May 24, 2007 — Inflatable boats, specialty foods and miniature golf may not seem like they go together, but they were the stuff of success at the Small Business Awards Ceremony Thursday evening at the UVI Small Business Development Center training facility in Nisky Center.
These were stories of inspiration, determination and entrepreneurial success as the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the St. Thomas/St. John Chamber of Commerce and UVI collaborated to make the awards during Small Business Week.
The winners included Caribbean Inflatable Boat and Life Raft, Winners Miniature Golf and Amusements, Caribbean Specialty Foods and lenders Banco Popular, FirstBank and Business Loan Express (BLX).
The program moved quickly as SBDC Associate Director Leonor D. Dottin introduced the evenings speakers. In his opening remarks, UVI Vice Provost Henry Smith said it was a pleasure to celebrate excellence and went out of his way to praise the staff of the SBDC.
UVI Provost Al Hassan Musah spoke on behalf of President LaVerne Ragster and congratulated the winners on their success, commitment to community service and economic contributions.
Region II SBA William Manger said the purpose of the SBC and the SBDC was to help people realize their dreams: Anyone who has done it can tell you: Starting a business in not easy. It takes a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of risk.
It's a genetic thing, according to Manger.
Your actions help prove that entrepreneurship is part of the national DNA, he said. It is in our make up. It is hard to deny that when you look at the individuals here tonight.
Small business owners are not only the CEOs but also the heads of sales, the CFOs, heads of marketing and everything else necessary to make a business succeed, Manger said.
Without the lenders, the SBA would not have a program to administer, he said: We are a very small agency but we have a very long reach.
Last year the SBA office in the Virgin Islands guaranteed 42 loans for a total of more than $2.2 million. Some of the loans were very small but still had tremendous impact for the individuals, their families and their clientele, Manger said.
In its 50-year history, he noted, the SBA had been the starting place for many businesses that now compete in the global marketplace, including Intel, Ben & Jerrys, AOL, Outback Steakhouse, Apple Computers, Nike, Staples and Federal Express.
SBA Branch Manager Carl Christensen followed Mangers global list by mentioning some local businesses that had begun with SBA loans, including Plaza Extra and St. John Ferry. He then presented the SBA awards.
The platinum award for Bank of the Year went to BLX and the gold to Banco Popular de Puerto Rico.
The St. Thomas Small Business Person of the Year Award went to Howard and Janis French of Caribbean Inflatable Boat and Life Raft. The couple worked their way up over 15 years to become owners of the 24-year-old business, which is the largest of its kind in the islands, in July 2006.
Things are working out better than we ever imagined, and we are really appreciative of this honor, Janis French said.
SBDC Business Counselor Daryl Edwards awarded the 2007 SBDC prizes.
Small Business of the Year went to native Virgin Islanders Rickie Norman and Allen Smith of Winners Miniature Golf and Amusements. Winners opened in November 2005 and in December 2006 opened its new bumper-boat attraction. The center is located at the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort and Spa.
The Home Based Business of the Year award went to Doug and Rachel Ackley of Caribbean Specialty Foods. Their company has developed from a dried food company to one with a broad line of products that includes not only dried foods but also sauces, rubs and infused oils. They are currently in the process of appointing sales staff in strategic regions throughout the country.
The Small Business Advocate of the year award went to FirstBank Virgin Islands.
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