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2019 Entrepreneurs of the Year

Damon Draught, DNJ Management

Veteran Entrepreneur of the Year–
Damon Draught, DNJ Management [Watertown]

Damon Draught transitioned from a military career at Fort Drum to the Watertown community. He consulted the Watertown SBDC for assistance in writing a business plan and researching his idea of opening a franchise restaurant. He opened his first Dairy Queen at the Salmon Run Mall in December 2013. He quickly decided he wanted a larger store and subsequently opened a new DQ “Grill and Chill” near Fort Drum’s main gate in November 2015. In 2016 on a trip to Rhode Island with his son, Damon discovered there were few regular DQ stores but no Grill & Chills. By April 2018 he opened the first DQ Grill & Chill in Rhode Island. For each location, Damon came back to the Watertown SBDC for financial analysis and business planning. He tells veterans at Boots to Business classes that he refers to the original spreadsheets and materials he got from the SBDC every time he expands his business. [Advisor: Robin Stephenson]

Emellie O’Brien, Earth Angel

Environmental Business of the Year - Emellie O’Brien, Earth Angel [Pace]

Earth Angel, founded by Emellie O’Brien in 2013, works with film production companies to implement waste reduction efforts and procure sustainable products, helping divert tons of waste from landfills - “making movies without making a mess.” The process of producing a film or television show is notoriously expensive, but Ms. O’Brien believes that entertainment should never be made at the expense of the environment. The firm has had a presence at international film festivals, benefited from celebrity endorsements, and launched a successful “lights off” fundraising event called Earth Angel Hour in support of environmental conservation. With expansion opportunities through prospective NYC government contracts and work in other cities, Ms. O’Brien connected with the Pace SBDC team to help her map out an expansion plan. She met with Pace Advisor Sandra Cely, who helped her develop a business plan and financial projections, and get started on her MWBE certification.
[Advisor: Sandra Cely]

Suzanne Koontz, Math & Movement

Female Entrepreneur of the Year - Suzanne Koontz, Math & Movement [Binghamton]

Suzy Koontz’s mission is for ALL students to be on grade level in math and reading. As a national presenter for schools, conferences and PTA/O, Suzy shares how movement-based learning can assist in accomplishing this goal. She is an actuary, author, educational consultant, and the founder of the Math & Movement program. Math & Movement is a multi-sensory, kinesthetic approach that incorporates physical exercise into learning to teach students math and reading skills. The program uses visual floor mats that enable children to practice basic skills while using visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning modalities. She has created over 150 different floor mats and banners for the program, which have proven to be effective as students exercise their bodies and minds simultaneously. The educational games help students retain more information, which in turn increases test scores, self-confidence and retention levels. She consulted the SBDC for help with business planning, financial projections, and strategic planning. [Advisor: Susan Buchanan]

Gather Greene, Jackie Brown and Amna Ali

Startup Business of the Year -
Gather Greene, Jackie Brown and Amna Ali [Mid-Hudson]

Gather Greene is a newly opened event space in the majestic Catskill Mountains in Coxsackie. With the guidance of Advisor Sam Kandel, Jackie Brown and Amna Ali launched a business that will host weddings, special events and retreats at their spectacular 100+ acre site with breathtaking views of the Hudson River Valley, Catskills and the distant Berkshires. It was a long, arduous and twisting path to raise the seven figure funds required to prepare the infrastructure and build, from the ground up, a huge 4,000 square foot pavilion complete with a full catering kitchen, six single-use bathrooms, two luxury dressing suites, a large upstairs lounge and an office for the owners. The pavilion can accommodate up to 250 seated guests. Guests can spend the night in one of 17 new personal-sized cabins. Jackie and Amna are the embodiment of the entrepreneurial spirit and have been “all in” since the inception of the project in 2015. [Advisor: Sam Kandel]

