Best Small Business Owners in the U.S.Owning a business embodies the American dream. It takes bravery, determination and a steadfast refusal to give up.

Small businesses are at the heart of local communities and, as President Barack Obama said, they are the “backbone of America’s economy.”

To celebrate National Small Business Week (May 12-16), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has selected the top small business people from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.

The winners will be publicly recognized May 15-16 in Washington, D.C. where they will meet with business leaders from across the country and officials from the SBA.

It takes more than just ambition to make a small business successful, so we decided to track down the SBA winners and find out the secrets to running a successful small business.

In this four-part series, we will acknowledge all of the SBA winners and help you learn from some of their experiences.

Alphabetically, here are the first set of the 2014 Small Business Person of the Year Winners:

  • Alabama- Harvey Nix (CEO) Proventix Systems, Inc.
  • Alaska- Ginna and John Baldiviez (Owners) House of Bread, Anchorage
  • Arizona- Cynthia Miracle Reed (President and CEO) MIRACORP
  • Arkansas- John Michael Gueringer (President) and Paul Arthur Reesnes (Secretary) Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc.
  • California- Ricardo Robles (President), Pablo “Rene” Robles (Vice President/Operations) and Jacqueline Robles (Secretary/General Manager) Anita’s Mexican Food Corp.
  • Colorado- Jan Erickson (Owner) Janska LLC
  • Connecticut- Max Kothari (CEO) and Parag Mehta (COO) Express Countertops, Kitchen & Flooring LLC
  • Delaware- Marian R. Young (President) and Mark A. Lannan (Principal) BrightFields, Inc.
  • District of Columbia- LaKeshia Grant (CEO) Virtual Enterprise Architects
  • Florida- Amir A. Varshovi (President) Green Technologies LLC
  • Georgia- Jusak Yan Bernhard (President) and Jeffrey Allen Manley (Vice President) TailsSpin
  • Guam- Thomas Shieh, MD (Owner) Dr. Shieh’s Clinic
  • Hawaii- Dave Erdman (President & CEO) PacRim Marketing Group, Inc. & PR TechLLC
  • Idaho- Gary B. Multanen (CEO), Susan A. Multanen (Owner),  Megan L. Multanen (General Manager) and Jay M. Multanen (Manager) Best Bath Systems, Inc.

Channel Your Job Frustration into a Business

SBA DC Winner 2014Many of the winners had personal reasons for starting their businesses. LaKeisha Grant, Small Business Person of the Year for the District of Columbia, didn’t intend to have a career in the IT field.

“I became an entrepreneur out of my frustration with management’s decisions on client matters and their client support strategy,” said Grant. “I created my company to provide holistic consulting to integrate the strategy, business and technology needs of customers, specifically federal customers.”

Her decision paid off. Her company, Virtual Enterprise Architects, delivers Enterprise Architecture (EA) and IT-related services to public and private clients. Her business has grown over 2,127% and was ranked by Inc. Magazine as the 195th fastest growing privately held company in 2013.

Becoming that successful requires making smart decisions, even when they are difficult.

“The most important lesson that I have learned is that I must keep business and personal matters separate,” Grant said. “As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to turn away friends and family members when they are looking for employment.”

Creating a standard employment screening process helped her learn to find the best candidate for the job without bias, regardless of the relationship.

Grant advises new business owners to always keep an eye on the numbers. Since cash flow and income are needed to grow and maintain a business, watching the money is crucial.

“It’s the lifeline of your business,” Grant said.

Switching Careers Can Lead to Success

For Harvey Nix, Alabama’s SBA winner, working in different industries over the course of his career helped with creating Proventix, a company that uses monitoring, reporting and analytics to improve hand hygiene in the medical field.

SBA Alabama Winner 2014After majoring in finance, Nix started in the brokerage industry after college. He then moved on to the computer-based machinery diagnostic industry before landing in the healthcare field.

“I did not get any career counseling but was willing to try just about anything,” Nix said.

His hard work was worthwhile, with Proventix reaching 50 million hand hygiene events monitored. They aim to reach 100 million by June 2015.

Proventix recognizes the importance of hand hygiene compliance, recognizing “Hand Hygiene All-Americans” for exemplary high performance among their customers.

“These individuals are healthcare heroes in protecting the patients they serve, and I consider that our biggest success thus far,” said Nix.

Focusing on others is an important business lesson Nix has learned. He works for the good of his employees, the hospitals his company serves and the patients that go to those hospitals.

If you’re just starting a business, Nix advises to enjoy the experience and focus on the team.

“Start from where you are and get better,” he said. “It’s worth the effort.”

Never Forget Why You Started

SBA Guam Winner 2014For Dr. Thomas Shieh, Small Business Person of the Year in Guam, deciding to open up a women’s health clinic was deeply personal. His grandmother and source of inspiration died from cancer. Later, when his wife gave birth to their second daughter, he realized he wanted to help bring life into the world.

Shieh’s clinic operates under the philosophy “patients first,” an idea that also influences business decisions.

“Healthcare is a tough business,” Shieh said. “How do you charge patients when they don’t have money to pay you?”

He made $30 on his first day in practice, despite having patients all day. He has been paid with a large bucket of coconut crab and has gotten a payment five years after treating a patient, when the patient could afford it.

Compassionate care isn’t only for his patients. Shieh advises new business owners to be good to their employees.

“Treat your employees well,” he said. “Teach them to love their work, keep them healthy, and they will be more productive and you will celebrate your success together.”

After delivering over 5,000 babies and conducting Guam’s first bone marrow drive, Shieh still considers being happily married to his wife, Raven, to be his biggest success.

Focusing on creating strong relationships can be its own form of success.

“Everywhere I go on island, I see lots of familiar faces of the mothers I helped and their kids,” Shieh said. “It’s the smiles I see on their faces and the lives I was able to save really makes me feel good inside.”

Give Back to the Community

SBA Arkansas Winner 2014John Michael Gueringer and Paul Reesnes, the SBA winners from Arkansas, started Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc. in Gueringer’s garage. Because they had such limited seed capital for their custom-built aircraft cabinets business, they learned how important it is to be “prudent with the economics of the business” while making the right investments.

“We have learned over the years that our most valuable asset is our people, and we consistently try to invest in those assets,” Gueringer and Reesnes said.

They advise potential business owners to always treat employees and customers with respect, simple advice that can lead to enormous returns.

“We are passionate about reaching out into the community, especially our school systems, to begin mentoring and apprenticeship programs to help create valuable employees for the future,” they said.

Come back tomorrow for more insightful advice from the 2014 small business winners in part two of this series.

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