Few new businesses can claim four-year revenue growth of more than $20 million and a spot on the Inc. 500 list. But Pangea Group Inc., a construction, remediation and environmental services provider and client of the St. Louis Enterprise Centers (SLEC) (now STLVentureWorks), boasts a resume that includes these accomplishments and more.
The company’s sales have skyrocketed from $300,000 to $20.5 million since entering the SLEC West County Incubator in 1998, securing it the 95th spot on Inc. magazine’s list of fastest growing private companies in 2001. Pangea’s staff has grown from 7 to 74 during the same time frame.
From its humble beginnings in founder Michael Zambrana’s basement, Pangea has grown into a nationally recognized construction firm that handles site remediation and restoration, facility and civil construction, and environmental service projects nationwide. Clients include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Energy, multiple military installations, and private industrial and chemical clients.
Starting with a business plan and a handful of contacts from his years in the heavy construction and engineering industries, Zambrana soon realized that his developing business was outgrowing his basement. "After I got my first contract, I started getting very busy and needed help with bookkeeping and accounting," Zambrana says. "But when I called the temp agency, I discovered that they would not send someone out to a residence."
Needing professional office space but not yet ready to commit to a long-term lease, Zambrana decided to move the company into the incubator. The program’s flexible office space was its first appeal, but Zambrana quickly learned to appreciate the business counseling services, networking opportunities and access to small business outreach programs provided by the incubator.
"Mike is a great example of how participation in a business incubation program can facilitate the survival, growth and success of new and fledgling businesses," says Jan DeYoung, director of the St. Louis Enterprise Centers. "He quickly became involved in the entrepreneurial environment that was provided to him, and he has benefited greatly from our services."
In addition to traditional business counseling services, the incubator helped the company secure its first bank loan, locate business leads and apply to the Department of Energy’s mentor protégé program and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) small disadvantaged business contractor program — all of which have played integral roles in the company’s growth.
"When you grow as quickly as we have, you’re bound to have growing pains," Zambrana says. "But the incubator has been instrumental in helping us manage our growth. We have taken all the advice we can get about business planning and attended as many incubator training events as we could."
Zambrana notes that the company also has benefited from its close proximity to other start-up businesses, both as peers and as customers. Networking with other incubator clients often generates new solutions to age-old questions about managing a growing business, he says. Also, Pangea has conducted business with several other incubator clients, including a firm that developed the company’s local area network and Web site and another that embroidered its company shirts.
Because Zambrana appreciates the help he has received, he routinely participates in incubator networking functions and shares his business expertise with other clients. He also has referred potential clients and service providers to the incubator and has hosted notable visitors — including high-level officials from the SBA and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Most notably, Zambrana has been a vocal public and political advocate for the Enterprise Centers’ program, DeYoung says.
"We nominated Mike because of the kind of person he is and the values he represents, the path he forged from humble beginnings to a company of national prominence, and the example he sets for others who aspire to achieve success in businesses of their own," DeYoung says.
In addition to the Outstanding Incubator Client Award, Pangea and Zambrana also have received numerous other honors, including laurels from the SBA, the St. Louis Economic Council and the Department of Energy.
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