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Blake's Natural Foods president named Small Business Person of the Year

Staff report
April 27. 2014 5:04PM

Chris Licata, Blake's Natural Foods 

CONCORDChris Licata, president of Blake's Natural Foods, has been named the 2014 New Hampshire Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

He will be celebrated along with several other entrepreneurs at the annual New Hampshire SBA Small Business Awards event on May 28.

Since joining Blake's in 2006, Licata, the son-in-law of family business namesake Charlie Blake, has taken the company from a New England-only brand to national recognition, selling products to more than 6,000 retailers in 46 states, according to an SBA news release. While experiencing exponential sales growth, the number of employees increased from 12 to 54, with many of the employees coming from the local Bhutanese community.

"I believe our greatest accomplishment is continuing the legacy of a fourth generation family business," Licata said. "I am fortunate to be able to share success with my wife and in-laws while showing my twin daughters how much fun you can have in a family business while making food that helps people live a better life."

K9 Kaos — Woman Owned Small Business of the Year

After years of working as a marketing executive, K9 Kaos founder and owner Anne Nichols decided it was time to turn her passion for dogs into a living.

In 2003, with the help of financing from friends, she purchased an old house in Dover that she passed every day on her way to work. She then secured a $50,000 business loan from the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority and converted it into a doggie daycare.

In January 2004, Nichols opened the doors of K9 Kaos, able to care for 40 dogs. Demand for daycare services took off, and Nichols supported the cash flow with an SBA-backed line of credit. When the State of New Hampshire notified her that her Dover Point business property was being taken by eminent domain to allow for construction and expansion of Spaulding Turnpike/Route 16, she used the forced relocation as an opportunity to expand.

"She overcame a lot of obstacles to bring her business to the level of success it enjoys today, which now includes state and regional recognition as an outstanding woman owned small business," said SBA district director Greta Johansson.

W.S. Badger — Small Business Exporter of the Year

W.S. Badger Inc., owned by Bill Whyte and Katie Schwerin, produces certified organic and all-natural body and skin care products. They began producing their original balm for chapped dry skin from the back room of their home in 1995. Fast forward to 2014, and you can buy a tube of Badger Balm in Russia.

Whyte, a Vietnam-era veteran and a carpenter, first concocted an herbal remedy in 1993 to soothe his sore and chapped hands. Friends and family liked it so much that a business was born. Nineteen years later W.S. Badger has expanded to offer many other healing balms, sunscreens, lip balms, bug repellants, skin moisturizers and other personal care products.

The company was able to weather the economic storms of the past five years in part by increasing its reach in international markets.

"Exporting is vital to economic recovery, stability and growth, and exporters like Badger's are helping New Hampshire lead the nation in export growth," Johansson said.

Studley Flower Gardens — Jeffrey Butland Family Owned Business of the Year

Studley Flower Gardens is a familiar anchor store in downtown Rochester and one of the longest-running family owned businesses in town. It has been a mainstay of the Rochester community for more than 85 years. Founded in 1928, the business has grown to include a full florist service, a garden center with extensive selection of annual and perennial plants, much of which is grown on site in greenhouses, as well as landscape and irrigation design and installation.

Pieter and Betty Jane Meulenbroek bought the business from Norma Currier, Joshua Studley's widow, in 1971. They nurtured and grew the business for 37 years before selling it to their two sons, Jeffrey and David Meulenbroek in 2008.

It's been a family affair all the way, the Meulenbroek boys grew up in the business. Molly Meulenbroek, Jeffrey's wife, has worked at Studley's since 2000 and serves as Business Manager.

Manchester Music Mill — Veteran Owned Small Business of the Year

Manchester Music Mill owner Joseph Lacerda has merged his lifelong passion for music, his business background, and his work ethic into a successful business.

Lacerda's first love was the guitar. After high school graduation when he enlisted in the National Guard, he sought a position playing guitar for the 215th Army band out of Fall River, Mass. When he learned they already had a guitar player but needed a tuba player, Lacerda quickly mastered the tuba and was accepted into the band. He went on to serve six years of active duty and two years inactive. Lacerda put his GI Bill benefits towards a degree from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in civil engineering and later earned an MBA. A few years later he and his wife, Dawn, returned home to New England.

He worked an engineer job during the day and sold a few of his old guitars on eBay from home at night.

