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Need Inspiration? 6 Business Heroes Worth Celebrating

Business owners from around the nation were selected for accomplishments in procurement, exporting, and disaster recovery.
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An awards ceremony on Friday in Washington, D.C. recognizing accomplished entrepreneurs from across the United States capped off National Small Business Week.

The Small Business Administration honored the selected business owners with the Phoenix Award for disaster recovery, the Procurement Award for securing government contracts, and the Exporter of the Year award. Here are the winners.

The Phoenix Award is presented to business owners, public officials, and volunteers who displayed selflessness, ingenuity, and tenacity in the aftermath of a disaster, while contributing to the rebuilding of their communities.

  • Deidre Ebrey, the director of Economic Development and Marketing for the City of Moore, Oklahoma, received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Public Official. In May 2013, a tornado ripped through Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Ebrey became a central figure in the community's recovery efforts, working with state and local officials to handle logistics like debris removal and traffic control, as well as managing the health and welfare of the disaster survivors. She also helped business owners get SBA loans and worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to procure recovery funding for the town.
  • Gianna P. Cerbone-Teoli, owner of Manducatis Rustica, an Italian restaurant in Long Island City, NY, received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Volunteer. After Hurricane Sandy hit, Cerbone-Teoli's restaurant was flooded, and she lost all her catering supplies and equipment. When the restaurant reopened, Cerbone-Teoli cooked meals and collected clothes and blankets for families affected by the disaster.
  • Lars Akerlund, the owner of FIKA in New York City, received the Phoenix Award for Outstanding Small Business Disaster Recovery. In October 2012 Hurricane Sandy nearly destroyed all five of Akerlund's specialty coffee and chocolate cafes. Akerlund was uninsured, but applied for an SBA disaster loan and started rebuilding. By the following February he had opened a new chocolate factory and two months later reopened his other locations. Today, he has a total of 100 employees and 13 locations.

The Procurement Award honors small businesses that provide outstanding goods and services to the federal government as prime contractors or subcontractors.

  • The Small Business Prime Contractor of the Year was awarded to Indigo IT, an IT firm established in 2001 by Garcia Van Wyngaardt. Van Wyngaardt is among a small number of women who successfully run federal and defense contracting firms and an even smaller number of Latina CEOs leading multimillion-dollar companies. Indigo, which provides complex IT solutions for government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, has a staff of 83 employees and revenue of more than $12 million. 
  • The Small Business Subcontractor of the Year went to Vtech Engineering Corporation, a small commercial engineering firm that provides services for R&D clients from Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory to Fortune 500 companies. Vtech's revenue has increased 60 percent since 2010. 

The Small Business Exporter of the Year Award recognizes the accomplishments of a small company that has increased export sales and profits, or found creative solutions to business challenges in exporting.

  • Baby Elephant Ears, a Cambridge, Minnesota-based company that makes multi-use headrests for babies to provide better spinal and neck alignment, won the Exporter of the Year award. Alicia Overby founded the company in 2009 by tapping into her husband's 401(k). Now Baby Elephant Ears has annual sales of more than $1.3 million and is selling its products in more than a dozen countries. 

The SBA also recognized Billy Taylor and Brook Harvey-Taylor, the husband-and-wife founders of fragrance and beauty product company Pacifica, with the National Small Business Persons of the Year award.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: May 16, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported in the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




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