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LGBT Team Named National Small Business Persons of the Year

The LGBT team of Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell, co-founders of San Rafael, California-based Equator Coffees & Teas, were named SBA national Small Business Persons of the Year. Appearing with them on stage this Monday morning at the award ceremony at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC was Maureen McHugh, vice president of Equator Coffees, who has never missed a day of work in the 21 years she has been with the firm.

Maria Contreras-Sweet, U.S. Small Business Administration head, was on stage to present the awards, as was Douglas Kramer, SBA Deputy Administrator, and Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures. Mark is also a "shark" investor on the television series Shark Tank.

Brooke and Helen initially launched two coffee bars named Europa in San Francisco, but Brooke became frustrated with the lack of information regarding farms, farmers, climate and origin of coffee. The partners bought an Italian roaster using funds from the sale of Brooke’s mother’s wedding ring and began roasting coffee in Brooke's garage. Equator Coffees & Teas was born in 1995 just as the specialty coffee industry was heating up.

All 90 employees have health insurance that's paid 100 percent by Equator Coffees, a fact that the team considers their most important accomplishment.

Equator Coffee has 350 wholesale customers including the well-known French Laundry restaurant in California, cafes at LinkedIn, micro-kitchens at Google and three retail stores in Northern California with two more on the way. Helen and Brooke own a 5500 sq. ft. roasting plant, purchased with an SBA 504 $1.1 million loan. They have worked directly with their farmers for 17 years and were one of the first roasters to support the Fair Trade movement to gain better wages for growers. Their farm, Finca Sophia in Panama, is a finalist for the 2016 Good Food Awards.

The first runner-up was Louisiana's Angela O’Byrne, owner/president of Perez APC, which partners with other businesses, providing design, construction, design-build, real estate development, general contractor, construction manager, developer, and planner expertise on their projects. Perez APC was the recipient of an SBA disaster recovery loan after Hurricane Katrina. The firm has won multi-million dollar federal contracts from Germany to the Caribbean to North Africa. Angela is also a strong advocate for women in architecture and construction, and is involved in countless professional and nonprofit organizations dedicated to their industry advancement.

Hawaii's Raymond Jardine Jr., owner of Native Hawaiian Veterans, was the second runner-up. The firm, which specializes in security services and information technology, does business in all 50 states and 20 countries. Its main customer is the federal government, which it has served both as an 8(a) certified subcontractor and prime contractor.

Ray began NHV in 2005 with three employees and first-year revenues of about $64,000. In 2015 NHV had over 200 employees and over $30 million in gross revenue.

Ray contributes both time and money to organizations such as the Kina’ole Foundation, the Native Hawaiian Organizations Association, the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce and many others.

David Dafoe of Louisville, Kentucky, was the third runner-up. His company Flavorman develops beverages.

David struck out on his own after a successful career with a local beverage company, where he worked
to develop well-known drink mixes and cocktails. He formed Pro-Liquitech International in 1992, which later became Flavorman. David started the company with one customer and no employees. As Flavorman evolved, its list of clients grew to include Chiquita Brands, Ocean Spray, the Kellogg Company, Sunsweet Growers, Brooklyn Bottling and a large chunk of the world’s top ten distilleries, among other beverage companies. In 2012 David founded a sister company, the Distilled Spirits Epicenter. Built on Kentucky’s rich distilling history, the Epicenter is an artisan distillery and education center.

Flavorman and the Distilled Spirits Epicenter now employ 30 full-time and four part-time workers.

Flavorman secured an SBA 7(a) loan in 2010, which is now paid in full. In 2007, the company obtained an
SBA 504 loan to move to its current location near downtown Louisville in a HUBZone. The area has revitalized since that time, with other businesses moving to or expanding in the HUBZone area.

Flavorman also received an SBA ARRA loan in 2010.

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