In 2005, he started Manchester Music Mill. Revenue from eBay sales kept the business afloat during the economic downturn, and he also added music lessons.

In 2009 Lacerda moved to a larger facility on Elm Street, and revenues began increasing 50 percent year over year. Online sales now account for only 15 to 20 percent of revenue.

"It's an honor to be recognized among all those veterans who use their passion, skills and knowledge to succeed in business," Lacerda said.

Ash Fischbein and Matt Trahan, Owners of Sap House Meadery — Young Entrepreneurs of the Year

"Not all meads are created equal!" is the message that greets you at the Sap House Meadery retail store and website. At Sap House Meadery in Center Ossipee, Ash Fischbein and Matt Trahan, set out on a journey to make one of the oldest fermented drinks in the world.

Making wine from honey is a tradition that goes back thousands of years. Fischbein had developed his own recipe for mead, which friends and family raved about. The two cousins had a chance conversation of the "let's start a business" variety on Christmas Day 2009.

They didn't have a lot of money so they bootstrapped by using recycled materials and their own labor to renovate a 100-year-old store for the meadery. And they both continued to work full-time at day jobs as chefs at local restaurants. Ten months later they had a storefront and their first batch of commercial mead was fermenting.

The partners began experimenting and decided to produce myriad flavors of hand crafted mead using locally sourced ingredients. They add various fruits to the honey and yeast to develop different flavors, everything from peaches to blueberries, cranberries or grapes. Their signature ingredient is locally produced maple syrup which is added to many recipes for more complexity.

"It's such an honor to be recognized for what we are doing here," Fischbein said. Trahan added: "We are staying true to our local roots and community values while creating a world class product."

Jonathan Shapleigh, Bank of New Hampshire — Financial Champion of the Year

Jonathan Shapleigh, vice president of commercial lending at Bank of New Hampshire, has been a banking professional since 2005. His primary focus is on commercial lending in the Rochester, Dover and seacoast communities.

In addition to his work at Bank of New Hampshire, he serves in many outside organizations that focus on the New Hampshire business community, including the Rochester Economic Development Commission, the Mount Washington Valley Economic Development loan review committee, and as chair of the annual "Start-Up" business competition held in Rochester. He is a banking professional who goes out of his way to advocate on behalf of small business owners, and his creative financing strategies for businesses foster a favorable environment for success.

Shapleigh is well versed in multiple lender enhancement programs, including SBA guaranteed loans, that allow him to be a well-rounded finance professional providing a high level of service to businesses across the state.

"I'm proud to be working on many levels with dedicated local business professionals who are committed to the future of New Hampshire's economy," Shapleigh said.

Mark Scarano, Grafton County EDC — Small Business Champion of the Year

Mark Scarano, CEO of Grafton County Economic Development Council, grew up in northern Maine. He came to appreciate small-town New England values of bootstrapping, thrift, and how people created opportunities for themselves even in small, limited markets.

That attention to rural economic development had a strong impact on his future career choices. Upon earning a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Maine and a master's degree from Iowa State University of Science & Technology, Scarano returned to Maine to manage U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's Bangor office. During this time he came to understand the importance of an active federal partnership for economic and community development projects.

His enthusiasm for helping municipalities and economies grow took him to Millinocket, Maine, in 1997 as their first Community Development Director, and, subsequently, to Piscataquis County, Maine, where he managed the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council.

For the past seven years, Scarano has managed Grafton County Economic Development Council, one of the 10 recognized Regional Development Corporations in New Hampshire. A key partnership among these 10 RDCs was formed, the NH Alliance of Regional Development Corporations, and Scarano has served as president since 2012.

GCEDC has an active Board of Directors representing a variety of industry sectors and interests. Its corporate motto is "Economic Development through Partnerships," and during Scarano's tenure GCEDC made great strides.

The Enterprise Center at Plymouth, opened in 2013, was created in partnership with Plymouth State University to provide business incubator space, seminars, and one-on-one counseling for entrepreneurs. Scarano was a driving force behind funding efforts for this project. And the Dartmouth Regional Technology Center in Lebanon created in 2006 continues to provide similar services. GCEDC partnered with both Plymouth State University and Dartmouth College to raise more than $7 million to support these projects.To learn more about the NH event on May 28 or to attend, visit:; nationally, SBA celebrates National Small Business Week the week of May 12-16.

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