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Gina Diaz

Houston, TX

INDUSTRY: CONSTRUCTION
BUSINESS: GCI SOLUTIONS, LLC
YEAR FOUNDED: 2008
PROGRAM: BUILD UP HOUSTON

Partnering To Scale

Gina Diaz knows how to leverage her networks to get new contracts. She and her son and business partner, Casey Simien, just completed the Build Up Houston (BUH) program, delivered through a partnership between Interise and the City of Houston. Gina approaches partnering for bids as more than a sub-contracting opportunity – for her, it is also an opportunity for mentorship. She has partnered with larger construction firms, such as Gadberry Construction (Interise Dallas alum) and Texas Pride (Build Up Houston alum,) to build her company’s capacity and expand into new markets. She has observed how they approach bidding, competitors, and properly training employees. These partnerships have allowed Gina and Casey to build the capacity, confidence, and networks to go after larger contracts themselves.

“My biggest learning from working with these companies is how important it is to understand the client and make sure that marketing is good. It’s not just about giving the lowest number.” With admiration for how these two companies approach their growth – a direct result of their experiences writing and implementing growth plans through their Interise programs – Gina and Casey applied for the Build Up Houston program themselves. “At the beginning of the program, we used to show up in construction gear, coming directly from the work sites,” said Gina. They were both completely involved in day to day, on-site operations. “At the end of the program, we told our classmates, ‘Look! We aren’t in our work boots!’ We put systems in place and didn’t have to have our hands in everything.”

Some other notable achievements during the last 7 months while in the class include:

  • Hiring 5 full-time employees, with 10 additional new hires planned for 4th quarter
  • Securing 4 new contracts (2 are subcontracts with Build Up Houston Alumni), totaling $1,075,000 in new contracts
  • Negotiated a few partnerships with Primes for work in Houston, Dallas and Austin markets.
  • Secured a line of credit, an equipment loan, and a capital loan, all to support her growth

Gina’s biggest takeaway from the Build Up Houston class is: “Develop and Work the Plan…Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail! After 7 months [in the class,] we now have a comprehensive detailed roadmap for implementing our growth strategy to include: branding, marketing and sales, financial management, hiring, recruiting and resource planning, government contracting.”

With their growth strategy in place, Gina and Casey are eager to grow their commitment to their community as well. They run an apprentice program for training women and minorities with careers in construction and giving individuals with criminal or misdemeanor records a second chance. This commitment to serving her community is actually what drove Gina to leave a construction management career of over 20-years in corporate America to start her own business.


Gina recognizes the value of cultivating relationships with other construction companies, classmates, local government agencies, capacity builders, and her own team. “The City, quasi agencies, Interise, Houston Community College and Build Up Houston 2018 colleagues are all valuable assets for growing our business. We were already aware and appreciative of the City of Houston’s commitment to small businesses and the BUH program added to that commitment and helped us to dig deeper to develop a detailed roadmap to implementing our growth strategy.”

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Sarah Hooper and Amanda Varnell

Chattanooga, TN

INDUSTRY: FOOD SERVICES
BUSINESS: DISH T’PASS
YEAR FOUNDED: 2012
PROGRAM: 2015 NEXT LEVEL CHATTANOOGA

BUSINESS OVERVIEW

Sarah Hooper and her business partner, Amanda Varnell, launched their catering company and cooking school in 2012 on a foundation of their shared “love for all things food.” The business quickly came to be known and loved in the community for fresh, made-from-scratch, delicious catering for events big and small. Sarah and Amanda’s hard work paid off in 2016 when the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Congress awarded Dish T’Pass an annual small business award, just weeks after the business first hit the $1 million revenues mark.

ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

“Sarah and I are all about relationships. The ability to form relationships with our clients and other small business continues to propel us.” says Amanda.

 

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Catherine Downey

Atlanta, GA

INDUSTRY: MEDIA
BUSINESS: CATMEDIA
YEAR FOUNDED:1997
PROGRAM: 2014 STREETWISE ‘MBA’™

BUSINESS OVERVIEW

Catherine Downey founded CATVIDEO in 1997, building on her experience in television production and media and project management. As a single mom, she built a thriving business while also caring for her young family. Through years of hard work and sacrifice, the company thrived, and with her children grown, Catherine redoubled her efforts to meet the ever-changing needs of federal and commercial clients. In 2011 she changed the company name to CATMEDIA to reflect its expanding services. In 2014, Catherine participated in the StreetWise ‘MBA’™ program.

AWARD-WINNING GROWTH

What started as a one-person operation has now grown to 33 employees generating $17 million in revenue. A true innovator, Downey is named on several patent-pending training and communications technologies. Under her leadership, CATMEDIA was named to the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing private companies in America in 2014 and 2015, and in 2017 it was ranked fifth on Fortune’s 50 Fastest-Growing Women-Owned Companies in the U.S. In 2016, Catherine won the Small Business Alliance’s prestigious Georgia Small Business Person of the Year award.

