RSSAll Entries in the "Small Business Development Center" Category

Small Business Person of the Year

Kelly Mendell: Leading the way for RI Small Business

Kelly Mendell is the president and majority owner of MIKEL, a woman-owned, leading undersea warfare technology company in Middletown. Kelly joined MIKEL in 2002, three years after her father, Brian Guimond, founded the defense technology start-up and by 2008 was the President.

Kelly’s journey began at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she majored in engineering and began interning in a machine shop gaining hands-on experience in manufacturing, planning, materials, and quality control. Kelly graduated from UMASS with her BS in Industrial Engineering and from Babson College with an MBA and would go to work for companies including Polaroid, Gillette, and Raytheon working as both an industrial engineer and manufacturing manager.

In 2002, after the birth of her daughter Laura, Kelly joined MIKEL as the Managing Director. Kelly was responsible for managing all aspects of the business including billing, payroll, contracts, accounting, benefits, financial tracking, sales, and marketing. A few years later, after her second child, Max was born, the work-life balance became even more demanding and included many trips and long evenings of work after her children went to bed. Mendell, persevered, making strategic personnel decisions during a time of economic downturn and was moved into the role of President.

Kelly reflected on the difficult decisions she had to make in 2008, “We had to do layoffs and that’s what really motivated me to grow because we have a family atmosphere here and I feel a sense of obligation to these people I’m hiring.” She continued, “I want to make sure they have jobs for a long time that are challenging, interesting, and good paying. It’s not pleasant to lay off people that you care for and are good workers, so I decided that I didn’t want to ever be in that situation again.”

To ensure her company’s future would be stable Mendell reached out to SBA resource partners, SCORE and The Center for Women & Enterprise. She began working with SCORE on how to win government contracts while using her CWE counseling to focus on presentation, speaking, marketing, documentation, and professionalism.

These essential educational and personnel decisions allowed MIKEL to garner crucial government contracts that would keep them in the black from 2008 through today. “I was really motivated to grow,” said Mendell, “I wanted our company to rise and I wanted to bring stability to our business at a time when defense was not stable and we had a lot of uncertainty with our programs,” she added. Due to Kelly’s leadership MIKEL was able to stay successful during one of the most difficult economic periods in national history and by the time 2015 had come MIKEL had grown to 110 employees.

Today the company employs over 175 engineers, logisticians, technicians and developers and hopes to continue to provide even more challenging jobs in the future. “The key to growth is to do a really great job on your current work.” In conjunction with this philosophy, MIKEL is on the lookout to work in other high growth areas in the DoD like the unmanned domain and cyber security because companies have to keep up with the market demands to stay alive and viable.

In Kelly’s spare time she holds a leadership role on the executive board for SENEDIA, which promotes the defense business in Southeast New England, STEM in schools, and increases the visibility and education for those in the defense sector. Kelly has also sat on panels for the National Conference on Women-Owned Businesses discussing her Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) success story, and Small Businesses Association of New England (SBANE).

For her demonstrated success and potential for future growth, the U.S. Small Business Administration is pleased to honor Kelly B. Mendell, President of MIKEL, as the 2018 Rhode Island Small
Business Person of the Year.

2018 National Subcontractor of the Year Evans Capacitor Company, East Providence, RI

(L-R) President, David Evans and CEO, Charles Dewey; together they co-founded Evans Capacitor Company in 1996.

Evans Capacitor Company, headquartered in East Providence, develops and manufactures high-energy/high-power density capacitors. Capacitors store energy and then, when needed, release that energy in a burst – like your camera battery releasing stored energy when you use the flash to take a picture. Capacitors are used in a wide-range of consumer and commercial electronic products. Evans’ capacitors, however, are used primarily for demanding aerospace and defense applications, including airborne radar, laser targeting, and electronic warfare systems, where size, weight, power, and efficiency are critically important.

David Evans and Charles Dewey co-founded Evans Capacitor in 1996 to pursue technology Mr. Evans invented. With over 20 patents in capacitor chemistry, design, and packaging, Mr. Evans continues to invent, leading the company’s development and engineering team. Mr. Dewey draws on his significant prior management experience to provide oversight and direction to the company’s administration, production, marketing, and finance. The company is privately held, with over 90% owned by the founders, employees, families and Directors.

Since its inception, Evans Capacitor has been a supplier to Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, which nominated Evans for this award. For more than a decade, Evans has supplied capacitors to Lockheed Martin for use in the Arrowhead® program, which essentially is the vision and targeting package in the U.S. Army’s Apache attack helicopter. In its nomination, Lockheed Martin applauded Evans’ extraordinary delivery and quality, specifically highlighting that Evans’ assemblies as installed in the Arrowhead® system have performed with 100% reliability, without a single report of a capacitor-related problem in flight. This package has improved the safety and efficacy of the program and is described by Lockheed as “a terrific help to the warfighter.”

Last year Evans Capacitor received a STEP (State Trade and Export Promotion) grant – which is funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration — to expand their international presence to new markets. Working with the John H. Chafee Center for International Business at Bryant University, Evans received international marketing assistance that Mr. McClennan described as “terrific,” aiding Evans in trade shows in the U.K. and Canada, creating advertising in a U.K. digital magazine, and having representatives participate on Evans’ behalf in a U.K. exhibit. Being recognized as the national subcontractor of the year is “a great honor and extra-ordinary,” said Mr. McClennan. “It is a testament to everyone’s hard work over a long period of time, from the top down.” “It speaks to the value of the technology originally developed and continually improved, placing Evans in the world wide technical lead.”

