Carving a Successful Niche
Cleaning up hazardous waste is a dirty and dangerous job, but somebody's got to do it. For Lorenzo Cabrera, a nuclear physicist-turned-entrepreneur, the toxic cleanup business has never been better.
His company, Cabrera Services, has carved itself a successful niche by helping reduce potential terrorist attacks. When the Department of Agriculture needed someone to safely remove radioactive material from a research facility just outside of Washington, D.C., the agency turned to Cabrera Services.
Since then, the East Hartford, Connecticut-based company has provided toxic cleanup services to more than 50 federal facilities around the country and boasts a 95 percent rate of repeat customers. From five employees and sales of $350,000 in 1994, the company now has a staff of 100 and more than $18 million in revenue.
Despite the steady growth, Cabrera Services has not escaped all growing pains. In 2004, the company missed its earnings target when a significant contract payment was delayed. The delay also meant putting expansion plans on hold. Mr. Cabrera sprung into action and hired a controller and a financial consultant. A new accounting system was implemented to keep better track of revenue and spending. In two years, revenue surged from $8 million to more than $18 million.
Mr. Cabrera's offers this advice to emerging entrepreneurs: "never give up."
Top Talent Equals Success
Two thousand seven has been a banner year for Pinnacle Technical Resources. The company was among the top 10 fastest-growing staffing firms in the nation and won a $100 million contract — it's biggest ever.
Still, Nina Vaca, Pinnacle's founder and CEO, admits to some trepidation over committing to such a hefty contract award.
"I sat across the table and thought: I've waited 10 years to sign a contract like this, but in order to deliver I have to dig into equity, so I've bet the farm this year, and it's really scary," Ms. Vaca said during a panel discussion at Hispanic Business magazine's 2007 EOY Roundtable in November. "So it remains to be seen. You have to be a risk taker."
A native of Ecuador, Ms. Vaca comes from three generations of entrepreneurs. Ms. Vaca started Pinnacle, an information technology and administrative staffing firm, in 1996 out of her living room.
A little more than a decade later, Pinnacle is estimated to reach $140 million in sales in 2007. Headquartered in Dallas, Texas, the company has 2,000 consultants across more than 40 states.
Pinnacle has since introduced its own Web-based software tool called Progata. The application streamlines in-house operations and communications among IT managers, sourcing managers, and third-party staffing providers. Pinnacle's roster of Fortune 500 clients include AT&T, Pepsi Co., and Verizon.
The company extols its human capital as the company's foundation. Among Pinnacle's key priorities is finding top talent: one of the company's biggest challenges.
"Whether you're a $1 million company or a $200 million company, the message is the same," Ms. Vaca says. "To build a company of scale, you must surround yourself by some pretty amazing people, and they'll do some amazing things. My biggest challenge today, even growing 90 times our size, is still the same challenge I had when we were small -- finding the best people. The best people get the right people on the bus."
Ready, Aim, Fire
Fabian Videla spent months developing and polishing his business plan but no time getting his new company off the ground and running. A close friend of Mr. Videla changed all that.
"He kept asking me, 'When are you going to launch your company?' And telling me, 'You have a great idea,'" Mr. Videla recounted at the Hispanic Business CEO Roundtable in November. "He said, 'We have an old saying between hunters: You definitely need to aim and look for your best shot, but don't forget to shoot.' In other words, don't miss your window of opportunity and miss your best shot, so that got me started."
In 2000, Mr. Videla launched Smarter Investments Corp., with $200,000. He has since built it into a $15 million company with a goal to reach $20 million this year. Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, the company's services range from residential and industrial construction projects to real estate development.
Smarter Investments prides itself on being flexible and resourceful. For instance, earlier this year, the company was awarded a small repair job for a child care facility. During the project, Mr. Videla learned that the client was planning on building a new facility, but at the time didn't have the money to do it. Mr. Videla offered a creative financing package that made it possible to build the new location. Smarter Investments was the builder for that project.
"Always be creative and use your imagination when serving your customers," Mr. Videla says. "It is better to under promise and over deliver."
Necessity as the Mother of Invention
While working for Unisys Corp., one of Anthony Jimenez's top priorities was finding quality minority-owned businesses that his company could support and eventually partner with. But the former U.S. Army lieutenant colonel kept coming up empty.
"I struggled to find good companies that would allow me to help them in their growth and, more importantly, [companies that] made an investment in themselves and were on the right career path," Mr. Jimenez said during a panel discussion at Hispanic Business magazine's 2007 EOY Roundtable in November. "I realized something was missing and so I launched my own company, and it's been a phenomenal ride ever since."
Mr. Jimenez' extensive background as a federal information technology systems director gave him the tech know-how and government contracting skills to take the leap. Launched in 2004, MicroTech, LLC's services range from managing and maintaining desktops to network design for such clients as the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Army.
The Vienna, Virginia-based firm has won significant government contracts. Among them, a Veteran Administration's contract of up to $365 million over five years. This contract represents the largest single contract ever awarded to a service-disabled, veteran-owned business.
In three years, MicroTech has grown from five employees to 100, and sales increased from $340,000 to $6.1 million. In August, MicroTech teamed with three firms and won a $60 million five-year contract with the Social Security Administration.
One of the keys to MicroTech's success, Mr. Jimenez says, is knowing the market inside out.
"Be familiar with the products or services yocu offer and [your] target customers," he advises. "Most importantly, know your competition."
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