Nonprofit Offers Emergency Loans to Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19 Outbreak

Huntsville-based nonprofit Neighborhood Concepts Inc. is offering emergency loans to small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Acting through its subsidiary the North Alabama Revolving Loan Fund, LLC, NCI will offer working capital loans up to $25,000 to help small businesses cover operating expenses in instances where their monthly income is insufficient to cover their monthly obligations due to circumstances related to COVID-19.

Since 2013, NCI has been offering loans to small businesses in North Alabama that are not ready for traditional financing. Many of the businesses are food-related or others that lack sufficient capital to weather any disruptions.

“We are working with our existing borrowers to offer modifications and deferments to help them ride out the storm but wanted to do more to help meet the needs of local businesses in our area,” said NCI Executive Director Mary Ellen Judah.  In response to this need, NCI’s board of directors acted quickly to authorize the $25,000 emergency line of credit product.

Small businesses in North Alabama who have been impacted by recent closures or other COVID-19 disruptions may apply for up to $25,000 to fund operating expenses.  The loans will be structured as a non-revolving six-month line of credit at a fixed rate of 5 percent.

“Borrowers must have been in business for at least 12 months and be able to meet certain other eligibility requirements, but our intent is to streamline the application process so we can get the funds in the hands of qualifying businesses relatively quickly,” said NCI Loan Fund Manager John Thornton.

NCI plans to have an electronic application available on its website this week.  Until then, e-mail jthornton@neighborhoodconcepts.org or call 256-534-0075, ext. 404.

 

New State Regulations Limit Gatherings, Ban Dining-in

The Public Health Officer for the State of Alabama released a new list of stringent containment policies for communities to follow to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include full school closures, senior center closures, pre-school and child care closures, nursing home restrictions, delayed elective-medical procedures, limited gatherings of no more than 25 persons, bar closures, and no on-premise consumption of food and beverages in restaurants.

Mayor Tommy Battle said the City of Huntsville will immediately follow these policies in the best interest of public health.

“This is a challenging time for our communities. I remain grateful for the way our residents and businesses have been working together to adhere to the public health guidelines and support each other in this time of need.

To our business community, as a former restaurateur, my heart goes out to you, and to all of our companies and residents who lives have been disrupted by this virus.  The Alabama Health Department has determined these precautions are necessary and we will follow their guidance.”

Battle said Huntsville residents should remain calm but must take coronavirus seriously.

“We’re a smart community, and we’ll be smart about stopping this virus,” he said. “Let’s continue to fully follow health recommendations for social distancing, to remain six feet apart, and wash hands regularly.”

How to Help Neighborhood Businesses During the Coronavirus Outbreak

By Bekah Schmidt

It has never been more important to support our local small business community. The Coronavirus outbreak is affecting brick and mortars all over the nation, and no business is immune to this national emergency.

Here are five ways you can support small businesses in Huntsville, from your couch or car.

  1. Order takeout or delivery from your favorite independent restaurants

Your favorite restaurant may have shut its doors, but you can still order online through apps such as Grub Hub, Grub South, Door Dash and more. Independent restaurant owners are transitioning their servers to deliverers. Call the store first and ask what the best delivery method is for the restaurant. Most restaurants are offering curbside service too, which allows for touchless delivery to your vehicle. If you do use an online delivery app, Grub Hub is waiving fees for independent restaurant owners, so more of your money will end up in the restaurant owner’s pocket.

  1. Look for take and bake options or ready-made meals

Several businesses are offering meals to go for the whole family versus individual meals. This is more cost effective for the business owner and consumer and requires less touch points in handling of the food. Good Company Café is offering a “take and bake” menu, and Kathleen’s Catering is offering dinner for 6 for $35.99! Ordering dinner from a local restaurant, versus going to the grocery store reduces the amount of touch points and exposure you have to the general public. (A small restaurant might have a staff of five or less – going to the grocery store you are exposed to hundreds of people.) One last tip, you can also freeze the meals for later.