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Jerry Kennedy

Anadarko, OK

INDUSTRY: FOOD SERVICES
BUSINESS: DELAWARE NATION ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY (DNEDA)
YEAR FOUNDED: 2009
PROGRAM: SBA EMERGING LEADERS INITIATIVE, OKLAHOMA CITY, 2013
“When I joined DNEDA, I developed a plan that started with creating relationships. If we were going to create jobs, we needed to grow profitable businesses. Our small team needed help.”

BUSINESS OVERVIEW

The Delaware Nation launched the Delaware Nation Economic Development Authority (DNEDA) in 2009 with the goal of creating profitable businesses that would provide employment to Delaware tribe members and citizens of Anadarko, a city of 6,700 known as the “Indian Capital of the Nation.” The poverty rate among Native Americans in Anandarko, including the 1,500 members of the Delaware Nation, is over thirty percent. NDEDA faced a challenging start. When Jerry Kennedy was hired as CEO in 2011, DNEDA had only three employees, was losing money, and had made little progress toward the mission of fostering economic prosperity through entrepreneurial ventures.

CREATIVE GROWTH

DNEDA reached a turning point when Jerry enrolled in the SBA’s Emerging Leaders program, which utilizes Interise’s StreetWise ‘MBA’™ curriculum. The program guided Kennedy and his colleagues through an analysis of their businesses and helped them inventory their resources. They formulated a three-year growth plan that involved an initial strategy of partnering with bigger, more successful businesses until they were ready to take on primary positions in new contracts, and eventually purchase one of their partner companies. “It was a tremendous help,” Kennedy says. “Without that guidance we would have gone down the wrong path.” Today, with $42 million in revenues and 300 employees, DNEDA is meeting its goal of providing local jobs and helping to bolster the regional economy. In its new three-year plan, the company aims to reach 100 million in revenues and 600 employees by diversifying relationships in new sectors.

 

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David Warner

Boston, MA

INDUSTRY: FOOD SERVICES
BUSINESS: CITY FEED AND SUPPLY
YEAR FOUNDED: 2000
PROGRAM: 2004 INTERISE BOSTON COHORT
“The idea for City Feed and Supply was inspired by the available space, and the neighborhood.”

BUSINESS OVERVIEW

David Warner and his wife, Kristine Cortese, opened City Feed and Supply in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston in the 1990s, a time of rapid change for that neighborhood. David and Kristine remembered the role of feed and supply stores from their childhoods in the Midwest and Southwest, not only in supplying provisions but as community hubs. In addition to the typical convenience store essentials of bread, milk, and coffee, the new store offered fresh, locally grown vegetables and healthy, natural, specialty and organic foods. The new business owners built strong relationships with local suppliers, hired a staff of 20 neighborhood residents, and encouraged customers to linger and to make suggestions about new products they’d like to see in the store.

GROWTH OPPORTUNITY

City Feed’s popularity grew steadily. David and Kristine knew they had the opportunity to grow, but neither of them had prior experience running a business. When David received an invitation to join the Interise StreetWise ‘MBA’™ program, he accepted enthusiastically. With the new knowledge and peer support her received, the second store, City Feed and Supply on Centre Street, opened in 2008. The new location is three times the size of the original store, with space for more local and regional products, an expanded café menu, and additional seating. The business also scaled up by adding catering and online shopping components. City Feed now employs over 40 people and has won numerous awards.

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Jonathon Neves

Randolph, MA

INDUSTRY: Construction
BUSINESS: GREEN ENERGY MECHANICAL 
YEAR FOUNDED: 2008
PROGRAM: 2016 INTERISE BOSTON COHORT
“My business was sustainable, but I wanted to grow.”

BUSINESS OVERVIEW

Jonathan Neves, a native to Lowell, worked for over ten years in the HVAC industry as a service technician. In 2008, he launched his own company, Green Energy Mechanical, based in Randolph, MA. Today, Green Energy Mechanical is a family-owned HVAC company specializing in energy-efficient heating and air conditioning systems.  

GROWTH PLAN: "NOT JUST A GLORIFIED VISION" 

“I’ve always been goal oriented,” says Neves. “But the StreetWise 'MBA' helped me to formulate my goals into a three-year growth plan. You learn that the growth plan is dynamic - that things come up and change in life, so you have to make adjustments. Now our goals are useful and action driven - not just a glorified vision.” In the second year of his team’s three-year growth plan, Neves saw a 50% increase in annual revenue, and he projects that his company will continue to grow.

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