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Congratulations to
America's SBDC 40 Under 40
2020-2021 Winners

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Sponsored by:


Brandon Horvath

Consulting Manager

Arkansas SBTDC

Brandon Horvath spearheaded an initiative to create a new microsite called Ready, Start, Grow as a complement to the main ASBTDC website. Brandon served as project facilitator, collaborated with the network’s Leadership Team and marketing and communications staff, and worked with the vendor to provide direction for site development.

The vision for this site was to speak directly to the heart of entrepreneurs pursuing their dreams. Along with being a small business owner himself, Brandon has worked in both rural and urban areas of the state, providing consulting services and training programs. Thus, he was uniquely positioned to take on this challenge.

At the outset of the project, Brandon recognized the value of engaging staff from throughout the network. Therefore, he led the effort to conduct a needs assessment by facilitating focus groups and individual interviews with consulting and research staff. Based on the feedback provided, Brandon developed a strategic approach to achieving the project vision. He worked with the vendor throughout project development to ensure goals were met.

Rachel Lozano-Castro

Center Director

San Diego & Imperial Regional Network

Rachel embarked upon a comprehensive strategic plan to crystallize the Center’s focus to support DEI entrepreneurs including:

– Recruiting new clients
– Hiring new business advisors
– Building relationships in the angel and venture communities locally, regionally, and nationally
– Providing training and consulting to clients in all facets of fundraising
– Providing clients connections and guidance with supplier diversity and local contract opportunities

In 2021, Rachel also pursued the State of California’s Inclusive Innovation Hub (iHub2) program, which provides funding to spur innovation and diversification while attracting entrepreneurs from underserved business communities.

Due to her efforts, in April 2022 the Brink SBDC was awarded iHub designation. “As an Inclusive Innovation Hub, our commitment deepens to remove barriers and offer support for all entrepreneurs. The work is inclusive and strategic to make connections for financial, social and community capital to be invested in the co-creation of solutions and the building of our future,” said The Brink SBDC Director, Rachel Lazano Castro.

Lisa Hudson

SBDC Center Director

Colorado SBDC

Ms. Hudson has developed the industrial Hemp strategic planning program for the state of Colorado. Research, developing subject matter experts, training current consultants, adding a full program and — success companies have graduated and grown their businesses.

Joey Jenkins

Colorado SBDCC Network, State Director

Colorado SBDC

Mr. Jenkins outreach to establish strategic partnerships and receive funding for new programs has been extraordinary. His connections with the following have not only increased funding, but created new programs needed for clients and the collaboration has built long term partnership for the Colorado SBDC Network. Organizations: SBA, Colorado Department of Early Childhood Development, Employee Ownership office, Minority Business office, CHAFA, State of Colorado, Economic Development Commission, Colorado Department of Transportation, Manufacturers Edge and the Colorado Legislature. Mr. Jenkins assisted the team that applied and received the FAST grant for the continuation of funding for the Colorado SBDC Network’s TechSource program.

Wendy Wojcik

Senior Program Manager

Colorado SBDC

In response to the center directors need for a one stop shop for consultant onboarding and directors’ resources, Ms. Wojcik began by researching the needs through a survey, created a pilot site, asked a small group of center directors and consultants to test the site and give feedback, soft launch, statewide training and finally a formal launch. Both sites host a multitude of information that centers no longer need to maintain on their own. This has saved time and made the network more effective and efficient.

Jessica Ali

Associate Consultant & Program Coordinator

Florida SBDC Network

In the case of the FSBDC at UCF’s Small Business Institute program, Jessica continuously works with the SBI program manager and UCF faculty to refine and refresh the course in order to drive better results for both client companies and students alike. She has become an indispensable part of the class leadership team, including leading regular planning meetings to facilitate continuous process improvements to maintain the program’s track record of excellence. She also teaches elements of the class on market research and project planning and frequently serves as a case supervisor, coaching and guiding students to develop high quality reports as they complete their deliverables.

Additionally, Jessica’s role with SBI currently encompasses marketing and outreach for acquiring students and clients. After facing declining student enrollment figures for several years which negatively impacted the number of clients the program could serve, Jessica spearheaded a marketing effort increase visibility of the course on campus and make connections with faculty members and departments who could refer students seeking electives to the program.

Through her role in the development of the Business Recovery Team Initiative, Jessica formulated key processes and program infrastructure needed to onboard clients, form teams, serve small business owners, and track key metrics. In partnership with the ABC program manager, Jessica developed the BRT service’s infrastructure, including establishing program metrics and manuals (with processes for onboarding and orienting clients, working with potential volunteer advisors from the local community, and templates for meeting materials) and provided training for FSBDC consultants who would be implementing the program across the eight-county region.

Jesus Padilla

Program Manager

Florida SBDC Network

As you can tell by now, Jesus is FSBDC at FIU’s “secret weapon” for many reasons. We could not have added the additional 10 CARES Act consultants in 2020-21 without his strong worth ethic and dedication to the network’s mission. Prior to adding these consultants though, Jesus made sure that our Florida Emergency Bridge Loan activation was efficient, despite many factors changing throughout the process.

In the last few years, everyone in the FSBDC Network saw an increased workload due to the pandemic. We all saw record numbers of clients, especially during the Florida Emergency Bridge Loan application period. For our center, Jesus was the lynchpin to our center closing 103 bridge loans for $4.5 million in 2020. Jesus managed the bridge loan application tracker, coordinated sending completed applications to the Regional Director for final approval, and ensured bridge loan clients were assigned to consultants for further assistance. Due to the volume of clients, this often meant working until midnight or later to stay ahead of the application queue, then waking up before 6am to start the next day’s work on pending applications. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus volunteered to conduct initial sessions with a number of the clients who were waiting to talk to a consultant. He helped them to get the checklist and sent their completed applications on for further review. While he is not a consultant, these and other efforts in 2020 reflected in Center IC as Jesus assisted over 41 clients that year due to the pandemic and recorded $362,000 in access to capital no small feat!!

