Sledge House Media, Columbia
Being half of the subject of a short documentary was the last thing on Eddie Sledge’s mind during his troubled youth in Brooklyn, NY. But meeting his wife Christina gave him the direction that eventually led to their founding of Sledge House Media. Since, the duo has published eight books and served as the subject of Joined By Fate, an award winner on the film festival circuit.
While Christina Sledge was raised by a tight-knit family that was “filled with joy and supportive mentors,” Eddie’s childhood was encompassed by poverty, crime, sex, drugs and alcohol ― yet he was the first in his family to graduate from high school.
So what united this unlikely tandem? “A drive to succeed” ― and the realization that they “had so many stories that we wrote more books,” she said, including four audiobooks. “We then turned them into screenplays, as well as two short films.”
Sledge House’s first book “was about 200 pages and cost about $1,500 dollars to publish. We made a few thousand dollars during the first year, so that got us off on a good foot,” she said of the business they founded “to help independent authors get their books published since our first attempt was daunting.”
Kona Ice, Annapolis
When Ken Gent transitioned from his telecommunications business, he wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted to do. But he did know he wanted to work for himself and be involved in his community.
He made that happen in January 2021 by purchasing the area franchise for Kona Ice, paying more than $400,000 for four Kona Entertainment Vehicles (or trucks) and one kiosk. His territory is most of Anne Arundel County, including West County, North County and the BWI Business District.
His investment, along with almost constant work during the warm weather months, has resulted in “about 30 percent annual growth as the COVID-19 world has reopened,” he said. “It’s following the tourism boom.”
That meant a KEV may pop up at a music festival, community fundraiser, food truck night or even an airport near you. “We drive onto the tarmac at BWI Marshall and serve up to 400 employees,” said Gent. “I’ve worked many six-hour shifts where I don’t stop the whole time.”
He said his “extensive” network from his telecom days has helped to find new clients and events. “There’s constant upkeep involved with the trucks,” said Gent, “but so far, buying the franchise has proven a solid investment.”
Caption: Contacts from Ken Gent’s prior career in telecommunications have helped him get his Kona Ice franchise off to a productive start.
Like Gent, Chris Buckley, a former accountant/comptroller, wanted to “be of service within the community.” And of service he has been since he and a partner founded PoopHappens, a dog poop scooping business, in 2019.
“It’s been working well for us,” said Buckley. “Even though this industry isn’t new, we found that market awareness isn’t great; that made entry easier. We both invested modest sums to start the business. We just used our own minivans, established a website and bought a desktop computer. After that, we only needed supplies.”
And the kicker is that businesses like PoopHappens are key in today’s environmentally sensitive world “because we remove dog waste from your lawn,” he said. “That keeps the contaminants out of the water supply.”
That’s a key reason why the company has grown to nine employees with company trucks that serve 500 residential clients in central Maryland, who pay about $30 per week. PoopHappens also contracts with about 50 homeowner’s associations to service pet waste stations and common areas, at various fees.
“Our early years were lean, but we’ve found that people are often not aware of how pet waste impacts the environment,” said Buckley. “So we serve the community by educating the public.”
Chael: The Transformation Space, Odenton
When Regina Lewis started Chael ― which she pronounces SHY-ell, a Hebrew word that translates to “strong through battle” ― last April, it was with the idea that its small meeting space, which is tucked in the back of a small strip center, “would facilitate client growth.”
With that goal, she’s paying north of $3,000 per month to lease 1,100 square feet to illustrate that growth can occur in what’s “basically just an open room, with table, chairs, a staging area and (soon) a 75-inch flat-screen TV.
“I want people to see the intimacy of the room before they book it to understand what we do here,” she said. “Most of my visitors say it’s perfect when I tell them it’s good for a crowd of up to 60 people” by the time they add a DJ, a dance floor, etc., for their occasions.
Chael has already hosted a variety of business events, motivational talks, book releases, wakes, church groups, etc., with “the constant theme of collaboration,” she said. “Doing things on a larger scale,” she said, “can lead to a loss of connection. That’s why this is a small venue.”
Scale 2 Market, Marriottsville
Shirley Collier, a federal business development management consultant, said that while her clients at Scale2Market “focus on how to obtain and keep profitable government contracts, many contracts are not profitable.”
In addition to the burden of new regulations, many small contractors fail to grow and prosper in the federal marketplace, said Collier, “because they don’t focus and plan.
“I advise them to concentrate on an area of expertise and ‘go deep,’ so they can distinguish themselves from competitors,” she said. “The government wants to know that you have the knowledge, experience and management practices to select an entrenched, tough problem it needs to be solved and tackle it with fresh ideas.”
Small business owners “hope to one day sell their businesses, so they can retire,” Collier said, “they put in long hours and work very hard, but many times they don’t understand which contracts, agencies and business models generate the greatest market value. They must pivot their business development strategies and start creating that value for 5-7 years before they desire to cash out.”
Companies needing help with their long-term plans have meant that “Business is steady” Collier said. “In good times and in bad, government contractors are always seeking to grow their businesses.”