Minority Small Business Owner of the Year

Patience, Determination and Community; Alba Rios’ Recipe for Success Born in Colombia, Alba Lucia Rios immigrated to the United States in 2001, settling in Rhode Island where she met her husband Manuel Grajales. Together, their goal was to own a business, to prosper and be successful. In 2007, they began taking steps toward that goal by purchasing Tienda Alinary, a retail establishment providing specialty Colombian products to the community.

Under Alba’s ownership the store continued to prosper until, in 2008, the building she rented was foreclosed upon. The economic downturn proved harsh as Alba fought to continue her businesses existence. Understanding the significance of her location, and what the 24 year history of Tienda Alinary meant to her community, Alba began searching for guidance. She contacted the Small Business Development Center and The Center for Women  Enterprise, inquiring about how to access the capital she needed to purchase the building. Working with Sandra McNamara she began educating herself on how to acquire what she needed. Over the course of that year Alba began approaching lenders but got used to the common answer of, “No”; frustrated but unwavering she approached Pawtucket Credit Union and finally heard the “Yes” she had been waiting for. With the funds in hand Alba purchased the building from the bank. Over the next three years Alba and Manuel began renovating the property. Facing hefty improvement bills they began expanding Tienda Alinary’s offering, first was the addition of the bakery. Every morning Manuel would bake the bread before going upstairs to work on repairs. Next was the addition of the restaurant and a full breakfast offering, before long the demand grew for a lunch menu as well. To address another community need they also began offering shipping services, allowing those looking to ship something back to their native country the opportunity to do so in a streamlined, culturally friendly process.


A community HUB, many people come to Tienda Alinary looking for legal advice or a place to refer a doctor. Rios’ understands the role her business plays and does what she can to refer those looking for help in the right direction. Often her support is more subtle, a bowl of soup to someone in need, a credit line to those who may be a little short that day – always with an understanding that community is about support, and a business can do so much more towards that end than simply being a place to shop. Proud of her success, Alba still stays grounded, choosing to focus on those who have helped her succeed. She continues to thank Alinary Salavarrieta – who had owned Tienda Alinary for 24 years before selling to Alba – for creating the community landmark the store has become. Alba also feels a deep connection with Sandra Cano, whose friendship and emotional support means so much to her. Mostly, she wants to share her message of success with those in her community, “If you want to succeed in your business you can, but first of all do things right. Get informed, there is plenty of help in the state, but you have to reach out and if you reach out and do the right things you are going to succeed with patience and determination.” Her message of success continues to be strengthened by her service to her community, a community that supports Alba right back.


For her demonstrated success, community support and potential for continued growth, the U.S. Small Business Administration pleased to honor Alba Lucia Rios, owner of Tienda Alinary, as the 2018 Rhode Island Minority Small Business Owner of the Year.

Microenterprise of the Year

“Worming” your way into a successful small business ss the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention” or, in the case of Nancy Ellen Hatch Warner, it’s a worm farm. Nancy, a 77 year old grandmother of four, owns and operates The Worm Ladies of Charlestown, which sell red wiggler worms, their castings, and other supplies to people interested in turning their food scrap into a soil enhancer – in other words, composting. The Worm Ladies also runs workshops and clinics and provides consulting services for individuals and businesses interested in using worms for organic waste management.

How did someone with a master’s degree, working in art education and therapy, end up with a worm farm? In Nancy’s own words, “it was a hobby that got out of hand.” A fiber artist, Nancy raised angora rabbits, whose hair she sheared, spun, wove, and knitted into her creations, which were exhibited locally and in galleries in Maryland and Washington, D.C. These rabbits, however, presented a challenge with how to manage the manure and flies under their cages. An avid gardener, Nancy had come across worm composting and, in the early 1990s, decided to see if it would help. It did. The worms ate the manure, the flies disappeared, and her problem was solved, “showing her how much good the worms did.”
Several years later, after reuniting with a long-lost childhood friend and giving her a bucket of worms for her garden, Nancy decided to turn her hobby into a money-making venture. They began The Worm Ladies. Nancy has since taken over sole operation of the business, along with the help of volunteers and an independent contractor.

Sensing both the educational and entrepreneurial potential of her discovery, Nancy worked with three U.S. Small Business Administration partners to move her business forward. Nine years ago, as a result of attending classes at the Center for Women & Enterprise, Nancy hired a lawyer and incorporated. With the help of a SCORE business counselor with whom she worked for more than 5 years, Nancy completed a business plan that positioned her to obtain a $30,000 microloan from Community Investment Corporation. Nancy also won SCORE’s 2017 American Small Business Championship.

Last year Nancy used that microloan money to buy equipment and expand operations from her backyard into a hoop house at Schartner Farms in North Kingstown. This expansion from a seasonal to a year-round operation ensures an uninterrupted revenue stream and increased production. The Worm Ladies will be selling to schools, nurseries, farmers, growers, and offices, and it will be enriching the soil of a 22 acre farm at a compost training facility being launched on Exeter Road in North Kingstown. Because of this growth, she also hopes to soon hire her first employee, and the help of interns who can earn college credit.
For her demonstrated success and potential for future growth, the U.S. Small Business
Administration is pleased to honor Nancy Hatch Warner, owner of The Worm Ladies of Charlestown, as the 2018 Rhode Island Microenterprise of the Year.

previous arrow
next arrow