Success Story…Consulting Services Inc.

Ken Novotny and David Mitchell met at a gym one day and became fast friends. They soon discovered they share more than just a desire to keep physically fit. They both shared a dream of building a successful business.

Novotny worked as a defense contractor at Tinker Air Force Base while Mitchell worked for a large contracting company as a buyer. Novotny had vast experience in computer systems. Mitchell knew the process of doing business with the federal government.

“I saw immediately that Ken had great business sense. He was very personable, which seemed unusual for a typical computer geek,” Mitchell said laughing.

In the spring of 2004 the team began building their dream by working with Mike Cure, Business Advisor at the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center at Rose State College in Midwest City. Cure helped the pair build a business plan and locate space for their new enterprise as well as understand the various certifications available to Native American-owned businesses. “Mike gave us outstanding advice and became our mentor,” said Novotny.

In 2004, Novotny formed KNWEBS Inc. dba CSI, a defense contracting business. CSI offers information technology and engineering services including information assurance, cyber security, software development, data center consolidation, network security, and system security. CSI has grown from two employees and $64,000 in revenues to almost 120 employees and more than $8 million in sales in 2008.

“We have grown beyond our expectations,” said Novotny, “In the first two years we exceeded our five-year projections.” He credits much of their success to the OKSBDC. “Without the help of the great people of the OKSBDC, owning this business might still be a dream.”

Cure helped the partners with the paperwork to qualify for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Small Disadvantaged Business (SDB), 8(a) and Historically Underutilized Business (HUBZone) programs. CSI has been able to prove past performance from subcontract work to becoming a viable Federal contracting company with the ability to have sole source set aside contracts.

“Although we are just beginning to get into the prime contract market, we have been providing IT and engineering services to large companies like Northrop Grumman, which awarded CSI the small business excellence award in 2007,” said Novotny. “In the services business, your company is ONLY as good as the people that represent it. Our customers will only stay with us if we take good care of them.”

In 2007, Novotny established a recruiting division within CSI to ensure the company only hires the highest qualified employees to meet the customer’s expectations. This new division has caught the eyes of many Department of Defense contracting firms which use the recruiters to fulfill their requirements. “The recruiting division has tripled in growth since being stood up just a year ago,” Novotny said.

This new service has opened the doors to many of the largest Department of Defense contracting companies CSI is looking to team with on new requirements.

“Don’t wait for the ‘right time’ to begin your business,” Novotny advises others who are thinking about going into business. “Go to your local SBA representative and understand the avenues to accomplish your business plan, and then go do it! Patience is another key piece of advice. It’s going to take long hours and a lot of work but it will pay off, just give it time.”

Success Story…Shorty’s Caboy Hattery

Lavonna “Shorty” Koger, owner of Shorty’s Caboy Hattery, knew a lot about rodeos and making quality cowboy hats. However, she did not know a lot about running a successful small business until she visited with Susan Urbach at the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center (OKSBDC).

Today, her company, located in historic Stockyards City, is bursting at the seams thanks to management and technical advice received from the OKSBDC. Sales have increased 400 percent. Staff has doubled, and the company offers better salaries with employee benefits.

“I don’t know what I would have done without the OKSBDC,” said Koger. “I knew how to make and sell a great cowboy hat, but the OKSBDC has helped me understand how to run a business. I trust them. They give good, sound advice in a way a plain speaker like me can understand.”

Koger, who has been involved in the rodeo since she was 14, began her business in 1990. Determined that nothing was going to stop her, Koger said she has the only woman-owned and operated custom hattery in the United States.

Koger said she will never forget her first meeting with Urbach. “She took a marker and started drawing a tangled mess of lines all over this blackboard,” she said. “I asked her, ‘what does that mean?’ Susan said, ‘that’s how your business has been running.’ I asked her, ‘can you help me?’” That illustration became the guiding focus that you can’t do everything all at once, but you begin to start unraveling and, eventually, there will be order.

Urbach said she began helping Koger by unraveling her personnel and work flow issues.