  1. Shop your favorite local retailers online

Retail stores are moving their business online and to their social media accounts – which is where customers are, too. You can still pick up a birthday gift for a friend or find the perfect home décor for spring from your couch. Businesses are posting their products online and invoicing customers. Other retailers are offering curbside pickup or delivery. Ruth’s Nutrition, a vitamin store in South Huntsville, is taking orders and payments over the phone, and bringing your order to your car, so you don’t have to leave your vehicle.

  1. Purchase a Gift Card

Purchasing a gift card to a local business is a great way to support the local economy right now. The business gets the cash they need now – and you get to treat yourself later! Most businesses offer gift cards online. If you don’t see a gift card online option, call the store. Business owners are mailing out gift certificates to customers or offering curbside gift card delivery. Even if it is only $20, it makes a huge difference for our local businesses.

  1. Write a positive review

The Coronavirus outbreak has caught everyone off guard and our small business owners are all feeling the pressure of the unknown. As a customer you can like, comment, share and review our businesses and inspire others to do the same. It takes less than a minute to leave a positive review. When you review a business, you build consumer confidence and encourage others to shop local. As many businesses transition to doing most of their business online, business owners will rely on your feedback to improve their processes.

Bekah Schmidt is the executive director of the South Huntsville Main Business Association.

 

 

 

 

The Catalyst Center Going Remote; Providing Updates for Small Businesses

A Statement from The Catalyst

Like all of you, we have been closely monitoring the updates and impacts of the COVID-19 virus. We wanted to let you know that we will be operating remotely in the upcoming weeks in hopes of reducing the spread of this virus. We have been preparing for this over the past week to ensure that our clients will continue to receive prompt services.
Small businesses are a vital part of the U.S. economy. With the recent news and concerns of the coronavirus (COVID-19), The Catalyst is sharing the latest business resources, assistance and guidance. Please read the following important update to The Catalyst operations now in effect.
  • Workshops. Our workshops may be postponed or held online. If you have registered for an event, you will be notified directly on whether the event is being postposed or if there is an online option. For any questions please contact us at info@catalystcenter.org.
  • Coaching Sessions. Coaches are available to participate in remote coaching sessions via phone, email and video. This slow-down may be the perfect opportunity for you to fit in some personal development or business coaching! Please contact us at 256 428-8190 or info@catalystcenter.org or if you would like to schedule a coaching session.
  • SBA Guidance & Assistance for Small Businesses. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has posted information regarding loan programs and guidance for businesses: Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)
  • CDC Guidance & Prevention Protocols for Businesses. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has issued COVID-19 guidance for businesses and is updating them as new developments occur.
Please refer to the following links for the most up-to-date information about COVID-19:
The health of small business owners, their employees and our network of volunteers remain our top priority.
The Catalyst is committed to providing the best services we can during this difficult time. We will keep you updated as resources and guidance become available.
Joanne Randolph
President & CEO

‘To Go’ is the Way to Go for Dining During COVID-19 Emergency

With health agencies recommending against public gatherings, local businesses and restaurants have come up with new strategies and practices to stay in business.

“There are a lot of unknowns but I think people are doing a really good job trying to discern best practices that will keep the customers safe while also providing them with things they need like food,” said Downtown Huntsville Inc. President/CEO Chad Emerson. “I’ve been very pleased with seeing how everyone is willing to consider new approaches especially in the immediate term.”

Emerson spoke to the Huntsville Business Journal about what his organization is doing to keep the food and beverage industry apprised of current events surrounding the virus.

“We’re continuing to gather as much useful information as possible and to share it as efficiently as possible,” Emerson said. “We’re looking at what other cities that are further along in the process because they were exposed to the situation earlier than we were, are using that can help us develop some best practices.

“We have a lot of really smart people here in Huntsville that are resilient, and they are committed to trying new ways to serve the public.”

Go to https://www.downtownhuntsville.org/blog to find Best Practices information. It is updated regularly.

“Every Monday at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. we’re having general updates and information via conference call,” Emerson said. “This is information we are gleaning both locally as well as from other downtowns.

“It is really an opportunity to try to give everyone a chance to be heard and to ask questions. We have designed it for downtown operators, mostly for food and beverage operators, but any of those establishments around Huntsville and Madison are welcome to call in. It is a team effort citywide.”

