ASBA presents Enterprise Business Awards at 26th annual luncheon

The Arizona Small Business Association hosted its 26th Annual Enterprise Business Awards Luncheon in Scottsdale on May 2, announcing statewide and national award winners as well as first-, second- and third-place Small Business Boost Contest winners.

“Big business may dominate the stock market, but it’s small-business and startups that keep our economy moving,” said Lin Sue Cooney, director of community engagement at Hospice of the Valley, who served as mistress of ceremonies at the luncheon. “Small businesses drive economic growth in Arizona, and today you’re going to see their impact. They give people the opportunity to achieve financial independence; they encourage innovation and create employment opportunities.”

Cooney said 979,412 people are employed by small businesses in Arizona. “That’s a pretty powerful number, don’t you think?” she asked.

The Enterprise Business Awards Luncheon (EBAL) was sponsored by the Arizona Small Business Association (ASBA) in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Cox Business, 3TV (KTVK), Salt River Project, Enterprise Bank and Trust, Southwest Airlines, BNC National Bank and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

“As you have already heard today, we know small business is the backbone of our country, certainly the backbone of Arizona,” said Michael Tilton, general manager of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

“Over 95 percent of the employers in this state are small businesses, and for our organization — we’ve been here serving Arizona for over 80 years now — we are fortunate to have always had a significant focus on small business, because we do understand that as times change and as stock markets come and go, small businesses are the ones that are always there,” Tilton said.

Robert Blaney, Arizona district director for SBA, presented the 2019 awards. The week of May 5 is the 56th anniversary of National Small Business Week, and there is “nothing more American,” Blaney said.

“This country was founded by risk-takers, and American entrepreneurship is what makes this country and what sets this country apart from other places,” he said. “To all the small businesses here, and to the 30 million other small businesses across the United States, thank you for what you do. You are what make us different; you are what make us great.”

Small Business Persons of the Year

The 2019 Arizona Small Business Person of the Year award went to two people: Jeffrey and Jennifer Herbert, co-founders and owners of Superstition Meadery in Prescott, established in 2012. The honey wine producers now offer more than 170 unique beverages in restaurants and stores in 37 states and 13 different countries, Blaney said.

“Jeff and Jennifer Herbert’s commitment to the mead beverage business does not stop in the tasting room,” Blaney said. “They are founding members of the American Mead [Makers] Association; Jeff has served on the board. They’re shining examples of how small business improves the lives in our local economy and creates jobs to make a positive impact on Arizona.”

Veteran Advocate of the Year

The 2019 Arizona Veteran Advocate of the Year award went to Vern “Rusty” Findley, retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Air Force, who — in addition to working as a contract consultant in the defense industry —volunteers as vice chairman of the board for S.E.E.4Vets, a nonprofit group that advocates for student veterans.

S.E.E.4Vets, which stands for Supporting Education and Employment for Veterans, collaborates with community colleges to shape and implement programs that improve student veteran retention and help connect them with career services.

“They provide support, and they provide encouragement to veterans to complete their education and to help them navigate the job recruitment and hiring maze that everybody faces when they’re coming back to a civilian society from the military,” Blaney said.

“In addition, S.E.E.4Vets provides employers with local venues to interview former service members as a way to help them connect and see the specific talents that men and women have when they’ve served in our military,” he said.

National Small Business Subcontractor of the Year

The 2019 National Small Business Subcontractor of the Year award was presented to Admiral Engineering and Manufacturing Company, Inc., a Phoenix-based machining company founded in 1966. Admiral Engineering creates specialized parts for businesses in the aerospace, defense, space, medical and technology industries.

“I looked at their website, and I saw the pieces they make; you would want ‘quality without compromise’ — trust me,” Blaney said, referring to the company’s slogan. “With a modern, 17,000-square-foot facility conveniently located in North Phoenix, they have been creating tooling and sophisticated equipment in the machinery industry for over 48 years… The company’s commitment to quality ensures that parts are consistently produced the first time.”

8(a) Graduate of the Year

Paul A. Smiley was named the Arizona 8(a) Graduate of the Year. The SBA 8(a) Business Development program is a federal initiative with an objective to award five percent of all federal contracting dollars to small, disadvantaged businesses each year.

“What if every company’s number-one mission was to create a culture where employees, customers and business partners were treated with dignity, respect and human kindness?” Blaney asked. “That’s the world that Paul Smiley created.”

Smiley, a U.S. Air Force veteran, is the president of Sonoran Technology and Professional Services, founded in 2007 and headquartered in Goodyear.

“They are a service-disabled, veteran-owned business, and they are dedicated to delivering transformational training and technical solutions to a host of customers,” Blaney said. “Paul’s company excels at hiring and placing qualified professionals who can hit the ground running and start delivering results on day one.”

Small Business Development Center of Excellence and Innovation

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Cochise College in Sierra Vista was named the 2019 Arizona Small Business Development Center of Excellence and Innovation.

