Pomp and circumstance at the Small Business Awards
"Welcome ladies and gentlemen to Loudoun's version of the Oscars," announced Chris Charron, the emcee at the Nov. 8 presentation of the Small Business Awards.
The pomp and circumstance was enough to fill a ballroom at the National Conference Center, spilling out into a pre-event area for cocktails.
Shawn Mitchell, CEO and owner of Modern Mechanical was there. As was the team from Loudoun Valley Flooring. Mitchell would later win Entrepreneur of the Year and Loudoun Valley Flooring would won Business of the year.
Lapels at an event like this are always crisper, the high heels a little higher and the anticipation a little greater.
Every year from a list of nominations that may be as long as 40 names, a group of individuals at the chamber make four finalist selections in the ceremony's 10 categories.
Best and most are the words the ceremony deal in, and for ultra competitive people like entrepreneurs, the title of best means a great deal.
"This will be my third year as a nominee," said Maria Kopsidas of Cookology Culinary School. " I want to win. I worked hard for it."
Kopsidas said she brought 20 people to the event the first year she was nominated. This time around she only had one table of people, and it's "a little different feel."
After about an hour, beers and wine gave way to a 6:45 p.m. dinner. A salad of cheese, cherry tomatoes, and leafy greens was followed by chicken with asparagus and mashed potatoes.
At last chocolate cake bespoken with 868 Estate winery flags was plated, and coffee orders were taken.
Videos detailing the intricacies of each finalist's business played. Each proprietor explained their business in their own words. Conversations continued as the videos rolled.
Joey Darley, a nominee in the category of best Home-Based Business of the Year for his event photography company, was wearing a white blazer and jeans and didn't have a camera around his neck as usual.
"I'm nervous as hell," he said. "But whatever happens, happens."
When the last of the coffee and cake was being cleared from the table, Charron approached the podium to announce each finalist in eight categories.
If the Small Business Awards are the Oscars of Loudoun, then the Entrepreneur of the Year could be equated to the best actor/actress category, with Picture of the Year being the Small Business of the Year Award.
In order to qualify for the Small Business of the Year category a company must have either won one of the eight categories that year or be a past winner.
Beth VanHoutte and Spencer Ault from Stone Manor Bed and Breakfast said they hadn't taken a night off since July. This was still business technically, but they had somebody watching the Manor, and were excited to be nominated.
Stone Manor was nominated for the Tourism and Entertainment Business of the Year category.
Each category for the night had a special introduction, usually from the previous year's winner.
Stephen Mackey, last year's winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year, took the microphone ready to to announce this year's winner.
He was at the back of the room, because he was running the audio and video for the event through his company, Mesh Multimedia.
After everybody had turned around and Mackey made an intro, he announced Shawn Williams as the Entrepreneur of the Year calling him, "The most dangerous man in heating and air conditioning."
Williams, who appeared in what seemed like a dozen videos for the different enterprises he has been a part of, took the podium excited, but a little surprised.
"I honestly did not expect this," he started out.
He followed by explaining how he decided to start his own company, saying he went home, prayed about it and discussed it with his wife.
Despite "already having a great job" and a newborn child, Williams started Modern Mechanical in 2010, which was also one of four candidates for Small Business of the Year.
Loudoun Valley Flooring took home the award for Best Small Business of the Year.
"It's like I said in the video, we're never going to be rich. But we can give back to the community," said Steve Jacobus from Loudoun Valley Floors in a speech he gave from the podium after accepting an eagle-shaped trophy for Best Small Business of the Year.
As he and the rest of the winners from his company took photos and danced, they did so knowing that, according to the chamber for at least one year, they will be the best at what they do.
Entrepreneur of the Year finalists
Shawn Mitchell, Modern Mechanical
Small Business of the Year
Loudoun Valley Floors/Loudoun Carpet Care
Nonprofit Organization of the Year
Loudoun Citizens for Social Justice/LAWS
Tourism & Entertainment Business of the Year
StageCoach Theatre Co.
Franchisee of the Year
Retailer of the Year
Technology Business of the Year
Service Business of the Year
Excel Transportation Services Inc.
Rural Business of the Year
Home Based Business of the Year
Joey's Smiles Photography