Mar 15, 2016 - 9:00am

DREAM BIG: 7 Finalists Vying for Small Business of the Year

Former Managing Editor, Digital Content

To run a successful small business, you need to go big – with dreams, execution and results.

It isn’t easy. Today’s challenging environment includes higher taxes, stricter regulations and greater uncertainty. That makes the success stories all that more successful.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has recognized its seven regional finalists for its annual DREAM BIG Small Business of the Year Award, sponsored by Sam’s Club®. These companies, selected from 100 Blue Ribbon Small Business Award winners, stood out for their exceptional business practices and community involvement.

The DREAM BIG award celebrates the success of small business and honors its contributions to America's economic growth. The Small Business of the Year, seven regional finalists, and 100 Blue Ribbon winners will be honored on June 14 during America's Small Business Summit in Washington, D.C.

The awards program recognizes companies for their dedication to the principles of free enterprise and contributions to restoring jobs and supporting economic growth. All businesses are evaluated in four key areas - business strategy; staff training and motivation; customer service; and community involvement. Visit for more information.

Last year, Triangle Rock Club took home the top prize. Here’s a closer look at this year’s contenders:

Eastern Region: SOLDIERFIT

SOLDIERFIT is a military-inspired fitness company based in Gaithersburg, Md., that aims to change lives and revitalize the American dream through health and physical fitness. Founded in 2007 by Danny Farrar and Dave Posin, SOLDIERFIT is veteran-owned and considers character building its number one priority, combining basic military training techniques with functional fitness training to teach members the value of hard work, perseverance, and goal achievement. Today, SOLDIERFIT offers 444 classes per month across four corporate locations.

Great Lakes Region: Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea

Greg Ubert founded Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea in 1991 – after the recent Harvard University graduate discovered computer software wasn’t the right fit. He left a promising career in Chicago, moved back to Columbus, Ohio, and started the business with a tiny gas-fired coffee roaster in a one-room office. Crimson Cup works closely with farmers and imports and roasts nearly 500,000 pounds of specialty and craft coffee annually. Customers include more than 350 independent coffee houses, grocers, college and universities, restaurants, and food service operations across 29 states, Guam and Bangladesh.

Midwest Region: MODE

MODE Founder Ciara Stockeland began her career in business with no experience in the retail industry. Her first venture, a maternity apparel boutique called Mama Mia, later gave way to MODE as she adjusted her business model to fit her bargain-hunting customer base in Fargo, N.D. The unique combination of a boutique shopping environment, designer products, an overstock price point, and good, old-fashioned customer service proved successful for Stockeland. Today, MODE boasts 11 total locations across the upper Midwest and in South Carolina.

Northwest Region: Scratch and Peck Feeds

Born of a need for quality animal feed, Diana Ambauen-Meade founded Scratch and Peck Feeds when she was unable to find organic and non-GMO feed for her backyard chicken flock. She  began by making her own feed, mixing various whole grains to create the right blend for her hens. As word of her product spread, her homegrown operation started to grow, too. Scratch and Peck Feeds, based in Bellingham, Wash., values regional sourcing and sustainable business practices as it works to support local economies and strengthen community relationships. Ambauen-Meade and her family built their own feed mill in 2010, and today Scratch and Peck Feeds employs more than 20 full-time staff to produce certified organic and non-GMO verified poultry and livestock feeds.

Southeastern Region: LEAN Frog Business Solutions, Inc.

Led by Byron and Sherri Headrick, a husband-and-wife team, LEAN Frog Business Solutions, Inc. uses LEAN Six Sigma (LSS) principles to help public schools improve student services and optimize operations. Seeing a need for organizations to do more with less, especially those within the public education system, Byron and Sherri founded LEAN Frog with the goal of increased efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability in school systems, ultimately transforming public education in the southeastern United States. Huntsville, Ala.-based LEAN Frog employs 18 full-time staff in two offices, has impacted more than 230,000 students, and has saved school systems over $80 million to date.

Southwest & South Central Region: Creating and Managing Wealth LLC

Christina Winters Gears worked her way up in the financial service industry in Texas with a clear goal – starting her own firm where clients would be served with an integrated life approach to money management. Creating and Managing Wealth LLC of Irving, Texas, is now celebrating 26 years of service, providing money management and helping clients keep their spending in line with their goals. The firm, with its Red Carpet customer service, has grown to $235 million of assets under management with a goal of increasing to $500 million assets under management in the next five years.

Western Region: SearchPros Solutions

Myla Ramos, Heather Kocina and Rayna Pearson found the inspiration for SearchPros Solutions after being the last employees at a staffing agency on Christmas Eve 2004 – with no checks to deliver to contractors due to severe weather and delivery issues. They took out their personal checkbooks, loaned money to strangers that night and hatched a plan to run a business of their own. SearchPros, which started in 120 square feet of rental office space in Sacramento, Calif., now has a corporate-owned headquarters with 30 recruiters placing thousands of employees in 28 states and eight countries.

About the Author

About the Author

Former Managing Editor, Digital Content

Eric Nelson is the former managing editor of digital content at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.