Cecil DelaCruz, president of Viking Engineering + Constructionshared his path to success as a small business owner with the help of two Small Business Administration (SBA) programs.
DelaCruz worked as a general contractor in the federal area. He noticed that the term “8(a)” was used frequently, so he looked for more information on the SBA website.
the Program 8(a) is a nine-year program under the SBA that aims to help individuals start their business. Companies participating in the program could receive training and technical assistance to build their entrepreneurial capacity.
Although DelaCruz created Viking in 2002, he had to put it aside for years due to his financial inability to maintain his daily life. Years later, in 2011, he had the opportunity to buy a construction company from his former employer. That’s when he and his partner decided to revive Viking.
In starting his own business, DelaCruz said he “wanted to control his future.” He hoped to conduct his business differently in such a difficult market by creating a relational business model.
“People thought I was crazy, because it doesn’t exist,” DelaCruz said. “It’s still a low offer. The lowest bid always wins. »
His experience working in a few small businesses gave him more knowledge about the operational aspects of running a small business. After four years of trying to develop bigger projects, he applied for the 8(a) program and was accepted in 2015. He said the SBA provided him with a lot of training to help him build the foundation of management and growth of a business.
“The 8(a) provided exposure to opportunities that I would definitely never have,” DelaCruz said.
He was also grateful to business opportunity specialist, Joseph Smetak, who was “an integral part” in the growth of his business.
The exposure Viking has gained through the program enables them to connect with more customers and business partners in the contract world. A larger network of people wanted to know more about Viking. Despite the company’s growth, DelaCruz constantly encourages its team to strive for the best.
“I always tell our team that growth leads to exposure. And exposure, good or bad, is going to happen,” he said. “So we strive to make it good All the time.”
DelaCruz has also been able to handle a wider variety of cases through the program. His team once had a client who had an emergency problem. In normal cases, the client may have to go through the three month process including bidding and evaluation. His team was able to negotiate directly with the agency, come up with a design and execute it, which shortened the process from about three months to three weeks.
However, not all clients are collaborative. There were times when DelaCruz faced customers who were “very strict.”
“The 8(a) also has some downsides,” he said. “There was one specific agency that was very difficult to work with. So we don’t usually work with that as much anymore.
The pandemic was another challenge. During the pandemic, many projects have been put on hold, and it’s been extremely difficult not just for DelaCruz, but for small business owners in general. Not to mention that the construction industry has been hit hard.
“Even if we don’t do a residency [projects], they stopped because people didn’t want them in their house,” he said. “Everything stopped because the future is so uncertain…Obviously it didn’t stop completely, but the two-year delay was very difficult.”
The DelaCruz team was doing more emergency work at that time, but it still wasn’t enough.
He said the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) kept the doors open.
The program provides funding for up to eight weeks of costs, including benefits. This is an SBA-backed loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis. The program ended last year, but small business owners in need can still get help from PPP loan forgiveness.
“That assistance, along with the influx of additional working capital, has been very helpful,” DelaCruz said. “It actually saved us.”
As vaccinations were widely distributed and many states lifted pandemic restrictions, he said Viking was once again busy. The biggest issue right now for the company is supply chain management.
“Doors, windows, building materials, fittings are all out of stock as they are just catching up. Maybe in six months to a year and a half we’ll start to see inventory coming back,” he said. “But it was very difficult.”
Still, DelaCruz is working hard on his road to success, while being a good father to his two children. He said that when he started Viking, he sacrificed a lot of things, including his time, his health, and his opportunities to spend time with his sons. Now that he has about 50 employees and people running the operations he oversees, he makes his children the top priority.
Her youngest son recently won second place in a district tennis match. His son took it badly and he said to his son, “You can learn a lot. It’s a life lesson. These disappointments are going to be invaluable in your growth.