Hawaii Entrepreneur Named National Small Business Person of the Year

Wisconsin, California and North Carolina are runners-up in the annual competition

The owner of a sandwich and bakery business from Honolulu, Hawaii, was named National Small Business Person of the Year yesterday, the start of the SBA's National Small Business Week. At ceremonies today, Thanh Lam, president of Ba-Le Inc. (dba Ba-Le Sandwich & Bakery, was named winner of the 39th annual entrepreneurial award.

Lam was selected from among the state Small Business Persons of the Year representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam. He is a successful retailer of Vietnamese-style sandwiches, pastries and noodle dishes and a wholesaler of baked goods and deli sandwiches to airlines, food caterers, hotels, supermarkets and restaurants throughout Hawaii. The company is expanding internationally.

"Thanh Lam is a true example of entrepreneurial success and of achieving the American dream," said SBA Administrator Hector V. Barreto. "Resourcefulness and creativity have been key to his success. Small business must be innovative in securing their niche in a competitive market, and Thanh has clearly done that with his business."

The first runner-up this year in the national competition is Mary Jurmain, president and CEO of BTIO Educational Products Inc., a provider of parenting educational products in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Second runner-up is Belinda Guadarrama, president and CEO of GC Micro Corp., a supplier of computer hardware and software products in Novato, California. The third runner-up is Mildred Council, president of Mama Dip's Country Kitchen in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The national small-business awards are a highlight of the SBA's National Small Business Week. Now in its 39th year, the celebration honors the contributions of the nation's small-business owners. The winners are selected on their record of stability, growth in employment and sales, financial condition, innovation, response to adversity, and community service:

  • When he arrived in the United States from a Malaysian refugee camp in 1979, Lam had little money and only minimal knowledge of English. By 1984, he had opened the first Ba-Le sandwich shop. Shortly afterward, Lam was also baking and selling his own bread. In 1986, after securing an SBA-guaranteed loan to refurbish the equipment, Lam's business truly began to flourish. In 1996, he began offering catering services and moved operations to a 15,000-square-foot warehouse. By 1999, Lam's satisfied customers included the Hilton and Sheraton hotel chains as well as such airlines as Air New Zealand, American, China Airlines, Continental, Delta, Japan Airlines and United. Lam also produces fresh pizza dough for Papa John's in Hawaii. The business is expanding to Japan and China.
  • Jurmain's Baby Think It Over infant simulator and accompanying program materials have evolved into a comprehensive parenting education program. The program teaches teenagers about the responsibilities of parenting in an effort to help reduce the alarming rate of teenage pregnancy. More than 1 million teens have gone through the program. BTIO Educational Products Inc. is also seeing a continually growing presence internationally with direct sales in Canada and distributors in Australia, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
  • In 1986, Guadarrama started GC Micro with two employees. By the end of its first year, the small business reported revenue of $209,000. Today, GC Micro is one of the nation's leading suppliers of computer hardware and software products to the defense and aerospace industries. The company employs 28 and enjoyed sales last year of $34 million. Through sheer determination and a passion for service to the customer, Guadarrama overcame the perception that a minority woman did not belong in the technology field or in marketing to defense-related contractors.
  • In 1976, Council opened a restaurant with only $64 in cash and a reputation as a good cook. What began as an 18-seat restaurant has now become a Chapel Hill institution. Council became a self-taught restaurateur by taking business classes and attending workshops and seminars. Mama Dip's Country Kitchen is now a successful and profitable business operation with a 200 percent increase over the previous location. Council has written a cookbook and appeared on national TV cooking shows.

Additional information on National Small Business Week 2002 is available at http://smallbusinesssuccess.sba.gov.