BY CAROLINA ALBAN-STOUGHTON
A problem finds a solution. An idea turns into a project, which then transforms into a service or product. And when passion threads these processes, a small business is born.
“Carlsbad Food Tours was born out of our love of fine wines, delicious food and traveling,” said Cherimarie Poulos, who started her company in 2014, becoming the first guided culinary and wine walking tour in Carlsbad Village. “After experiencing food tours in other cities, we decided to make our way back home to Southern California and bring the world of food tours to our community.”
Led by Poulos, Carlsbad Food Tours won the Woman-Owned Business Award at the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Small Business Awards Luncheon. Since then her company has grown considerably, with more than 500 guests booking a tour and tons positive feedback coming her way. “We also maintained our online customer reviews with ratings of 5 stars on both TripAdvisor and Yelp.” As the company has gained recognition, so have the vendors that are part of the tour, elevating the City of Carlsbad’s profile as a tourist destination. “We consider ourselves Carlsbad Ambassadors and are proud to share our local history, culture, architecture and unique culinary experiences with our guests. We believe the best way to experience Carlsbad is through its food because food tells the story of a neighborhood’s people, history and culture.”
For Oska Wellness Founder, Chief Business & Product Development Officer, Greg Houlgate, the push to get Oska Wellness’ staple product – the Oska Pulse – into the market, was somewhat personal. “The business concept originated in Western Australia and the initial prototype was developed there.When I was introduced to the initial prototype I did a short trial on my dad, who has been in incredible pain and inflammation from a variety of disorders . During this short trial the swelling went down quickly, and he was able to walk for the first time in three days. I was amazed, and after studying the science quickly realized this product and company could have a positive impact on many people’s lives.Namely helping people get out of pain without drugs and get them mobile again without any invasive treatments.”
For this new approach to pain relief, Oska Wellness received the Chamber’s Innovation in Small Business Award last year. But this is not the only accolade their cutting-edge product has earned. “We are the proud recipients of the MedTech Innovative Wearable Medical Device and the Consumer Electronics Show, Tech.Co start-up of the Year for 2017. We beat out thousands of companies from across the globe to win these awards”, said Houlgate, whose mission has become to help people get out of pain killers and into an active and healthy lifestyle.
Oska Wellness was not the only company in the medical field recognized at last year’s luncheon. The Excellence in Professional Services Award went to Novasyte, a medical device training and education solutions company.Novasyte’s CEO and Co-founder Tim Gleeson and his partner Joe Andrew, started the company out of a garage. Now, Novasyte has its own modern, bright and collaborative space, 58 corporate employees and a network of 2,200 consultants in the U.S. and Canada. “Novasyte was born out of the frustration I had while working as a sales executive at a large medical device company. Every time our sales force was fortunate enough to sell a product, we had to pivot and act as an education/support team to successfully implement the product on each hospital floor. We were part of a time study that found that over 50% of our year as a selling organization was spent educating and implementing. We knew there had to be a better way to do this. That was the genesis of Novasyte.”
Catalysts of growth
As the company continues toexpand, Gleeson has found motivation to overcome the growing pains of a small business within the people that work with him. “I think that starting a business and keeping it in growth mode through the hurdles that are presented is incredibly taxing on the people in the business, the families who are peripheral to the business and the owners. As I tell my four boys, if it were easy everyone would do it. But from a motivation standpoint, nothing is quite as rewarding as seeing so many faces in the employee ranks who have been with us since the early days and have grown both professionally and personally while working here at Novasyte. We are now seeing some of our very first employees start families and that is a major motivator – knowing how many people rely on the health of Novasyte.”
For Poulos, it is the sense of making a positive impact in her community that drives her to continue growing her company. “Our customers’ happy faces and my vendors’ appreciation. We love sharing the best of our town with others and developing relationships with my vendors and other local businesses.”
Making pain relief a reality for many patients through his product, is what keeps Houlgate going. “Improving lives for people suffering from pain is like rocket fuel to all of us at Oska.Secondly, I adore working with amazing people.From the great team we’ve assembled at Oska, to the innovative doctors we work with around the country, to the amazing organizations we partner with, I am inspired by the creativity and dedication of those I’m surrounded by.”
Very soon that positive impact will multiply as Oska is becoming more popular among patients and doctors. “We received important medical validation of Oska Pulse by completing several successful clinical studies supporting our effectiveness in pain relief.We are particularly proud of a double-blind placebo study conducted by Scripps Hospital, which demonstrated significant pain reduction for virtually all of the non-placebo participants.” At a time when healthcare costs are skyrocketing, Houlgate has also worked hard to make his product more accessible. “Oska Pulse continues to gain formal healthcare system acceptance allowing patients and consumers to benefit by lower out-of-pocket costs.Oska Pulse is now carried at the FSAstore.com and HSAstore.com allowing purchases from pre-tax savings accounts.Additionally, we’re also now accepted by worker’s comp insurance as a fully reimbursed treatment option and have just recently received a Durable Medical Equipment code so that health insurance companies can now cover your Oska Pulse that is being dispensed by your doctor.”
A learning path
While these three Carlsbad small businesses are thriving now, it sure has been an intense and non-stop journey for them to get where they are – with many valuable lessons along the way their founders would like to share with others.
For Gleeson, it all starts with the conception of the business you want to get into. “Make sure the problem you are trying to solve is a BIG problem.” This piece of advice should then be followed by the reality check only numbers can give you, “gross margin in the early days means everything” and “knowing a cash flow statement is more important than knowing the P&L (early on).” Beyond the math, being able to run a company properly also involves a positive holistic component to the leader’s lifestyle. “Be in good shape physically and mentally. You are about to invest all of your time into a venture that will create late nights, stress and average food habits. Start off with a strong foundation.”
Houlgate believes whatever course you take, there should be a record of it, combined with a conservative approach. “Take your time and document your path, know who you are getting into business with and always under-promise and try to over-deliver.No one is excited about a new business that does not meet its targets and there’s nothing like delivering to BOTH a vision AND operating results.”
Winning the Woman-Owned Small Business Award 2017 meant for Poulos “acceptance into the Carlsbad business community and an appreciation for our tours. It was thrilling to be recognized for the heart-felt efforts I have given to make Carlsbad Food Tours a first class tourist experience,” a recognition and achievement that doesn’t come easy. “Persistence, believe in your product and others will too. Work hard and never give up on your dream, envisioning it, is what will make it real.”