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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.

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.

Monthly Learning Tips from Rhode Island Small Business Owners: Lifelong Learning

Ronald G. Shapiro, PhD

This month’s learning tips come from Bob Salvas, a lifelong Rhode Islander, certified SCORE counselor, Seminar Coordinator for the Rhode Island chapter of SCORE, independent marketing consultant at Bob Salvas Consulting and owner of 4 th Monday Networking. Bob’s marketing career spans 30 years, initially as a marketing team member for the United States Post Office and more recently as an independent consultant helping small to medium sized businesses with their marketing initiatives.
Through his tenure in the profession Bob has observed a major change in the ways to most effectively market a business. At one time a business needed to simply provide information to customers. The customers would notice the information and call the business for more information. Today there is so much information out there that a business needs to focus on unique ways to communicate while also providing evidence that the business is credible. In Bob’s opinion, this can best be accomplished
through networking, email, direct (paper) mail, and social media. The most effective of these communications include testimonials supported by word-of- mouth recommendations from satisfied customers and others. Additionally, utilizing a novel way to communicate, such as hand writing direct mail, can’t hurt.


As a SCORE (an independent agency, originally established as the Service Corp of Retired Executives by the US Government Small Business Administration in the 1960s) volunteer Bob is dedicated to providing learning opportunities for business people because being a dedicated lifelong learner is absolutely critical for today’s successful business professional. All SCORE volunteers share Bob’s passion for learning and have been highly successful business owners or corporate executives. There are about 30 SCORE volunteers in Rhode Island. Some are currently active in their businesses. Others have retired. The volunteers offer seminars and 1:1 counseling at libraries, Chambers of Commerce offices and other public locations throughout the state. While most of the seminars focus on marketing, financials and productivity, SCORE aims to satisfy all business owner needs with unique seminars, bringing in outside experts and generally doing what is necessary to help business owners to be successful. The seminars and counseling are all free and highly recommended for business professionals. Bob recommends that
all small business owners:

 Utilize the free consulting, seminars and webinars offered by Rhode Island SCORE. To start go to the website for information and to register for opportunities:
 Become familiar with the US Government Small Business Administration website (, the services they offer, and the links to services offered by numerous other organizations.
 Include Face-2- Face networking as a significant part of their business marketing plan. Bob emphasizes that successful networking focuses on relationship building rather than making a quick sale. He emphasizes the importance in building both deep relationships, by getting to know selected people really well by attending some events very regularly and by broadening the scope of people one knows through attending new events as well. Bob states that you cannot build your business while hiding in the office.

Please contact Bob at 401.359.1602 or by email at Bob for any questions you may have about marketing or SCORE. He considers it a privilege to help the small business professional to become more successful.

I would like to thank Industrial Consultant Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto for helpful comments.

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