Partnerships have played a crucial crucial role in
business growth for Lori Lynn Nevarez, president of Innovar Environmental of
Littleton, Colo. But it was her company's emphasis on community service that she
believes pushed her past 10 other finalists to capture the National Minority
Small Business Person of the Year award.
Nevarez, 41, says she "went into shock"
upon hearing her name announced at a Sept. 14 luncheon during National Minority
Enterprise Development Week in Washington, D.C. Upon returning from the
conference, she spoke to Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein about how she started her
business, what she credits for its rapid success, and how she balances single
motherhood with leadership of a fast-growing company. Edited excerpts of their
Tell us a little about Innovar
Environmental. We do environmental consulting and construction, and we're
starting to expand into areas like asbestos, lead, weed, and mold abatement.
We're a government 8(a) contractor, so we provide services mostly to federal and
state government agencies, but we also work for commercial and industrial firms
and larger engineering and environmental firms.
How did you get into
this field? Actually, my background's in finance. I worked as a CFO for
16 years for environmental-consulting firms, where I worked on contracting,
bidding, finances, and did lots of client interaction. In November, 2000, I
wanted to start my own business, and the firm I was working for at that time was
very supportive. We set up a mentor-protégé agreement so that we could do joint
ventures on large contracts.
What other partnerships did you seek as a
startup entrepreneur? Instead of looking at other firms as competitors,
we look at them as potential partners on things like bundled
Also, I had worked with the Small Business Administration at
earlier jobs, and so I went to the Region 8 SBA offices in Denver when I started
my company. They have been fantastic in terms of providing free attorney
services and helping me get my 8(a) certification.
My SBA rep calls me
regularly and lets me know about all the rules and regulations. I also call her
and keep her apprised of what's going on with my company and what jobs I'm going
Has staying in touch proven valuable? Absolutely! A lot
of companies that get 8(a) certification expect to sit back and wait for
contracts to come to them. I take every opportunity to go to conferences and
classes. My senior vice-president and I are out every day networking and making
What kinds of contracts have you won? We have
worked on many of the local U.S. Army posts and at the Air Force Academy in
Colorado Springs -- as well as doing environmental consulting for large
commercial clients. We do custodial contracts, weed abatement, and
We also do asbestos abatement in buildings built prior to
1980, and we're hoping to do some work in New Orleans, demolishing buildings
that will have to be abated from mold and asbestos before they can be torn
Your business is growing very quickly. Do you think that is the
primary reason you won the national award? We have a professional staff
of around 25 and a total of 95 employees, some of whom are part-time workers in
our construction division. Financially, we've grown 125% in revenues over the
last year. I was curious why I won over such fantastic competition -- there were
10 other regional finalists -- and when I asked, I was told one of the things
that made my company different was the amount of community service we
We work closely with a nonprofit firm that runs orphanages in Haiti,
we do local construction and other work for isolated seniors, and we also
volunteer time and expertise for the Red Cross and local churches.
difficult was it to start this company? The most difficult thing about
having a small business is coming up with the working capital necessary to grow
your company. I believe that having a business is all about making
relationships, not just with clients but also with your bank, your CPA, and your
attorneys. I've got a very fond relationship with our bankers, who have really
helped us out. We recently got a working line of credit through
How do you balance having a young child and running a business
that's growing so rapidly? It's hard. With my background in finance, I do
all the financials and work on the audits for each new contract we get. I'm a
little bit of a control freak, and I also worry about keeping costs
But I always know when I'm working too many hours because my son
will say, "Mommy, I found a job for you at Starbucks" (SBUX), or "You could be an
assistant to my teacher, and then you could see me all the time."
says something like that, I know I have to switch back into mommy
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Karen E. Klein
is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business
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