Emerson also wanted to stress that currently, all downtown restaurants are open for business. Many are increasing To-Go options to the point in which they will bring food out to your car; some are expanding their delivery options; and almost all are modifying their in-restaurant dining experience to increase the distance between guests.

“Even if the in-restaurant dining experience is limited or closed in the days ahead, most of the restaurants we are dealing with are continuing to operate,” he said. “So, if you have a favorite restaurant where you usually go out to dine, check their social media or call them and ask them what their options are including delivery and To-Go.”

Downtown Huntsville does not have any food truck events scheduled, but social media is the best place to find out whether some of them will be set up somewhere remotely. Emerson said no one has called a halt to food trucks right now but the Food Truck Corral at NASA has been postponed.

In terms of retail, Emerson said, “We’re finding that people have more time, and they may not be gathering as often at large public events but people are still interested in getting out of the house and keeping life going as normally as possible, and that includes buying new goods they need.”

 

Local Small Businesses Take COVID-19 Hit, Vow Flexibility

MADISON — Some small businesses aren’t going to make it, but those who do are vowing to hunker down and do what it takes to survive.

That was the overall sentiment coming from small business owners, state and local government officials, and members of the Tennessee Valley Republican Club as they gathered Saturday morning at Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza in Madison.

Sharing coffee, donuts, music and fist bumps instead of handshakes, the meeting was a mixture of rallying cry behind small business, common reassurances, the medical perspective, politics, a sharing of best practices, and a call to find flexible alternatives and solutions that will get each other through the days ahead in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

There was one common theme however – COVID-19 may stymie growth and delay the opening of new stores and restaurants, but local businesses are used to delays … the weather and labor shortages have held up roadwork, traffic and construction all over the county for the past 10 years.

And if fits and starts and problems and delays – as frustrating as they may be – dispirited the Rocket City, then Watercress Capital of the World would still be Huntsville’s claim to fame!

Stan Stinson of Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza in Huntsville and Madison; and Dan Perry of Straight to Ale are experiencing new meanings to the idea that entrepreneurs are willing to take risks – even those that are unforeseeable.

And Perry is no stranger to hard fights.

The engineer started his Straight to Ale Brewery in 2009 after the “Free the Hops” grassroots nonprofit organization succeeded in increasing the alcohol by volume (ABV) limit in beer from 6 percent to 13.9 percent. That, in itself, took an “act of Congress”, but the disruption caused by COVID-19 offers new challenges to his expanded 55,000 square-foot facility at Campus 805.

Stinson said there will be some businesses that do not survive it, but he does not intend to be one of them. That doesn’t mean however, he won’t take a hit.

He rushed to get his new Self Serve Drinkery open in time for the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in downtown Huntsville. However, the annual celebration was, itself, a casualty of COVID-19.

“I estimate I lost $7,000 in business at the downtown location of Earth and Stone (last) Saturday when the parade shut down,” he said. “And probably at least $2,000 at the Self Serve Drinkery. But who really knows, it being our first day open.

“To give you some perspective, Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza opens on parade day at 8 a.m. because people begin celebrating that early, and we are usually packed. At noon this Saturday, we had our first two customers.”

Stinson was also looking to open two additional restaurants this month: the Bark & Barrel BBQ on County Line Road in Madison and a new eatery at the Stovehouse.

“We will be meeting this week to discuss the way forward,” he said.

Strong Coffee, Strong Women Series: Sonia Robinson Shares her Journey

“Strong Coffee, Strong Women,” The Catalyst’s widely popular breakfast and networking event, features inspirational stories from successful businesswomen that focus on professional growth and successfully overcoming challenges along the way.

Sonia Robinson: “The most selfless decision you can make is to put yourself first. Try it. It will change you.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

This particular event was no exception as Sonia Robinson, a breast cancer survivor and the executive director at BIO Alabama, spoke to a sold-out, standing-room-only crowd.

Robinson was very candid about sharing her breast cancer survivor journey.

“I do not miss a chance to talk about my boobs,” she said.

In 2017, Robinson was at the peak of her high-intensity career: 36 years old, divorced and raising two boys, then 4 and 8. To Robinson, going for her routine gynecological exam was just that, routine; another self-care box to check off between meetings and an otherwise busy workday.

