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Managing growth case study: Everyday Oil in Black Mountain


It started with a simple concoction of ingredients mixed together in Emma Allen’s kitchen. It evolved into becoming the signature item of a business that sells its products in more than 600 stores, on Amazon and online.

Allen wanted a face-care product, something plant-based, with a good scent. Something cleansing and hydrating and nourishing.

“I intended to make a face product but started using it on my entire body as well,” she says. “Through experimentation and research, I realized that I could create something that was actually cleansing for the face as well as moisturizing.”

Her concoction used the best wild-harvested botanical oils she could find. Everything organic. Everything labeled ‘cruelty-free.’

“Ultimately,” she says, “Everyday Oil was born. I made it for myself and family and friends for about seven years before I launched it as a product.”

She outgrew the kitchen. She moved from New York back to Asheville, where she grew up. “I met with the SBTDC when I moved back. Moving back to North Carolina was a really positive thing for the growth of the business,” she says. “This is a really supportive community for small business.”

Allen expanded her network beyond family and friends.

“I was originally introduced to Sandra Dennison in 2020 by Tommy Dennison, who I met through the Chamber of Commerce and the Venture Asheville program,” she says. “Sandra introduced me to Chris Slaughter, who helped us do a Clifton Strengths analysis with our team and who was incredibly helpful with business analysis and was very supportive to the business.”

Clifton Strengths is an online personality assessment that helps individuals target their strengths, such as strategic thinking, relationship building, influencing and executing, so they can achieve goals and improve performance. Allen is the sole owner of her company. Her team formed when it became apparent that Allen’s solo gig needed more players. “In the beginning, I was working as a consultant for another company and doing Everyday Oil at night on the side,” she says. “I was lucky to have some friends and family who helped out in the beginning, but it was mostly me, wearing all the hats. I did it on my own for about two years before I was able to hire someone. I was very fortunate with our first hire, and she has been with the company ever since.”

Two became better than one, then three became better than two.

“We slowly added people as we had the need,” Allen says, “and now we have a small but mighty team of six. We have only ever had one full-time employee leave the company in seven years, and every employee has really grown a lot with the company.”

Growing from kitchen entrepreneur to company boss was a little scary.

“It has been really cool and gratifying to see the team take on so many new challenges and to grow and evolve alongside the brand,” she says. “I was always nervous about finding good people to work with, and our team is something I feel unbelievably lucky about.”

In addition to the spray bottle of Everyday Oil (made from organic coconut, jojoba, olive, castor and argan oils), the company sells a refill bottle and funnel to transfer to the spray bottle; waffle knit, 100 percent cotton towels; a hairbrush with massage bristles designed to de-tangle hair; a Gua Sha healing massage tool “made to perfectly cradle cheeks and jawlines and the curvatures of the face and body;” a hand sanitizer; meridian comb; and dry brush.

“We have expanded, but super slowly,” Allen says. “Our bread and butter is still our main product, Everyday Oil, but it has been fun to add some wellness tools and objects to our collection. We do have plans to expand the skincare line, but in a very tight, simple way.”

Her office space keeps expanding as well. The first stop after the New York kitchen was a friend’s basement. “I moved to a new house where it took over every inch of floor space in the entire house, then moved to a small warehouse in Black Mountain. We have moved into larger and larger spaces, bit by bit, and are now in a 14,000-square-foot space in the same building in Black Mountain.

“We have our offices, distribution and manufacturing all in the same space, so we are able to communicate and collaborate with every aspect of the business. Manufacturing our product in-house has given us a lot of control over the quality of our products.”

What started with online marketing grew to independent boutiques, then 600 retail stores including Whole Foods Market. “We have some plans to expand to Europe, and we also sell in Canada and Australia,” she says.

When the product line grows, she says, the marketing will be calm. “We aren’t interested in bombarding people with skincare products they don’t really need, so the hope is to provide only what is truly necessary and nourishing for the skin.”

She has advice for people who may be experimenting with their own invention, like she did in her kitchen.

“I don’t know if everyone wants to follow my kooky path, but I would tell people to just start doing things. Make things, experiment, play, pull at threads, start walking the path,” she says. “Don’t wait to have the perfect idea… start simply. It’s unbelievably difficult to do things well, in my opinion, and if you try to do 10 things right away, inevitably some won’t get the care and attention they deserve.”

If budget is an issue, she advises to start with one product. Grow from that base.

