Small Business Majority Blog

Small Business Matters

Mardi-Ellen Hill, creator of MEND

It’s not often that consumers gets to fully immerse themselves in, and become a part of, the product that’s sold to them. But MEND, an interactive story, is both an ambitious product and small business that seeks to combine fiction with reality.

The genesis of MEND is rooted in a fictional narrative written by Mardi-Ellen Hill, who conceived an entire business plan and company around the idea of an interactive story.  What she came up with is an operating system that allows people to interact with elements of the story and use the system to engage with those elements, such as a decoding a secret language that drives the story’s plot. MEND is a device that places readers of the story straight into the heart of the action.

The original book bible follows a female protagonist named Lily Barrington who’s family’s checkered past comes back to haunt her, placing her in grave danger. MEND is an invention within the story fought over by the characters and also the real-world product of Hill’s business.

The system allows readers and consumers to further participate in the narrative elements of Hill’s sweeping epic, almost like an interactive digital encyclopedia. Users can use MEND’s musical language system to decode the secret languages of the story and discover profound clues to the diabolical plot unfolding.

Hill realizes the concept is a lot to take in, noting that her biggest challenge is “articulating the difference between MEND, the work of fiction and MEND the real time operating system. MEND is both a work of fiction, and a work of reality.”

With the creation of MEND as a tangible and consumable product, Hill has bulldozed through the passive limits of storytelling, fostering a truly immersive audio-visual story that readers can actively participate in. And Hill doesn’t plan on slowing the expansion of MEND anytime soon.

“Taking off as a business is the exact stage MEND is entering now,” she said. “I always knew that after the initial conceptualization phase I would be looking to partner with a publishing company, a movie production company, a gaming company and private enterprise partners.”

Currently, the story of MEND is being produced as a script for Hollywood and has already been staged as a play production that sparked the concept for morphing MEND into other adaptions, such as books and games.

However, the most exciting part of Hill’s journey has been the evolution and innovation in technology that has enabled MEND to become a truly interactive journey for consumers.

“This activity was a lot of fun, especially considering a lot of this technology did not exist when I first wrote the story. Suddenly much more of this story was understandable to a much wider audience.”

With technology continuing to catch up with Hill’s effervescent imagination, the sky’s the limit for where she’ll be able to take us with MEND next.

Jay-Mee Del Rosario, owner of International Metal Source

From humble beginnings to an out of this world small business, Jay-Mee Del Rosario clawed her way to the American Dream.

As the CEO of International Metal Source, a minority and women owned small business that distributes raw metals to the space, aerospace and defense industries, Del Rosario’s launch to the top was one of extreme hardship.

Born in the Philippines, she immigrated to the United States when she was just 9 years old. Due to her immigration status, she faced obstacles in obtaining jobs and a higher education.

“After graduating high school, I worked numerous jobs simultaneously because I could not attend college due to the fact I was not an American citizen,” she said.

Despite those roadblocks, she managed to start International Metal Source on her own and without a college degree. However, pushing the business forward became yet another problem.

“My business could not grow, unable to bid for government contracts since I was not an American citizen. I felt this was unfair since my payroll included American citizens, not to mention I was paying full federal taxes.”

Many other small business owners like Del Rosario agree that this is one of the aspects of our nation’s current immigration system that needs fixing.  According to a scientific opinion poll conducted by Small Business Majority, a vast three-quarters agree we would be better off letting undocumented workers become legal taxpayers so they can pay their fair share and work toward receiving citizenship.

The path toward citizenship for immigrants is a rocky road that nearly derailed Del Rosario.

“The process to become a citizen was not easy. After inconveniencing my family, friends and customers to write referral letters to the immigration office on my behalf – not to mention the exorbitant financial costs attached with this dream – I finally received approval to become an American citizen two years later.”

That winding, laborious process Del Rosario experienced first-hand is why she supports comprehensive immigration reform. Not only does she have her personal anecdote on the trials and tribulations of becoming an American citizen, but she can attest to its importance from a small business standpoint.

“Immigration reform is necessary to encourage immigrants to live the American dream. Specifically, this process should be simplified for those immigrants who are entrepreneurs and can provide strength to local and national economies. I am living proof of such a need.”

With a staggering 88% of small business owners supporting bipartisan comprehensive reform to our immigration system, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that fixing what’s broken could pave the way for more immigrant entrepreneurs to lift off just the way Del Rosario has, only without so much hassle.

The GT ICE team

You can’t see it, smell it or touch it, but Florida-based GT ICE has made a successful small business around it.

Based in Ponte Vedra, Fla., GT ICE is a global supplier of gas turbine auxiliary systems, filtration and packaging products, which help condition air through cooling, heating or filtration.

An acronym standing for Gas Turbine Inlet Cooling Enterprise, GT ICE is turning conditioned air for gas turbine customers into a profit. With products ranging from filter houses, turbine enclosures, exhausts and chilling/heating coils, GT ICE is a go-to source for world-class manufacturing for industries that rely on turbine power.

“We identified there was a far larger and growing market for cooling and packaging products in other parts of the world including the Americas, the Middle and Far East,” said Janice Rippon, vice president of GT ICE.