Furthermore, Jesus developed an award-winning impact collection process to enhance the center’s outcomes during the pandemic. Specifically, Florida SBDC at FIU has worked since 2019 to improve and enhance our impact verification, attribution, and collection process to capture more client impact. Put simply, our consultants, just as with their colleagues at other FSBDC Network centers, work extremely hard with clients and generate impressive client outcomes. However, the center inevitably was leaving a lot of potential impact on the table, as it was not being properly collected before it was too late to record (i.e. impact can only be recoded in that year or the subsequent year before becoming “stale”).

This review was part of a general overall of multiple areas of our center operations and processes to improve service delivery and “work smarter, not harder.” After this thorough center review, including a study of available service offerings, organizational structure and client intake, we determined that our administrative team lacked key data on potential client impact to properly follow up with clients for impact attribution. Furthermore, our center did not have sufficient tools to track potential impact and email templates to record impact (if clients did not complete a Client Impact Attribution Form or the Annual Customer Survey). Jesus led the review and roadmap process, which was completed in 2019. Our team had planned to roll out the new process in early 2020. This also coincided with the FSBDC Network’s effort to put more emphasis on real-time impact collection instead of relying on the Annual Client Survey.

Despite the pandemic, we moved ahead with rolling out the new process in 2020 as we thought it could help in our tracking the massive amount of capital impact from COVID disaster funding. I would also note that this process was applied not just to capital, but also to business launches and government contracts. The results from this process improvement were significant in our recoded client impact and Jesus was awarded the 2021 Florida Game Changer of the Year Award. More importantly, we have shared key aspects of this process with our sister Regional Centers in the Florida SBDC Network.

In regards to external partnerships, Jesus has also been extremely helpful to external stakeholders in improving their service delivery and coordination with our center. Specifically, in 2020 our center submitted a joint proposal with Prospera for the Miami Foundation’s “Building Prosperity” initiative, funded by JP Morgan Chase. Under the project, there were joint training deliverables, individual consulting deliverables, and a deliverable on referrals to/from the partners. As this was a key project for our center, Jesus coordinated with James Gray in FSBDC HQ to create a sub-program and boards/reports in Center IC so that we could drill down on clients participating in the project.

Furthermore, since Jesus was tracking project deliverables on our end, he served as the point of contact for referrals to/from Prospera. But being Jesus, he went the extra mile and offered to set up a joint meeting to explain to them how we were tracking project deliverables (so both groups would be tracking/reporting the same outcomes and give the Miami Foundation “apples to apples” figures for the project). This was important as both groups are funded differently and did not necessarily track the same figures (such as revenue increases). After the meeting, Jesus provided Prospera with a template of our “Building Prosperity” project tracker so they would not have to start from scratch in creating their own tracking document. This level of coordination so impressed the Miami Foundation that announced that they were extending the joint project with Prospera for a second year through early 2022. So Jesus was a direct contributor to our center receiving an additional $90,000 in additional local cash match for 2021-22. Many of these best practices have formed the basis of our work under the SBA Community Navigator grant with six (6) community partners.

Macy Thomas

Marketing Manager

University of Georgia SBDC

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the UGA SBDC offices were experiencing a huge influx in call volume and inquiries for assistance. Macy served as a key member on the COVID-19 response team. She worked directly with our subject matter experts to understand the latest information about SBA emergency loan programs and distill the information into an easy-to-understand format. During this crisis timeliness was key, so many of the COVID-19 response team meetings were held after or before normal work hours. The team met daily to review the latest guidance and provide updates to the rest of the network as needed.

She produced important publications including the “Guide to Conquering a Business Crisis” and the “Guide to the CARES Act.” These publications were extremely valuable to both our consultants and clients. She systematically updated these publications as new information was released.

In an effort to support other SBDC networks, Macy designed these publications using Adobe InDesign and created easily editable templates for others to use. These publications were shared via the ASBDC Associate State Director listserv and through individual requests. Additionally, many of these publications were translated into Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese and Mandarin.

Internal to the UGA SBDC, Macy developed a suite of social media graphics and templates for our 18 field offices. She created weekly internal marketing emails, providing updates and instructions so that our field offices were able quickly communicate this critical information to as many Georgians as possible.

Valerie McElveen

Area Director and Business Consultant

University of Georgia SBDC

When the SBA announced the use of the EIDL for relief efforts during the pandemic, Valerie joined her colleagues in becoming a resource for her community’s small businesses. When the state was asked to partner with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Georgia Department of Economic Development to present classes on relief options, Valerie took the lead for her region. Her success in presenting the material in a clear and concise manner led her to be selected to present this information on a statewide level.

Because of Valerie’s dedication to staying on top of the ever-evolving rules and regulation around COVID relief programs, she was asked to serve on the disaster relief committee. In this role, she met multiple times a week, often during non-business hours, with a few of her colleagues and partners at the SBA to discuss changes and methods for disseminating information. She also took part in presenting and facilitating Q&A during the multiple webinars held at a state level for COVID relief programs.

Molly Knight

Continuing Education Specialist

University of Georgia SBDC

In her role as Continuing Education Specialist, Molly is responsible for the logistics of our training. This includes our webinar platform, registration process, evaluation process, and documentation of our training efforts. During 2021, Ms. Knight has provided training for our employees to equip them to effectively education small business owners. This facilitated the delivery of over 768 webinars for over 28,000 attendees since the beginning of the pandemic. A large project she embarked upon was to revamp and refresh StartSmart, one of our signature series training programs for start-up businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. She adapted the content to thrive in the virtual setting, as well as integrated engagement in a new and creative way through polls for students, built in zoom networking, and regular check-ins with participants. She trained and equipped our centers to successfully accomplish StartSmart programs in 2021. This was an opportunity for us to evaluate some of the online training practices Molly had implemented. In 2021, we saw record enrollment for our StartSmart program and increased our amount of programs by 20%.