As the nurse did the manual breast exam, she suggested that Robinson get a baseline mammogram.

Robinson initially declined, thinking to herself, “My career was on fire. I was 36 years old and never had had a baseline mammogram. I don’t have time; I’ll do it when I’m 40. Had I waited until I was 40, my story would have been very very different.”

The nurse practitioner felt a palpable lump in Robinson’s breast and asked her, “Have you ever felt this?”

For Robinson, monthly self-exams were not on her radar, so the answer was “no.”

Even after the nurse practitioner sent her for a diagnostic mammogram, Robinson saw it as another item to check off the to-do list. She assumed that the lump would be benign and she would be back to work without skipping a beat.

When the mammogram was complete, the technician told Robinson the radiologist wanted to speak with her on her way out.

“I thought my radiologist just had really good bedside manner and stopped to chat with all the patients afterwards; she’s good, but not THAT good,” said Robinson.

The radiologist told Robinson, “It looks suspicious. I’ve already spoken with your gynecologist.”

The next step was a surgical biopsy. When her surgeon called Robinson to discuss the results, he said the words she never expected to hear: “Sonia, we have a little cancer.”

As she processed the news and discussed the treatment options, Robinson slowly walked to her bedroom and lay down on the bed.

Sensing the news was bad, her mother lay down beside her as the conversation with the surgeon continued.

The cancer was likely Stage 1. A double mastectomy or a lumpectomy with radiation would be the options given.

Before making a decision, Robinson wanted a better understanding of what she was dealing with. Her surgeon gave her four weeks to research, gathering as much information she could.

A sold-out, standing-room-only crowd hears Sonia Robinson share her incredible journey. (Photo/Steve Rabin)

“What does life look like on the other side of this?” Robinson wanted to know.

Robinson opted for a double mastectomy. During surgery, it was discovered the cancer had spread to one of the lymph nodes, which immediately put her into Stage 2, which became a game-changer.

When the oncologist told Robinson that chemotherapy was to be scheduled, “I told him, “No,” said Robinson.

She advised the audience, “We are to question; we are to ask, to research. Y’all have to fight for your health.”

Robinson still believed that everything would be ok without chemotherapy.

“I felt that maybe I should have Dr. Harriman just ‘clear the margin’ and I do nothing, no chemo,” said Robinson. “As the words left my mouth, I thought how irresponsible that was.

“I had an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old. I wanted to be their mommy for a long time. When you’re given a diagnosis like this, it’s not just you, it’s we.”

After four weeks of research and consulting the medical community and breast cancer survivors, “I was told, ‘Sonia, you’re in a gray area’,” said Robinson. “You have to be happy with the decision that you make. Ultimately, I made the decision to move forward with chemo.”

Once the decision was made, Robinson threw a “Shave Party,” inviting forty of her closest friends and family members. The event included a champagne toast and a bouncy house for the kids.

After her head was shaved, she reveled in the new look.

“Try it, shave your head,” said Robinson. “It changed my life.”

Then, there were reconstruction decisions, such whether to keep one’s nipples or get tattoos. Robinson decided to keep hers. “Nipple tattoos, it’s a real thing, y’all,” said Robinson. “I want y’all to look at these,” as she sent images to friends, male and female, to get honest feedback. “Our boobs are so important to us as women,” said Robinson. “I really needed that feedback. I was 36 years old and single.

“Had I been older, I may not have made the same decision.”

Robinson’s fourth and final round of chemo came just 6 days after her 37th birthday. That came with the expectation that life would return to what it was, pre-cancer.

“Chemo is over, Sonia is well,” said Robinson. “That’s when the real work started.

“In order to be your ultimate self, guess what you have to do? Put yourself first. The most selfless decision you can make is to put yourself first. Try it. It will change you.”

 

 

 

South Huntsville Business Opportunities Revealed on Possibilities Tour

Dale Carnegie once said, “We all have possibilities we don’t know about.”

