Aviator from Arizona Flies High as National Small Business Person of the Year; Runners-Up are from South Carolina and North Dakota
WASHINGTON – As a young boy, John L. Stonecipher grew up in Pasadena, Calif. His future was forged as he watched police helicopters fly overhead. By 18, he was certified to fly. By 19, with an instructor’s certificate in hand, he was teaching others the intricacies of helicopter flight.
Today, Stonecipher was named 2013 National Small Business Person of the Year by Karen Mills, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration during SBA’s celebration of National Small Business Week.
Stonecipher is President and CEO of Guidance Aviation in Prescott, Ariz. He founded Guidance Aviation in 1998 and the company took residence at Prescott’s Municipal Airport. From there, Stonecipher’s dream of creating a first rate, high altitude flight school literally took off. The company’s progression is a testament to success. Characterized by innovation and growth, the school soon won Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approvals, created alliances with the Yavapai Sheriff’s Office, won approval from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to train veterans, and received accreditation with Embry-Riddle University. Yavapai College has partnered with Guidance Aviation and offers an Associate of Applied Science Professional Helicopter Pilot Degree Program.
Today Guidance Aviation has a staff of 55, fourteen aircraft and a waiting list of students ready to take flight into their futures.
“John is a perfect example of a person who is driven to reach his childhood dreams. He exemplifies what it means to be an entrepreneur. He has never given up and is always moving forward and up – literally and figuratively. I couldn’t be more pleased to name him as this year’s Small Business Person of the Year,” Mills said.
First runner-up is Noah Leask, President and CEO of Ishpi Information Technologies, Inc.
Mount Pleasant, S.C.
Leask, a service-disabled U.S. Navy veteran, started a cyber-defense business out of his home with his wife Lisa, a former U.S. Naval officer. He is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, and he decided to name his business ISHPI, which means “to move forward” in the Chippewa language. The business supports U.S. counter-terrorism efforts through information operations and intelligence support services. Clients include the U.S. Central Command and the Department of Homeland Security.
In August 2007, ISHPI was accepted into the SBA’s 8(a) Business Development Program. By 2009, federal funding cuts brought ISHPI’s string of successes to a sudden standstill. Two major contracts were cancelled, forcing Leask to lay off 30 employees. Realizing that his company’s client acquisition methods were inadequate, he assembled a new senior management team focused on diversifying ISHPI’s customer base. With its renewed sales focus, ISHPI was able to win enough contracts to increase its revenue by more than 18 percent in 2011. A year later, ISHPI had 109 employees in four locations nationwide. Revenues increased nearly 250 percent over 2011.
Leask serves as the board chairman for the Tri-County Autism Puzzle Place Academy, and is a member of the Lowcountry Special Olympics and Unified Athletics committees.
“I applaud Noah for his steadfast determination, community involvement and success in running his business. His innovation and inspiration are wonderful examples of the character and traits of America’s most successful entrepreneurs,” Mills said.
The second runner up is Kari Block, Founder/CEO, Earth Kind, Inc. Bismarck, N.D.
As the wife of a farmer, Block saw first-hand the damage that rodents could do to farm equipment. But at the time, there were no effective, non-toxic solutions on the market. So she set out to create an earth-friendly, rodent-repellant made with biodegradable ingredients that were safe for children and pets.
Block formed Earth-Kind, Inc. in 1995 out of the corn cobs and essential oils that she formulated. As demand for the product grew, the need for faster and more efficient assembly of the product was essential. Block contracted to employ persons with developmental disabilities to assemble and package the products. Earth-Kind’s product and packaging is biodegradable and the carbon footprint is just two percent.
Today, Earth-Kind occupies a 7,000 square-foot facility with plans for expansion and has posted an impressive 25 percent sustained job growth rate per year over the past three years. Earth-Kind manufactures Fresh Cab™ Rodent Repellent, all-natural air fresheners and private label products for the professional pest management industry.
“Kari is a very active advocate and mentor to other entrepreneurs. She takes great pride in helping others reach their business goals. Kari has taken her environmentally friendly idea and has watched it grow and flourish over the past 18 years. We are also proud that when she needed advice she reached out to the SBA Women’s Business Center for Technology & Business located in Bismarck, North Dakota, which helped guide Kari to successful business ownership,” said Mills. Mills also went on to congratulate all the state small business persons of the year and the positive effect they have had on the nation’s economy.
The National Small Business Person of the Year and runners-up were selected from among the state winners in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The awards were announced at today’s National Awards Luncheon, sponsored by Northrop Grumman.