Mariel Huasanga

SBDC & ITC Director

Illinois SBDC

– On the SBDC level, focused on enhancing established partnerships and creating new ones with key federal, state and local partners and allocated resources to expand assistance for minority entrepreneurs, more specifically those that are immigrants and/or have a native language other than English. We developed and established programs to address the key needs of this historically underserved population of entrepreneurs, one of them being the difficulty in obtaining funding to start their businesses due to their lack of credit history and sufficient equity in the USA.

– On the ITC level, we faced a challenge when the previous ExporTech program host for Illinois ceased operations. Additionally, the cohorts were only targeting exporters based in Chicago metro area. Under my leadership, our ITC became the host of the program with the goal of democratizing it by making it accessible to exporters statewide in terms of delivery and affordability.

Jenny Malloy

Data Integrity Manager

Illinois SBDC

Jenny has taken the time to immerse herself in all things Neoserra. She participated in all available training, read through every FAQ, and interviewed staff throughout the network to understand the pain points experienced. Jenny worked to clean up old information such as scorecards and goal sets, audited the permissions for all active users in the system, worked with leadership to create uniform policies for client sign-up, survey creation, educating service centers on actionable items and the frequency in which they should be checked and so much more.

Additionally, to address the issues discovered during the Accreditation review, Jenny immediately went to work and created automatic reports in Neoserra for both the state office and service centers as well as separate process guidebooks to ensure the same steps were being followed throughout the Network. She was driven by what was uncovered during the Neoserra review and did not wait for the report from the Accreditation team. This is how Jenny responds on a daily basis, she acts without waiting to be told.

Throughout her time here, Jenny and I kept a list of various pain points with Neoserra and have met both with the vendor as well as other states in order to discuss how to move forward in addressing the issues.

Austin Strawhacker

Associate State Director

America's SBDC Iowa

Austin has also gotten heavily involved within the ASBDC on a national level. He is the Chair of the Research & Data Committee as well as the liaison for the Neoserra support group. When Austin first came to the SBDC, he really did not know much about our organization. He knew the basics of what we did but not the full scope. When he joined, we were down to just the state director as the only one in the state office as had some employee transitions. We were in the process of closing out our year-end, creating all the closing reports for SBA/Advisory Board/Hosts/Advisors, uploading our data into EDMIS, and fielding calls from clients and all other state office duties. I remember telling him on his first day, “I cannot explain the ‘why’ behind everything right now because we are barely holding the ship upright but just trust what I ask you to do and we will walk through it once it slows down.” Well, it has not ever slowed down. Austin has now improved the data upload process and hired a database manager to help with data integrity. He has streamlined the center review process to better fit our model while still complying with Accreditation standards. He has also found ways to raise the awareness across the state on the SBDC program. He works with the Lt. Governor on his task force for the Rural Development Council and has helped propose ideas that incorporate the SBDC at the core and bring in other partners to help us carry out the duties. Through his efforts, our network is better known across the state and have really increased our impact with Iowa’s small businesses.

Our onboarding process needed some work. Austin helped to improve the process and has also incorporated Office Hours. This is a virtual weekly time that our team in the field can tune in and he walks people through problems that have popped up during the week and does spot training to help teach our newer people and do a little ‘reminder’ training for our veteran counselors and directors. He assists me, as the state director, with stakeholder meeting across the state. This expands our presence and exposure. Austin has also improved our metric gathering process to help us capture more metrics than we have in the past. His processes have also helped improve the consistency of our data when working with so many off site centers.

When a challenge presents itself, Austin rises to top immediately to help his colleagues. There are two types of people in the world: givers and takers. Austin is a giver and one of the reasons for the success in our program.

JC Phelps

Business Coach

Kentucky SBDC

JC Phelps comes equipped with a wealth of knowledge in the digital marketing/social media arena; something the Kentucky SBDC is fully aware of and uses much to our advantage. JC has eagerly volunteered his time to co-coach with other Business Coaches throughout the Network. Recognizing the needs of clients across Kentucky, JC has also approached Chambers of Commerce, Main Street Programs, Extension Offices, and more to host “Social Media Seminars” in which he presents Facebook and Instagram best practices and insights. These training events have become very popular and well-attended throughout each pocket of our state. A challenge recognized by JC is that because his expertise is so valuable and much-needed, what he would otherwise present in-person, is slowly needing to transition into an online webinar channel in which a series of trainings would be available at the best time for the client. This project is in its early stages and JC is currently recording sessions to be added for this innovative option.

Ryan Ferguson

Marketing Specialist

Kentucky SBDC

When Ryan came on board, he “hit the ground running'” although he knew virtually nothing about SBDCs he learned quickly, took initiative, and started from day one to bring the Kentucky SBDC into compliance with logo design, branding and implementing creativity and innovation to all marketing and social media efforts. He jumped into becoming a member of the America’s SBDC Marketing Interest Group and did his homework on how best to bring all our Centers into a common brand and one voice. Then, he went above and beyond’ ..creating newsletters for all Centers, revamping our stale website, made Kentucky SBDC social media results a front runner throughout the country and directing our annual Pacesetter Award videos to become the most professionally done videos we have ever had.

Christina Davis

Senior Business Consultant

Louisiana SBDC

Christina has created and event with an exclusive group of 25 women who have founded their own companies or are aspiring business owners. As the ladies introduced themselves, they used the words encourage and enlighten as they described their work for other women. Studies have shown that women have started to learn the balance of life and work and how to support one another in the community. Because of this, over a fourth of the small businesses of Louisiana are owned by women. This event is truly uplifting, empowering, and encouraging to all established and future women entrepreneurs

During this Pandemic Davis has continued to work tirelessly to make sure local businesses stay afloat as well as provide the necessary resources to her clients and lend a listening ear. Davis takes pride in helping others through her hands-on involvement with local businesses and watching them blossom. Patience and empathy were major attributes in these times.