The South Huntsville Main Business Association hosted a bus tour for business owners interested in business in the southern end of town. (Photo/Steve Babin)

The South Huntsville Main Business Association showed off its potential this week with a “Possibilities Tour” of the upcoming Hays Farm development.

The organization welcomed business owners and potential business owners who may be looking to start a business or open a location on the busy south end of town.

In spite of the rain, a couple dozen people ranging from those interested in doctor’s offices to restaurants, retail stores and, even, office space took the tour.

At the post-tour luncheon, SHMBA Executive Director Bekah Schmidt laid out everything that is happening on the 850-acre Hays Farm development. Included in that is the former Haysland Square, renamed The Market at Hays Farm, and the Huntington shopping area.

“A lot of people know the daily traffic counts along the Parkway in that area are anywhere from 52,000 to 75,000 cars a day, making it very appealing,” said Schmidt. “But we wanted to show people there is much more coming, and there are additional benefits to opening a business on this end of town that people don’t know about.”

SHMBA Executive Director Bekah Schmidt said there are “additional benefits to opening a business on this end of town that people don’t know about.” (Photo/Steve Babin)

She said there will be retail, restaurant and office space surrounding the $3.6 million City Centre Park off the Parkway; and there are also outparcels of land available for purchasing and building.

At the Market at Hays Farm, there will be 1,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet of space available, some with kitchen space already set up for restaurants.

“We also want people to know that while downtown Huntsville is a hot spot right now for retail, that space may run you $30 per square-foot and up,” Schmidt said. “You can get the same amount of space in South Huntsville for $12 to $25 per square foot.

“And when you get in on the ground floor of a growing development like this, we can tailor the space to your specific needs, while later on, you will not have as many customizable options.”

The Market at Hays Farm is scheduled to open in late summer or early fall 2021.

Ready for Prime Time – Extreme Makeover: Hughes Plaza Edition

MADISON — As the area continues to grow by leaps and bounds, it’s hard to miss the unmistakable red clay and construction cones on any given road, on any given day.

Madison and Huntsville are on the fast track of redefining our communities, one slab of cement at a time.

Along with a host of brand-spanking new construction, there also has been significant redevelopment and extensive renovation on many existing structures. One property in particular is Hughes Plaza.

Hughes Plaza, across Hughes Road from Madison City Hall, was once a well-known retail destination. Over the years, the 59,071 square foot mixed-use property has fallen into disrepair and low occupancy.

Thanks to local physicians Jon and Alicia Krichev, the shopping center will soon be getting a makeover, complete with a newly upgraded façade and enhanced landscaping.

A business opportunity led the Krichevs to Hughes Plaza.

The Krichevs, along with Jon’s sister Jessica and her husband Chris Leven own Bicycle Cove in Hampton Cove. Last year, when Madison Cycles closed at Hughes Plaza, the Krichevs saw this as an opportunity to expand their business and set up shop in the same location in the Plaza.

However, the Krichevs were not happy with the plaza’s condition.

So, after a series of connections with mutual friends and business partners, the Krichevs became owners of the building and are fully dedicated to returning Hughes Plaza to its former glory.

Build it and they will come.

The revived Hughes Plaza “has the potential to become a beautiful and exciting development where people meet for bike rides, runs, lunches, and shopping trips.” (Rendering courtesy of Crunkleton Commercial Real Estate)

Currently, Bicycle Cove is the only tenant. Once renovations are complete, the Krichevs anticipate other health, wellness, and fitness retail concepts will follow along with perhaps, a restaurant and brew pub.

One exciting new tenant will be Fleet Feet, the running/walking specialty store.

Slated to open this summer, the 6,200-square-foot retail space will include an indoor running track. Fleet Feet has more than 180 stores in the United States with three Alabama locations — Montgomery, Birmingham, and Huntsville – making the Hughes Plaza location the fourth in the state.

Suzanne and Dink Taylor, owners of the Huntsville store in Jones Valley, are thrilled about opening a store in Madison.

“Our Huntsville location has been up and running for 16 years and we’ve loved every minute of it,” said Suzanne. “We’ve wanted to open a second location in Madison for a long time and everything finally came together.

“The location, timing, and means all worked out and we can’t wait to create a home for our Madison-based clientele.”