Amy and Brian Stetson, Watercolor Dairy, LLC

Agricultural Business of the Year - Amy and Brian Stetson, Watercolor Dairy, LLC [Mohawk Valley]

Amy and Brian Stetson, dairy farmers, came to the MVSBDC in January of 2015 for assistance. The farm was struggling financially and they were facing bankruptcy because of multiple factors, many outside of their control. Amy, a veteran, had been involved in dairy farming for over 34 years and Brian for over 50 years. His family were the pioneers of grass fed organic dairy farming in New York State. Advisor Shelby Sweet worked with them to develop a plan, identifying all the issues and a solution for each. They created multiple sets of financial projections representing different scenarios to assist in selecting the best path to an improved financial situation. As a result, the Stetsons have planned numerous changes to their business structure with the assistance of the MVSBDC to keep them from bankruptcy. They are in the process of finding a new property that will work better for their updated business model.
[Advisors: David Lerman and Shelby Sweet]

LaToya Smith, Brass City Media

Young Entrepreneur of the Year
LaToya Smith, Brass City Media [LaGuardia]

Brass City Media, Inc. is a storytelling agency founded in 2014 by former award-winning journalist, LaToya Smith. BCM provides video production, video editing, script writing, and on-camera media training. The company helps its clients conquer their video marketing fears, develop a goal-driven video SEO strategy and provide storytelling training so that they feel comfortable and confident in front of the camera. Ms. Smith has worked closely with Lizbeth Rodriguez at the LaGuardia SBDC, since 2017 on marketing, business management, and a plan for growth. In 2018, the company was selected to participate in The NYC Goods and Services Mentorship Program, a four-month, intensive workshop offered by The NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) to help NYC M/WBE-certified firms grow their businesses and learn how to successfully bid on City contracts. She is actively seeking ways to form joint partnerships and build strategic partnerships to build capacity. LaToya Smith is SBA New York District Office Young Entrepreneur of the Year for 2019. [Advisor: Lizbeth Rodriguez]

Quadrant Biosciences, Richard Uhlig

Technology Business of the Year - Quadrant Biosciences, Richard Uhlig [Binghamton]

Quadrant Biosciences was formed when founder Rich Uhlig discovered the inadequacies of the clinical diagnosis and management of concussion injuries. He initially approached the SBDC to help research the opportunity to improve them. Quadrant partnered with clinicians and researchers at SUNY Upstate Medical University to develop ClearEdge, an FDA cleared and listed brain-health assessment system, which is now being sold nationally. Quadrant also partnered with a neuroscientist at Upstate who had developed an innovative method of identifying epigenetic biomarkers of brain injury, disease and disorders in saliva. The Binghamton SBDC first provided Mr. Uhlig with a report on concussion syndrome prepared by the Research Network. Advisor Chuck Schwerin worked with him to identify early investors, supported his successful application for STTR grant funding, and introduced him to traditional lenders to secure a credit line improve cash flow. Quadrant has since developed a bioinformatics platform and employs over 30 engineers, software developers, neuroscientists and clinical researchers. [Advisor: Chuck Schwerin]

Krooked Tusker, Anita Reeves

Manufacturer of the Year - Krooked Tusker, Anita Reeves [Binghamton]

Krooked Tusker Distillery is a small batch, farm distillery on Keuka Lake that produces handcrafted libations made from locally sourced ingredients. Carlton Reeves became interested in distilling after making beer at home for a few years. He spent some time learning the trade through classes and on-site training in Kentucky, Washington & Virginia. Carlton & Anita decided to build their own distillery on land located on the west side of Keuka Lake. Anita has a background in accounting and works in the accounting firm her grandfather started. Anita consulted the SBDC for help with putting together a business plan and developing a marketing strategy. There were a few delays with this project - some that were completely out of their control - but they finally got the business started. It was a success from the time they opened the doors. Krooked Tusker produces some of the finest spirits in the region, including award winning gins and vodka. [Advisor: Scott Bloor]