During the 2016 Flood in North Louisiana she stepped up to the plate during Easter weekend to assist over 100 businesses that need SBA and FEMA funding. By sorting out finances, creating cashflows, and properly filling out applications in order to move forward with disaster assistance

Candace Pruett

Business Consultant

Maryland SBDC

MD SBDC Priority: Provide Proven, Trustworthy Advice

Approach: Candace leads an internal committee of SBDC Consultants to discuss best practices, internal resource sharing, and working on various projects to continuously improve the Maryland SBDC program and provide more resources to our clients. This help to expand the delivery and marketing of our consulting and training services, paying attention to those who are under-resourced.

MD SBDC Priority: Build Economically Vibrant Communities

Candace is active in several initiatives to build economically vibrant communities by creating meaningful new partnerships with relevant stakeholders and leveraging existing relationships to provide better client services such as economic development organizations, local community colleges, workforce development, etc.

Candace also assists aspiring entrepreneurs to start and grow existing businesses by actively participating in events and resources for entrepreneurs of lower income, youth entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, and veteran entrepreneurs.

MD SBDC Priority: Grow Our Markets

Candace works closely with resource partners to continuously develop a pipeline of growth clients, financial deals to be closed, and sources for additional SBDC organizational funding.

MD SBDC Priority: Continually Improve

Candace is a team player within the Maryland SBDC network and assists with training staff and provides ongoing mentoring. Our goal at the Maryland SBDC is to culturally and organizationally advance as a well-managed, functionally integrated, programmatically and administratively compliant, statewide organization. She has led a statewide committee that has assisted with cross collaboration and communication amongst consultants of different specialties and backgrounds as well as across regions.

Candace has also led the state on Cybersecurity efforts by leading a collaborative regional quarterly call along with sharing partnerships and resources. Not only does she look for continuous improvement within her role at the SBDC as a business consultant, but also personally as she completed her doctoral journey in March 2020 with her dissertation on mentoring to increase knowledge transfer in the multigenerational workplace.

Ryan A. Del Gallo

Senior Business Consultant

Maryland SBDC

Having an Army Installation in his community, Mr. Del Gallo has consulted hundreds of active-duty and military veterans. He wanted to take initiative to serve our underserved and volunteered to focus on the Maryland military community. He has been described as the Maryland SBDC “”veteran specialist”” by Lead Center due to his work in the community. Mr. Del Gallo volunteered with the SBA to teach Boots 2 Business courses from the time he was a program assistant to helping manage the

programs outputs as a Senior Veteran Business Specialist with the regions first Veteran Business Outreach Center (VBOC). His connections, resources, and successes in the Department of Defense directly contributed to VBOC choosing his region to benefit from the programs entrance in the community. Mr. Del Gallo continues to serve military connected individuals by partnering with Project Opportunity to teach multiple courses for veterans, their spouses, and dependents in the areas of business planning, marketing, and research and development. He also coordinates with Maryland Def-Tech and TEDCO to assist with technology transfer at the local Army Installation.

Travin Shelton

Director of Business Growth Services

Missouri SBTDC

Travin’s specialty is a statewide effort that transcends “center” boundaries and his efforts and the associated impact go to the local center. As second stagers generate the lion’s share of sales and jobs, most centers solicit clients for the Business Growth Services program. As mentioned, Travin has a talent for developing client relationships because of his previous sales background. This skill has also been instrumental as he develops the trust and confidence of the center directors that allows him to represent their brand in their local region.

Sherry Noller

Interim State Director (Associate State Director)

Missouri SBTDC

Sherry worked with a Center Director that has had strategic planning experience to prepare the RFP. The RFP was posted just a couple of weeks after the Directors meeting. While we were in the process of evaluating the RFP submissions and interviewing companies our State Director, Greg Tucker, announced his retirement to the network.
The retirement announcement came as a surprise and many directors were nervous to continue the strategic planning process knowing that there would be a new State Director sometime in the future. Sherry advocated for continuing the strategic plan process to ensure the network was able to make a plan using what we learned from 2020 and that we had a plan to direct our activities as we began 2022.
A creative idea that Sherry had during this process was asking the RFP finalists to take the selection committee through a brief exercise during their final presentation. In all of the presentation/interviews, the finalists mentioned that they had never had that request before.

Juan Medina

Cares Grant Manager and Specialty Consultant Manager

New Jersey SBDC

When Juan took over the CARES grant, he had to essentially clean up and recreate the entire program that had to be built, as the person who managed it beforehand was very confused about the grant and our role in fulfilling the grant. He dug in deep to understand the intended purpose behind the programs put in place and reviewed their relevance in moving forward. Juan always referenced the FOA to ensure we were adhering to guidelines but also sought to streamline efforts for our clients, partners, and network whenever and wherever possible.

One example resulted from client sentiment revealed during a routine survey, where several clients stated confusion from working with various NJSBDC consultants because the consultants would often mention their own company names during counseling sessions, leaving the client with the impression that they were counseled through the consultant’s company. While sharing the concerns with the State Office team, Juan Medina discussed the need to have a process in place to clear confusion of the clients that would also help to manage the expectations of both the client and the NJSBDC network. Working with a small team of consultants, Juan was able to help produce an introductory video, presented by our State Director/ CEO Kelly Brozyna, that is shared with every incoming client upon completion of their eRFC.

The video was also shared among the internal network so that the centers could share it with their teams and clients as needed. This video has helped clients to identify the breadth and scope of the NJSBDC network and how we’re driven to help them succeed. The video also serves as a primary measure of our value proposition and brand recognition so that clients and stakeholders understand that there is a high-quality threshold that we adhere to in everything we do.

