Cecil DelaCruz, President of Viking Engineering + Construction, shared his journey to success as a small business owner with the support of two Small Business Administration (SBA) programs.
DelaCruz used to work as a general contractor in the federal area. He noticed that the term “8(a)” was used a lot, so he checked the SBA website for more information.
The 8(a) program is a nine-year program under the SBA designed to help individuals start their businesses. Companies participating in the program could receive training and technical support to improve their entrepreneurial skills.
Although DelaCruz founded Viking in 2002, he had to put it on hold for years due to the financial inability to sustain his day-to-day life. Years later, in 2011, he had the opportunity to buy a construction company from his former employer. That’s when he and his partner decided to revive Viking.
DelaCruz started his own company and said he wanted to “control his future.” He hoped to do business differently in such a difficult market by developing a relational business model.
“People thought I was crazy because there’s no such thing,” DelaCruz said. “It’s always a low bid. A low bid always wins.”
His experience working in a few small businesses has given him more knowledge of the operational aspects of running a small business. After four years of efforts to develop larger projects, he applied to the 8(a) program and was accepted in 2015. He said the SBA offered a lot of training to help him lay his foundation for running and growing a business.
“The 8(a) opened up opportunities that I definitely never would have had,” said DelaCruz.
He was also grateful for business opportunity specialist Joseph Smetak, who was “a very integral part” of his company’s growth.
The exposure Viking has gained through the program allows them to connect with more customers and trading partners in the contract world. A larger network of people wanted to know about Viking. Despite the company’s growth, DelaCruz constantly encourages his team to strive for the best.
“I keep repeating to our team that growth breeds notoriety. And exposure, good or bad, will happen,” he said. “That’s why we strive to always do well.”
DelaCruz was also able to handle a greater variety of cases through the program. His team once had a client who had an emergency problem. Normally, the customer has to go through the three-month process including tendering and evaluation. His team was able to deal directly with the agency, came up with a design and executed it, cutting the process from around three months to three weeks.
However, not all customers are cooperative. There were times when DelaCruz faced customers who were “very strict.”
“The 8(a) also has some disadvantages,” he said. “There was one particular agency that was really difficult to work with. So we don’t usually work with it that much anymore.”
The pandemic was another challenge. Many projects have been put on hold during the pandemic, and it has been extremely difficult not just for DelaCruz but for small business owners in general. Not to mention that the construction industry has been hit hard.
“Although we do not operate residential buildings [projects]They stopped because people didn’t want them in their house,” he said. “Everything has stopped because the future is so uncertain … Of course it hasn’t stopped entirely, but the two-year delay has been very difficult.”
The DelaCruz team was providing more emergency relief at the time, but it still wasn’t enough.
He said the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has kept the doors open.
The program supports costs including services for up to eight weeks. It is an SBA-backed loan to help companies keep their workers employed during the COVID-19 crisis. The program ended last year, but small business owners in need can still receive assistance through PPP loan forgiveness.
“This support from the additional working capital inflow has been very helpful,” said DelaCruz. “It actually saved us.”
With vaccinations becoming widespread and many states lifting pandemic restrictions, he said Viking would be reemployed. The biggest problem for the company right now is supply chain management.
“Doors, windows, building materials, appliances are all backordered because now they are just catching up. Maybe in six months to a year and a half we’ll see stocks coming back,” he said. “But it was very difficult.”
Still, DelaCruz works hard on his road to success and is a good father to his two children. He said that when he started Viking he sacrificed many things, including his time, his health and his ability to spend time with his sons. Now that he has around 50 employees and individuals running the operations he oversees, he makes his children his top priority.
His younger son recently finished second in a county tennis game. His son took it hard, and he said to his son, “You can learn a lot. It’s a life lesson. Those disappointments will be valuable in your growth.”