“I really think the best ideas are born out of a desire to solve a problem, or offer something that doesn’t exist already. If it’s already out there and it’s already great, why bother recreating it?”

Everyday Oil
Black Mountain

Workforce case study: Choice Translating in Charlotte


Michelle Menard grew up in a multi-lingual, multi-cultural family. Her mother was born and raised in France; her father is from Panama. As a young child in Charlotte, the language at home was French and Menard often spent summers in France with her grandparents.

“It got me started with understanding that there are cultural differences,” she says. “Our grandparents did not speak English, and my sister and I were speaking French all summer while getting spoiled by our grandparents.”

While in college, Menard worked at a restaurant and also helped her mother, who had a freelance job doing translations. Her boss had an idea.

“While I was a student at UNCC, my manager at Olive Garden suggested I start my own business,” she says. “When he said that, I had goosebumps and flashes of what this business would look like.”

Why not use her language skills to help others?

Menard is founder and owner of Choice Translating, Inc., a company that assists businesses with translations and interpreting services. She has a core of 15 on staff and is projected to bring in about $3.2 million this year.

One key to Choice Translating’s success, which launched in 1995, is Menard’s method of hiring co-workers, and choosing what projects match each employee and what resources they need to complete their work.

“It was humble beginnings, just me and my mom working together to translate French projects,” she says. “In those days, there were visitors from France coming to the Charlotte area — which has more than 700 foreign-owned firms — and they would come to do plant tours, or meet with their U.S. subsidiary. Then we realized additional clients needed additional languages.”

Menard, who has been a SBTDC client for about 20 years, worked with UNCC’s office at the former Ben Craig Center on campus (now Ventureprise, the university’s entrepreneurial resource center), and its PORTAL [Partnership, Outreach and Research to Accelerate Learning] center.

One way the center has helped is with evolving technology.

“In the early days, if you were transferring files, you’d have to confirm the settings on the recipients’ side and save them to these bigger discs or FedEx them. We had a server cabinet,” she says. “Now everything is in the cloud. We expanded our resources to provide a more complete offering to clients.”

Menard’s employees are project managers who can provide interpreting services in person, over the phone or on video by working with vendor partners and translators around the world. In-person services cover needs such as social services or medical visits, crime scene investigations, legal depositions, employee meetings and parent/teacher conferences. Her
firm provides translation services in industries such as construction, education, healthcare, manufacturing, trade shows and for foreign direct investments, import/export companies and foreign dignitaries.

“We are not a reseller. We guide our clients through the process, because they don’t
know what they don’t know, so we’re able to walk them through and deliver our best work for them.

“For example, if it were a highly technical document, they want to make sure their distributor has buy-in on the technology. There’s an art to doing the document that way. Let’s say a manufacturer has a distributor they want to have buy-in; we have a process that translates keywords and has ‘this instead’ jargon, then we use technology to make sure the team of graphic designers and translators have the opportunity to shine and make a project in multiple languages at the same time.”

Long before COVID made remote the norm, Menard saw the benefits.

In 2014, she says, she discovered ROWE or Results Only Work Environment. “As long as people did the work, it didn’t matter where they worked from,” she says, “and we looked at the requirements of each job. On our staff, most everyone is a project manager, but in essence, to manage projects with the creativity and making sure you stay on deadline, does it require someone to be seated somewhere at a particular time? At that time, we did have an office, and we hired a firm to translate ROWE into our company culture.”

That allowed her employees freedom and flexibility.

“In 2017, we took the plunge and went virtual. We had folks on our team who needed to move to a different part of the state, and we didn’t want to lose that resource because they no longer could be in Charlotte,” she says.

Going virtual, she says, was a “huge, huge” undertaking. “We switched to a cloud-based platform that manages our interpreting business, and then being virtual during the pandemic made business much easier to handle. Because we already were virtual. And with the platform, as our clients stopped meeting in person, they no longer needed in-person, but sometimes telephone wasn’t sufficient. So we did video, and it was a huge request.”

Having a staff of 15 sounds small, Menard says, for a company with clients worldwide and services that cover more than 200 languages.

Menard often hires project managers virtually. “We have a multi-step process that uses an HR platform called JazzHR that posts the positions in online platforms and allows us to ask them questions when they’re submitting their applications,” she says. “It allows us to see the candidates and replicate the office, but in a virtual way, so we can do a personality assessment, see their unique abilities, and they get to meet the team. We want to let the team meet different candidates.”

