The Small Business Administration looked to the skies to find its 2012 National Small Business Person of the Year. The two runners-up were found in cyberspace and the heartland.
John L. Stonecipher, whose lifelong love affair with the idea of flight morphed into one of the country’s most successful and unique aviation enterprises, was honored last week as the SBA’s National Small Business Person of the Year. SBA Administrator Karen Mills announced the award June 21 in conjunction with National Small Business Week.
Stonecipher, who became enamored with helicopters while growing up in Pasadena, Calif., is the founder, President and CEO of Prescott, Arizona-based Guidance Aviation. The 15-year-old flight school specializes in high-altitude helicopter flight training. It was the first facility in the U.S. to receive FAA accreditation for that type of pilot training.
The company’s growth from modest flight school to an operation with 14 aircraft and 55 employees is the natural extension and progression of Stonecipher’s childhood dream of flying helicopters. As a youth, he was so taken by the police choppers flying over his Southern California home that he had his helicopter pilot’s license by age 18, and was a certified instructor at 19.
His vision and passion for high altitude flying also resulted in U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs approval to train veteran pilots, a working agreement with the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Dept., and an alliance with Yavapai Community College on an Associate of Applied Science Professional Helicopter Pilot Degree Program, not to mention a long waiting list of students.
“John is a perfect example of a person who is driven to reach his childhood dreams,” Mills said in a press release published in conjunction with the award. “He exemplifies what it means to be an entrepreneur. He has never given up and is always moving forward and up – literally and figuratively.”
First runner-up Noah Leask, of Mount Pleasant, S.C., is President and CEO of ISHPI Information Technologies, Inc. The U.S. Navy veteran, disabled while on duty, has quite literally built ISHPI from the ground up — twice. Leask and his wife Lisa, a former Navy officer, started and ran the first iteration of the cyber-security business out of their home. With the guidance of the SBA Business Development Program, Leask grew the company and secured several large defense contracts. However, recession-spurred federal funding cuts cost ISHPI two major contracts in 2008, and after laying off 30 employees, Leask was nearly starting from scratch again.
A member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of the Chippewa Nation, Leask aptly named his business the Chippewa word meaning “to move forward,” because he has done just that in the three years since the downturn. According to the SBA press release, he reorganized his management team and diversified his client base, and now has offices in four locations nationwide, 109 employees, and has seen a 250 percent growth in revenue since 2011.
Second runner-up Kari Block, of Bismark, N.D., started Earth Kind, Inc., in 1995, as the end result of trying to find a non-toxic, eco-friendly means of ridding farm equipment of the rodents that can wreak havoc on it. The wife of a farmer, Block used corn cobs and essential oils to formulate a repellent that is effective and safe, especially for children and pets. Once she started production on a large scale, she contracted to have developmentally disabled employees package the product. Block’s formula was the first of its kind on the market. Her company has been growing at 25 percent annually and now occupies a 7,000-square-foot facility. All of Earth Kind’s packaging and products are biodegradable, and its carbon footprint is a minuscule 2 percent. Earth Kind’s produces its main retail product, Fresh Cab Rodent Repellent, and private label products for pest control companies.
Sutherland, Terry. “Aviator from Arizona Flies High as National Small Business Person of the Year; Runners-Up are from South Carolina and North Dakota“; SBA.gov. 6/21/13.