Hughes Plaza is less than a mile from downtown Madison and the up-and-coming Avenue Madison mixed-use development.

The closest major intersections are Mill Road and Old Madison Pike. Madison Boulevard and I-565 are within easy access of the Plaza. Major grocery chains Publix and Kroger, along with Walmart are all in close proximity.

Krichev believes that the redevelopment of Hughes Plaza will benefit the Madison community by creating an exciting new hub for shopping, dining, and wellness.

“We want to renew what was once a vibrant focus of commerce for the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Krichev. “This center has the potential to become a beautiful and exciting development where people meet for bike rides, runs, lunches, and shopping trips.”

 

 

 

Joanne Randolph Cited as Champion at Annual Entrepreneur Awards

Joanne Randolph has been known to champion entrepreneurs in this area.

Joanne Randolph is honored with Champion Award now named after her. (Photo/Steve Babin)

Now, she can officially be known as the champion after receiving the Entrepreneur Champion of the Year Award at the fifth annual Entrepreneur Awards ceremony and luncheon.

Randolph, the founder and CEO of The Catalyst Center, has been at the forefront of entrepreneurship and small business ownership while leading the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama and The Catalyst Center.

“I have loved working with entrepreneurs over the last 25 or so years,” said Randolph. “Many of you are in this room. I’ve celebrated with you when good things happened and I was saddened when they didn’t.

“We learn so much more from our failures; which is why many very successful entrepreneurs have a failure or two under their belt.”

Randolph planned to retire in 2019 but The Catalyst board appealed to her to stay on, for just one more year.

“Joanne has been with The Catalyst, formerly the Women’s Business Center of North Alabama, when we were just an idea,” said Leigh Christian, project manager for TechRich at the Catalyst. “She has led our organization for 20 years and has coached, counseled, and championed hundreds – maybe thousands – of entrepreneurs through the years. The Catalyst staff and Board of Directors chose this year to honor Joanne as not only the Entrepreneur Champion of the Year for 2020, but of all time.

“In honor of this, we are renaming the award the Joanne Randolph Entrepreneur Champion Award.”

The award was the grand finale to the event at The Stone Center and wrapped up this year’s Innovate Huntsville Week.

Kevin Hoey, Chairman of the Board of the Catalyst, provided opening remarks and Kenny Anderson, the Multicultural Affairs Officer for the City of Huntsville, served as the emcee.

Here are the 2020 winners of the Entrepreneurial Awards:

YOUTH ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Caleb Wortham, owner of Caleb’s Cookie Cutters.

This award is given to a school-aged entrepreneur who started their entrepreneurial journey at a young age and is working toward their dream.

When Caleb was in the first grade, he became fascinated with design and technology after listening to a TED Talk on 3-D printing. He was so inspired, he asked his parents for a 3-D printer for Christmas, along with saving up his own money to help them purchase the printer. Enrolling in Mindgear Lab and Endeavor Learning Lab, Caleb learned everything he could about 3-D printing technology.

Caleb’s older brother Joshua started Peaceful Pastries when Caleb was 10. Helping out with the bakery, Caleb soon realized that cookie cutters can be costly. Additionally, Joshua often received unique cookie orders that often required special shapes. To meet the needs of his brother’s successful business venture, Caleb collaborated with Joshua to become Peaceful Pastries and Sweets Bakery largest custom cookie cutter supplier.

EMERGING ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Chanda Davis, founder and owner of Chanda Davis Real Estate and Superior School of Real Estate by Chanda.

The Catalyst Entrepreneurs of the Year. (Photo/Steve Babin)

This award is given to an entrepreneur that’s been in business for less than 3 years and has a proven track record for sustainability with room for growth.

After leaving a successful career as an educator, Davis entered the world of real estate. After 3 years of being a full-time agent and two years of teaching real estate classes, Davis decided to establish her own company. Along with Chanda Davis Real Estate, a flourishing real estate company with over 60 agents, Davis’ Superior School of Real Estate by Chanda boasts one of the highest passing rates in the state.

CREATIVE ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Lady Vowell Smith, owner and founder of The Snail on the Wall bookstore.