Project managers work with vendor partners – translators – around the world. “So we have our staff, who are project managers, then we have our vendor partners, and how we qualify them is a whole different thing. They, the vendors, are essentially small businesses with excellent communication skills and expertise in the subject matter we’re using them for. They have to relate to our deadlines and the technology requirements we have.”

There are perks for her staff. In October, she’s hosting a retreat near Lake Norman called Reconnect, Recharge and Renew. Staff is flying in from New Jersey, Hawaii and Quebec as well as commuting locally.

“One thing that’s important is, people bring their whole selves to work, but they also need flexibility to do their best work, to commit to work, so we need to treat them like family,” she says. “Sometimes they need time away to deal with things, or visit friends, or travel. We have a project manager who is in Europe and wants to extend her trip. Another lady travels with her son’s hockey, so she needs flexibility because of the team.

“Charlotte is diverse, and the whole United States is diverse, so every community has that population where language services help through translation to support the immigrant communities, and help companies grow their export amount abroad, which helps the
local community.

“People think we have thousands of translators in a building, but what we have is a good database and network of folks we’ve worked with over the years.”

Choice Translating, Inc.


Digital marketing case study: Trimm Inc in Youngsville


Trimm, Inc., is a producer and supplier of DC power distribution panels and electrical accessories, such as breakers, fuses, amps and adapters.

The 40-employee company in Youngsville, a town of about 2,100 residents 45 minutes northeast of Raleigh, has an onsite manufacturing facility and a large national and international customer base in the telecommunications industry.

To increase business, remain immediately accessible to customers and be more competitive in a worldwide digital society, Trimm contacted the Small Business and Technology Development Center [SBTDC] office at N.C. State in June 2022 about participation in its Digital Jump Start program designed for mid-sized businesses.

The result is a thorough, five-page Executive Summary and five-page Digital Media Audit that assess Trimm’s digital presence with recommendations to “jump start the client’s digital shift.”

“What we wanted was an independent review of our website and suggestions of how we could expand our marketing presence to reach other markets,” says vice president Ricky Brummitt, who also heads Trimm’s sales and marketing. “What we’re doing with the SBTDC is we wanted a more modern website — that was one of the keys — because it needs that, then we can expand on it in the future. We’re also adding to our social media, like Twitter, and we created a Facebook page and Instagram, and we’re expanding more on LinkedIn.”

The LinkedIn account, he says, helps target personnel for Trimm to contact.

“It’s not like we can advertise on a billboard,” he says. “We need to contact the decision-makers within different companies.”

Keeping pace with the continual evolution of social media is vital.

When the firm was founded by Walter Trimm more than 100 years ago in 1922, it had one, solitary communications device: A POTL.

“Plain ol’ telephone line,” says current owner and president Will Newton, who has been with the company about 15 years and is a third-generation owner, though he’s been involved with Trimm for a while. (His grandfather bought the business in 1980, and his father took over 10 years later. Newton bought it in 2010.)

“Back in 1999 we had dial-up internet, then one of the changes was to an ADSL [Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line], in about 2000, and we were spending so much per line,” Newton says. “We’ve had a website since around 1998. I was involved in one of our first website rebuilds, and so this is about our fourth- or fifth-generation website. Back then it was mostly tech space, very light graphics, no video.”

The majority of Trimm’s business is conducted within the United States, Brummitt says. “Since we primarily are in telecommunications, our revenue flows from the major telecom people in the U.S. But we also supply gear into the utilities, such as the railroads, and 911 operators, where we provide equipment for them. They’re not all major players — some are local mom-and-pops who have smaller areas they provide for, and we provide the same service to all of them.

“We ship to all 50 states, and we ship a lot into Canada. We want to ship more into Mexico, so we’re building a lot of different customers. What we’ve found is that once they come to us, the retention rate is very high.”

All products are manufactured at the Youngsville facility. Newton and Brummitt say they also hope to expand their presence in the Caribbean and Saudi Arabia.

Through Digital Jump Start, Newton says, “We enhanced our digital marketing presence by redoing the entire underlying structure, and we’re going to automate the generation of our data sheets and make it easier to keep our information current.”

The SBTDC Executive Summary outlines recommendations for Trimm’s website and its LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram social platforms, then pinpoints specific changes to integrate into each. The Digital Media Audit analyzes each site and reports 90-day numbers in categories such as visitor demographics, follower recommendations and categories to highlight through posts. It also identifies the company’s main competitors.

