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Celebrating Small-Business Success

Centers that hand out free advice honor entrepreneurs who made good use of itWhen the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) host their sixth annual Success Awards Luncheon at the PNC Arts Center in Holmdel this week, 15 small-business owners from around the state who tapped the agency for advice will be honored for their achievements. The feel-good gala is slated to feature notables like Gregory Olsen, the recent space traveler and founder of Sensors Unlimited in Princeton; Virginia S. Bauer, CEO of the state’s Commerce, Economic Growth & Tourism Commission; and state Treasurer John McCormac.

Brenda Hopper, state director of the Newark-based SBDCs, says the atmosphere at the Friday event will be one of recognition, not competition. In other words, it will be different from the environment that these and other entrepreneurs face every day.

“The honorees at the luncheon were selected by local SBDC offices on a number of criteria,” says Hopper. “They looked at revenue growth but also considered such criteria as best business practices and whether they launched new products or services.”

The SBDC doesn’t hand out grants or loans, but its network of employees and outside consultants offer a wide range of advice to entrepreneurs and established businesses.

Airseal Insulators, a Trenton-based startup that installs foam insulation in residential homes, is among the honorees. Ezekiel Fleming Jr. launched his three-person business after working for a similar company in Dover for about five years. He expects to do about $100,000 of business by December 1 and says he’ll turn a profit by then, too.

A former welder, Fleming started out in the weatherization business by working on a truck where he guided a hose that forces insulation into the walls and attics of customers’ homes. He decided to go out on his own after his boss sold the company. While Fleming knew plenty about insulation, he didn’t know much about marketing, so he contacted the Mercer-Middlesex SBDC office at The College of New Jersey in Ewing.

Honoree Esther Luongo Psarkis is another entrepreneur who credits the SBDC with providing valuable assistance to her fledgling business. The agency helped Psarkis get Taste of Crete, her Bridgewater-based retail and wholesale import-food business, off the ground last year.

“I previously worked in sales and marketing for American Express, in lower Manhattan,” she says. “But my job, along with many others, was eliminated after September 11, 2001.”

She decided to import olive oil and other foods from the Greek island of Crete, where her husband’s extended family lives.

The SBDC at Raritan Valley Community College in North Branch helped her get started and navigate issues that ranged from import regulations and product storage to pricing guidelines and the preparation of financial statements. “Our first-year sales will be about $50,000,” says Psarkis. “Right now we’re in the red, but we’re about where our projections placed us as a startup.”

“I’m passionate about Greek delicacies,” says Psarkis. “And thanks to the SBDC’s help, I’m able to channel my interests into a growing business.” u

SBDCs at a Glance

Where are they? The 11 full-service centers are housed on college campuses and offices in banks, chambers of commerce and other business-service facilities. Funding comes from the state, the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Rutgers Business School and other colleges and universities.

What do they offer? Free counseling and training in financing, marketing and management. They’ll also advise small-business owners on a wide range of topics including international trade, government procurement, technology commercialization, e-commerce and manufacturing.

How can I contact them? Call (973) 353-1927 to reach the state headquarters at the Rutgers Business School in Newark. Source: Brenda Hopper, SBDC

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