Trent Griffin-Braaf was looking forward to a great year in 2020 for his business, Tech Valley Hospitality Shuttle. “In January, we’d doubled our year-over-year revenue,” Trent explains, “and based on early bookings, I’d projected that trend would continue throughout the year.”
Tech Valley offers a broad range of transportation-related services, including private bookings for special events like weddings and graduation parties, airport shuttle service and low-cost transportation so that people who don’t own cars have affordable options when commuting for work.
Just six weeks later, everything changed with the Covid-19 pandemic and business closures that put an immediate halt to his business.
Bringing people together throughout the Capital District
Trent built his business from the ground up. When 2020 began, he had about 10 vehicles in his fleet and more than a dozen employees whose focus on stellar customer care at affordable prices meant that Tech Valley’s services were always in high demand.
The crisis fueled Trent’s passion to help others whenever and wherever he can. One example is how he kept his team moving forward during the shutdowns. “We offered our services to community-based organizations that needed to get food and medical supplies to people in the community who were cut off from their usual services.”
A knack for finding unmet needs
Trent finds innovative ways to build his business. “A lot of people talk about building bridges as a way to grow,” he says. “I like to say that I look for the tunnels. By that, I mean that I do a lot of networking to find unmet needs in transportation, then I figure out how to meet those needs in ways that help our customers while growing the business.”
Trent is active with chambers of commerce, local “discovery centers” and business development organizations, even during the pandemic. “It’s easy to get discouraged,” he admits. “Still, we’re all facing the same uncertainty. It really is all about community, so I’m using this time to expand our network.”
Creative thinking and an openness to new opportunities will also help him find ways to grow in the “new normal,” Trent says, and his business’s size helps Tech Valley stay nimble during changing times.
Trent’s optimism and resilience are founded in his own history of overcoming challenges. After a rocky start to adulthood, he parlayed jobs in the hospitality industry into management positions, where he learned the importance of great service. “Our competitive advantage has always been our focus on our customers. We’ll go out of our way to make sure they have the transportation services they want at a price they can afford and on a schedule that meets their needs.”
A Pursuit loan provides financial stability
One reason for Trent’s confidence in his ability to bounce back is that Tech Valley was better prepared, financially, going into the crisis: Tech Valley had secured a loan from Pursuit just a couple of months before the pandemic hit.
Tech Valley is a certified minority-owned business and Trent attended a minority- and women-owned business (MWBE) conference in Albany.
“I learned about Pursuit at the event and when I felt ready to grow the business, I contacted them. The Pursuit team made it really easy,” he says. “The process was simple and they understood our business plan and where I want to see it go. They believed in Tech Valley and approved a loan.”
Trent’s initial vision for the loan was to grow the business further, but with the health crisis, he used it to carry his business through. He says that Tech Valley also secured a small loan from the Capital Region Chamber of Commerce just before the pandemic, as well as a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan during the first round of funding.
Trent’s also taken advantage of Pursuit’s additional consulting services, including marketing assistance. “Pursuit is helping me make two commercials,” he says enthusiastically. “We shot one in March and we’re going to do the second one in June. We’re looking to roll those out as part of a marketing campaign in late summer and early fall.”
Finding new opportunities following a crisis
“I really don’t know what’s in store, we could have another business shutdown any day. But I feel optimistic about our ability to evolve,” Trent admits, “in part, because we’re okay financially for a while, so I can keep exploring opportunities.”
He continues, “As we come out of the health crisis, I’d like to build our partnerships with companies who want to expand their employee pools, but whose reach has been limited by employee-transportation issues. We’re looking at high unemployment right now and I’d like to help people who don’t have a way to get to their jobs.”
And for other business owners who need funding but who have been unable to qualify or who aren’t applying because they’re concerned that they can’t meet loan criteria, Trent offers this advice, “Realize that traditional bank loans aren’t available for a lot of small businesses, because even when they want to help, our businesses simply don’t meet their criteria. Look for other options and find the right lender. For Tech Valley, that was Pursuit and the experience has been great.”