“We were able to identify people we need to contact. We added ‘best-sellers’ to our website and talk about our mission, our values, so people can start to learn about Trimm,” Brummitt says. N.C. State masters student Martha Topolniski worked on the Jump Start project, as did Regional Center Director Alex Viva and International Business Development Counselor Ginny Vaca in the SBTDC’s regional center at N.C. State University in Raleigh.

“They all are helping us with building the brand and brand recognition,” Newton says. “We are building connections and hopefully can attract more millennials as employees. The SBTDC helped us identify things we should be putting on the website, and the feedback has been very positive.”

Trimm moved to its current facility a year-and-a-half ago, a detail that’s included on the revamped website.

“It’s a website that’s easy to use, easy to get the technical info, easy to get installation instructions, and easy to get us a request and inquiry,” Brummitt says. “When people do that, it comes directly to our customer service people, and myself. Putting best-sellers, our mission, those were some of the suggestions. We feel people used to know who Trimm was, but they didn’t know everything about us.”

For example: “When we moved into this facility, we put in maybe the largest rooftop solar installation in Franklin County,” Brummitt says. “We put a bunch of solar panels up there.”

“It’s over 250 panels,” Newton says. “The bottom line is, during summertime especially, we can put more power on the grid than what we pull back. We’ve saved more than 600,000 pounds of carbon dioxide in one year; that’s the equivalent of 400 trees planted. We’re trying to do our part. When people here turn on their air- conditioning, they’re actually using some of our electrons.”

One immediate success area from the SBTDC analysis, they say, is a large increase in LinkedIn followers. “We haven’t been able to tie the followers [amount] with our revenue [increase] yet, but it’s been working,” Newton says.

Brummitt says the top goal “is to increase Trimm awareness and get into as many markets as we can. Will has made investments in the building for us to do that. In the next five years, we hope to expand our sales group to reach more people.

“I still love face-to-face. You can do video calls, but it’s good to meet people face-to-face. We want to increase awareness and establish some long-term customers, and once you do that, you’re setting your company up for down the road. You want to leave the company in as good of shape as you can.”

Trimm, Inc.
112 Franklin Park, Youngsville

Digital Marketing Guide:

Finance case study: Goombays Grille & Raw Bar in Kill Devil Hills


Kill Devil Hills on the Outer Banks in Dare County is typical of many oceanfront villages in North Carolina in that most businesses are locally-owned. Except during tourist season, it’s a quiet, oceanfront community where everyone knows everyone.

Tony Sipe, who is in his mid-40s, has lived in Kill Devil Hills his entire life. For the past dozen years, he’s worked at Goombays Grille & Raw Bar on the beach road, Highway 12. Goombays has been established for decades; its undersea murals, Caribbean-style entrees and collage of license plates on the wall create a popular ambiance. Hours extend until midnight, with dinner served until 10 p.m. Last year, longtime owners Charles and Karen Hennigan decided to sell.

“They were great, a married couple who worked all the time, like five or six days a week,” Sipe says. “It was family owned for 32 years.”

Sipe decided to buy.

A friend, Chris Miller, who is in his early 50s and had worked at Goombays in its first few years, joined Sipe in the purchase.

In April 2022, they contacted the Small Business and Technology Development Center at Elizabeth City State University, which referred them to a local branch office and Matt Byrne.

“He helped us so much. I have an economics background, and Chris has managed huge restaurants, but we would have been lost if not for Matt,” Sipe says. “We were prepared for the front side of the business, but it was the other stuff like financing where we were not, and that’s where the SBTDC came in. We could ask questions you wouldn’t be able to ask your friend, or a guy down the street.”

“No one here knew what was going on but Tony and Chris and myself, and the sellers,” Byrne says. “One of the more interesting things was, they [Sipe and Miller] knew who they wanted to bank with so they drove to Wilmington to talk with a branch there, and it became apparent they needed to work with an SBA [Small Business Administration] loan.”

The men’s communication link with Byrne through the financial navigation process was what made the sale possible, Sipe says.

“He kept discretion through the process. We live in a very small town. If you’re in the restaurant business, most people are friends. Discretion is the best advice on the financial side, and he went over every single number with us, answered every email, picked up the phone every time we called,” he says. “It was like he was working with only us.”

Byrne, Sipe says, has been involved in banking and financing in the area and “knew a lot of restaurant owners, including the ones we purchased from. He’s entrenched in the restaurant business.”

