Uncle Charlie's Gourmet Snacks began as a dream for Clayton Cottman, a passionate cook. One of Clayton's most significant hurdles was securing financing for his early-stage business. Building solid relationships with financial institutions, banks, investors, and lenders proved daunting. However, Clayton's determination and resilience propelled Uncle Charlie's Gourmet Snacks and is an homage to Clayton's Great Uncle, Dr. Charles Carter, Ph.D., a WWII front-line infantry medic. Dr. Carter became one of the first African-American clinical psychologists in U.S. history following the war. His great uncle's legacy of resilience and determination lives on through Clayton's entrepreneurial journey.
"It's very exciting to turn my aspirations into a tangible reality each day! Witnessing the progress of my business unfolding before my eyes is an indescribable feeling of accomplishment."
In 2018, Clayton took the bold step of starting his own business, a journey that would take two long years to materialize. Clayton found the North Dakota Small Business Development Centers (ND SBDC) while searching online for local small business resources. Though unsure of what to expect, he was excited to receive comprehensive support from the ND SBDC. Fargo/SE Center Director Paul Smith assisted Clayton in developing a professional "lender-ready" business plan and detailed financial projections, and helped him prepare critical loan documents for funding opportunities. Despite his challenges, Clayton never wavered in his commitment to his dream. In 2020, Uncle Charlie's Gourmet Snacks entered the market.
Initally from Moldova, an Eastern European country, Mirabela Punga has created and is living her American dream in Bismarck. She and her husband, Sergiu, moved to North Dakota in 2012. It was June 2021, when Mirabela realized she wanted to open her own business, looking to bring a taste of Europe to the Bismarck community. That October, she and Sergiu opened Little Odessa, an Eastern European grocery store. Mirabela wanted to have access to the traditional food she was used to. She also said, "I wanted to help the little community of Europeans in Bismarck and make them feel a little closer to home. I also wanted to make North Dakota more attractive for people to establish here."
"The ND SBDC has a professional team that knows what they are doing. Use the resources offered to help you succeed."
To make Mirabela's American dream a reality, she reached out to the ND SBDC Center in Bismarck, which she first learned about through a Google search. She shared, "I needed help. I wasn't born in this country and wasn't sure how the system worked." Before starting her advising sessions, she hoped to get answers to her questions and find support in opening her business. "The ND SBDC was my starting point and was a big help with me creating my business plan." Through the services of the ND SBDC, Mirabela created a professional business plan that helped her secure funding from a local lender, allowing her to open Little Odessa. Mirabela would recommend the ND SBDC services to other small business owners.
Ben's dream of owning his own business began years ago. "I have been a firearms enthusiast my entire life and enjoy hunting, shooting, and competing with rifles and pistols," says Ben. "I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment and believe that all law-abiding Americans should own and train with firearms to protect their families, communities, and our country." After formulating a solid business plan, this dream started to take shape only in the past couple of years. In September 2022, Ben purchased a location for The Boom Closet. By November 2022, the business was conducting initial sales, leading to a grand opening on January 28th, 2023. The journey from concept to reality was swift and purposeful.
"Expect to be at your business every day and to not make much money personally in the beginning! This is something that I anticipated when starting my business and it helped to have those expectations in place before taking the leap."
Ben learned about the ND SBDC through his primary lender, and after he discovered that he could get start-up assistance, including help with business plans, financing, and sales projections, he made an appointment. The ND SBDC brought expertise and advice to the table, mainly when it came to compiling essential sales projections for financing. This streamlined the process of obtaining business funding, making it relatively stress-free. After assistance with his financial projections, Ben gt a loan package that included a traditional lender, the Bank of North Dakota, a regional loan program, and the local development corporation. Ben strongly encourages others to utilize ND SBDC services.
Over the past eight months, The Boom Closet has expanded its in-store inventory significantly. The business has also strengthened its online presence, aiming to become the premier firearms dealer in southwest North Dakota. The local community has been instrumental in The Boom Closet's success. The community's support has been invaluable, from assisting with initial financing to spreading the word about the store's opening. Ben also attributes his success to his business passion and genuine customer care. He believes that North Dakotans understand and support small businesses, recognizing the importance of keeping money within the community. The Boom Closet welcomes visitors not only as customers but also as friends.