About Robin Suomi
Robin Suomi, MBA, Founder of Startup to Growth. I’ve assisted, mentored, counseled, coached and trained thousands of small business owners like you start and/or grow their companies. My clients have ranged from pre-venture, the “I have an idea!” stage, to businesses with $5M+ in sales – and every one of them has sharpened my understanding and love of the small business world.
Early in my career, I worked as a court reporter with various legal systems throughout the United States. I saw many small business owners struggle with legal issues that resulted from their business decisions. Because of this experience, when I work with clients I am often able to highlight where they can consult with legal counsel to help prevent problems down the road. During this period, I came to understand and appreciate small business from an owner’s point of view. I started and sold court reporting firms as I moved throughout the United States. I also used both the solopreneurship and partnership structures, hiring both employees and independent contractors.
While I enjoyed court reporting, I knew I wanted more. I just didn’t know what it was! As I continued to take college courses here and there outside my court reporting realm in the areas of photography, environmental sciences, biology, chemistry and the banking system, my true passion – small business – began to emerge.
When I moved to Virginia in 1995, I zeroed in on the formal business knowledge base I knew I’d need by completing an Associate of Science degree in Management at Northern Virginia Community College, a Bachelor of Science degree in Management at George Mason University, and a Masters of Business Administration degree at The George Washington University.
Then I really rolled up my sleeves and went to work with the Loudoun Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Inc. I was hired as Assistant Director, and within six weeks our Board of Directors promoted me to Executive Director. In this position, I helped start and grow businesses in Northern Virginia for more than nine years.
Soon after starting with Loudoun SBDC, Inc., I knew that I needed a better way to empower and encourage my clients. On my own time and nickel, I attended the Coaches Training Institute and became a life coach. These coaching skills, combined with my technical expertise as a small business counselor and former business owner, helped me deliver critical advice in ways that really resonated with my clients.
Because I love to teach, I became an adjunct professor at Northern Virginia Community College, my alma mater, in 2008. There, I taught two courses: Introduction to Business and Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management. While I know the theoretical side of business is important, I also know some clients want a practical, “walk-out-the-door-with-an-action-plan” type of knowledge. I delivered small business education in this practical format through Loudoun SBDC, Inc., where I taught the NxLeveL® business planning course as well as a business planning course that I created and tailored specifically to the needs of Virginia small business owners.
As Executive Director of Loudoun SBDC, Inc., I learned from the best business community leaders and the best small business owners! The programs I created – and the invaluable support of my staff, volunteer counselors and Board of Directors – helped Loudoun SBDC, Inc. win the U.S. Small Business Administration’s SBDC Service Excellence and Innovation Center Award for the Washington Metropolitan District Office in 2010. This was the first time in our 20+ year history we “took the prize.” I am honored to have been instrumental in elevating the stature of Loudoun SBDC, Inc. as well as growing the small business community within Northern Virginia by helping to make the dreams of thousands of small business owners come true.
Now, as principal of Startup to Growth, I’ve continued to create programs and workshops educating and empowering small business owners for their success. While a member of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, I served as Ambassador; I also served on the Business Women of Loudoun and Small Business Council committees. In the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce, I co-chaired the Dulles Executive Women committee for two years, and co-founded the 2016 Business Success Series.
By 2018 I was delivering services virtually, and that allowed me to return to my home state of Michigan, to spend more time with friends and family there.
I also had the honor in 2018-2019 to work with Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Community Economic Development Corporation of Michigan (CEDAM), and the City of Ionia as part of Project Rising Tide in a Community Development capacity. I was engaged to be Ionia’s “boots on the ground” to expand their capacity as they became economically stronger. Under the direction of the City Manager, and working closely with the DDA, we formed a Steering Committee of community leaders, which functioned as an ad hoc Economic Development Commission. Under their umbrella, I oversaw six projects throughout the year: 1) Downtown Revitalization, 2) Broadband/Connectivity, 3) Education and Workforce, 4) Economic Development Study, 5) Housing Study, and 6) Gen Z Study. Throughout the year, community leaders worked collaboratively and began to take a holistic approach when solving their challenges. Leaders told me that before Project Rising Tide they had looked at issues through the lens of the various boards they served on or organizations they were involved with, but not holistically. They believed this shift will help them move Ionia forward and achieve long-term success as the continue the projects we began. Personally I loved expanding my skills in economic development, small business, education, mentorship and coalition-building into the community development arena. And I came away with a much deeper knowledge of and appreciation for the function of local government.
Currently, I am working with small business owners as they plan for and navigate through our evolving “new normal,” exploring innovative ways to deliver their products and services in our increasingly virtual world, and helping them emerge even stronger from these unprecedented times.
All of these activities in small business coaching and economic and community development stem from one prime motivation – I’m passionate about helping my clients start, grow and win!
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