SBA Counseling and Contracting Programs Diversify 10-year-old Firm
PITTSBURGH – Her child was on the operating room table, yet Alicia Avick knew not to panic if the power went out. After all, she was hired to ensure the hospital’s generator and cooling systems functioned during day-to-day and emergency situations.
The mother of two, from Upper St Clair, is an engineer, small business owner and certified commissioning agent who started her business with help from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).
“Not every engineering scenario is quite this dramatic,” she stated. “But, its importance doesn’t hit home any harder than this.”
SBA Pittsburgh District Director Kelly Hunt said she’s pleased her agency empowered Avick to become an engineering entrepreneur sharing her knowledge with the region’s hospitals “It’s gratifying to find a woman at the helm of a small business offering big solutions to government entities and major businesses,”
Avick, who holds a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Notre Dame, began working for a national heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) supplier studying automatic temperature controls. “Large buildings have very complicated control systems and I was tasked to learn the systems making sure they were operational,” she explained.
Wanting to accomplish more, Avick, the daughter of a small business owner, decided to quench her entrepreneurial thirst and open her own business too.
She used the SBA’s confidential and free one-on-one counseling program at Duquesne University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to pen a business plan.
Avick took the word Advantage and retooled it, creating Advantus Engineers, LLC.
After a year in business, she began looking at programs designed to assist small business owners with contracting opportunities in the federal government marketplace – the nation’s largest buyer of goods and services.
“I was woman in engineering and knew there had to be some advantages and learned about the SBA’s 8(a) program at a local seminar,” she stated
Avick, who recently graduated from the program, received a multi-year contract from NASA, where she will employ her certification as a commissioning agent. “In most buildings that are constructed or renovated, the HVAC systems use the most energy and need to be efficient,” she stated. “The systems are designed by engineers yet installed by contractors. As a commissioning agent, I am a third party reviewer looking out for the owner making sure the systems are operating the way they were designed.”
Her NASA contract is a far cry from her first job where she earned $400 to write control specifications. Since that first client, she’s replied to numerous open-ended contracting requests in newspaper classified sections working with hospitals, schools and government agencies sharing her expertise in the very niche mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering fields. In addition to her HVAC/MEP specialization, Avick also is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited professional and a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.
“About 50 percent of our work is for projects, such as CONSOL Energy Center and the National Energy Technology Laboratory, seeking LEED Certification,” she added. “Overall though, 90 percent of our clients are concerned with efficiency and energy savings.”
In the past decade, Avick has worked hard to promote her skills. “I stay true to my talents,” she added. “We get a lot of word-of-mouth business because when I get a small job, I show companies and organizations what I can do.”
In fact, since opening the doors to Advantus, the company’s revenue has increased tenfold. Later this year, Avick will add a fifth employee to her roster of problem-solvers
“As a business owner, I like the satisfaction of being able to serve our clients through innovation,” Avick said. “As engineers, we look at each problem and try to find a better and more efficient solution.”
Hunt applauded Avick’s environmental efforts. “Her creative energy conservation solutions will make our city, and now NASA, greener and safer.”
Like Avick, each year hundreds of small business owners enter into the SBA’s 8(a) Program; a nine-year business development program designed to assist eligible socially and economically disadvantaged individuals to develop and grow their business through one-on-one counseling, training, workshops and match-making opportunities with federal buyers.
“Today’s SBA: Smart, Bold, Accessible”