Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Young entrepreneurs thrive in Laurel

Hotel, mortgage office, daycare company are among local enterprises run by 20- and 30-somethings

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For some Laurel business owners, success has little to do with age — and a lot to do with savvy.

In December, Amit and Lisa Vora, age 23 and 27 respectively, passed the sixth-month mark as hotel owners of the Quality Inn & Suites on Second Street.

‘‘I always wanted to be in business and liked the hospitality industry,” said Amit Vora, a Silver Spring resident.

Since June, the hotel is averaging 250 more nightly rentals a month than it did under the previous ownership, said Amit Vora, who attributes the success to distributing flyers to area businesses and advertising discounted rates on Web sites like Orbitz and Expedia.

Being young comes with its own set of challenges in business, said Lisa Vora, who handles much of the marketing and public relations for the hotel.

‘‘Initially, it was tough trying to convince investors we were competent,” she said. ‘‘They were very wary.”

Though no programs exist in the Laurel Board of Trade to acclimate new business owners to the area, board members are always willing to help.

‘‘If any new businesses come in, they can come down and get...all the different forms they need,” President Joe Tredway said. ‘‘The Laurel Board of Trade is just a wealth of knowledge, and a lot of it is referrals. You don’t have to be a member [to ask advice]. If it’s [a] viable [business], we want to do everything we can to keep it.”

Greg Corneille, 27, a licensed financial planner with Edward Jones, will be opening a Laurel location of the company in the spring.

‘‘As a potential client, you want to be assured that someone who’s advising you is capable,” said Corneille. ‘‘But once I’m able to sit with them and exhibit my knowledge and the strength of my firm, [my age] usually doesn’t play a factor.”

Laurel resident John Aguilera, 35, has owned ABC Kidstime, a daycare corporation with wife, Gabriela, 30, since 2004. John Aguilera believes youth can be an asset to entrepreneurs.

‘‘When you’re young, you don’t have to worry about kids and home payments...you work harder and devote the time a business needs,” he said.

Kris Weaver and business partner Brian Fanning, both 27, started their mortgage company, Main Street Mortgage Associates, last year and are doing so well they are in the middle of a renovation to a new location on Main Street.

‘‘We’ve had an unbelievable first quarter above and beyond what we expected,” Weaver said. ‘‘We understand on a personal level and know people by face, unlike the bigger companies.”

Doreen Nionakis, owner of Hey Red! Inc. on Main Street, was just 19 when she opened her first salon in Bennington, NH. Now in her early 40s, she remembers well how hard it was to get people to take her seriously as a business owner.

‘‘Initially, because I didn’t have a track record, I was turned down by a couple of banks,” she said. But she doesn’t think being young necessarily impedes a business-owner’s chances at success.

‘‘I think it’s your passion that makes you good at what you do,” she said.