Sisters Eshonda Blue and Jessica Wright of Americus, both registered nurses, were raised in an entrepreneurial family. So when their work in nursing homes a decade ago revealed a need faced by many southwest Georgia seniors, they saw a business opportunity that led them to the University of Georgia SBDC.
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“We saw a lot of people who, with help, could be maintained in their own homes,” says Wright. “They needed caring oversight, but did not need to be in a skilled nursing facility.” In fact, almost 90 percent of the nation’s seniors would prefer to age in their own homes, according to the American Association of Retired Persons.
When the sisters were unable to find responsible, consistent locally based home nursing care for their grandmother, they started their own company, Innovative Senior Solutions, in the business incubator at South Georgia Technical College. Providing in-home Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) care to private clients, starting with their grandmother, they pursued their mission: “Improving the Lives of Seniors.”
After the required year in business they became Medicaid-approved and hired employees to serve their private and Medicaid clients. By the end of 2010 they had grown to a staff of 40. They opened the company’s first adult day care center in Cordele in 2011. And by the next year they had opened another center in Americus and were up to 75 employees.
“We were growing really fast and wanted to be able to grow effectively. We needed some business training and consulting, and someone recommended the UGA SBDC,” says Wright.
The sisters met Albany SBDC Area Director Debbie Finney at the SBDC GrowSMART program in 2013. “At that point they were working on developing systems and processes for their rapidly growing business,” says Finney. “GrowSmart® training fit what they were trying to do.”
Finney worked with Blue and Wright on strategic planning and helped them develop efficient management processes, an organization chart, job descriptions for key management and office processes for the business manager. They also worked together to learn QuickBooks.
Finney helped them complete SBDC GrowSMART’s business plan that included a SWOT analysis and financial, marketing and operations strategies. They also worked together to develop financial projections for a new personal care home in Americus, which they opened in 2013, and they purchased a building in downtown Americus for a new headquarters.
Innovative Senior Solutions has since grown to more than 100 employees and its sales revenues have grown 100 percent, reports Blue.
Finney also helped Blue and Wright develop projections and a business plan for a new Innovative Senior Solutions Adult Daycare and Personal Care Home in Albany. They secured a $35,000 loan from the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission to open it later this year.
“The SBDC has been very beneficial to us,” says Wright. “Debbie has guided us by helping us know what is available to grow to the next level.”
Blue agrees that she has learned key practices from the SBDC. “First, how important it is to have systems – policies and procedures – in place to grow strategically. And second, the value in defining our culture and understanding why we do what we do: our vision, mission and core values. This knowledge has been instrumental in taking our company to the next level.”
“Eshonda and Jessica are successful because they are very strategic about their growth and continue to use SBDC GrowSMART practices for their business,” says Finney. “They continually invest in their employees. And they are passionate about their core values – caring, compassionate, comforting and kind – and a shared belief in their mission.
In 2018, Eshonda Blue & Jessica Wright were named the U.S. Small Business Administration in Georgia’s 2018 Women in Business Champions of the year.