Partnering with a shareholder in the manufacturing business of gas turbine packaging products in Europe led to the official creation of GT ICE.

“We pitched a business model and plan to them which suggested opening design engineering and sales offices in other key locations, with the first identified as our Ponte Vedra headquarters,” she said.

The company offers site surveys, design engineering, global manufacturing, retrofit services, turbine and reciprocating products to a wide assortment of gas and steam turbine customers internationally, helping them turn efficiently conditioned air into better value energy.

Turning a nascent small business into a global player, especially considering most of their projects take a minimum of 18 months to complete, is no easy feat. It wasn’t the quantity of projects but rather the quality that got GT ICE to where they are today.

“The projects are usually very large and take time to come to fruition. Our business relies on building relationships with large customers….some may well introduce us to a new customer with a future project in mind.”

Partnering with other small businesses globally helps secure GT ICE’s reach and reputation, allowing them “to offer the end customer the best range and quality products on the market as solutions for their gas turbine power plants.”

GT ICE is all about looking ahead to the future, with sights set on total gas turbine domination, so to speak.

“Our focus for expansion is currently on being the preferred supplier for all the major companies in the industry.”

There’s no air of mystery about it – GT ICE is coming for your turbines.

CEO John Arensmeyer

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Administration’s release of its Climate Action Plan, which seeks to cut carbon emissions from power plants and prepare communities for the impacts of climate change. Reducing carbon emissions that contribute to climate change has huge impacts for small employers, the majority of whom support strong standards to increase energy innovation. In fact, nearly nine in 10 entrepreneurs agree improving innovation and energy efficiency are good ways to increase prosperity for small firms, and they’re eager to see more movement on this front.

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency released a proposal to establish the first-ever carbon emissions standards for existing power plants, which is good news for entrepreneurs. Our polling found more than half of all small businesses support the EPA limiting carbon pollution from existing power plants, and 76 percent are in favor of requiring new power plants to reduce carbon pollution.

But what do these EPA standards have to do with small businesses? A lot, in fact. Small business owners realize carbon pollution causes climate change. The effects of climate change are getting so bad, in fact, that they’re starting to impact small business owners’ bottom lines—and that’s when entrepreneurs sit up and take notice.

Small Business Majority’s latest opinion polling found climate change and the extreme weather it creates has been so devastating that one in five entrepreneurs surveyed had to lay off employees because of it. And nearly six in 10 small employers agree climate change and extreme weather are a problem that can disrupt the economy and hurt small employers.

What’s more, a new bipartisan report released last week found the economic damages caused by climate change will continue to worsen unless steps are taken to reduce carbon emissions. And the impacts are expected to especially affect coastal areas, which means hard times ahead for many small businesses, more than 5.5 million of which do business in states along the Gulf Coast alone.

Here’s the bottom line: Entrepreneurs say forward-thinking policies that improve energy efficiency and increase the use of renewable resources is good for business because they help them save money, create economic opportunities and will mitigate the factors causing climate change that’s hitting them where it hurts the most. Strong clean energy policies like the Climate Action Plan and the new EPA standards are smart steps forward for our small businesses, our environment and the economy.

The Strider Sports team

The old adage ‘it’s as easy as riding a bike’ takes on a new meaning thanks to Strider Sports.

Based in Rapid City, South Dakota, Strider Sports is revolutionizing the way children ride bikes by stripping the bike down to its core. In this case, no pedals required.

Ryan McFarland, owner of Strider Sports and inventor of the Strider Rider, got the  idea for such a contraption from watching his two-year-old son struggle with those pesky pedals.

“I went down the traditional path of a tricycle and a training-wheel bicycle but found them to be too heavy and cumbersome for my son,” McFarland said, recalling his efforts to teach his young son how to ride.

“To overcome the problem, I fabricated a super light weight, really small and simple bike with no pedals. He took to it immediately and was soon riding like a pro and far exceeding my expectations of his abilities.”

At just two-years-old, McFarland’s son was mastering the two-wheeled bike. McFarland found that the best way to fit a bike to a child was to eliminate the pedals, chains and cranks that weighed down and drew focus away from balancing and riding, and to just allow a kid to propel the bike with their feet while straddling the bike.

“This simple method of propelling the bike allows the child to focus all of their attention on balancing and steering the bike,” he said. “Having both feet on the ground also serves the other critical function of giving the child confidence in their control of the bike and eliminates fear of falling over.”

With McFarland’s son learning and having fun on a bicycle at such a young age, McFarland noted that other parents were taking notice and began asking him to build similar bikes for their kids. This marked the beginning for Strider Sports.

“Strider bikes are a paradigm shift for most people. People currently don’t believe their children are capable of riding a two-wheeled bike at such a young age. Once they understand the concept and see other children riding the bikes, it makes perfect sense to them,” he said.

Three lines of bikes for separate age groups helps Strider Sports teach and advance the abilities of kids as young as 18-months-old, while passing along a love of cycling at an early age.

And with more than 10 million kids in the United States nestled in the Strider Rider age range, Strider Sports isn’t hitting the brakes anytime soon.

“Our big accomplishment will be when there are more kids riding bikes than watching TV on a nice summer day. Our ultimate goal is to see the antiquated tricycle and training-wheel bikes go by the wayside.”