2021 Top Business Innovations Award Recipients
Owning a small business has always required ingenuity, fortitude and passion. This past year put every business to the test, but the small businesses we will hear about shortly found a way to pivot and to innovate; to remain open, while prioritizing the safety of customers and colleagues during a worldwide pandemic. Beyond surviving, many also aided our community with novel approaches to ensure our neighbors were comfortable and out of harm’s way during one of the worst winter storms in decades. The Shreveport-Bossier community has shown us repeatedly they know how to adapt, and these businesses are some of our best examples.
The Top Business Innovations Award recognizes these outstanding small businesses for their ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape and the unprecedented challenges we’ve faced over the past year.
Bossier Parish Community College
During the Pandemic, Bossier Parish Community College moved approximately 5,600 students and 300 total faculty to online learning, a transition which took considerable effort and innovation. Those BPCC faculty who had never taught online worked with colleagues to make the transition. Their Educational Technology and Computer Service teams worked to provide the services and hardware necessary for staff to work remotely while also upskilling and training faculty and staff on how to use the new technology and equipment…all while working from home themselves. The Student Services team worked to provide student services virtually and expanded their laptop loan program to provide over a hundred students with Chromebooks so they could finish out the spring semester.
They stood up their Cavalier Care Center to help students with nonacademic needs like food insecurity and since July 1st, the Center has distributed more than 13,000 pounds of food to students who face hunger insecurity made more difficult because of the pandemic.
Daniel 1:20 Academy
Higher education wasn’t the only education system to move online. K-12 students were home as well. During the pandemic once schools shut down Daniel 1:20 Academy opened online tutoring to the public to help those students who were struggling to understand their classwork while learning remotely. This also provided assistance to parents who were unable to assist their children because of knowledge gaps or who, as essential workers, needed to be at work to provide for their families. These services were made available to families at affordable prices and tutoring was also donated to families in particular need.
El Cabo Verde
During Phase 1, El Cabo switched seamlessly to curbside only service, offered doorstep delivery to homes in the restaurant’s community and incorporated hard-to-find items such as milk, eggs, produce, dry goods, and household supplies that they were able to access through their vendors as add-ons to their curbside pick-up model. They fed medical personnel through a partnership with Feed the Front Lines that supported many local hospitals and restaurants.
In phase 2, they safely reduced dining capacity ensuring local and national guidelines were used for allowing dine-in for guests, incorporated hand sanitizing stations, disposable menus, no-touch digital menus and air filtration devices as well as providing patio dining and curbside services and family meals for carry out service. Throughout pandemic despite the challenges presented by COVID, they have been able to retain all of their full-time employment positions.
Industrial Solutions specializes in providing products and services to a variety of clients in the public and private sectors, including, railroad, oilfield, electric and gas utilities, schools, construction, military and manufacturing facilities. But during the recent Sno-ma-geddon their team put their skills and their trucks to use delivering warm clothing and critical supplies to individuals and organizations and donating over 12,000 bottles of water to those in need during the crisis. Coordinating with the city, parish and other businesses, they helped alleviate some of the harshest impacts for those with the greatest need.
One of the most challenging aspects of the Pandemic for many has been the social isolation. While the office was shut down, Dr. Lang insisted on having regular web-meetings with the Lang Orthodontics team. Dr. Lang and the team visited as colleagues and as a work family. The team would share updates on family life, struggles with the pandemic as well as establishing clear guidelines on how to keep patients safe once the doors to Lang Orthodontics were open again. Meetings were held regularly and a new schedule was adopted that is still in use today. Work hours for Lang Orthodontics were modified and continue to reflect that parents are now also virtual teachers. Since reopening, face shields and goggles were adopted along with daily temperature checks. One of the biggest challenges during the Pandemic has been access to PPE such as the gloves and masks necessary to maintain the standards of care. Despite the cost and challenges of securing these items, Dr. Lang continued to donate masks and gloves to local healthcare workers and the elderly.
