Business challenge program helps turn entrepreneurial dreams into real life success stories

Carolyn Wilson Special to The Herald Courier

ABINGDON, Va.—— Steven Harris is a self-made success story.

More than 20 years ago, the southwest Virginia native was just a country boy without a college education, working as a second-shift welder.

As a young teen, Harris would have liked nothing more than to be a coal miner.

However, a waning coal industry discouraged the Richlands High School graduate from following in his family’s footsteps.

Instead, the 18-year-old’s path took him into the steel industry, working as a handyman in a local fabrication shop. On his way up the ladder, judgment eventually led him to become one of the nation’s foremost draftsmen.

Harris is an inspirational entrepreneur, hitting an astonishing amount of business achievements.

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Of course, she’s quick to point out to anyone that “God created everything” for her success. “I was just along for the ride,” he said.

Their story begins in 2016 when they took a leap of faith and formed Appalachian Drafting, LLC, a structural and diversified steel detailing firm based in Abingdon that provides 3D models and shop drawings.

That same year, Harris was awarded the top winner in the Washington County Business Challenge as an Existing Business, $5,000 to implement her business strategy and half-price rent for one year at the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator in Abingdon. Received.

The Washington County Business Challenge is a business plan competition designed to attract entrepreneurs looking to start and expand businesses in Washington County.

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In addition to cash and services, the winners of the business challenge are offered a range of classes to help them start or expand their businesses. Participants say that creating a business plan was probably one of the most useful pieces of advice they received.

Harris said, ‘It was a good experience. “Earlier I did not know what a business plan was. I met a mentor who gave me the confidence to grow my business and become sustainable.

At the time of the 2016 Business Challenge, Harris was running a one-man business. Six years later, they have hired five additional employees, allowing them to accept jobs from clients across the country.

Harris said he had no more than four or five customers when he started. Now, he works with at least 30 clients.

“We are very proud of Steven and his achievements since winning the business challenge,” said Cathy Lowe, executive director of the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator.

Since his company’s formation, business has grown rapidly for Appalachian Drafting.

The company has earned a reputation for specializing in unique structures, working with coal, high-end glass railing feature stairs, spiral staircases and helical ramps.

“We draw up blueprints for steel buildings, but we don’t design or engineer them,” said Harris, who along with his employees has worked with big names like Apple, Google, Facebook and a new Cybertruck factory in Texas. Jobs have been completed for ,

“For every bolt hole and cut, we have to draw a picture and tell people how to make it. There will be a million bolts in a building. So, if you have a million bolts, you have at least There will be two million holes.”

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He also designed the blueprints for a stairwell package for a new practice field for an NFL football team.

“Our largest project to date is over 5,000 tons and 1.4 million square feet,” Harris said.

“We also did the new Capitol Police Horse Stables on the National Mall. It’s adjacent to the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. It was great to work on,” he said.

His current work also includes drawings for the Hudson 66 Spiral in Manhattan and a building at the South Station Transit Hub in Boston. Closer to home, Harris is preparing blueprints for a new science building at Virginia Tech.

Other Business Challenge winners have found similar commercial success.

Hana Eichin, who owns Spot of Color in Abingdon, won first place in the new business category for the 2020 Washington County Business Challenge. Spot of Color is a fine art supply store with classrooms and community hangout space.

Eichin said the classes offered to the winners were a helpful resource in starting a business, especially learning how to create a business plan.

The business plan was like a road map, helping her navigate her new business during the pandemic.

“The business plan is something I never would have been able to do if I hadn’t been in class. It’s a lot of work, challenging and confusing, but the class supported my growth as a business and helped set myself up for success,” said Eichin.

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“I think the business challenge is really great. The classes give you a lot of insight, maybe things you haven’t considered before. You make connections with other business owners in the community who can give you advice.” And can answer your questions. And of course the award prizes are amazing too.”

Matt Justus, a local physician assistant (PA), was awarded first place in the start-up business category for the 2021 Washington County Business Challenge.

The physician assistant used his winning money to help prepare a building in Glade Spring for his practice, Town Square Medical.

With 17 years of diverse experience in the medical field, Justus said he is answering calls from a growing number of people who want to go back to old-school medicine. He added that this is a medicine identified by doctors who are less influenced by information technology and more focused on connecting with their patients.

Justus said the business challenge was a powerful tool to help him validate his business plans.

“It was also good for networking with other businesses,” Justus said.

“We are confident that we will find long-term success and are pleased to announce the recent opening of our Lebanon office.”

Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. contact him at [email protected],


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