Ann Black started a one-woman biotech manufacturing facility in an 800-square-foot lab at N.C. State University.
“I did it all,” said Black, who owns ImmunoReagents, which works in antibody development used in research and diagnostics for the detection of a variety of diseases. “It was fun.”
The Raleigh company, which opened in 2005 and started with four products, now offers more than 2,000 products to a research and diagnostic marketplace that extends to 22 countries in Europe and Asia.
Last week, Black and others were honored at the 2013 Small Business Week Awards Luncheon, hosted by The Support Center, a Raleigh-based nonprofit and community-development financial institution that provides small-business loans to underserved markets.
The U.S Small Business Administration’s Small Business Week, which runs through Friday, recognizes and highlights contributions made by entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Black was recognized by the SBA’s North Carolina District Office as the 2013 North Carolina Exporter of the Year.
ImmunoReagent’s progression began with Black’s vast experience, including a doctorate in cell biology and anatomy and her work in antibody production and purification for more than 30 years.
However, Black said her success is a direct result of working with state and federal agencies to create her business plan, transitioning from a lab worker to a business manager, marketer and leader of global manufacturing of antibodies and reagents.
“They are all there to support you,” Black said of the agencies.
Helping launch businesses
One of Black’s partners includes the N.C. Small Business & Technology Development Center at N.C. State University, which was awarded the Excellence and Innovation Award in the state and the Southeastern Region, by the SBA.
That award honors a small-business development center for its excellence in providing value to small businesses and its record of new business creation, capital infusion, counseling success, job creation and program and training innovation. The center represents one of 10 regional service centers statewide.
During 2012, the Raleigh-area office, which includes a downtown office and a sub-center on NCSU’s Centennial Campus, helped small businesses access nearly $20 million in capital, exceeding the yearly goal by more than 400 percent.
The Raleigh center helps small- and medium-size firms open their doors or expand to international markets through counseling and training, said Mike Seibert, regional director of that office.
Dena Manning, president of Butterfields Candy in Nashville, N.C., turned to the Raleigh SBTDC after she bought her business last year.
“Well, I didn’t know very much about running the company, but this sort of fell into my lap, and it was a great opportunity for my family,” Manning said.
Through the SBTDC, Manning took a six-week business class and had numerous counseling sessions, which helped her to understand marketing, email systems and QuickBooks.
Butterfields started production in October 2012, and now has several brokers across the nation.
“They just helped me launch this business,” Manning said, “Get it to where I am up off the ground.”
Seibert also oversees the International Business Development program across the state, which seeks to help businesses increase their exports.
A similar initiative was eliminated by budget cuts about seven years ago but reinvigorated nearly two years ago with funding made available under the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, and includes export counselors stationed at UNC-Charlotte, Winston-Salem State University, and NCSU, areas that account for about 85 percent of the state’s exports, Seibert said.
Those counselors help firms with what Seibert calls the business end of exporting by evaluating a company’s export readiness and financial capabilities, along with helping owners identify appropriate international opportunities.
“Instead of thinking about your market being limited to our borders, all of a sudden you can start thinking about the other 95 percent of the consumer market in the world,” he said.
The statewide program has assisted about 400 clients with obtaining more than $11 million in capital formation and increased their sales by nearly $16 million. The companies have created 401 jobs while retaining 152 positions, according to SBTDC statistics.
Using SBA programs
Black took advantage of different SBA programs to help develop the business and increase her export efforts.
She also worked with Alex Viva, an SBTDC export counselor, who helped her create an export strategy, pricing and identify finance options and understand international shipping logistics.
Black also received an SBA State Trade and Export Promotion grant to attend two biotech conferences in Europe last fall.
“It’s one thing to sell in another country,” she said, “But you have to understand the culture of how to sell things there.”
Black also worked with the N.C. Department of Commerce, which answered questions about distributors in foreign countries, the Women’s Business Center of N.C. to seek financing, and the U.S. Department of Commerce to find which countries might be appropriate markets.
“All those people work very seamlessly together,” Black said.
In 2012, the company experienced a more than 70 percent increase in export sales.
Black is trying to continue that trend by working with the SBTDC to identify companies in the state for a strategic alliance to expand ImmunoReagents products.
“So, I continue to benefit from them,” Black said.