Dominique Chairez

SBDC Assistant Director

New Mexico SBDC Network

Mr. Chairez demonstrates the mission by partnering with our local community and economic community, and lenders to meet the needs of the business community. “My expectations, from what I was told by a reference, was that the SBDC would walk me through turning my new business into a LLC. They far exceeded that benchmark.” Client Quote

Dominique was task to build a strong relationship with our financial community and develop a “cold call” plan. Our main referral pool with significant impact was from our lending institutions. Mr. Chairez devised a plan where he and the SBDC staff scheduled routine visits to all lending institutions in the area on a scheduled time. The first meeting included introduction to the SBDC’s two core services and how the services compliment the lenders’ relationship with their customers. The subsequent weekly visits, team members would rotate visits and make a concert effort to meet with different loan officers, bank leadership, as well as administrative staff on a walk-in basis at the sites.

Because the plan included direct contact with a variety of professionals, when a lender ceased employment or was moved to another position or location, their replacement was knowledgeable of the SBDC. This allowed continuous continuity of referrals to the SBDC.

Briana Montano-Baca

Associate Center Director

New Mexico SBDC Network

During the wildfire event, Briana served her clients. She assisted them by directing them to SBA and FEMA resources for recovery from the wildfire. She was taking client calls from home while literally watching the fire to make sure it that if it jumped the road, they were on it. And’ it did jump the road on to her personal property, fortunately, they were able to put it out quickly and no real damage was done to their property.

Lauren Linakis

Business Advisor

New York SBDC

After Lauren joined the SBDC she maintained and built on her relationships with various government agencies to promote their procurement opportunities and to connect small businesses with contracting opportunities. She acted as the State’s Interim SBDC procurement specialist for several months, assisting the state network to co-counsel MWBE clients with their certification and procurement questions. She developed content and trainings to be offered to the community on procurement topics including; Government Contracting 101, MWBE Bootcamp,, Marketing to the Government, How to Successfully Respond to an RFP, Alphabet Soup – RFIs, IFBs, and RFPs – Tip for Success.

Mike Barugel

General Business Counselor

North Carolina SBTDC

Mike has been instrumental in spearheading innovation through several initiatives:

Global Attribution Process: Mike led the charge in piloting a new client attribution process that led to record-breaking response rates and impact metrics.

The Advisor’s Mastermind: Mike facilitates weekly mastermind meetings with CLT counselors to help maximize client results, exceed center metrics, and increase personal and professional fulfillment team members.

Business Model Accelerator: Mike is the co-creator and program coordinator of this for-fee program which has generated over $50k in fee income and produced numerous client success stories.

NXLEVEL: Mike became certified in this program designed to help businesses develop an actionable growth plan. He successfully facilitated a group cohort sponsored by the city of Charlotte which generated $50k in paid income.

Jill Badger

Director, SBDC at Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce


INNOVATION/ACTION 1: Accommodation became the Toledo’s mantra. Jill and her staff began offering the center’s services remotely, and safely met small business owners at their locations and anywhere else, even if it meant restaurant kitchens after 5:00 p.m. Jill and the staff walked businesses through online grants and assisted many businesses in reconfiguring layouts to meet COVID requirements.

INNOVATION/ACTION 2: The Toledo SBDC also innovatively developed an electronic link for filling out a counseling request which allowed the advisors to process the information more efficiently, thereby enabling them to counsel more afflicted clients. Today, this link has been incorporated into the Toledo SBDC’s counseling process which also includes in-person meetings, virtual meetings, and phone meetings.

INNOVATION/ACTION 3: The Toledo SBDC has historically taken pride in its inclusive outreach by rendering its services to underserved communities. In addition to accommodating these clients by meeting with them regardless of location or time, the Toledo SBDC made a conscious effort during COVID to continue its practice of hiring a diverse staff that more closely mirrored its community’s demographics —be it ethnic, racial, language, or gender— in order that its advisors and clients could better relate to one another. Bilingual staff members helped break down barriers and opened a new demographic of Spanish speaking clientele.

INNOVATION/ACTION 4: The strong support for the SBDC by its host chamber, the City of Toledo, and other local partners mirrors the support the Toledo SBDC gives to them by working with these entities to better assist their members and community. Under the auspices of Jill, the Toledo SBDC truly believes that it takes a community to support and make its small businesses successful. Jill’s participation in partner initiatives includes the following:

(1) During COVID, the Toledo SBDC took charge and administered the Lucas County CARES grant.

(2) During this time, the Toledo SBDC also worked on the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Reboot program.

(3) Jill sat on the City of Toledo COVID grant committee.

(4) In addition, Jill sits on the Forward Cities Committee.

(5) As an advocate for children, Jill also worked heavily with childcare centers by helping them adapt their centers to meet all COVID requirements.

(6) Jill is also the Chair of the Ohio Child Care Resources and Referral Association Board (OCCRRA).

(7) Jill also sits on the Hope Toledo Board of Directors.

(8) Jill participates on the Lucas County Port Authorities revolving loan fund. This fund was created as gap financing at a low interest rate and covers three counties.

(9) Jill’s relationship with the local LISC office lead to a partnership to submit a successful application for the Community Navigator Pilot Program through the SBA which will proved the Toledo SBDC additional funds to help build capacity for serving women and minority-owned businesses.

Mark Barnett

IT Project Manager

Oklahoma SBDC Network

As Mark joined the team, current advisors were hosted across 15 campuses and a record number of new employees were brought on-board to meet overwhelming demand. To provide quality tools and service to each staff person, he created a standard approach for hardware/software support in conjunction with the different campuses, and served as an advocate with host IT teams to communicate technical needs. Upon implementing these new processes, he created a technical/cyber training program from scratch, and continues to improve network outcomes with data-driven strategy. Before, network advisors depended on being in the office, but Mark securely transitioned the team to a cloud-first approach, improving access and productivity as a result. Along the journey new efficiencies were found by taking boring but necessary tasks and automating them with the power of machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA). Tasks that would traditionally require an entire team could now be solved by 2 employees. He has worked to remove data silos, bringing a unified approach to file storage and sharing. After successfully triaging these and other critical IT issues for the network, Mark is now focused on rethinking Oklahoma SBDC processes through the lenses of modern tech. He is currently working to integrate platforms that are traditionally siloed (such as CenterIC) to speak with other “friendlier” platforms to serve content in ways that may not traditionally be available.

