Laurie Reuben, a volunteer, left, and Wendy Letow, executive director of Respite Retreats, pack supplies into a virtual retreat box. (TBM / Jason Whong)

Extending services
Dr. Backup, Laurel

While Mitch Romm, managing partner of Dr. Backup, had been serving some small customers who work at home for some time before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he never imagined that the remote work portion of this client base would grow.

However, with the growing acceptance of telework in a still stabilizing commercial real estate market, he’s seen a 15% jump.

“I believe that the pandemic had a significant, and permanent, impact on the way employers and employees view the concept of remote work,” said Romm. “While telecommuting has long been viewed as an acceptable work style for certain functions, I don’t believe anybody envisioned that it would become the norm of the professional workforce.”

Therefore, Dr. Backup has worked with its clientele by extending its data protection services to cover employee-owned devices in the home, thus enabling teleworkers and their employers to protect their data no matter where its stored.

“Customer information can reside in many places,” said Romm, “including physical and virtual servers, employee PCs and in cloud-based, data-sharing applications, like OneDrive. So keeping track of where data resides, and making sure it is secure and backed up, has become more challenging.”

New location 

Reclaimed Of Annapolis

The search for the right space to found Reclaimed of Annapolis, which creates furniture out of the remnants of historic structures, took husband and wife Mark and Tracey Miller more than two years. However, when they found 129 Main Street, everything felt right.

“We’re passionate about history, boating and tourism, so setting up in Annapolis was a no-brainer,” said Mark Miller. “Still, we had to find the right 2,100 square feet because we accumulate a great deal of product, and leasing Downtown can run three times the costs for our stores (Iron Will Woodworks, Reclaimed and The Boathouse MD), in St. Michael’s.”

To his point, Miller said the monthly rent in Annapolis stands at $12,200 per month, but only $5,200 for all three locations in St Michael’s. However, the Millers are looking long-term: “We have first right of refusal to buy, which we plan to do.”

It’s helped that the pandemic actually padded the Miller’s bottom line because their clientele ended up with time (and money) on their hands. On that note, the couple will soon a second outlet in the state capital: Annapolis Glassworks will offer vintage kitchen and bath selections, Downtown, from 42 Randall Street, by early March.

‘We’ve moved forward’ 

Respite Retreats, Ellicott City

For Wendy Letow, the interruption of her nonprofit career to address family health challenges seems a distant memory.

Her former nonprofit, Little Things for Cancer, merged with Zaching Against Cancer “about eight years ago,” said Letow, after she stepped back “because I was the primary caregiver to my mother, who had cancer. However, I started Respite Retreats in June 2018 and held two retreats before the pandemic.”

Then, like many organizations, she had to reboot. But it ended up providing a revelation.

“We opted to offer virtual programs,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how they would go over, but they expanded our reach tenfold” as clients who were suddenly from all around the U.S. shared experiences while meditating, journaling, reciting poetry and/or working on art projects, etc. all in one 4.5 hour Zoom.

Respite Retreats had to lay off employees when the pandemic hit, “but we’ve moved forward,” said Letow, and in a big way: its budget has soared from $250,000 to $400,000, and its patronage jumped dramatically, hopefully from 100 community members before COVID-19 to (she hopes) 1,000 members nationwide by December 2023. The nonprofit also moved into new space at 6021 University Boulevard, with the grand opening set for Feb. 22.

Building an app 

SoHive, Ellicott City

The founding of Christina Schilstra’s startup, SoHive, a social video platform that includes drop-in video for e-commerce and gig economy applications, was spurred on by the pandemic. “Both of my kids were out of college and it seemed like the right time,” she said, “to bring people together during the shutdown.”

So Schilstra invested more than $100,000 to build the SoHive app, which is powered globally by Zoom and AWS. She calls it “the first app to offer drop-in, social video” that particularly applies to Instagram influencers who want a new way to interact with up to 300 people at once, who can share their expertise, shopping experiences, etc.

To further advance SoHive, she is taking advantage of the resources available at the Howard County Economic Development Authority’s Maryland Innovation Center. Today, Schilstra’s “biggest challenge is finding small business service providers willing to use drop-in video ‘Hives’ and help build out additional SoHive features.”

It’s about “growing my user base,” said Schilstra, who spent most of her career in information technology product management and software development. Her next step is to participate in the UMBC MD New Venture Fellow Technology Program to learn how to make an effective pitch to investors to garner seed funding.

Making a deal 

Onyx Creative, Glen Burnie

When L2M Architects was acquired in March 2022 by Onyx Creative, it marked the next step in the long-standing relationship between the two companies, said Scot Loiselle, a director. It was a welcomed move after the trials of the pandemic, which L2M had handled well.

“Our client mix includes a significant number of value-oriented retailers, developers and food service providers,” said Loiselle, “and that core clientele kept us insulated from the major issues of the shutdown,” though L2M still suffered a 20-plus percent reduction in business, and the company closed its Dayton, Ohio, location.

“With the assistance of the government’s business protection programs, we retained our basic roster between our remaining offices,” in the Baltimore and Portland, Me., markets. “We were able to keep our staff of 20 engaged and in the office,” he said. “That meant we avoided the now common challenge of when and how to bring them back.”

The sale to Cleveland-based Onyx Creative came after a decade of synergies developing between the companies. “The deal dovetailed with our plans at L2M. They’ve been in the industry nearly 50 years and have a great national network,” said Loiselle, “so it was easy to close the deal.”