized small business ownership was his most lucrative option.

Dave is a frequent volunteer at amputee support groups, where he encourages his listeners to persevere and stay positive. He shows a portrait photo of himself standing on top of a New York City bridge, holding his prosthesis in one hand — an example of how his disability has only brought him higher.

What challenge did you have? Starting up a business is not a 9-5 job! I worked all through the night during my startup period. I was a small fish in a huge pond. I made cold calls and bid on many contracts. I was just starting out, and I was petrified that I would look unqualified. Word soon spread about our expertise, but I wanted to better compete for government contracts.

Financing is also a huge barrier for most small businesses. I didn’t qualify for a traditional business loan, so I went to the SBA for guidance.

What was the SBA solution? I participated in the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program for small disadvantaged businesses and earned my certification in 2011 — that really got my foot in the door for government contracting. Government agencies have goals for awarding a certain number of contracts to small or disadvantaged businesses, and I wanted to tap into that market. I got to know these government agencies to see what services needed and if and I could meet their needs. I soon built relationships with other government consultants, who provided advice and networking opportunities.

Doing the paperwork for the 8(a) program was at first a tremendous process, but I was helped along the way by my SBA Cleveland District Office. I keep good records, and after the long process I was accepted – it was, wow! – it really did make a big difference to my business.

In addition, I entered into an 8(a) Mentor-Protege Program joint venture with WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, an international infrastructure and buildings engineering agreement firm with more than 34,000 employees worldwide. Through that relationship, I’m learning from a larger company while at the same time landing national contracts.

In 2011, Quality Control qualified for an SBA-backed 7(a) loan, which I used for working capital. In 2015, I qualified for the SBA-backed 504 Certified Development Company loan program and used the loan proceeds to purchase an office building in the Cleveland neighborhood of Saint Clair-Superior. The SBA has been with me every step of the way—from counseling to contracting assistance to capital acquisition.

What benefit did this have for you? In 2010, I hired my first employee and now I employ 37. I feel like I have more work than I have people, so I will continue to look for staff to join my qualified staff of licensed engineers, NICET and NACE-certified inspectors who are OSHA safety trained. In the past five years, Quality Control has successfully staffed construction inspection contracts as a prime or subconsultant for the NASA Glenn Research Center, the Ohio Army National Guard, the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp., Transport Canada, and the Ohio Department of Transportation. In 2016, our company had total sales of about $5 million – a far cry from my humble origins of a one-man, one-truck operation!

Because of his business success, contributions to the community and response to adversity, Dave Nolan was named Ohio's 2018 Small Business Person of the Year during National Small Business Week.

Company Name: 
Quality Control Services (QCS)
Location: 
Cleveland, Ohio