When Sipe talked with SBA loan personnel in Wilmington, “Matt knew what they would ask before they even asked, and he got us 100 percent prepared with answers we needed to answer their questions. We met a dozen times in a six-month period, not counting phone calls.

“It’s like getting a home loan, but there’s a lot more to it. They have to know that the business is profitable, that there’s no debt, that it’s a feasible enough business model that would make enough money to handle debt, and it was a lot of the same questions, over and over. A lot of paper. A lot more detailed than a home loan. It was less about our personal finances and more about how the business performed over the last five or seven years.”

Sipe and Miller got a 10-year loan and took over Goombays in April this year.

“They knew it was going to take a while,” Byrne says. “They got a good, early start with it and knew it would take six or eight months. They wanted to close at the end of 2022 — that was our first goal. But when you work with the SBA, you have to factor in some extra time, which for them was April [2023]. So the sellers carried the weight of the downtime during the offseason, and they (Sipe and Miller) didn’t start ownership until we started the
season here.

“Their July was 10 or 13 percent above last year, and last year was a record, so they’re doing very well.”

In August, toward the end of tourist season, business was steady.

“We’re doing OK. We’re doing it exactly the way they thought we would when they gave us the projections,” Sipe says. “We’re really busy in the summer, so we try to save a little for winter when business slows down.” Sipe and Miller have a staff of about 35, 20 in off-season. They open at 11:30 a.m. and have a lunch menu, dinner menu and “linner.” “That’s a concept the previous owner came up with because we wanted some of the lunch items on the dinner menu, like you have to still sell the tacos and you have to sell the burgers, but because of space in the kitchen, we can’t offer the whole lunch menu,” Sipe says.

Much of their seafood is local catch — oysters, clams, shrimp.

When they sold the restaurant, the Hennigans had a request.

“They wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to be someone who would tear it down and put up a condo. And they were very involved in charitable organizations around here, and they wanted someone who would be heavily involved in the community,” Sipe says. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and Chris has been here about 30 years, so if they were involved in a local charity, we will be involved with that local charity. They wanted someone to continue the same model they had. And, of course, we are.”

Goombays Grille & Raw Bar
1608 Virginia Dare Trail, Kill Devil Hills
Open six days a week | Closed on Tuesdays


State hospital group CEO Lawler to retire next year


North Carolina Healthcare Association CEO Stephen Lawler will retire when his contract expires on Dec. 31, 2024, the group announced Monday.

The veteran hospital executive has been the association’s leader since July 2017. He’s only the fourth professional CEO in the group’s history.

North Carolina Healthcare Association CEO Stephen Lawler

A search committee is being formed to hire Lawler’s successor through a national search. He will remain CEO until the job is filled.

“It has been and continues to be the privilege of a lifetime to serve as CEO of the healthcare association and support the amazing people who provide such outstanding care to North Carolina residents and communities,” Lawler said in a release.

The healthcare association represents hospital systems and ranks among the state’s most influential nonprofit groups. It had annual revenue of about $5 million in 2021, while Lawler’s annual compensation totaled about $1 million that year, according to its most recent tax filing. Lawler’s predecessor, Bill Pully, led the group from 1999 to 2016.

A key part of Lawler’s work throughout his tenure has been advocating for Medicaid expansion, which was approved last week by the N.C. General Assembly. It will go into effect on Dec. 1, expanding the insurance program for about 600,000 low-income residents, Gov. Roy Cooper said Monday.

Lawler also championed the Healthcare Access and Stabilization Program passed by lawmakers this year. It is intended to help stabilize rural hospitals that are struggling to compete against larger regional rivals and improve provider participation in North Carolina’s Medicaid program.

During his tenure, Lawler implemented a new system of management that facilitated a financial and operations turnaround at the association, according to the release. NCHA was named by Modern Healthcare magazine to its “Best Places to Work in Healthcare” national rankings in 2020, 2022 and 2023.

“Steve has spent a distinguished career serving the healthcare field in North Carolina and beyond with experiences ranging from military healthcare to shaping the North Carolina healthcare landscape,” said Chuck Mantooth, chair of the NCHA board of trustees and CEO of UNC Health, Appalachian in Boone. “His character is exemplified by integrity and commitment to fairness and fair play.”

A native of North Carolina, Lawler has a bachelor’s degree from The Citadel and an MBA from Georgia Southern University. He is a retired Army Medical Service Corps officer who has led hospitals and health systems in rural and urban communities.

