Two area business owners received top state honors from the US Small Business Administration.
Dennis Chan, owner of Blue Bamboo Canton and Bistro, was named 2022 North Florida District and Florida Small Business Person of the Year.
Viv Helwig, owner of Vested Metals International in St. Augustine, has been named the 2022 Small Business Exporter of the Year in North Florida and Florida.
Two other organizations in the region won regional honours:
• The Jim Moran Institute, located in Jacksonville, is the North Florida District Community Partner of the Year.
• The Jacksonville Women’s Business Center is the North Florida District Women’s Business Center of the Year.
Regional winners will be honored May 25 at the 30th annual Small Business Week celebration at UNF.
SBA North Florida District Director J. Malcolm Richards announced the 2022 Small Business Week winners for the North Florida territory on April 13.
Local SBA Florida awards are judged at the district and state level. State winners won additional recognition.
“Our small businesses have suffered over the past two years due to the pandemic, and some have had to close, but many have thrived through their ingenuity and dedication,” Richards said in the statement.
Both Chan and Helwig are now up for national honors in their categories.
They attribute their success to their involvement with the UNF Small Business Development Center.
The Florida SBDC Network claims it is designated as Florida’s leading business assistance provider. More than 35 offices operate in Florida, from Key West to Pensacola, under the leadership of seven state universities, including UNF.
The UNF Center is funded by the SBA, UNF, City, Clay County Chamber of Commerce, Marion County, Nassau County, St. Johns County, Putnam County, Suwannee County and other public and private sector sources.
The center says it provides management support services at little or no cost to the client.
Helwig said the SBDC was invaluable in growing his export business. His team was inexperienced in this area and learned on the job with guidance from the center.
Blue Bamboo opened in 2005 at 3820 Southside Blvd. He moved to 10110 San Jose Blvd. in January 2021.
Chan, 50, grew up in a family of restaurateurs. His parents ran Little Dragon on Main Street. At one point, his extended family had 13 restaurants in the Jacksonville area.
Chan serves up comforting Cantonese cuisine. Some are taken from traditional recipes while others have been reincarnated with modern interpretations.
Chan graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and interned at Chef Ming Tsai’s Blue Ginger restaurant in Boston.
In 2009, his book “Hip Asian Comfort Food” won a gold medal from the Independent Book Publishers
He won General Mill’s 2018 Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest for his Sunshine State Orange Crisp Cake.
Chan has worked closely with the Small Business Development Center throughout his career. He said the award proves the effort was worth it.
“As a small business owner, there are so many things we can do wrong without guidance. This award gives me confidence to keep growing and to keep doing what we do. the right way,” Chan said.
Vested Metals International was founded in 2014. Its revenue reached $8.55 million in 2021.
The company imports and exports sheets which are cut on site according to customer specifications and then transformed into products used in the medical, transport and defense industries.
In 2020, Helwig was the District’s Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year.
Helwig, 36, said the price was a confidence factor.
“Where we are in the history of our company, I thought we would be here one day. But I had no idea the opportunity was so great to grow the business so quickly and be sustainable,” he said.
“It confirms that we have so much potential to grow, to do it the right way and to do it on a global scale.”
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