Diane Coury flipped $50 into a one-woman interior design business in 1980; it never flopped.
“I thought, ‘I couldn’t do any worse venturing out on my own versus working for someone else,’” Coury explained. “I started contacting architects and furniture representatives and soon I was hired as a subcontractor for corporations and restaurateurs, providing floor plans, furniture, flooring and more.”
For years the designing woman was working steadily and successfully with nonprofit, business and residential clients lending her expertise as creator, purchaser and consultant; her one-on-one approach harmonizing homes, university president offices and multi-story office buildings.
Eventually, Coury decided it was time renovate her own business. She became certified as a U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Women-Owned Small Business, adding federal, state and local government agencies to her client base.
“This program is so important for our women-owned small businesses because certification helps participants grow revenues by selling in government marketplaces,” said SBA Western Pa. District Director Dr. Kelly Hunt.
“Our goal is to award at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to women through bidding and special industry set-asides. In 2020, $27 billion in contracting dollars were awarded to women-owned small businesses, creating thousands of jobs.”
Coury switched seats, becoming a client at the Northwest Commission Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) starting the contracting process.
“We provide free help for small business owners to determine if there is a market for their products or services,” said Melissa Becker, government contracting specialist.
“While the government does buy everything, clients need to determine if government contracting or subcontracting is a viable business choice.”
Becker and her colleagues helped Coury obtain her women-owned certification, register in SAM.gov (System for Awards Management) and enroll in the Commonwealth’s cooperative purchasing program. Designated as both an interior designer and supplier for window treatments, lighting, furniture and carpeting, Coury began sharing her decades of expertise in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.
She was awarded contracts with the Defense Logistics Agency and Fort Sam Houston, a U.S. Army post in Texas. “The commission showed me where the opportunities were listed,” she added. “I received a layout and provided the furniture and installation pricing and won the bid.”
She never even left her New Castle office to complete the contract, a far cry from her early days sketching floor plans by hand with updates sent via courier. “I’m still using the same spatial flow and design elements as when I started, but today many projects can be completed online.”
When the pandemic hit, Coury’s corporate work came to a complete halt. An SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan helped her small business weather the pandemic.
Paycheck Protection Program loans were SBA-backed and forgivable loans designed to help small business owners like Coury, use proceeds for qualified expenses such as payroll, utilities and health-care premiums. Last year, more than 1 million women business owners across the country received $33 billion in PPP assistance.
In addition to the SBA, homeowners boosted Coury’s business during the pandemic.
“People were stuck at home and wanted to update kitchens and bathrooms,” she said. “Even though I don’t advertise, reach-outs tripled. I spent months planning their spaces, drawing blueprints and serving as a dealer for cabinetry and other amenities until installers could complete the project.”
Today, she’s again bidding on several federal projects using her decades of industry expertise to benefit end users.