Mezzo Technologies

"They really gave us a lot of ideas and helped us with government funding sources. The ability to land the SBIR grants was a tremendous help. They were a cash cow that has helped sustain us over the years"

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Baton Rouge-based Mezzo Technologies makes thermal systems that use micro-manufacturing technology. Their main products include metal heat exchangers, regenerators, high heat flux cooling systems and microfin heat exchangers. Founded in 2000 by two students and a mechanical engineering professor Kevin Kelly, the company immediately tapped into the resources of the LSBDC at its inception.   In its early days, Mezzo faced the challenges that any company does when trying to bring a good idea to market: business strategy, funding, and marketing assistance.   While in its first few years of business Mezzo mainly focused on research and development. The LSBDC  was able to point the company towards additional funding sources and provided expert insight and guidance into the application process for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. These grants are set aside for small businesses to engage in research and development that has the potential for commercialization. SBIR programs are structured in three phases, the first of which awards up to $150,000 for six months of exploration of technology. For a player that is new to the game, the process of landing an SBIR grant can be a tedious one.   "They really gave us a lot of ideas and helped us with government funding sources. The ability to land the SBIR grants was a tremendous help. They were a cash cow that has helped sustain us over the years,” said Kelly.   By 2006 Mezzo morphed more from an R&D operation into a commercial enterprise that had viable products to take to market. Kelly left his teaching position at the university in 2007 and assumed the role of Mezzo's president full time.   At that time, the company switched to a new technology that allowed it to create lighter and smaller high performance heat exchangers. They eventually landed a contract with the Department of Defense to produce radiators for the HUMVEE and return fuel air coolers for the Joint Strike Fighter. In 2008, Andretti Green Racing started using Mezzo's radiators in the Indy 500.   “We're hoping to get more involved in F1 racing in the future. Over the next few years, we’re looking to attack more lucrative markets and for major revenue expansion and to increase our profitability,” said Kelly.


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The Kracked Kernal

With the help of the LSBDC at NSU, Ron Beaudoin was able to transform a once struggling candy shop into a thriving sweet treat shop.

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Rod Beaudin has always loved Natchitoches for its historic district, charm, and the excitement of a bustling downtown atmosphere. He worked for large companies in the past, but the prospect of always working for someone else had long since lost its appeal. It came as no surprise to those who knew him best that he would jump on an opportunity to buy a business located on Front Street in the historic district.   Beaudin purchased a well-known, but struggling business, Les Saisons, known locally as the “candy store.” It was perfect for him. “I wanted to own a family friendly business,” he recalls. “What better than a candy store.”   Beaudin lacked formal as well as practical business experience, so he turned to the LSBDC at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches for assistance. LSBDC consultants helped him develop a marketing plan and product mix strategy that would attract new customers. The consultants also worked with Beaudin to develop a supply chain plan and a new store layout.   After a year of planning, Les Saisons was officially re-named Kracked Kernel in February 2010, and the changes began immediately. Beaudin quickly realized that while candy and other treats are a great way to get people in the door, such products alone could not support the business. In addition to his confectionary collection of chocolate truffles, saltwater taffy, gourmet popcorn, and Blue Bell ice cream, he added specialized gifts and a deli to serve the lunchtime crowd. While the products generate sales, it’s the people Beaudin likes most. “Come share a story,” Beaudin encourages his customers.   Due to the 60-mile commute from Pineville to Natchitoches, Beaudin decided to relocate the Kracked Kernal to Alexandria. The new candy store opened July 15.   Today, under Beaudin’s leadership and ownership, business for the Kracked Kernel has significantly increased, and the LSBDC has been there every step of the way providing guidance and support. Beaudin commented on his experience saying, “The LSBDC has been a great hand to hold.”


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Sew Elegant, LLC.