Leigh C. Fennie

Business Consultant - CARES Act

Pennsylvania SBDC

During the pandemic, Leigh responded to inquiries from distressed business owners and also reached out directly to them to provide new information and updates with regard to various loan and grant programs. She knew EIDL, PPP, CHIRP, SVOG, and more inside and out. In addition to providing in-depth consulting to over 200 existing businesses during that time, most of them struggling, Leigh also hosted many virtual drop-in Q&A sessions offering up-to-date guidance and information about disaster recovery and rethinking business models.

At a time when so much of our SBDC consulting was focused on helping business survive the impacts of the pandemic and we were overwhelmed by the phone calls and e-mails, Leigh still found time to be creative and innovative, developing training programs on a variety of topics to help clients shift from being reactive to being proactive and move their businesses forward. She learned new strategies and how to use new platforms in the process of developing these programs, at a time when many others were struggling just to stay afloat.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Leigh’s is our CARES Team of student interns. She trained and lead a total of 6 interns over the course of 2 years to assist with program development and delivery and provide individual consulting to existing small business clients. Small business clients benefit from the additional assistance and perspective offered by the students as they work to address the impacts of COVID-19 on their businesses, while the students engage in experiential learning that enhances their educational experiences and adds to their resumes. The CARES Team has been an amazing asset to our center thanks to Leigh’s leadership.

Juliet Njoroge

Lead Office Budget Analyst

Pennsylvania SBDC

Especially during 2021, Juliet single handedly managed the grant management functions for over $12M in annual grant funding in the absence of any Associate State Director of Finance. Her approach to the situation shows her maturity and resiliency in difficult situations. She immediately buckled down, learned new tasks, new actively when to get additional assistance from the team or the host university, and managed to keep items moving through an incredibly difficult time.

While her actions were what kept the LO afloat, the resiliency to overcome these challenges (almost entirely independently) deserve recognition. Despite a global pandemic, no additional financial staff to support her, and burnt out – she continued to have a positive attitude and dedicate herself to the work before her, refusing to give anything lest than 110%.

Sarah Hines

Associate State Director, Operations

South Carolina SBDC

Sarah identified specific challenges consultants were having, and she began to provide a series of training sessions during statewide meetings, with regions and individually. Recognizing this wasn’t fully addressing the need, she then took the initiative to find a place where she could record video training sessions on key procedures that most commonly were not done correctly. Since then, she has recorded and posted a number of videos on the statewide staff site so that anyone can access the information and learn at their own pace. Since COVID, she has provided short training segments during online bi-weekly network meetings; and she encourages everyone to contact her directly if they need help. When we introduced E-Center Direct, she also developed and conducted training sessions to help staff become comfortable with how to use the new features. Sarah is very approachable and encourages staff to contact her for help. She also has taken time to train specific individuals within regions to become more proficient and better resources to help others. 

Sarah Mattson

Sr. Small Business Specialist

Tennessee SBDC

Sarah formed a strategic funnel management plan for local and national disaster assistance information. Sarah organized weekly Zoom meetings with the collective resource partners (listed above) to share current information regarding disaster assistance as well as ensure the information providers were using was accurate. Additionally, Sarah established a weekly digital newsletter with resource partners, SBDC clients, and additional community members updating information on available assistance programs and disaster declarations. At the same time, Sarah continued to handle daily calls from business owners seeking assistance from our office. Sarah’s efforts demonstrated her commitment to the small business community as well as positioned the TSBDC as a reliable, trustworthy, and anticipated source of information. It also provided clarity and a single source of information to clients who were confused and scared about the state of their businesses. It is also worth noting that in addition to these all-encompassing duties serving the local small business community, Sarah was working to ensure that her personal life was stable in the midst of a pandemic. As a single mother with two children “also home due to the pandemic” Sarah’s commitment is even more impressive when you consider she kept her children active and engaged in their schoolwork while championing our small business community.

Kayla Miller

Associate State Director

Tennessee SBDC

To forward and engage this mission, Kayla has continuously and diligently made herself and the entire Lead Center available to the network for support through facilitating training, continued direct communication with Directors and staff, and the formation of committees to help give the network ownership of the direction and future of our organization. Kayla shows up every day prepared to respond and engage in the needs and concerns of the entire network. She is consistent in her communication and willing to hear all aspects of a situation before coming to conclusions. More specifically, Kayla listens carefully to what the network staff tells her. If there is a clear need for training, Kayla develops a training video within the week, uploading it to our Employee Portal for anyone who needs it. She also hosts support meetings via Zoom at the beginning of each month for all Directors who are in their first year in the Director role with the goal of informing them of the next steps (potential deadlines and requirements), providing support and training, and facilitating connections among Center Directors. The network-wide connection has been a reoccurring desire for our staff as seen through several years of Employee Engagement Survey data, to facilitate this further, Kayla has structured our annual in-person network-wide meeting in a way that allows our geographically dispersed staff the opportunity to connect. For example, she carved out time for each level of staff (admin, consultant, and director) to have a “breakout” session led by a member of that level to share best practices and support with each other.