This award goes to an entrepreneurial venture that focuses on the retail, arts, entertainment, or culinary industry and has a proven track record for sustainability.

As a book aficionado with a Ph.D. in literature, Smith is no stranger to books. Smith felt there was a lack of small independent bookstores North Alabama —a place where readers and authors could meet and share ideas.

Beginning with a pop-up store at Randolph’s Under the Christmas Tree market in 2017, she has formed a large, loyal customer base by recommending books through social media. Her store has hosted pop-up bookstores at local businesses and has brought bestselling authors to Huntsville for events. Says Smith, “The spirit of entrepreneurship is embracing experiments and new ideas, and when local businesses brainstorm together, it benefits the community as a whole.”

NONPROFIT ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Anne Caldwell, CEO of Greater Huntsville Humane Society.

The Nonprofit Entrepreneur of the year is a new category for 2020. Although different than for-profit ventures, nonprofit leaders still require an entrepreneurial spirit to grow and develop their organizations.

Caldwell’s life and career path changed forever six years ago, when she adopted Randy, a terrified little Chihuahua from Huntsville Animal Services. Caldwell said she was astonished by the problem of overcrowding at the shelters and became involved with several animal welfare organizations before taking on her role as CEO at the Greater Huntsville Humane Society last year.

Through a variety of innovative programming, Caldwell has increased the number of adoptions, lowered length of stays and return rates, in addition to cutting costs and raising donations.

FEMALE ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Amber Yerkey James, founder and CEO of New Beginnings Family Law.

This award is given to an outstanding female entrepreneur in the North Alabama Region. The winner of this award will be submitted to the Small Business Administration’s Small Business of the Year Award National Award by the Women’s Business Center.

In 2012, almost six years after starting her own law practice James realized that she wanted to do something more than just process divorce and custody cases, she wanted to make a difference in the lives of her clients and in her community.

New Beginnings Family Law works with clients  to plan for life following divorce and other family law situations. The goal is for clients to have the knowledge, skills, and insight to truly have a new beginning.

VETERAN ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Kris McGuire, founder and CEO of Victory Solutions.

This award is given to an outstanding military-veteran entrepreneur in the North Alabama Region.

A packed house at the Stone Center was on hand for the fifth annual Entrepreneur Awards. (Photo/Steve Babin)

As one of the first women assigned to the Air Force Special Weapons Center’s maintenance squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base during the Vietnam War, McGuire understood the importance of supplying the military with effective systems and supplying troops with the right tools. In 2006, with this experience in mind, McGuire started Victory Solutions to help save the lives of soldiers.

McGuire’s success has resulted in having some 130 employees and subcontractors working on projects ranging from unmanned aerial vehicles to missile defense to missions to the moon. She attributes this success to a continued focus on supporting fellow veterans, women, and other small businesses.

ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Sandra Brazelton, president and CEO of Advanced Innovative Management Solutions

Awarded to an entrepreneur who has been in business for over three years and has a proven track record for sustainability, strategic direction, future growth and community involvement.

Brazelton’s journey has been one of overcoming obstacles, including gender and racial barriers. While working as an engineer, Brazelton started a real estate business. When buying her first two houses, she was steered to low-income areas. This experience fueled her mission to build a business that would educate, empower, and help others while building generational wealth.

Her goal is to leave a legacy in business and in character that would make her children proud. Her daughter, Alex, is also her business partner, helping to create a legacy.

PEOPLE’S CHOICE ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – Jerry “JD” White, owner and president of JD Productions, Inc.

Al.com hosted a link on social media for this award. The winner was selected by voters.

After reading books on the topic, coupled with hands-on experience by working the audio/visuals at a variety of events, White finely honed his skills. White said collaboration has been lost in the entertainment industry; he believes that JD Productions will revitalize the entertainment industry, making it a better place to do business.

Coming from a variety of backgrounds and business ventures, there were 68 finalists competing for the nine categories. These entrepreneurs represented 11 communities and 21 ZIP codes in North Alabama. 46 were women, 22 were men.

Combined, they provide jobs for 2,269 employees; in 2019, they accounted for more than $270 million in economic development dollars across North Alabama.