"After being a nurse for 35 years and having back surgery, my career was at the end of the world, but with the help of the LSBDC at Southern University, I was able to make my dreams come true by starting my own business"

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Lisa Formeller is the owner of Sew Elegant, LLC. a custom drapes, bedding, pillows, and dust ruffles business now based in Washington, Louisiana.  Prior to seeking assistance from the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at Southern University, she had been operating a sewing business on a part-time basis for 18-months without turning a profit. Formeller reached out to the LSBDC at Southern University for assistance with pricing, budgeting, and organizational skills. She also requested help with marketing, financial management and developing a business plan.

When Business Consultant Leighton Bryant learned of Formeller’s physical ailments, he informed her of the Louisiana Rehabilitation Services (LRS) grant program. LRS is a state program that assists persons with disabilities in their desire to achieve independence in their communities by providing career and entrepreneurial training and assistance.

With Bryant’s help, Formeller was able to develop her business plan, which included a three-year monthly cash flow projection and income statement, as well as a three-year annualized projection. With the well-developed business plan as well as a letter of recommendation submitted by Bryant, Formeller was awarded a $20,000 grant from LRS. This grant allowed Formeller to purchase much needed equipment, fabric, and supplies, as well as sewing machines, which allowed her to create another source of revenue by offering sewing lessons. A website was established to help in the promotion of her business.

“After being a nurse for 35 years and having back surgery, my career was at the end of the world, but with the help of the LSBDC at Southern University, I was able to make my dreams come true by starting my own business,” said Formeller. Since seeking assistance, Sew Elegant revenues have increased by $16,000 over the previous year.

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Noah’s Ark Child Care and Development Center

A day care center needed to demonstrate it is prepared to manage emergency situations while safeguarding its clients in the event they are forced to evacuate or seek shelter.

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With all the anxieties parents tend to feel as they drop their children off at day care, the last thing they should have to worry about is how their little ones might fare during an emergency. Noah's Ark Child Care and Development Center recently took that concern off the table, with help from the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at McNeese State University.

Noah's Ark cares for dozens of young clients daily, offering early childhood and summer programs for kids up to 12 years of age at its facility in Sulphur, Louisiana.

Chris Duplechin, who is director of Noah's Ark, initially met the counselors at LSBDC when she was assistant director at another day care center. She had worked with the small business consultants to help develop an emergency preparedness plan for that center, and she knew that Noah's Ark needed to take similar steps. 

Louisiana requires that day care centers demonstrate emergency readiness in order to receive state license to operate. But more importantly, the families of the children entrusted to Noah's Ark need to feel assured that the children are being looked after in a safe environment by staff who are prepared to handle unexpected events.

LSBDC consultant Donna Little says Duplechin's previous experience with emergency planning for a day care center was a plus in moving ahead with the plan for Noah's Ark. "It's often hard to convince a small business to spend the time it takes to put together a real plan because it interferes with their everyday operations," Little says.

Duplechin welcomed the chance to tap into LSBDC's expertise. She provided all the information needed to begin developing a handbook, including complete contact and other information about the day care center's staff, and a comprehensive database of the client children and their families. She says LSBDC staff produced drawings of the day care center and developed a plan for how everyone would evacuate or seek shelter in the event of a serious storm or other emergency event. 

"They helped me design the whole plan to evacuate," Duplechin says. "They did the drawings of the building, typed it up, put it in a book, and made a disk for me so that I could (open the document) and make changes as needed."

Duplechin says as a result of having the detailed plans in hand, the center can now hold drills so that staff can rehearse procedures they will follow to protect the children or evacuate before various potential emergencies, such as a tornado.

"Now we know what we need to have in our emergency kit, when to evacuate and exactly where we should go," she says.

The plan provides a measure of security that parents are glad to hear about when they bring their children to the center. In fact, each parent is asked to sign a letter saying that they have seen the emergency handbook and understand how it will be used. 

Duplechin says the help she received from the LSBDC is what made it possible. "If I had to do it all by myself, it would have taken a lot of time that I don't have," she says.

