‘It’s gone well’

PEACES & Threads, Columbia

It was a winding road that led Iqrama Muhammad to Columbia’s new retail incubator, which is formally known as the Maryland Women’s Business Center’s Shop Local, Powered by The 3rd. Her journey started when she worked at nonprofit thrift stores in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and saw how many products were thrown away due to minor issues. 

“We didn’t have time to fix them,” said Muhammad, “so when I retired, I formed a nonprofit, The PEACES Collective, made handbags from old clothing and sold them at the Baltimore Farmers Market.” Later, she got 16 makers to sell from pop-ups at The Cardinal Gallery, in Baltimore, raising funds for community programs, but the building was sold before the pandemic.

Then came her next move: starting her business, PEACES & Threads. “I got most of my fabric for free,” she said, “and as the business grew, I invested about $10,000 in sewing and embroidering machines.”

When the world reopened, she sold her bags at the farmer’s market in Maple Lawn “for a year or so before I noticed Laura (Bacon, the owner) was opening The 3rd. I’ve been a member for a year and just recently became part of the incubator. And it’s gone well.”

‘We’re on target’

Bamba Foods, Columbia

Akin Falodun launched Bamba Foods, a maker of Plaintain chips. (Submitted photo)

When Akin Falodun launched Bamba Foods, a maker of Plaintain chips, in September 2022, he knew he needed a special workflow “with a factory in a tropical climate where Plaintain could grow, then cured and cooked with palm oil within a week.”

And where was this factory located? Colombia, as in the country. Bamba uses 40-foot containers to ship 3,600 boxes (at 20 bags per box) of the product, per stateside shipment. Upon its arrival at the Port of Baltimore, it’s trucked to a small warehouse in Columbia. 

Product is then “shipped nationwide. We started with African, Hispanic and Caribbean retail outlets,” said Falodun, “and we’re now moving into local markets, about 40 Walgreens in Maryland and Virginia,” where the chain has 300 stores; “all 72 Food Lions in Maryland and Delaware, Howard County’s public schools and area hospitals.

This progress-to-date has equated to 2023 gross revenues of $250,000 after an initial investment of approximately $100,000 and the company is looking for about 1,500 square feet of flex space. “Where people buy Lay’s, we want to sell our chips,” he said. “We’re now working to enter big box stores and so far, we’re on target.”

From mentee to mentor

MOS Creative, Columbia

Longtime Maryland Innovation Center resident MOS Creative grew from humble beginnings: It was founded in 2007 as a recycler of toner cartridges. It then became a print management company, later a web design firm, and is now a software development and digital agency. 

So what’s today’s M. O.? “We create software for businesses, including software as a service, social media and educational apps,” said Owner Max Kryzhanovskiy. “We also drive online traffic to their websites.”

MOS’s immersion into the Howard County Economic Development Authority’s MIC dates back to 2015, when its predecessor was located on Bendix Road. Back then, “mentors like Doug Holly were most helpful” before the 2019 move to Columbia Gateway, he said; so much so that “I’m now a mentor myself. We love to give back to our community.”

Kryzhanovskiy loves his association with the MIC, which charges based on square footage and includes “many services and perks, which also include networking and even coffee. I don’t know of a similar deal anywhere in the region,” he said. ”

MOS posted “around $1 million in revenues” last year, which he hopes to double for 2024 while he looks “to find a similar situation elsewhere in the Washington area.”

Starting a summer camp

Soccer Stars Academy, Columbia

Professional soccer forward Jamie Thomas has been playing for the Baltimore Blast for eight years, which means he’s been contemplating his next career move and he seems to be pointed in a productive direction: “I’ve been coaching and offering instruction for several years and I’m building a good clientele,” he said, “and many clients have approached me about doing summer camps.”

He did that in 2023, starting Soccer Stars Academy and holding two weeklong camps at the Sofive Soccer Center on Columbia Gateway Drive. Those camps attracted 65 players (during the last week in June) and 75 (for the third week in July). The success came “without any marketing until mid-March,” Thomas said.

That truncated schedule “didn’t permit any wiggle room” to boost the attendance, Thomas said, noting the cost of $300 for the five-day week for each camper, then paying for the facility, its on-field video cameras, coaches, camp shirts, pizza, etc. “My major selling point is that I have a state-of-the-art indoor space and fellow professional players offering instruction.”

With an earlier start on marketing this year, he’s already surpassed his numbers from 2023. The new goal is “100 campers for each week,” he said. “Any more might be hard to manage.”

A growing studio

Maryland Jeet Kune Do, Savage Mill

Owner J.B. Jaeger demonstrates a signature move at Maryland Jeet Kune Do. (Submitted photo)

J.B. Jaeger’s timing when he leased the ground floor of the Carding Building in late February 2020 couldn’t have been worse: it was two weeks before the COVID-19 shutdown.

“I’d signed a five-year lease for 1,000 square feet,” said Jaeger, which didn’t do much for his nerves. But with the guidance of Savage Mill Owner Jay Winer and his staff, Jaeger’s problems were addressed. “They told us not to panic and worked with us until we could hold classes outdoors in May,” he said. “We moved back inside a few months later.”

At that point, the arrow on the graph started pointing upward. “We doubled our clientele to 30 by that August,” he said, with appreciation, because he knew tenants at other properties whose landlords increased their rent during the shutdown “because the landlords were losing money.”

Today, the studio has 55 clients and Jaeger is hoping to reach 100 by December. “People love working out at the Mill because of the atmosphere, the feel. This isn’t like a CrossFit space in a strip mall,” he said. “Then after we finish beating the hell out of each other, we head upstairs to the Dive Bar and enjoy some fellowship.”

A message from HCEDA

If you are a Howard County business owner this is your opportunity to meet with community partners and gain resources. Community partners include TEDCOOffice of Workforce DevelopmentHC Office of Community Sustainability, Office of Procurement, Pinnacle Financial Partners and more!

Don’t miss our dedicated information session on the LIFT Fund—a fantastic opportunity for small business owners, including minority-owned, women-owned, veteran-owned, and socially disadvantaged groups. Learn about microloans ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 tailored for your success with terms of three to five years. From networking opportunities with industry professionals to informative workshops and presentations, the HCEDA Business Resource Expo has something for everyone.

Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity to expand your network and gain valuable resources for your business. Mark your calendar for Thursday, March 7th, 2024, and join us for the HCEDA Business Resource Expo!