Brenda Nolby, owner of Ham Lake-based Jam Hops, was chosen as the 2018 Small Business Person of the Year by Minnesota’s office of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The Small Business Person of the Year is selected based on growth in sales or unit volume, increase in the number of employees, financial strength, innovativeness of product or service and evidence of contributions to community-oriented projects. Along with these, Nolby’s efforts to create a thriving business and improve lives in her community outshone other applicants, according to the award announcement. She was nominated by the Ham Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Small businesses drive our economy and at the SBA we do everything we can to help their owners thrive,” said Nancy J. Libersky, district director of the SBA’s Minnesota District Office. “In following our mission, the SBA has helped Brenda grow her business, which in turn allowed her to have a greater positive impact in her community. We are proud to honor her as this year’s Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year.”
Jam Hops offers many opportunities including youth classes and competitive programs for gymnastics and dance, cheerleading and ninja classes, an academic preschool and a theater program.
“At Jam Hops we work to transform the lives of children to strengthen their future and improve our community,” Nolby said. “We’re very much not a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ organization. We don’t believe in settling on good enough, which has helped us stay flexible to the changing needs of our customers. This mentality has been the main contributor to our growth and development of Jam Hops’ many programs.”
Formed in 1997 when two gymnastics programs merged, Jam Hops grew rapidly, adding a second location in 2005 and a third in 2014 and currently employs 87. Nolby started working for the company in the early 1990s and became the sole owner in 2013. The company has benefited from SBA financing guarantees, which helped it purchase buildings and equipment as the business grew.
The company nearly went bankrupt in 2007-08 when enrollment dropped by more than half with the recession. By 2009 Nolby had to stop paying herself a regular salary, and her business partner went back to teaching school full time.
Jam Hops paid its bills on time through it all, and the gratitude she felt toward her supportive community inspired Nolby to start “Jam Hops Gives Back” with donations and services to local organizations. Since starting in 2013, the campaign has donated almost $64,000 and hundreds of birthday parties to local organizations to help in their fundraising efforts, and thousands of pounds of food and clothing to the local food shelf.
According to the award announcement, a few other ways Jam Hops supports its community include: helping families in need by providing scholarships for children to take classes; helping keep the community clean by volunteering in the Adopt-a-Highway program; and having their dancers spend time with the elderly in nursing home visits where they do a performance and share cookies and conversation. Competitive gymnasts and dancers also donate time at Feed My Starving Children each year. Nolby has been able to participate in a mission trip to Haiti and she and her husband support five children in Haiti and Africa.
Further supporting other small businesses in the area, Nolby is the current president of the Ham Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, which nominated her for the award. Additionally, Jam Hops was the host location for its Congressman’s ‘Young Women in Leadership’ program, and Nolby also helps organize the Ham Lake City Snowbowl by heading up the silent auction committee.
The SBA Minnesota District Office, along with the SCORE Association and the Minnesota State Small Business Development Center, will honor all the 2018 winners at the Minnesota Small Business Week Awards Luncheon on May 11 at the Doubletree by Hilton Park Place in Minneapolis. Registration is open for the event until May 8. Visit conta.cc/2uCnW5b to register. The event fee is $45 per person.
Nolby has been invited to Washington, D.C., to join winners from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands during National Small Business Week ceremonies to receive her individual award and be there for the naming of the 2018 National Small Business Person of the Year, for which she is eligible.
For more information on Small Business Week, which is April 29 through May 5 this year, visit sba.gov/NSBW.