SEATTLE Lewis Blakeney, a certified business adviser with the Washington Small Business Development Center, was named the network’s 2018 “star performer” for his work with small business owners in north central Washington.
The award was announced May 3 during the U.S. Small Business Administration annual gala at the Renaissance Hotel in Seattle. Blakeney and other star performers from each of the 63 small business development networks across the country will be honored at the America’s SBDC conference in Washington, D.C., in September.
Blakeney joined the Washington center as a small business adviser in Omak in 2000, when his work is supported by The Economic Alliance of Okanogan County. He was a small business owner for more than a dozen years. Before that, Blakeney held executive positions in large corporations for more than 15 years.
“As the SBDC adviser in Okanogan County, Lew understands the specific challenges business owners in rural areas face,” said Duane Fladland, state director of the Washington center. “His work demonstrates that geography is not a barrier to success when small business owners have the tools and resources they need to succeed.”
The Washington center is a network of more than two dozen business advisers working in communities across the state to help small business owners start, grow or transition a business. It is hosted by Washington State University and receives support from the U.S. Small Business Administration and other institutions of higher education and economic development.
“Lew has assisted many of the local businesses within our communities from the ground up,” said Roni Holder-Diefenbach, executive director of the Economic Alliance. “He is committed to every client that he works with and goes above and beyond to see them succeed. We are lucky to have Lew as our SBDC officer serving Okanogan County.”
“It’s very rewarding to help someone be successful,” Blakeney said.
He assisted more than 100 small business clients in 2017. They clients credited him with helping them raise more than $1 million in capital.
His career total for helping Small Business Development Center clients secure financing exceeds $34 million.
When a business is successful, especially a business in a rural community, the ripple effects can be significant, from the owner and his or her family to the employees to the community, state officials said.
“You’ve actually changed someone’s life for the better,” Blakeney said.
Perseverance is the single most important quality in becoming a successful small business owner, he said.
“People who are not small business owners have no idea how stressful and all-consuming being a business owner is,” he said.
Blakeney earned an engineering degree from the University of Cincinnati and a master’s in business administration from Stanford University. While at Stanford he took a class in small business that interested him, but with few resources or connections, that wasn’t an option, he said.
Instead, he went to work for IBM and then spent more than 15 years working in executive positions in large corporations.
In 1985, after six months of research, he purchased an injection-molded plastic manufacturing company with 10 employees. Over the next dozen years he increased sales tenfold and added 30 new jobs.
“I had 40 people who depended on me for a job,” he said, and that was both satisfying and daunting. After selling his business in 1998, he decided he wanted to help other small business owners succeed.
From restaurant owners to hoteliers to retail shop owners and professional services, Blakeney’s clients talk about his ability to cut through the clutter and help them figure out what really matters.
In addition to the one-on-one business advising, Blakeney also has taught nearly two dozen 10-week courses titled “Indianpreneurship — a Native American Journey into Business” over the past 10 years.