Cleartech Group, an IT solutions business in Leominster, was named the Small Business Administration's Minority Owned Small Business of the Year for the state of Massachusetts. Tony Fields, a veteran who opened Cleartech in 2017, says his business received the award because of his growth, customer service and dedication to community service.
NewVue Communities, a NeighborWorks network organization, was part of the success formula, Fields says. His banker recommended NewVue as he was preparing to open Cleartech, "to help with my ideas and breaking things down to a more bankable viewpoint. That's when I ended up on Ray Belanger's appointment book. He helped me look at my business and clean up some of the financials to a point where it made more sense. He helped with the projections and how to move forward."
Belanger, head of small business assistance at NewVue Communities, says he was not surprised that Fields was selected for the award. "He is a talented business professional and I anticipate this is not the last we are going to hear about his success."
Belanger says he worked with Fields on completing a narrative business plan in which he explored the feasibility of further diversification, moving to a larger commercial space and adding employees. "The majority of our time was spent working on financial projections," he says. "It was a pleasure to have Tony return for additional assistance as he transitioned to managed services and again looked at the feasibility of adding employees and obtaining working capital."
NewVue, located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, has worked with more than 600 small business over the past six years to help them grow. In that time, those businesses have created or preserved over 1,200 jobs and secured 88 loans totaling $6 million.
Fields started his career as an IT service provider after six years in the Air Force. He spent much of his time driving the streets of Boston. Construction of the Big Dig (a multiyear, multibillion-dollar highway and infrastructure project that took place in Boston from 1991 to 2006) during that time made his commute long and arduous. He was spending his days in traffic instead of with his family, he says. So, he decided to open his own business franchise closer to home in Leominster.
In 2015, he went on a mission trip to Brazil, and decided he wanted more freedom and time to do community service. He began putting together a business plan. In 2017, he opened Cleartech Group with the employees he'd been working with at his franchise.
Fields volunteers with the Boys and Girls Club, a high school basketball team and other organizations. "I have a passion for youth and for helping them see the opportunities in front of them," he says.
Between his first and second year of operation, he had a 40 percent increase in revenue and a 3 percent increase in profitability. "We were smarter and were intentional in our decision-making with the help of NewVue," he says, adding that he and his coworkers are "working smarter."
He wants other small business owners to know that there are organizations out there that can help them often at minimal or no cost. "There's a lot of help out there for people to tap into that could be beneficial for your business," he says. "One of the things I always say is you've got to put yourself out there and show up. When you do show up, the opportunities basically show themselves."
NewVue's small business technical assistance program has been part of their approach to revitalizing neighborhoods for the past 25 years, says Meredith Geraghty, NewVue's small business program officer. Garaghty says her division helps businesses come up with plans, secure financing, adjust pricing and conduct market research – all in service to building a strong business model.
"We sit with businesses and help them think about some of the things they might not think about to make sure they have a solid business plan and that their projections and financials are correct," Garaghty says. "We want them to make their mistakes on paper with us before they go out and make mistakes in the real world."
Small businesses play an important part in communities, particularly in small towns, communities of color, low-wealth neighborhoods and communities in need of revitalization, Garaghty says. They help communities build wealth and assets. They provide jobs.
Garaghty says the businesses her program works with are more likely to survive. "If they're willing to go through the hard work, they're the businesses most likely to be in existence after two or three years." Fields did the hard work, she adds.
One thing that's helped NewVue the most over the years? Building strong partnerships, especially with municipalities and the chamber of commerce. Other NeighborWorks organizations looking to start a small business arm will find value in those partnerships, too, Garaghty says. "Right now during COVID is a key example. A lot of municipalities are filing for small grants, so NewVue is working with the chamber of commerce and the municipalities to help businesses apply."
Another key: hiring the right people with backgrounds in business and banking. A big part of their success, Garaghty says, is their team.