Seeding Success

The American dream is alive and well, and just around the corner for many Northern Virginians. Mason Small Business Development Center, located in the City of Fairfax, is making it happen for the metropolitan area’s entrepreneurs.

GMU’s Entrepreneur MENTORS

by Colleen Sheehy Orme

By Jesse Lefkowitz

The American dream is alive and well, and just around the corner for many Northern Virginians. Mason Small Business Development Center (Mason SBDC,, located in the City of Fairfax, is making it happen for the metropolitan area’s entrepreneurs. The center is affiliated with George Mason University and located approximately one-half mile from campus. In operation for 14 years, their mission is to positively impact the regional economy.

The center’s inspiring mantra, “We provide guidance that will turn your ideas into an enterprise,” is enough to motivate any budding business. If that is not enough, this profound resource provides its services at no cost thanks to a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Small Business Administration, Virginia SBDC Network and the George Mason University-Mason Enterprise Center at the Office of Research and Economic Development.

Mason SBDC provides essentially everything a business needs to start and succeed. An individual may ask general business questions and network through a course, “Counseling 101,” and even be the recipient of valuable one-on-one mentoring. The center provides these services while staying true to their sponsors and their metrics for job creation, job retention, capital formation, new business starts and overall economic impact.

Staffed by two full-time employees, John Casey, director of Mason SBDC, and Mona Anita Olsen, assistant director—along with two staff counselors and 20 volunteer counselors—the center worked with over 740 businesses in 2010. Quite an impressive number thanks to Casey and Olsen who have created an effective and efficient matrix that allows their team to service such large numbers. “When I came on board we just handled Fairfax County,” says Olsen, who received her bachelor’s from Cornell, master’s from the University of Virginia, and is focusing her George Mason University Ph.D. work on apprenticeship. “We then took on Arlington and Prince William so we had to figure out how to bring our model to scale, especially with changes in the economy.” Director Casey earned his bachelor’s from Colgate and his master’s from George Washington University; he originally began as a volunteer at Mason SBDC.

“Out of the 740 businesses we worked with, 480 of them received one-on-one counseling by mentors, and 260 received other assistance from the center,” says Olsen. “Alumni and really interesting industry people come in to give advice to the clients. Therefore, we are able to provide over 100 hours each month of one-on-one counseling. We have a lot volunteers who are here because they want to make a difference. That positive word of mouth is something I don’t know how to quantify because it is so powerful.”

“We have close to 50 businesses that we helped start in 2010; and so far in 2011, we have helped our clients start 21 new businesses,” says Olsen. How we hit the goals and also provide service really comes back to our strong team. We are all very, very much intrinsically motivated because we want to be here. We are pretty clear up front that we are looking for businesses that really do want to make an impact on the economy and the local community.”

The Mason SBDC is a testimony to the successful businesses they are accommodating. The center comprises the same dedication, commitment and management that it takes for those they mentor to succeed. What they are able to so successfully deliver to so many is indicative of the spark that propels the entrepreneurial spirit to succeed—to take, as their tag line says, “your idea” and turn it into something tangible … your very own American dream.

Companies Who Have Worked with Mason SBDC:
• Visionary Consulting Partners:
• Steve Gladis Leadership:
• TalaTek, LLC:
• CorePerformX:
• Ferretti Designs, LLC:
• Joy Unlimited: 
Student Internships:
• Mason SBDC takes on about 10 students every semester.
• High School students commit between 2 and 10 hours per week.
• College students commit between 10 and 15 hours per week.
• Students from all over are accepted. Apply online at


A Success Story

When Andy Macias moved to Virginia and retired from the military, he reached out to Mason SBDC. “It’s a gold mine, not just from the consultations, but it’s led me to network and other resources that I would not have known if I hadn’t gone to Mason,” says Macias. “And it’s all free. … That is what is amazing.”

“If it’s a marketing person I need, they will hook me up; if it’s a manufacturing person, a lawyer, an accountant, they will hook me up to them,” says Macias. “The most beneficial thing I’ve taken away is it’s exposed me to resources I didn’t even know existed, be it people, businesses or courses they offer.”

A year and a half later, Andy’s Tailgate Cruisers ( is now thriving and providing happy sports fans an easy, convenient, no-mess-to-clean way to yummy tailgating. Andy is living his entrepreneurial dream with plans to expand.

(September 2011)