Monica Lee is always looking for the next opportunity.
As general manager of Route 66 International Inc., a Hackensack-based seaweed company, Lee has helped guide the company as it worked to expand its customer base, its production capacity and its global reach.
The firm, founded in 2016, started with what sounded like an overwhelming task - taking on the Chinese seaweed market. Korean seaweed, Lee said, is known for its good taste, but it wasn’t as well known around the globe.
So, Route 66 started to import Korean seaweed for sale to American restaurants. It was a good start, but Lee soon recognized there was another opportunity here. She wasn’t aware of any seaweed factories operating in the U.S., so Route 66 decided that was the next step.
In 2019, the firm purchased a building. Following extensive renovations and equipment purchase, the factory was ready to open its doors in January 2020. The facility imports A-grade Korean seaweed, which is then roasted and packaged here in New Jersey.
Starting operations the year a global pandemic hit certainly wasn’t ideal, but despite that added challenge sales have been strong and today the company, which has 11 full-time employees, sells its packaged seaweed to more than 800 restaurants in 40 states.
While Lee started her career as a kindergarten teacher in South Korea, her focus today is on business.
“Being a woman, to me, I look at it as an advantage, not a disadvantage,” Lee said as the country celebrates Women’s History Month this March.
“I focus on what I can do better as a woman and I’m not afraid to ask for help,” Lee said. “I don’t have any experience on the business side, so I looked for support and resources. I received help from the state (including the New Jersey Business Action Center’s Office of Export Promotion) and that gave me a lot of insight and strength.”
As she learned more, she pursued new opportunities including exporting. With the help of the NJBAC and the Small Business Administration, Lee has made connections with potential customers in places like Germany and is pursuing those leads.
She encourages women in business to take advantage of the many resources available as they pursue their goals.
“Try to get the support of the state and the advocates here to help. Getting the right advice and working with reliable sources is key,” she said.
Yvonne Cangelosi joined SPEX Industries in 1987 in a sales and marketing role. By the time the company was acquired by Illinois-based Cole-Parmer in February 2020, Cangelosi had worked in the company’s stockroom, shipping and production operations, been named executive vice president and ultimately president of the Metuchen-based chemical manufacturer.
“It has been an amazing, amazing journey,” Cangelosi said as she reflected on her career.
When SPEX first hired her, Cangelosi, who has a background in business and sales, didn’t know what to expect. She was given a position in the chemicals department (though she did not have a background in chemistry) as a sales and marketing representative. The job was a good one, but she would later take a job elsewhere looking for new challenges.
In 1997, SPEX came to her offering Cangelosi a new role. “(They) wrote the offer on a sticky note,” Cangelosi recalled fondly of the unconventional offer letter. She still has the sticky note.
As she took on ever increasing responsibility at SPEX, Cangelosi enjoyed working with her team and helping those around her grow. “I’m big on culture. I’m big on leadership, understanding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and how you develop a great team.”
She also joined the Monmouth County chapter of the Women President’s Organization (WPO), a group focused on supporting women in business.
“I was in a very male-dominated space. Thankfully the four men I worked with trusted me and gave me a chance,” she said of the SPEX leadership.
That combination of trust from her team and the support of groups like the WPO helped Cangelosi forge her path in business and helped her learn some lessons along the way. “I didn’t ask for more early in my career,” she said of changing she might do differently today. “Sometimes you have to ask.”
After SPEX was acquired by the company now called Antylia Scientific, Cangelosi was given a new role as vice president of SPEX life sciences division.
“It is a good company and I continue to learn from them,” she said.
Cangelosi crossed paths with the New Jersey Business Action Center team as SPEX looked to grow its exporting opportunities. With the help of the New Jersey State Trade Expansion Program grants, SPEX developed relationships with customers across the globe including in Dubai, China and Brazil.
Like SPEX, Cangelosi has evolved in her career and she encourages other women in business to do the same.
“Don’t ever give up,” she said as she urged women to take advantage of all the resources available to them. “Don’t ever give up.”
Janet Ryan could only watch as her beloved mother coped with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. The experience led her to focus on taking supplements and the basics of good health for herself, but soon she realized she wanted to find ways to help others.
“My passion for anti-aging is probably at the crux of this,” Ryan said as she spoke about her Morris county-based business SpectraSpray Global.
The state registered women-owned business, which started in March 2016, sells spray vitamin supplements that are easier to absorb than pill supplements.
Ryan, a trained classical pianist who had done some work selling supplements, didn’t have a background in business, but she had the drive and desire to keep moving, and with the support of a trusted mentor the company began to grow.
