New tech entrepreneurs can find it difficult to surmount the onslaught of obstacles to getting a new business off the ground. Some days can feel so frustrating that you consider giving up.
However, the challenges you face are the same ones that every successful small business owner has faced and then surmounted in some way or another. It can be instructive and inspirational to hear about businesses that triumphed over adversity.
How these six businesses worked with the SBA to grow
The Small Business Administration (SBA) is a federal agency that supports the US economy by aiding small businesses, including offering loans and grants as well as free education, assistance, and other resources.
Each of the businesses listed below had help from the SBA and overcame their challenges to become success stories. You might see your own business reflected in these case studies — which may provide insights into areas of growth for your business.
1. TRISTAR — Engineering its own success
An engineering services firm, TRISTAR is the first woman and minority-owned firm based in Indiana to offer the Department of Defense (DoD) technical support services. In 1998, a few years after launching, the company got a $200,000 SBA-guaranteed loan.
With that money, it was able to expand its home office and establish a separate manufacturing and refurbishment facility nearby. In addition, those funds enabled the company to open a DC field office.
Seeing a 200-percent revenue growth in just the first year after securing that loan, TRISTAR took out an additional $500,000 SBA-backed loan to expand its physical presence into two more locations.
Today, TRISTAR still contracts with the DoD, along with several other federal agencies. It has grown from five employees generating $120,000 in annual revenue to 350 employees generating annual revenues of $16.5 million.
2. iRobot — From robots to riches
Thanks to assistance from SBIR-funded research, iRobot was able to conquer the thorny challenge of moving a project from the demonstration stage to a marketable and profitable product.
Rather than seeking private funding, the company’s owners obtained funds through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), committing them to building products for government use. This led to iRobot’s sale of more than 4,000 PacBot robots that perform perilous missions (like bomb disposal) in support of soldiers and first responders in combat.
Since then, more than $30 million in SBIR funds have enabled iRobot to conduct 33 research initiatives to develop new sensors and other robot capability enhancements.
The company’s resulting success has allowed it to move into the consumer sector to develop popular and successful products like the Roomba vacuum robot and the Braava mopping robot. Since its inception, iRobot has sold over 30 million robots globally.
3. Black Diamond — Skiing to success
Black Diamond Equipment rose from the ashes of Chouinard Equipment’s bankruptcy when its former staff banded together to establish the climbing industry’s first company owned by its employees. With an SBA-guaranteed loan of $800,000, the company was able to relocate to Salt Lake City, Utah to be closer to the area’s world-renowned rock and ice climbing and back-country skiing at the core of Black Diamond’s business.
Thanks to that decision, the company was able to see quick growth, leading it to take out a second SBA-backed loan, this time for $807,000, in 1995. As a result, the company has been able to achieve annual revenues of $90 million and more than doubled its staff, from 200 to over 400 employees.
4. UEC Electronics — Engineering contracts
Two years after engineering firm UEC Electronics launched in 1995, its owner realized she and her staff of 10 needed marketing assistance to grow the business. Her local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), a resources partner of the SBA, assisted them in developing marketing materials that effectively showcased the company’s unusual range of proficiencies.
In 2000, when a slowdown in the industry forced a sharp refocusing of the company’s efforts, UEC enlisted the SBDC in helping expand into federal contracting. The Center helped the company in several ways, including creating a profile with Central Contractor Registration, navigating federal listings for contracts, and preparing proposals.
Today UEC Electronics has increased its workforce more than tenfold, from that original 10 to now 115, and is considered a key government contractor.
5. Columbus Technologies and Services — To NASA and beyond
At launch, the initial trajectory of Columbus Technologies, a California NASA spacecraft initiative business, looked promising, but after NASA downsized the budget available for their services, their revenue plummeted over 60 percent in just two weeks.
With the SBA’s help, however, Columbus was able to diversify its business. Securing two contracts with the Air Force allowed the company to keep 95 percent of its workforce and even hire 20 more employees and another dozen by 2010.
Columbus then bid on and received a five-year, $250 million NASA contract with Goddard Space Flight Center. This resulted in Columbus taking on another 100 employees and snagging two new contracts with the Centers for Disease Control.
Today, Columbus Technologies and Services supports NASA, DoD, HHS, and NOAA among other government agencies. As well as many academic institutions, research institutions, and businesses of all sizes throughout the aerospace, health sciences, and national security sectors.
In 2019, the company won the award for NASA Goddard Center-Level Small Business Subcontractor of the Year.
6. Christopherson Travel — Flying high
With an SBA-backed capital loan of just $20,000, the owners of Christopherson Travel, a Salt Lake City travel agency were able to boost their staff from 10 to more than 225.
Before obtaining the loan, the agency was barely bringing in $1 million in annual revenues. After getting the loan, the business was able to weather 20 years of intense and growing competition from the internet, the elimination of airline commissions to travel agencies, and a lengthy economic recession to achieve over $240 million in revenues in 2010, a company record.
In 2001, they secured their second SBA loan for the business. This time to build a 42,000 square foot office building.
By 2019, Christopherson Business Travel supported over 1,000 companies and organizations nationwide with over $687 million in business travel. Starting with just 35 offices in the Rocky Mountain region, the company now boasts offices in 30 states, along with 23 on-site client-dedicated locations.
Inspiration for growth
These are just some of the many examples of small businesses thriving through hard work, dedication, and the support of the SBA. If you think your business could benefit from working with the SBA, prep your business plan and be sure to contact your nearest SBDC for information on available services.