VERGENNES — Nathaniel Group, Inc. (NGI) hosted the September networking “Get-Together” for members and guests of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, at its headquarters in Vergennes.
Event sponsors included Go! Vermont, Johnson Law Group, Let’s Grow Kids, Merritt & Merritt, SunCommon, Vermont Community Loan Fund, Vermont Trophy and Engraving, and Vermont Web Marking Summit/Curve Trends Marketing.
Joel Melnick, president at NGI, called the date of the event a happy coincidence. “As it turns out, today marks our 29th anniversary,” he said. “Back then, I was working for a much bigger company and had read Tom Peters’ book, “In Search of Excellence,” and he was introducing these concepts that are in line with VBSR and the triple bottom line. It had a big impact — and I was young and optimistic — so I quit my job and founded this company.”
An electrical engineer by training, Melnick grew his company into a world leader in original equipment design and manufacture. Key markets for the company include medical devices and scientific and medical illumination.
“I guess people would call us a bio-photonics or photonics company,” Melnick said. “We deliver light, primarily through fiber optics, with a heavy focus on medical, although a lot of this is used in machine vision as well.”
NGI started small and, early on, connected with another small Vermont business that Melnick said went on to become a billion-dollar medical company.
“For 20 years we had one huge client,” he said. “We supplied them and helped them grow. And having one huge customer taught us discipline and focus on quality and customer service. When you have one large client, you really have to take care of them.”
Recently, Melnick noted, “We’ve seen an explosion in video — cameras that are very small, that can be put in new places. They have increased resolution, speed and sensitivity — but they require a lot of light.”
Providing that light helps fuel advances in medicine, including endoscopes and surgical robotics, and enhanced quality control in production processes.
“We’re not doctors, and don’t invent surgical techniques, but we provide powerful tools that allow doctors to access smaller areas of the body or get endoscopes deeper into lungs,” Melnick said.
The implications could be lifesaving, as he noted: “Getting further into the lungs means being able to identify cancers earlier, increasing survivability.”
NGI also offers LED light sources to companies involved with machine vision, and is also launching new products for high-speed motion capture.
The company has 16 full-time employees and five to six independent contractors, Melnick said.
“We’ve developed some super-modern manufacturing techniques that enable us to be highly productive with a relatively small staff,” he said.
Rene Churchill of Ivy Computer in Waterbury Center said, “We do business management software for the waste hauling industry. We have a nationwide customer base — anything from a single hauler with one truck to Myers Container, which has 20 to 30 trucks covering all of northern Vermont. It’s a great niche to be in, because there will always be trash.”
Cielo Mendoza is an attorney at the Burlington offices of Johnson Law Group International, a firm headquartered in Washington, DC. “Our focus is business formation and transactional work, estate planning and civil litigation,” Mendoza said. “We’re an event sponsor tonight,” Mendoza said. “It’s my very first VBSR event, but I’m very interested in the organization, and this gave me a perfect opportunity to attend.”
Chuck Pizer, community engagement director at Vermont PBS said, “We are going to be bringing ‘Hamilton’s America’ all around the state. It’s a sneak peak at a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the smash Broadway play ‘Hamilton,’ and will air as part of the PBS Fall Festival.”
Pizer said Vermont PBS will present screening and discussion events between Oct. 1 and Oct. 20 in Brattleboro, Burlington, Derby Line, Manchester, Montpelier and Rutland. The events are free and open to the public. Specific dates and details are available at www.vermontpbs.org.
R.J. Adler represented SunCommon, a Champion Member of VBSR.
“SunCommon is mission-driven,” Adler said. “We believe everyone has the right to a healthy environment and a safer world. And now, when we say everyone, we actually mean everyone. We have recently rolled out a suite of financing tools for businesses to go solar. I’m personally very excited about that because I am the person on the ground, actually talking to businesses to find out about your goals and challenges and figuring how we can make solar fit.”
Amy Kirschner said, “I run the Marketplace program for VBSR, which is a trade network of VBSR members to do more business with each other.”
Kirschner was handing out stars for members to wear on nametags to stimulate Marketplace interactions.
“Specifically, we are doing live brokering,” Kirschner said. “The star says, ‘Hey, I’m a member of the VBSR Marketplace and I’m looking to do business.’ So we’re making an education and network event a trade event as well.”
Raymond Lanza-Weil, director of business programs at Vermont Community Loan Fund (VCLF) told guests that his organization “aggregates investments from community-minded folks like all of you, and we loan invested money to businesses and other organizations around the state to help improve the economic landscape.”
He said VCLF has three primary loan programs: affordable housing, businesses that provide childcare and early childhood education, and all types of businesses. Lanza-Weil said, “We couple our financing with ongoing technical assistance to help our borrowers get better, get stronger and get back on track in some cases.”
Linda Dissinger of Merritt & Merritt said, “We are a law firm that was established in 1989, and we work with emerging growth companies. Nathaniel Group was a client early on, and we are thankful for that and glad to see how they’ve grown — there are many companies like that in Vermont.” Merritt & Merritt is a founding member of VBSR.
Will Pearson, corporate support associate at Vermont Public Radio (VPR), said, “We’re just going public with the VPR Next Campaign — it will help fund our facility upgrades and expansion, as well as new programming, investigative journalism, new local content that (we) will produce ourselves, including Vermont-focused music.”
Barbi McDonald, NGI’s general manager, led VBSR members on group tours of the company’s facilities.
“They’re seeing how neat, clean, and orderly our facility is, and they’re seeing people build remotes, and LED lighting — our SugarCUBE line. They also went upstairs to meet the engineers who design the products we build,” McDonald said.
Jane Campbell, executive director at VBSR, said this summer her organization, working with Women Business Owners Network (WBON), launched a study group to look at the issue of independent contractors.
“It’s not an easy issue,” she said. “There are differing federal and state laws, and a changing economy with changing definitions of what is or is not an employee,” Campbell said.
She said the group would look at the issue from multiple viewpoints.
“We want it to work from an economic-development perspective, but also protect the rights and benefits of workers,” Campbell said.
Russ Elek, communication and membership manager for VBSR, said VBSR added 148 new members in the past year. He also mentioned the organization is presenting a candidates forum, featuring gubernatorial candidates Phil Scott and Sue Minter, and a number of candidates for other statewide offices, on Oct. 24 in Brattleboro in partnership with the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Candidates will each speak for three to four minutes from the podium, then take questions from the crowd, and we’ll end with an evening of drinks and networking,” Elek said.
Business Vermont roving reporter Mike Reilly offers regular coverage of Chittenden County business networking events, providing notes on events, hosts and sponsors, with news and snippets from those in attendance. For events sponsored by Vermont Businesses For Social Responsibility, check the website at www.vbsr.org.