Madison McCann

Marketing Coordinator & Office Supervisor

Tennessee SBDC

For the newsletter, Madison did some research and attended some classes on effective marketing tools. Using her newfound knowledge, she hypothesized that in order to increase newsletter effectiveness and engagement, potential subscribers needed to simply be presented with the option to subscribe, rather than being auto subscribed. With the support of the center director and staff, Madison deleted approximately 1200 people that consistently did not open the newsletter. To grow engagement and effectiveness through an opt-in structure, Madison came up with the idea to put the following in all of their signature lines’. “Are you getting our Newsletter? It will keep you up-to-date on TSBDC activities and community events. Sign up here: http://bit.ly/tsbdc_newsletter.” In addition, Madison mentions it at the end of all of their on-demand and live sessions. To further support the center’s Marketing efforts, Madison started an Instagram page, which more closely aligned with the target demographic social media platform preference in the area. Madison has also implemented changed to make client engagement easier through the use of Linktree via Instagram to direct customers/clients to the center’s podcast, local radio spots, TSBDC website, and monthly newsletter. Madison also ensures that the center’s newsletter features valuable content to continue to engage clients.

Matthew Jackson


South-West Texas SBDC Network

Throughout the course of his career, Matthew has been keenly adept at utilizing technology to meet the old adage “work smarter, not harder.” Matthew implemented the use of WebEx to launch the SBDCNet Lunch and Learn webinars. Utilizing the WebEx platform, Matthew expanded SBDCNet service delivery to provide virtual consultation sessions to new and existing SBDC advisors. Utilizing WebEx and other teleconferencing software provides him the opportunity to continue promoting SBDCNet services throughout the U.S. in a time and cost-efficient way to bring awareness SBDCs nationwide. This is just one example of how Matthew embraced the challenges of the pandemic to pursue new opportunities for supporting the national SBDC network.

Dezaray Johnson

Program Coordinator, Certified Business Advisor, Training and Student Team Coordinator

South-West Texas SBDC Network

Dezaray has created many innovative approaches to her work under the four previously mentioned areas.

1) With client work, she has purchased and installed the Calendly calendar system that makes is easier to schedule advising clients, send them automated reminders, and allow clients to easily set up a ZOOM client session. Dezaray has shared her expertise on this throughout the Network.

2) In addition, through the client management system Neoserra, Dezaray created and piloted a system to create electronic client growth assessments to collect client impact. This procedure enabled the center and other centers to send out this impact template electronically to clients. A lot of impact was collected by centers because of this innovative approach implemented by Dezaray. Dezaray is always available to teach and coach peers at her center and other centers throughout the program.

3) Dezaray has single handedly created a highly motivated team of paid student employees who are highly professional and well coached. They provide tremendous assistance to the mission of the SBDC in terms of client advising, training, and community engagement. They in turn received great service/experiential learning opportunities not found in the classroom. The host university is very pleased with the program as it enables business students to engage with the business community and helps recruitment of high-level students. Dezaray is also highly respected amongst the training coordinator cohort within the network. She provides guidance to newly hired training coordinators and assists them in replicating lean management tools within their prospective center.

Josh Green

Director, Virginia SBDC ICAP (Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program)

Virginia SBDC

ICAP offers an in introductory course, long-term advising and advanced programming. The Introductory course teaches the key concepts of the Customer Discovery during five (3-hour) sessions in cohorts of teams. Pre-pandemic, ICAP cohorts were delivered in person, together with a local or regional partner in communities across Virginia. During the pandemic, Josh piloted virtual cohorts open to any team from any corner of Virginia. This approach quickly proved to be more effective and efficient than the in-person format. The open registration allows for cross-state introductions, diversity of industries, and networking among the teams. The virtual format allows for larger cohorts per year (6 cohorts; up to 24 teams each cohort), engages more ICAP mentors to support teams and saves on travel for everyone. This format continues to be the delivery model.

Josh and team develop content and curriculum to assist technology and innovation driven start-ups that complements local ecosystem resources and offerings. He spends time establishing relationships with partners who ICAP can promote and support with programming and with partners that can refer businesses to ICAP. In 2021, he expanded partners to include accelerators, researchers, labs and universities focused on life sciences and received dedicated funding to hire 3 life-science mentors.

Long-term advising is a follow-on to the Introductory Course. While many organizations rely on volunteer mentors to support new tech entrepreneurs and startups, ICAP hires and pays mentors. This engagement ensures the mentor commitment to the process and maintains a reliable team in place that entrepreneurs can depend on for continued assistance.

ICAP is launching advanced programming for startups as they progress and grow as a company. The programs include: Building out the founding team; Developing the MVP (minimal viable product); Securing pilots and early sales; Developing key partnerships needed to scale. As each company progresses, they will be connected with subject matter experts to assist in the building of an organization.

Josh distributes a regular eNews and holds quarterly partner Zoom calls to update on ICAP activities, impacts, upcoming programs and features new ICAP staff and ICAP clients who share their stories. This work helps to maintain the partner network for referrals and collaborations.

Stacey Dacar

Marketing Manager

Washington SBDC

When Stacey joined the network we had no formal marketing plan or any one person responsible for marketing-related responsibilities. Stacey has created the entire system and kept the network organized and moving forward. Stacey always has dozens of sticky notes for new initiatives she wants to try, but one of the defining strengths of her work is that she doesn’t let existing programs fall off the map. The Monday Digest gets sent every week. The SBDC Biz Buzz gets sent every quarter. Social media posts get posted multiple times every week. State reports get done on time and always look professional. When the state director decided he wanted our network to implement Claromentis as our internal communication platform in 2019, he added that to Stacey’s already full plate and she delivered beautifully. This platform, which we call The Vine, has truly become an indispensable part of our network. Stacey started working with the ASBDC marketing committee in 2017 and has been a strong participant in various initiatives, including the launch of SBDC Day. She is also the go-to person for internal employee surveys and makes sure that they get created, distributed and then reported on in The Vine for the entire network to view. When our Market Research Intelligence Team created a business resiliency workbook, she was instrumental in assisting with the design of the workbook and promoting the webinars to wider audiences. When Grow with Google asked to host our webinar, she worked with the Google people and ASBDC to make sure the webinar went off without a hitch and the ASBDC was properly recognized as a partner on all PowerPoint, workbook and marketing materials.

