Growth can be a blessing or a curse for a fledgling business. Knowing where to turn for business expansion advice can be critical to success.
At the January 2010 award ceremony in Jefferson City, Brian Carpenter
of I3 Technology Group explained how MO SBTDC counseling and
help with a business plan led to an SBA loan and business growth.
Brian and Amy Carpenter, the owners of Joplin-based I3 Technology Group Inc., arrived at that growth junction back in 2009. They tapped the knowledge of the staff at MSSU SBTDC to successfully surmount the challenges of expanding their business.
Brian started I3 in 2007. (The "I3" stands for Innovation, Integration and Integrity.)
He brought a varied and intense background to his tech-oriented startup. His lengthy list of experience includes receiving a degree in parks and recreation from Pittsburg State University; working as a sales representative for E-Watch a security division of Empire District Electric Co.; and later serving Midwestern Telephone Co. as its sales director.
Brian found each job served as excellent preparation for founding I3, which offers telecom, datacom, structured cabling, wireless voice and data solutions, and premises security installation to a range of customers. They include public safety, utility, healthcare, education and corporate clients.
"I saw a huge opportunity and a lot of things we could expand on in the security area and convergence technology in Internet protocol," recalls Brian. "It's essentially a one-stop-shop for telephony, security and data needs — putting it all together for the customer."
Shortly after I3's founding, Brian hired Amy Hodkin as his office manager. Amy had previously worked at two small businesses where she managed employees, developed and implemented customer service strategies, and coordinated budgets.
"I needed help with accounting, office administration and customer relations ... making things run smoother" says Brian. "I liked her entrepreneurial background."
Brian and Amy were married in the fall of 2009. That was the same year business started to explode for I3.
With larger contracts the company began encountering cash-flow challenges. A loan would help, but how could the young outfit find a lender? As fiscal manager and director of business development, Amy turned to a resource she had previously tapped during earlier business days ... the business experts at the Small Business & Technology Development Center at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.
SBTDC business counselors Lisa Robinson and Karen Bradshaw teamed up to help I3. Robinson reviewed financials and offered Quickbooks® training to Amy. Bradshaw assisted with the details of an SBA-backed loan application. These included financial information exhibits, an extensive business plan, and 12-month projections of sales and expenses.
"It's hard getting a loan, being a new business," says Amy. "Of course it seems like you have to write a book for an SBA-guaranteed loan, but Lisa and Karen provided expert advice and encouragement during the process."
The loan enabled the company to acquire assets for growth, expand its workforce and provide employees with the necessary training to achieve technical certifications. It also helped provide I3 with funds to research and develop a unique PBX phone switch that offers an affordable alternative to existing and more expensive name-brand phone systems. Customers found they could save up to 50 percent on installing a new phone system using I3's products.
Business flowed in. I3 landed an extensive telephone and data network installation project for a new high school in Erie, Kan. Leggett & Platt contracted for several projects including a new security camera system for its Carthage headquarters, phone and camera systems at its San Bernadino, Calif. plant, and an ongoing agreement for phone system work. In addition, I3 personnel are installing a 1,400-extension telephone system in Branson for the Surrey Inn.
With their successful approach to the demands of business growth, the Carpenters and I3 last year received the Rising Star of Entrepreneurship Award at the statewide MO SBTDC/MO PTAC Client Showcase in Jefferson City.
"The award has opened a lot of doors and given us credibility," says Brian. "We've doubled our revenue in a year, trimmed fat and cut costs."
The Carpenters know their business expansion flies in the face of recent national economic trends: "We're growing in a horrible economy. Managing growth is a problem, but it's a good problem to have," says Amy.
Brian adds: "We're in growth mode, but at a controlled pace. We're working smarter as a result of our efforts and the advice we've received from the folks at the SBTDC."
Client contact information:
This story was featured in the February 2011 newsletter.
Read PTAC success stories