For more information on emergency preparedness, visit www.lsbdc.org or contact LSBDC at MSU at (337) 475-5529 or lsbdc.msu@lsbdc.org. The LSBDC is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Louisiana Department of Economic Development, and participating universities. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.



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Elephant Quilt Productions

"About a year ago I decided it was time to start my own thing and help other people bring their creative ideas to life"

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Entrepreneurs often find inspiration in past employment experiences, and so it was with Jason Rhein, whose talent in recording music and other performances led him to launch a music and video production house called Elephant Quilt Productions LLC.

Rhein recently received national exposure when one of his videos landed a long-time client a show on the Food Network. Over the years s has produced videos for the family-owned Shed BBQ and Blues Joint in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.The sizzle reel, also know as a demo reel or a promo, created at Elephant Quilt grabbed the attention of Mandt Bros. Productions and the Food Network which landed the Orrison family their own TV series, The Shed! Throughout the summer, Rhein worked with the Food Network as Co-producer on the series which now airs on Food Network each Monday at 10pm/9c.

  Before achiving national exposure Rhein, graduate of the University of New Orleans film department worked as a producer on such programs as National Public Radio's "American Routes" music series, and a concert tour and Disney video series by children's musical comedy group Imagination Movers.   "About a year ago I decided it was time to start my own thing and help other people bring their creative ideas to life," Rhein says.    But having made that decision, Rhein faced what many creative people come up against as they seek to become entrepreneurs: He lacked business planning and management experience.   Recognizing that he "didn't know the first thing about the business side of things," Rhein sought the help of Louisiana Small Business Development Center. One of the first people he met was Carmen Sunda, director of the LSBDC Greater New Orleans Region.   Rhein says Sunda took him "under her wing," teaching him about business basics ranging from startup financing options to forecasting expenses and managing cash flow. "Carmen helped me learn to think about how money goes in and out, and what it takes to have a successful business model," he says.   He also tapped into the expertise of LSBDC consultant Albert Overman, who helped Rhein draw up a lease agreement for office-studio space, create other legal documents and develop a business strategy.   Eventually, Rhein got to know LSBDC consultant Christian Galvin, who helped him develop a user-friendly business website that quickly shows potential clients how Elephant Quilt Productions can help them put their best image forward.   "Jason had always been on the production side of the business, so dealing with customers was new to him," Galvin says. "We helped him understand how he needed to position himself, what he needed to know about proposals, pricing and billing, and the customer experience."   In an unusually helpful move, the counselors engaged Rhein to produce a series of informational videos about the Louisiana SBDC. "Through that process, he had the opportunity to understand how to interact with customers and also how to manage his own work process," Galvin says.   The videos not only became useful tools for the LSBDC, but also reside on Rhein's website – elephantquilt.com – providing prospective clients with examples of what Elephant Quilt Productions can do.   Rhein, who is running his business largely as a one-person shop, says he has to scramble to cover all his bases. Though he has three part-time interns, he finds that  such basics as billing, accounting and tax records take him away from his creative pursuits. That has prompted him to search for time-saving business software that makes documentation of cash flow and other records simpler.     "The SBDC gave me enough guidance on some of those things to help me find solutions that don't take a lot of my time but still maintain accurate records for tax purposes," he says.   Rhein has become comfortable with the early-growth stage of his business, but says he likely will seek further help from the LSBDC. "I'd like to get another level of advice from them on how to build on what I've started," he says. "They've been a great resource to have in my corner.   Galvin notes that Rhein's work on the startup has brought him another benefit that didn't necessarily show up in his original business plan.    "Jason has a family and wanted to spend more time with them," Galvin says. "His new company allows him to take his child to work."  
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The Louisiana Small Business Development Center Network, hosted by Louisiana Delta Community College, is a member of the National Association of Small Business Development Centers and funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Louisiana Economic Development and participating universities. All SBA programs are extended to the public on a nondiscriminatory basis. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA. Reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities and/or limited English proficiency will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance.
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