He was president of Greenville’s Vidant Medical Center (now ECU Health) from 2007-14, then worked for Carolinas Healthcare System (now Atrium Health) for about two years before joining the association.

DARPA changing game for military with industry help

DARPA has a long history of collaboration with industry.

Last week, I was at an event in Greensboro held by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. This is the agency that helped give birth to the Internet, and GPS and stealth technology. Its mission, in the aftermath of the Sputnik surprise 66 years ago next week, has been to help revolutionary technology become reality and ensure our military stays ahead of our adversaries.

A DARPA program manager, Ben Griffin, put it this way: When he briefs military officers about projects, “They immediately look at me and want to know, ‘How does it change the game for my warfighters? How does it make it so that when my warfighter goes on the field, that they’re cheating?’ We don’t go out there to fight fair. We want them to cheat.”

I thought the biggest benefit of the conference was that small businesses and academics heard DARPA managers talk about their work in detail and what they are looking for.

The DARPA program managers come and go every few years, by design. The agency deliberately limits their tenure to three to five years. They have come from universities and research jobs in industry and they are going back. DARPA does this to ensure that there are fresh perspectives at an agency that has to be receptive to very out-there ideas.

Why this matters

From a business perspective, it was important for North Carolina to host this event, called DARPAConnect, at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, a collaboration of N.C. A&T and UNC Greensboro. Around 250 folks attended in person and online.

Our state is trying to help its companies land more military research and development grants and contracts, particularly Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants. We have a lot of DOD personnel at our bases, the fourth-largest concentration of active-duty military in the country. But we are 20th in getting SBIR and STTR funding from the Defense Department. We should be eighth or ninth, based on our population, the size of our economy and how well we do in securing R&D funding from other federal agencies. This has been a key focus of the state’s Military Business Center, Defense Technology Transition Office, Defense Alliance of North Carolina and the Board of Science, Technology & Innovation. They were all in Greensboro.

One of the keys to moving up is to get more companies and academic researchers to seek military R&D funding. The purpose of DARPAConnect is to demystify the process and get innovators more comfortable with the idea of engaging with the agency. 

What is a DARPA project?

  DARPA already funds research in North Carolina. In FY ‘22, there were 16 awards totalling nearly $17.8 million. In FY ‘23, there were 11 awards totalling around $11.5 million.

DARPA funds high-risk, high-reward projects. “We are so early on in the research process,” says Mark Jones, a DARPA contract specialist. “We are looking for those revolutionary changes, starting from the basic research up. We understand there is a lot of risk.”

Benjamin Griffin

Rohith Chandrasekar, a program manager in the agency’s Defense Sciences Office, says that if DARPA was already researching a topic, “it is highly unlikely that DARPA will have a second program in the same exact technical space. Your best position to be in is that there’s absolutely nothing done in DARPA that aligns with your research, and there just arrived a program manager who has that background. Not having any work at the agency that aligns with your technical background is a great place to be, because then you can convince DARPA that this is an area that we need to be thinking about.”

Griffin, who is a program manager in the agency’s Microsystems Technology Office, says that if a problem’s solution is generally known and just requires “money and elbow grease,” it’s not a DARPA problem. Typically, what is needed to solve a DARPA problem is a new, untried technical approach.

Key questions

At the center of DARPA’s funding is a set of questions called the Heilmeier Catechism, named for a 1970s-era director who came up with it as a way for DARPA to evaluate proposals. These are questions like “What are you trying to do?” and “How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice,” and “What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful?” and “Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make?” These are at the core of what you need to write up in proposals to DARPA, and “these questions are deceptively simple,” said Chandrasekar. 

“What you’ll find,” said Griffin, “is the first time you do it, you’re going to do it wrong. And that’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Me, as a program manager, I got to 120 versions one time.”

Griffin walked through what DARPA is looking to see.

“How is it done today? Ideas don’t exist in the ether. You have to ground it in something. How do we do something like this today? What’s the standard approach?  You’re taking a new technical approach.”

“I’m a microelectronics person.  We recently put out a program called HOTS [High Operational Temperature Sensors]. We said, hey, silicon technologies are the way we create sensors today, but they’re inherently limited in space. Everybody knows we’d like to go to wide-bandgap semiconductors, but there are key limitations that are stopping us from taking it forward. So, H2, what’s stopping us? What are the limitations or what are the key technical challenges?”

