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Success Story:Mary Tappouni, Breaking Ground

“The SBDC at UNF is the first place I turned when I started my business, where I looked when my business needed to be evaluated for growth potential, and now that my business is going into a new stage of growth… I look forward to utilizing the SBDC now more than ever to help me continue to grow my business in a responsible and smart way.”

Robert Myers, SBDC Certified Business Analyst, has had the good fortune of working with Mary Tappouni as a client of the Small Business Development Center at the University of North Florida (SBDC at UNF) in Jacksonville. When he first talked to Mary, he immediately sensed her professionalism and unguarded enthusiasm in tackling any task at hand. It was these characteristics and more that recently won Mary the U.S. Small Business Administration‘s 2009 Small Business Person of the Year award for the State of Florida.

The SBDC at UNF helped Mary and company identify opportunities in her industry by utilizing detailed financial analysis and growth counseling while her company was part of the Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business (JSEB) program. Mary’s relationship with the SBDC began in 1998 when she attended SBDC seminars on how to start and manage a business.

“The genuine desire from all of the staff at the SBDC to see Breaking Ground Contracting succeed has been humbling,” said Mary. “The support is greatly appreciated and needed.”

Mary’s company name, Breaking Ground Contracting, is not all together coincidental with her achievements in her chosen industry. She is a female operating in the predominately masculine world of commercial building construction, and she leads North Florida in constructing “green” or eco-friendly commercial projects.

Breaking Ground, under Mary Tappouni’s leadership, recently celebrated its eleventh year in business. Despite her college degrees in Construction Management and Finance, Mary met resistance in the building industry after graduation in job placement. After turning down lower paying, administrative positions, Mary convinced her father, a mechanical contractor, to allow her to open a Jacksonville branch office of his mechanical contracting firm in Tampa. She managed the successful branch until resigning to start her own firm in 1997. Although she faced disappointments, setbacks, and historically male-dominated construction project obstacles, she grew her company into an award-winning firm characterized by professionalism, expertise, quality and integrity. In the eleven years since its inception, Mary has expanded her staff to 14 employees, tripled revenue since 2004 and averaged 56 percent growth every year for the past three years.

Mary and her team have accelerated Breaking Ground from traditional commercial general contracting into the field of “green” building. Breaking Ground is an emerging North Florida leader in this area of construction and continues to build expertise while working on two LEED-registered projects for small business owners.

Along with the commitment to quality construction, Mary and company are strongly committed to community involvement, specifically Jacksonville’s Blueprint for Prosperity program. Currently, she spearheads a mentoring program in which she coordinates groups of women to become mentors; sits on the Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business Oversight Committee at the Mayor’s request; and uses her experience to promote small business issues in the area. She also encourages her employees to participate in community activities of their choosing.

“I am just one of thousands of Florida’s small businesses with high potential for growth that has received and continues to receive invaluable assistance from the Florida SBDC program… Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do for the success of my business, for my employees and for the state’s small business community.” –Mary Tappouni

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