SBA Awards: Honoring Connecticut’s Small Businesses
Connecticut is home to more than 360,000 small businesses—more than 99% of all businesses in the state.
Ten of those businesses were honored May 4, during the National Small Business Week SBA Awards & Resource Expo at Rentschler Field.
The event capped off National Small Business Week, as the U.S. Small Business Administration highlighted the impact of outstanding small business owners and champions throughout the country.
“Every day in Connecticut is small business day,” said CBIA president and CEO Chris DiPentima.
“We have such tremendous businesses across our state, and our small businesses are really the backbone of our economy.”
The event was a collaboration between CBIA and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Connecticut District office.
“Today, we’re going to highlight our awardees and showcase our wonderful partners that strengthen every day our ecosystem as we set the stage to ignite the American dream,” said SBA Connecticut District director Catherine Marx.
Small businesses account for 48% of all workers in Connecticut, a number that continues to grow.
Since 2021, 92,000 people applied to start businesses in Connecticut, a 59% increase.
“You’re the entrepreneurs, the innovators,” DiPentima told the crowd.
“Connecticut has a rich legacy of brave minds transforming the world with their ideas and innovations.”
“And we know that does not come easy,” added SBA New England Regional administrator Mike Vlacich. “It takes strategy and hard work.”
It’s that effort and entrepreneurial spirit that connects the 10 award winners honored during the event.
“That’s what small business is all about,” said U.S. Rep. John Larson (D-CT 1). “People who are America’s entrepreneurs, the backbone of our economy and our industry.”
The award winners are:
- Manufacturer of the Year: Pedro Soto, Hygrade Precision Technologies LLC. Soto took over Hygrade, a Plainville company that provides grinding, lapping, and machining services for the aerospace, automotive, commercial, homeland security, medical, and power generation industries, in 2019.
“It is an absolute honor to accept this award on behalf of the fantastic team at Hygrade,” he said. “It is their tireless, tireless efforts to deliver perfect parts and services to our customers that make this award possible.”
- Microenterprise of the Year: Carol DiCarlo, Cheshire Equestrian Center. DiCarlo started Cheshire Equestrian in 2018, offering products for the equestrian community, including customer education.
“I want to thank my family, my friends that supported my business and my crazy vision to open up an equestrian shop in the middle of Connecticut,” she said.
- Veteran-Owned Small Business of the Year: Jeffrey Nodden, Manchester Awning. Nodden, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in the Gulf War, started Manchester Awning in 2004. The company manufactures and sells custom awnings, architectural canopies, shade structures, and sewing.
“I was not expecting an award, I’m actually a little emotional about it,” said Nodden. “The one thing that I’ve learned over 20 years is that you can’t do it alone. And that’s what I like to do is give all my people all the credit because it’s not about me and I couldn’t do it alone.”
- Woman-Owned Small Business of the Year: Alisha Lynn Simpson-Watt, Collaborative ABA Services LLC. Simpson-Watt is a former school social worker. In 2019, she started Collaborative ABA Services, a behavioral health practice in Middletown that specializes in services for children diagnosed with autism and developmental disabilities.
“We also appreciate being able to give back to our community and also we appreciate the schools, our families that we work with because without them also we wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
Top row, left to right: Collaborative ABA Services’ Alisha Lynn Simpson-Watt, flanked by SBA’s Connecticut’s Catherine Marx and SBA New England administrator Mike Vlacich; Element 119’s Andrew Zeppa with Marx, Vlacich, and DECD commissioner Alexandrea Daum; BRVC’s Brianna Regine Walston. MIddle row, left to right: Cheshire Equestrian Center’s Carol DiCarlo; DICIN Electric’s Cindy Hersom; Manchester Awning’s Jeff Nodden. Bottom row, left to right: Hygrade Precision Technologies’ Pedro Soto; Balance Point Capital Partners’ Seth Alvord.
- Young Entrepreneur of the Year: Brianna Regine Walston, Brianna Regine Visionary Consulting LLC. BRVC is a Bridgeport-based strategic communication firm that increases the exposure of clients through brand development, digital marketing, public relations, and operations.
“When I started my business six years ago, it was solely on the fact of I had faith,” said Regine Walston. “I knew that I was a hard worker and that I wanted to give opportunities to folks who had an idea in their mind but they had no idea how to do it.”
- Region 1 Exporter of the Year: Andrew Zeppa, Element 119 LLC. Zeppa founded Element 119 in 2010, developing ceramic composite coatings for the automotive, aerospace, and marine industries. “We believe that the core of the backbone of our economy is small business, and we’re proud to be part of the community,” he said. “By investing in our employees and R&D we will continue to innovate and create new technology which improves our products year after year.”
- Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year: Jay McLaurin and Henry Smith III, FAD Mechanical. McLaurin and Smith of North Haven-based FAD Mechanical were not at the event. They will be given their award separately during a visit by Marx and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT 3).
- National Subcontractor of the Year: Cindy Hersom, DICIN Electric Company, Inc. DICIN Electric was started by Hersom’s parents in 1973 and she became sole owner in 2015. “I never thought for one minute this wouldn’t work,” she said. “Failure was not an option. It wasn’t in my vocabulary. I just knew I had to do what was necessary.”
The company is best known for marine and pier facility projects including existing and new pier construction, submarine berthing facilities, and installation of new electrical distribution systems.
“Such an incredible honor to be recognized by the Small Business Administration as federal subcontractor of the year for the United States of America,” Hersom said.
- National Small Business Investment Company of the Year–Established Manager: Seth Alvord, Balance Point Capital Partners. The Westport-based Balance Point provides capital to lower middle market companies across a variety of industries including, business services, food and beverage, healthcare, media and information services. “We’re all humbled to receive this and be recognized with this,” said Alvord. “I also just want to congratulate everyone that was awarded here today. It’s businesses like this that we invest in and support. “I’m proud to be in the state and I’m proud to give back to the state and the state has given a lot to me.”
Small Business Person of the Year
Dennis Nash, the president and CEO of Control Station, Inc. was named small business person of the year.
Douglas Cooper, a retired UConn School of Engineering professor, started Control Station as an educational tool for students.
Nash took over the company in 2004, moving it to Manchester and transforming the academic tool into a leader in industrial process analytics and optimization, fulfilling the technology needs of industrial manufacturers.
“It truly is humbling to be in front of this audience today,” said Nash, who shared some of the lessons that led to his success.
“Hire people who you can build a relationship with, hire people who you can build a future with,” he said. “Life’s too short not to enjoy the people you work with.”
He also spoke about the conviction they have that they’ll make more correct decisions than poor decisions adding they’ve adopted the mantra “move fast and break stuff.”
“The lesson, don’t be afraid to fail,” Nash said. “Embrace it.”
As national SBA award winners, Hersom and Alvord were both honored at a recent ceremony in Washington, D.C.
The National Small Business Week SBA Awards & Resource Expo was produced by CBIA and the Connecticut District SBA and made possible by Liberty Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, and Connecticut Wealth Management, with additional support from Live Oak Bank, BDC Capital/CDC New England, Savings Bank of Danbury, M&T Bank, Comcast, Berkshire Bank, and Webster Bank.
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