After moving to Washington state from India and following in the engineering footsteps of his father and grandfather, Santosh Kuruvilla wanted to be “more than a dot in a large corporation.”
He found success teaching at Washington State University, and worked for a large, national corporation, but wanted to know the people he worked with on a first-name basis. While contemplating entrepreneurship, an opportunity arose in 1998 for Santosh to buy a company, and his business ownership of Exeltech began.
“I was able to buy a business and turn it around by focusing on marketing and re-branding the company,” Santosh said. Competition was tough, and he discovered marketing Exeltech as a mid-sized firm provided the “sweet spot” that helped his company grow in a market saturated with large corporations.
Santosh soon entered and graduated from the SBA 8(a) Business Development Program, a nine-year program that provides training and resources to help small, disadvantaged business obtain federal government contracts. The program helped Exeltech get its foot in the door for federal contracts, which led to state and local government contracts, where most of the company’s work resides now.
“The training provided through the SBA transformed my business,” Santosh said. “It helped me acquire the business savvy I needed, and changed my thinking. SBA is an amazing resource for small businesses, and many don’t take advantage of the tools they have available.”
His business grew from bridge design – Santosh’s area of expertise – and expanded into bigger transportation projects. By 2009, Exeltech’s Lacey office maxed out their space, and Santosh sought a way to increase his company’s assets. That’s when Craig Chance, his banker at Columbia Bank, encouraged him to look at purchasing office space.
“I consider Craig a part of my team,” Santosh said. “I’m transparent with him, which I find very helpful.” Craig connected Santosh with the resources to help him find the right building for his business. Together with Columbia Bank and Evergreen Business Capital, Santosh used the SBA 504 Loan Program to purchase the building and renovate the space to support communication and teamwork among Exeltech’s internal teams.
“Going into the recession, having ownership of the building really helped us,” Santosh said.
His reputation grew in the Seattle market as Exeltech gained recognition from the City of Seattle for its innovative work on the University District 45th Avenue Viaduct project. The city estimated the renovation would cost $34 million and take two years. Exeltech proposed an alternative solution that finished the job for $7 million, took two and half months, and re-opened the viaduct before the first University of Washington home football game.
As Exeltech obtained more work in the Seattle area – such as the well-known Alaskan Way Seawall project on the Seattle waterfront – office space reached capacity in the Seattle office too. So Santosh worked again with Evergreen Business Capital, Columbia Bank and Zion Bank to obtain another SBA 504 guaranteed loan to purchase and renovate office space in Seattle.
During the past five years, Exeltech’s annual revenue jumped from $4.5 million to $6 million and its number of employees increased from nearly 30 to more than 50. But Santosh’s focus isn’t just on growth.
“My focus remains fixed on the clients who have projects that allow us to do innovative, cool stuff, and on the people I hire,” Santosh said. “I don’t want to grow so big I don’t know the names of people and their families. If I continue to focus on the people and relationships, the growth and profits will follow. People, not companies, successfully deliver projects.”
For more information about Exeltech, visit www.xltech.com.
For more information about the SBA Loan Guarantee Program, visit www.sba.gov/LoanPrograms.
And for more information about the SBA 8(a) Program and other government contracting programs, visit www.sba.gov/contracting.