The third Heilmeier question, what are you proposing that’s new and why do you think it will work, should be answered, Griffin says, with “something that can lead us to believe you can overcome the limitations of today.”

“Not just a ‘Believe me,’ but some quantitative conjecture, let’s say. That doesn’t mean you have to have experimental results. Those could help. It doesn’t mean you have to have modeling results. Those could help.  But a quantitative proof that says, hey, if we combine these elements that’s never been tried before, we might be able to solve the technical challenges.”

He told the attendees not to let the process stop them from engaging with DARPA. “If you’re having problems, you can go to DARPAConnect, get coaching. Just come to the building with your ideas.” 

Young faculty

The program managers urged young academics to get involved with the agency’s Young Faculty Award program, which seeks to identify rising stars in junior research positions, focusing on those without prior DARPA funding. By giving them funding, mentoring and DOD contacts early in their careers, it tries to develop the next generation of academic scientists, engineers and mathematicians who will focus on DOD and national security projects. This is also a way to bring more talented researchers into DARPA as program managers.

A dozen North Carolina academics have won YFA awards since 2006, seven of them from N.C. State. Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, and UNC Charlotte have also had faculty selected.

Influit Energy

Of the roughly $2.2 billion that DARPA obligates annually, around 27-29% goes to small businesses. And around 20-25% of that is awarded through SBIR/STTR grants. What DARPA is good at is getting other DOD agencies to supplement its funds for specific projects. This helps very early-stage companies pivot to growth and commercialization – getting DOD customers, for example. “DARPA is where you start,” said Jennifer Thabet, director of DARPA’s small business programs office. “But we don’t make things. We don’t build things. We don’t buy things. It’s never going to be where you end. So what we really try to do is help set you up for transition success.”

Jennifer Thabet

“We like to give you some form of legs that you can walk out of DARPA and continue your research. We are at early-stage at DARPA, and we push our SIBRs early. You may not be ready to talk to an end user, but we try to put you in front of them early, even before you’re ready, so that you can have those conversations, so that an end user says ‘If you would tweak this one piece it would be great and much more integrate-able into our end state or hard product.’”

She used the example of an Illinois early-stage company, Influit Energy. Influit is developing a battery with nanoparticles suspended in electrolyte that can be replenished quickly from a tanker truck. This would allow electric military vehicles to be quickly charged up like they are now refueled, rather than the slower process of lithium-ion recharging.

“Because we took them on the road in front of end users, [Influit] was able to get this $1.8 million award added to by the Air Force and the [Defense Innovation Unit], and a commitment from an office in the Pentagon that helps with testing and evaluation,” says Thabet.

“And that $1.8 million award is now turned into a second Phase II [SBIR grant] and an additional $3.4 million in funding and $2 million in commitments once they reach a certain milestone.” Influit was a 2009 spin-out from Illinois Tech and Argonne National Laboratory.

“When we started working with them,” says Thabet, “they were in a really tiny lab on the south side of Chicago. Because of their work with DARPA, they are in an over 20,000 square foot facility on the south side of Chicago.”

Krispy Kreme promotes COO Charlesworth to CEO slot


Krispy Kreme named Josh Charlesworth as CEO effective Jan. 1, succeeding Michael Tattersfield, who has held the role since 2017.

The Charlotte-based company has seen annual revenue growth from $550 million in 2016 to an expected $1.6 billion this year. Tattersfield, who moved the company’s headquarters from Winston-Salem to Charlotte four years ago, will remain a board member and senior adviser. It has reported net losses of more than $155 million in the past five years.

“We celebrate the transformation of Krispy Kreme under Mike’s leadership, as it grew from a complex, multi-product primarily-U.S. model to a more global, capital efficient hub-and- spoke omni-channel model, focused on delivering fresh, awesome doughnuts, all while nearly doubling the adjusted EBITDA of the business,” Chairman Olivier Goudet said in a release. “Mike re-ignited the iconic Krispy Kreme magic.”

Charlesworth has been the company’s chief financial officer and global president as well as chief operating officer.

Shares in Krispy Kreme were trading for about $12.80 on Monday afternoon. The company went public in July 2021 for $17 per share, raising about $500 million when the IPO market was particularly strong. It has consistently traded at lower levels since then.

Vernon Rudolph founded the iconic North Carolina company in Winston-Salem in 1937. It initially went public in 2000, then was acquired in 2016 by German investment firm JAB in 2016. JAB still holds a 44.5% stake, while Chicago-based private equity group BDT Capital Partners owns 8.4%, according to the company’s 2023 proxy.