When COVID regulations forced them to physically shut down, Learning Rx pivoted to provide brain training in an online format. Their personal trainers stepped up and by partnering with the testing companies that produce the evaluation instruments and exercises they were able to convert to a virtual delivery model and began providing services through Zoom. Going virtual has allowed them to expand their service area beyond the community and include high risk populations and those in a high risk setting such as assisted living facilities or homes with high-risk individuals. LearningRx also purchased gift cards for clients, staff and others in need to other local businesses to help them sustain during this tough time. During the Sno-ma-geddon, they provided warm clothing, food and other goods as well as donating the water and things such as toilet paper that were at the center available to community groups who distributed it.
Lowder Baking Company
Lowder Baking Company pivoted by offering curbside service, delivering orders contactless to car trunks, installing safety protocols around the bakery including social distancing protocols, plexiglass shields above bakery case, UV air filters in both the client and staff areas. They developed an online ordering process to provide an easy, efficient way for customers to safely and accurately order baked goods. They offered neighborhood delivery during the height of the pandemic while many customers were quarantined. They developed a brand-new line of “Take & Bake” items (Sourdough Pizza Kits, Chicken Pot Pies, Bread Puddings, Take & Bake Cookie Dough) to adapt to the customers’ new need of eating at home and they increased their production of bread loaves, which was a main staple missing from many grocery stores. The Lowder Baking team also spearheaded the refurbishing of the Bayou Pierre Bridge linking the South Highlands and Broadmoor neighborhoods.
Murray’s Diesel Repair
Few industries became so visibly necessary during the early stages of the Pandemic as trucking, whether it was moving critical PPE, ensuring that food was on our shelves or keeping online commerce flowing. And, as anyone who owns a vehicle knows, transportation needs maintenance. Murray’s Diesel Repair was able to remain open during the pandemic and continued to provide maintenance and repair service for truckers and trucking fleets across our area. Despite the close quarters necessary to do maintenance work, Murray’s team was able to make the necessary adjustments to continue to serve their customers and adhere to the evolving state safety guidelines.
Robinson Film Center
Within a week of the shutdown order in March 2020, the Robinson Film Center introduced daily virtual programming that took their most successful film series online, offering new content 5 days a week. Their virtual programming model assigned a movie for audience members to watch at home on their own on a streaming platform and then “gather” together on Facebook, Instagram and their website to engage about the content together – just like they would typically do at the theater in person theaters. They were able to reach 111,724 people on Facebook and 8,448 on Instagram, far exceeding what they can reach through their 124-seat theater. They are committed to continuing both online content and in-person content to be able to reach all audience members and hope to translate more of those online viewers into loyal ticket purchasers as the pandemic wanes.
SOBO Promotional Products
SOBO Promotional Products is a promotional products distributor who works directly with overseas manufacturers in various countries to provide local clients with a wide range of products. In January 2020, SOBO’s CEO attended a promotional products industry convention where many suppliers were already feeling the impact of the Coronavirus. Upon returning to the US SOBO reached out to healthcare clients and many were already experiencing back orders and delays with PPE and medical supplies. SOBO immediately began importing blank PPE and medical supplies and in 2020, they distributed over 8 million units of critical PPE, sanitizer, and wipes, to organizations who were experiencing difficulty in procurement, with those items going to nursing homes, hospices, hospitals, schools, and military installations right here in Shreveport, to as far as West Point in New York. While it seems obvious today, at the time, there was a substantial risk in importing. The packaging label requirements, customs clearance, and required Homeland Security documentation were ever changing, if the shipment was too large, there was risk of confiscation. For the first 12 weeks, Sobo used two different international air freight services to ensure delivery, which increased cost, but ensured that the goods here in the U.S., on the ground for our clients who desperately required it. General Medical Supplies is now a permanent division of SOBO Promotional Products.
Trust Technology Consultants
For many of us, moving our businesses online proved far more challenging than just checking in with friends on Facebook or a family chat on Zoom. When the Pandemic hit, Trust Technology Consultants moved all of their employees home and took their entire operation remote. Being forced to take this step themselves allowed Trust Technologies to use that the same knowledge to help their clients do the same. These same skills came into play during the Sno-ma-geddon when many Trust clients lost communication technology and they were able to help mitigate those outages by forwarding numbers, spinning up redundant internet sources and repairing damaged equipment.