Heather Ferguson

Program Manager

Wisconsin SBDC Network

Heather’s professional and educational background has resulted in a broad skill set. She often refers to herself as a multipotentialite! She is a team player who looks for ways to provide the most benefit in every situation. An excellent example of this is how she immediately restructured our mostly marketing e-newsletter to be educational during the pandemic. In order to understand the needs of our small businesses, she meet almost daily with our consulting staff from March-June 2020 to listen, learn and distill information regarding pandemic relief, COVID protocols and other key issues related to small business operations during these unusual times. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and does an amazing job of curating information, diligently fact-checking and providing the audience with relatable, easily digestible pieces. She also looks outward to spot key trends. We were one of the first services providers in our area to bring up topics such as the mental health effects of the pandemic on small business owners and employees. Furthermore, Heather is also always mindful of diversity, equity and inclusion in her work. She specifically seeks out ways to connect with underserved populations and makes sure to use language and images that are representative of our entire community. She wrote 64 newsletters between March-December of 2020! The newsletters had 50,253 opens with an average of 698 opens per newsletter. She also created a COVID specific web page and archived all past newsletters to extend the useful life of the content. This act, was a huge time saver for our consulting staff and appreciated by stakeholders who viewed our information as the most effective and reliable in the region.

Another example of Heather’s work beyond her core job duties is her role in the creation of our Navigating the New Normal Guide (see attached). The center identified the need for a COVID specific recovery guide by May of 2020. Heather researched currently available guides, identified gaps and curated new resource. She worked with the center director to create an outline and to develop the content. She collaborated with a graphic designer to make it visually appealing and user friendly. Finally, she had it translated into Spanish to extend the reach.

Heather has continued to innovate well beyond 2020’s pandemic response. She has played a role in the creation of our How-to Video Series (900 views the first day it was launched), was instrumental in updating our statewide Entrepreneurial Training Program and its new workbook (25 people in the beta class), and developed many new classes in virtual/hybrid formats. Some of these classes are offered at no-cost due to CARES Act funding. (see key links sample work attachment)”

Kody Ova

Marketing and communications specialist

Wisconsin SBDC Network

In 2021, our network launched multiple efforts that benefited clients statewide —some based in our centers and some from the state office.

Kody combined his technical skills, creativity to market these classes and services on top of vital daily and annual work.

He worked collaboratively with the communication manager and program managers as each offering came up to conduct a needs assessment, propose possibilities and follow through with deliverables that included web pages, social media kits and email promotions to clients/stakeholders.

Additionally, Kody joined the Institute for Business & Entrepreneurship’s Multicultural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee to ensure the LGBTQ+ perspective is represented and to gain better understanding of other diverse groups.

See the Outcomes to learn more!

Zia Yang

Outreach Specialist, Interim Director of the UW-Stevens Point SBDC

Wisconsin SBDC Network

Continued Innovative Virtual Programming:

The dramatic shift from in-person events to virtual programming (and canceled events) in 2020 prepared Zia for her work in 2021. She applied the lessons learned and successfully offered collaborative hybrid and virtual programming throughout the year.

Women’s Entrepreneurial Conference:

Zia collaborated with the UWSP School of Business and Economics to offer the first annual Women’s Entrepreneurial Conference held virtually during the national Women Entrepreneurship Week. The conference theme was “Starting New Stuff” and “Thriving as Founders” and boasted fourteen innovative female presenters and attracted 61 attendees from across the state.

Entrepreneurial Training Program:

The ten-week, in-depth business development program was forced to go virtual in 2020 but was purposely organized for a hybrid delivery in 2021. Due to its virtual nature, the program was offered as a regional collaboration in Northeast Wisconsin and put on jointly by two SBDC centers. The program was offered virtually as well as in-person at a local technical college for those who wanted in-person instruction. The program was organized to allow for time for group breakouts, instructor delivery and individual presentations, as well as online and offline collaborations between cohort members and the SBDC consultants. Preparing for hybrid delivery was tricky as there were issues with broadband access and speed, various levels of technology experience and working with participants and presenters from all across the area. Zia’s hard work in organization and standardization throughout the years with the Entrepreneurial Training Program made this hybrid transition much more possible. The use of Google Drive for passing along materials was set in place in 2020 but perfected in 2021. Virtual communities were built via Facebook with the cohorts. The timeline for turning in the completed business plan was shortened and the completion rate of the program was improved. The program saw great success through the pandemic and it wouldn’t have been possible without Zia’s assistance!

Wisconsin Lenders Conference:

After cancelling the 2020 conference, the UWSP team decided to put on an all-virtual conference in May 2021. Speakers were organized from all across the country, and the conference was altered to run two tracks for all attendees versus its normal five-track, six-offerings setup. With pared-down content and creative virtual networking, the conference received positive reviews. Attendees were thankful for the important lending and SBA updates.

2021 Digital and Social Media Conference:

The 2020 Digital and Social Media Conference also had to be cancelled. For 2021, Zia put together a three-track virtual conference. This required immense coordination across the speakers and Continuing Education staff. This also required massive attention to logistical issues both ahead of time and day-of; Zia planned with Continuing Education to incorporate virtual event best practices. During the conference, Zia managed six internal staffers and multiple Zoom channels in addition to the main Zoom webinar. Attendees were positive about the great content and delivery.

First Steps to Starting a Business:

The First Steps program was flipped virtual in 2020 and perfected in delivery in 2021. What used to be a one-night, three-hour long presentation was divided into three one-hour presentations across three Wednesdays in a row. This framework and wider marketing dramatically increased participation and began to attract attendees from all over the state. Managing multiple Zoom meetings, registration links and sometimes varied participant groups led to logistical issues, but Zia again met this challenge with organization.

Leadership Transition:

In July 2021, the center director stepped down and Zia was asked to be the Interim Director until a replacement was hired. She learned the ropes quickly and successfully led the department well into late spring of 2022. During this time, she also continued her regular Outreach Specialist job responsibilities, including programming management, client triage/intake and so much more.