Cochise College SBDC provides small businesses and startups with one-on-one counseling as well as assistance with business planning, marketing, accounting, startup strategic planning and more — all free of cost.

“Today, we recognize a great center, Cochise College, and the center director Mark Schmitt, who leads his team every day to provide counseling and financial development initiatives,” Blaney said. “He does a lot with veteran assistance… and he’s also involved in clean technology and government contracting.”

SBA Exporter of the Year

The 2019 SBA Small Business Exporter of the Year award was presented to Evolue Skincare and owner Jean Seo, who earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of California – Los Angeles.

Seo founded Evolue Skincare with “a passionate, relentless spirit to heal the world from toxic skincare and to provide the best ingredients and results to everyone and anyone,” according to the company website.

“Evolue’s mission is simple: focus on making high-performing skincare with the best ingredients,” Blaney said. Seo’s library science degree allows her access to one of the largest library databases in the world — the University of California — where she can research ingredients and their effectiveness to make innovations in skin care, he said.

“Small businesses that diversify their product offerings, they greatly increase their prospects for growth,” Blaney said. “Those who enter international export markets can grow exponentially. You have to take into consideration that 95 percent of all consumers don’t live here… they live somewhere else. The only way you can get it to them is to export it. And some people try to do that, and some people are very, very successful, and our award winner is one of those.”

Small Business Boost Contest

Larry Silver, Arizona director for Cox Business, took the stage toward the end of the luncheon to present the top-three winners of the 2019 Small Business Boost Contest, sponsored by Cox Business, 3TV, BNC National Bank and ASBA.

The contest has made a “big difference over the past few years,” and past winners have noticed a measurable boost from the prize, which includes more than just money, Silver said.

“Let’s talk about how we got here,” he said. “This road started about two months ago… 84 businesses entered. Of the 84 businesses, they had an opportunity to answer an online questionnaire. Those 84 businesses have a chance to win a $5,000 cash prize, courtesy of Cox Business; a $12,500 advertising schedule with 3TV, courtesy of Cox Business and BNC National Bank; an ASBA membership, including all the tools and resources — that could be priceless for many of us small business owners. That’s what they’ve all been vying for.”

The businesses that applied were narrowed down to 12 by online votes from 6,700 members of the public, and those 12 each created videos explaining why they should win the prize.

A panel of judges then narrowed the 12 videos down to three finalists: Sibley’s West, a locally-sourced gift shop in Chandler; The Scookie Bar, a dessert food truck in the Phoenix area; and My Errand Ally, a personal shopping and errand service in the Valley.

John and Michelle Wolfe, co-owners of Sibley’s West — which they call the “Chandler and Arizona Gift Shop” — took first prize, worth over $22,000 in cash and other support. John Wolfe said he and his wife wanted to thank the shop’s 230 Arizona suppliers.

“Everything in Sibley’s is from somebody in Arizona, and that might be an individual artist in Payson, it might be a small business in Prescott, it might be an organization in Tucson, but the idea is that they took a chance in having their items in our store eight years ago, and it’s been a terrific partnership,” Wolfe said.

“I’d also like to thank our staff,” he said. “We have eight employees, and they have really embraced the idea of taking the information about the individual artist and being able to share that with our guests who come in. They have lots of stories to tell.”

Wolfe also said that his wife, Michelle, acts as a sort of small-business consultant for many of their shop’s suppliers, who are often new in their businesses and working to develop pricing models and other aspects of their products and services.

Finally, Wolfe said he wanted to thank the shoppers and guests who have visited Sibley’s West in the eight and a half years since it opened.

“It’s a lot of people who are local, who come here and buy items, and they also buy them and take them with them if they’re traveling,” he said. “We also have visitors from 112 different countries who have signed our guest book.”

Laura Browder and Veanney Hurtado, co-owners of The Scookie Bar, took second place in the contest, which included a check from BNC National Bank for $1,500.

“We’re not just cookies and ice cream; it means so much more to us,” Hurtado said. “We started this company because, in 2014, we wanted to inspire the LGBT community in Arizona.”

Hurtado said her parents “closed the door” on her when she revealed her sexuality, but “when one door closes, another one opens.” Hurtado and Browder met in 2014 and have been together ever since, founding The Scookie Bar soon after.

“We joke that Laura is the white scoop and I’m the brown cookie, and we met at a bar — so, together, it’s The Scookie Bar,” Hurtado said, to genial applause.

Devoney Kelash, owner of My Errand Ally, won third place in the contest, which included a $1,000 check from BNC National Bank. Kelash, a Phoenix native, said she founded her business to help make people’s lives easier.

“As a small-business owner, marketing budgets are always little to non-existent, and so now we’ll be able to reach so many more families and make their lives easier, so I greatly appreciate it,” Kelash said.

Graham Bosch

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