“I had no idea what I was doing,” Ryan said as she reflected on five years in business.
“You start for whatever reason and then you reevaluate why you’re doing this,” Ryan said, noting that there were at least three times along the way that she thought about quitting. “But each time a breakthrough happens.”
One of those breakthrough moments came after she met a representative from the federal International Trade Administration at a women’s entrepreneurial event. That representative first broached the subject of exporting with Ryan.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” Ryan said. She eagerly listened and soon connected with the New Jersey Business Action Center’s Office of Export Promotion and its NJ State Trade Expansion Program grants, designed to help small businesses reach a global audience.
Now, following participation in a trade show supported by the grant, she has connections with customers or potential customers in Singapore, Ukraine and South Korea along with leads in places like Canada, Turkey and Norway.
The business is growing and her daughter has even joined in, helping develop marketing and graphics for the business. “My kids are grown and this (business) is like a third child,” Ryan said.
Her advice to women in the business world? “Put your seatbelt on,” Ryan said, of the ups and downs of running a business.
Despite those ups and downs, Ryan said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I wasn’t looking for a job,” Ryan said. “I was looking to build a company.”
In January 2020, Young Kim, like many around the globe, watched as reported cases of a novel coronavirus started to spread. Kim, who serves as President and CEO of Princeton-based CAREOX, had been in the respiratory industry for some 30 years and he recognized what might be coming.
"We started to prepare in mid-January as we saw the numbers climb," KIm said. He knew the virus, which soon became known as COVID-19, would have devastating effects on the global economy, so he turned to the one weapon he could count on to combat this new challenge.
"The only thing I can do is believe in myself," Kim said.
And that's what he did. The small company, a respiratory care and anesthesia medical device manufacturer and supplier, and its five employees continued operating following CDC guidelines and adjusting when it had to to stay up and running.
"Our rule is we stay 10 feet apart. We sanitize every day. We strictly follow the guidelines," Kim said, adding he washes his hands nearly 50 times a day.
While focused on health and safety, the company continued exporting its products to places like South Korea, Japan, Turkey and the European Union. CAREOX, a recipient of two NJ State Trade Expansion Program grants, used the funds to attend trade shows to reach potential new customers. Advocates from the Office of Export Promotion, part of the New Jersey Business Action Center, assisted CAREOX during the application process. The Office of Export Promotion administers the grants.
During the pandemic, such shows have gone virtual and the in-person contact Kim enjoys has moved to phone calls and virtual meetings. Not ideal, but Kim said, "We talk to our customers often and let them know we worry about them."
His resolve paid off and CAREOX expanded, adding an R&D center near its existing office, and the company has plans to nearly double the number of employees in 2021.
"All business people are faced, time to time, with a crisis of some kind," Kim said, "The only thing we can do is have a strong belief in ourselves."
Hammonton’s Tomasello Winery got its start in 1933, capitalizing on the end of Prohibition that was to come in December of that year. The family-owned business, now in its fourth generation, grew and thrived, enduring wartime economies, economic downturns and a changing global marketplace.
Then came 2020.
Like all businesses, the winery was faced with a new uncertainty, wondering what a global pandemic would mean to the company and its employees. Tastings, weddings and other events would be affected the most, but the winery has seen growth and success thanks to its early embrace of the possibilities of e-commerce and its work to pursue exporting with the help of grants received through the Office of Export Promotion New Jersey State Trade Expansion Program.
Owner Jack Tomasello estimated e-commerce sales are up some 37 percent since March, when New Jersey declared a public health emergency. Tomasello attributed the growth to both the circumstances - Americans are staying home more - and word of mouth thanks to wine blogs and wine educators spreading the word. Today, the company is shipping wine across the country, literally, entering the California, Oregon and Washington state markets thanks to its comprehensive website and online sales efforts.
The company already had a large mailing list, but increased website traffic and the availability of e-commerce has sustained the winery at a time when in-store and sales and outlet tastings saw significant reductions thanks to capacity reductions during the pandemic.
“My advice (to businesses) is to get more involved with e-commerce,” Tomasello said, calling e-commerce a "lifeline." “Those that didn’t jump on it, they’re jumping on now. They have to,” Tomasello said.
Motion Picture & Television Commission
Qualified production companies can receive a transferable tax credit equal to 30% (35% in the following municipalities: Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, or Salem County) of qualified production expenses ....
Congratulations to NJMEP
We are proud to announce the official launch of the Educational Resource Directory, an online directory that connects manufacturers with the critical resources needed to train their employees in New Jersey...