Tattersfield holds 2.57 million shares, while Charlesworth has about 448,000, according to the proxy. Tattersfield, who is in his late 50s, was CEO of Caribou Coffee and Einstein’s Bagels before joining Krispy Kreme in 2017. He had total compensation of $2.1 million in 2022 after receiving $23.6 million in the previous year, largely because of stock awards, stock options and a $4.5 million “settlement of IPO in cash” award, according to the proxy.

Krispy Kreme says it now sells half of its 1.6 billion doughnuts annually in more than 30 nations outside of the United States. It is expanding into Paris later this year. The company is also expanding its Insomnia Cookies chain. It employs more than 20,000 people.

Charlesworth, a graduate of the London School of Economics, worked for Mars and Wrigley before joining Krispy Kreme in 2017.

Building up Main Street, North Carolina

The boardwalk in the eastern North Carolina town of Washington.

North Carolina tourism depends on its great mountains and beaches, but locals know we also also have great small towns away from the crowds. Places such as Statesville, which widened its downtown sidewalks to encourage people to get out of their cars and walk. One of my favorite small towns in North Carolina is Washington. Few things are more relaxing than taking a stroll along the boardwalk on the Pamlico River to see the turtles and the boats docked.

The boardwalk in the eastern North Carolina town of Washington.

A few weekends ago, I was with my wife in Wilkesboro and we “gave the local guy a try” at Dooley’s Tavern and Grill. Our dog, Biscuit, was with us, so we ate outside. Our server brought a water dish for Biscuit before taking our orders. Children played in a nearby splash pad on a sunny, summer Sunday as I enjoyed the daily special of meatloaf and mashed potatoes and gravy, which left no room for dessert. I like small towns.

I may be burying the lead, but the purpose of this story is some news from the N.C.  Department of Commerce. Dozens of small towns in North Carolina leveraged $684.8 million n public and private investment in the last fiscal year to bring economic growth to Main Streets in the state.

Those 79 communities, which stretch from Murphy to Manteo, saw 365 new businesses and almost 3,000 jobs added to their downtown districts during the year, according to state officials. Results reflect reporting from the state’s 70 designated Main Street and nine Small Town Main Street communities active in the two programs. Click here for a map of North Carolina cities with Main Street programs.

N.C. Main Street Program

Current populations for the designated Main Street communities’ range from 1,438 (Pilot Mountain) people to 108,229 (Concord), although all communities were under 50,000 people at the time of their original designation.

In fiscal year 2022-23, Main Street communities reported:

  • $673.5 million in downtown public and private investment;

  • 2,871 new jobs;

  • 345 new businesses;

  • 305 building renovations;

  • 405 façade improvements; and

  • 112,952 volunteer hours with a value of $3.3 million.

Small Town Main Street Program

The state’s Small Town Main Street program operates in communities with populations below 5,000 that have a volunteer-driven downtown revitalization initiative.

Small Town Main Street communities reported the following statistics from their 2022-23 work:

  • $11.1 million in downtown public and private investment;

  • 98 new jobs;

  • 20 new businesses;

  • 26 building renovations;

  • 22 facade improvements; and

  • 15,135 volunteer hours with a value of $451,931

North Carolina’s small towns are making it happen. And sometimes they just make it happen by preserving and revitalizing their older and historic business districts.

In the October issue of Business North Carolina magazine we profile 23 Trailblazers who are 40 or under who are also thriving and making a difference in a North Carolina city with a population of under 100,000. Nominations came in for people across the state, stretching from Franklin to Ocean Isle Beach. All  have interesting stories, and as those profiled put it, they are making big dreams come true in a small town.

Gov. Cooper says he’ll let new N.C. budget become law without his signature


Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that he’ll allow the new state budget to become law without his signature. He says the $30 billion spending plan is a “bad budget,” but he doesn’t want to delay Medicaid expansion any longer. Senate leader Phil Berger called Cooper’s decision a “brazen display of political cowardice and avoiding accountability.”

House approval pitches in tax dollars for Tepper’s stadium


David Tepper’s effort to get about $600 million from taxpayers for the Carolina Panthers NFL stadium in Charlotte is getting close. Members of the state House of Representatives voted 98-6 to approve Senate Bill 154, an omnibus bill of occupancy tax changes that includes an extension of Mecklenburg County’s occupancy tax to 2060.