“We walked her through letting go and hiring new people,” she said. “We spent a great deal of time talking about financial information and how to use it to help management decisions. This meant getting set up on QuickBooks and beginning to understand how it can help the company. We used information to look at cost of goods, pricing, salaries, and how she could get the most benefit out of income and maximizing every dollar. We have advised on marketing issues, looking at where she is spending her advertising dollar. In fact, recent advice has included redoing the building awning and thinking of it as a billboard, which has been helpful in increasing visibility for her retail business. And we have been working with her on redoing the layout of the retail end to maximize the sales from the space.”

“Susan is honest, patient and she told me just like it was,” Koger said. “I can’t say enough about her. I must have drove her crazy for several years.”

Koger’s top quality hats are worn by many who are well-known in the western world, including horse show and rodeo winners as well as country music stars.

Koger advises others who are thinking about going into business to “be patient and don’t ever give up. You have to have determination to succeed. I love what I do. When I decided to go into the business, I was determined that nothing was going to stop me. But, the main thing I tell people is to go see Susan,” Koger said laughing.

Success Story…BETT Enterprises

For the last five years, Gayla Williams has been proving that she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to commercial painting.

Because of her reputation for quality work, Williams’ company, BETT Enterprises Inc., has grown from three to 21 employees, and gross revenue is expected to top more than $1 million this year. BETT provides a complete line of professional paint finishes for all types of commercial construction.

After working 10 years for a national paint company, Williams was offered the opportunity to serve as a project manager for a large paint contractor in Arkansas. Through this experience she learned all aspects of paint applications, building procedures and the bidding processes. When the owner of the company retired and closed up shop, Williams returned to Oklahoma and began researching her opportunities to start her own company in the Tulsa area.

Williams had developed many contacts among painting contractors, and she began to pick up small contracts from their overflow. Although work was slow, she began to build a strong foundation for a reputation of quality work. As work picked up, she began receiving requests from general contractors to bid their jobs.

However, growth proved to be an unexpected obstacle. As she began to grow, she realized she needed more capital to finance projects until payment for the work came in. That’s when she contacted the U.S. Small Business Administration for help.

“And, as they say, the rest is history,” Williams said. “Beginning my third year in business, it became evident that I needed some financial help and guidance,” Williams said. She met with John Blue, Director of the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center in Broken Arrow. “Through John’s tutelage and assistance with the loan application, I was able to take advantage of a growing market and a growing business. Since that initial contact with him and with SBA’s loan assistance, my business has grown 10 times over!” Williams said.

“John has since directed me and even walked me through specific certifications I need for my type of business. He continues to inform me of seminars and new programs as they become available. John encourages me to continue the ‘good work’ and he is always there to answer any of my questions. I don’t know what I would have done had I not met John,” she said. “He’s been a blessing and he’s fun to talk to.”

Blue said it was a pleasure to help Williams develop and expand her business. “It has been a pleasure to work with Gayla for the past two years. Her work ethics are second to none. I believe her woman-owned, commercial painting business could be a model for other small construction companies,” he said. “We are now working to position her company for the future, by obtaining various state and federal certifications, such as a woman-owned, SBA HUBZone, and bonding capacity. This will prepare her to compete in the government contracting arena, which will open up more opportunities for growth.”

Some people are still not used to seeing a woman in a hard hat at a construction site, Williams said. But her reputation for quality work has made it easier to get the respect of others in the field. “I’ve been blessed,” she said. “I’ve also been grateful for the family and friends around me who keep pushing me and telling me ‘You can do it!’”

A Midwest City native, Williams said she loves the freedom of being an entrepreneur. “One of my greatest benefits is the satisfaction I get from setting and achieving my own goals and watching this achievement turn into financial independence.”

Williams has this advice to others who are thinking about going into business: “Before any decision is made to start a new business, you should educate yourself in all aspects of operating the business you intend to become involved in. If at all possible, you should take a small business course which is offered by most local junior colleges. Past that, you should make a considered commitment to involve yourself 24/7 in the growth and management of your enterprise. More importantly,” Williams said, “believe in yourself and surround yourself with those who believe in you also.”

Williams keeps up with the changing construction market and is constantly looking for ways to expand her business. Right now her work has grown beyond the Tulsa area. She works jobs in Muskogee, McAlester, Tahlequah, Vinita, and Stillwater. She also has completed jobs in Arkansas and Missouri.