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This month, we’re introducing some of America’s most inspiring entrepreneurs by interviewing all 18 finalists for this year’s Dream Big Small Business Awards. The awards program honors the achievements of some of our nation’s most remarkable small business owners and celebrates their contributions to the American economy. We’ll be spotlighting a different finalist every day between now and the Small Business Summit 2017, where the winners will be announced (register to attend here).
The company: PROJECTXYZ, Inc.
Who’s in charge: Kim Lewis
Where are they: Huntsville, AL
What they do: Technical solutions for federal and commercial customers
Q: How did your company get started?
Kim Lewis: In 2002, as a Healthcare IT analyst working with the industry leading Healthcare technology software companies, I began working side projects on nights and weekends helping hospitals with their IT implementations. These projects started to increase, so I left my full-time job – a step toward entrepreneurship that would eventually change my life as well as the lives of others. In 2007, my husband joined PROJECTXYZ and became the President of the company. Together, we’ve combined our knowledge and experience to lead the company and launch into the Government contracting market. PROJECTXYZ entered the SBA 8(a) program in 2007 and was awarded its first Government contract in 2008. From there, PROJECTXYZ has grown into a company whose core capabilities include Engineering, Logistics, Information Technology, and Alternative Energy. With not just capabilities, but proven experience in all four areas, the name PROJECTXYZ was perfect when it was chosen 15 years ago. What began as a one-person company has grown into a formidable small business now employing more than 85 people.
Q: What barriers have you faced while building your company and how did you overcome them?
Lewis: The biggest barrier we face as we build our business is access to capital. When we first got started, we had a very small line of credit. While helpful, there were many times when it was not sufficient to meet the needs of a growing company. We were very creative in cash flow management, working with our vendors to extend terms, maxing out credit cards when needed, and being conservative with overhead spending. The company’s President didn’t take a salary for many years. All profits made were reinvested back into the business to fund growth. This is a practice that continues today.
Q: What has been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?
Lewis: One of the proudest moments for us was the purchase of the BizTech building and revitalizing the nonprofit so it could continue its mission of mentoring small businesses and startups. When we were starting our business, for various reasons, PROJECTXYZ did not qualify as a candidate for BizTech. Years later, after going through a series of CEOs, the organization had almost ceased to exist. We were able to design a deal that gave BizTech an opportunity to reestablish itself in the Huntsville community. Larry Lewis (our President) now serves as the CEO of BizTech and works with various other entrepreneurial activities in the community.
Q: Tell us about your company’s role in the community. How do you use serve your hometown?
Lewis: We are adamant about giving back to our community through donations, mentorship, and by serving on the boards of numerous civic organizations. I am the acting board president of Health Establishments at Local Schools (HEALS, Inc.), serve on the Huntsville Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, on the Huntsville Botanical Gardens Board, the National Children Advocacy Center (NCAC) board, and am also the chair for economic development with the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber of Commerce. I was most recently recognized as one of six honorees in September at the 2016 Women Honoring Women event and was part of the Leadership Alabama Class XXVI in September 2015. Meanwhile, Larry is the Board Chair for the United Way of Madison County. He was recognized in June 2016 as the Huntsville Association of Small Businesses in Advanced Technology’s (HASBAT) Professional of the Year, and recently recognized by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) for his work in the entrepreneurial community.
Q: What are the most important factors that will make your business a success over the next 5 years?
Lewis: Being Proactive, Persistent, and Patient are three principles that PROJECTXYZ Inc. has learned over the 15 years we have been in business. Being proactive in anticipation of future needs, changes or even challenges that our customers may encounter are steps we use to improve on the products and services offered. In this economy, persistence and patience are great characteristics to have.
Q: What would you do if you won the Dream Big Award’s $25,000 grand prize?
Lewis: PROJECTXYZ is the owner of the building that houses one of Huntsville Alabama’s business incubators. BizTech, a 501(c)3 organization, is dedicated to mentoring individuals, startups, and small businesses on the challenges they face in starting and growing a business. We would use the grand prize to create an entrepreneurial lab within BizTech for high school and college students. This lab will be equipped with high-end computer equipment and engineering and design software.
Q: What’s your best advice for other small business owners who want to Dream Big?
Lewis: Deliver on the promises you make to your customers, employees, and stakeholders. Be patient and persistent in pursuit of your goals.