Photo by Ash Daniel
Nico de León, NXL
De León loves to build bridges — big ones. When he first came to Richmond in 1985, he was on the crew that constructed the beautiful Varina-Enon Bridge on Interstate 295. That project launched him into entrepreneurship in 1990. “I was consulting for contractors when I first started,” recalls De León. “It was exciting. It was fearful. You’re getting out of your normal comfort zone.”
De León, who lived in Tampa, Florida before putting down roots and raising a family in Richmond, also helped build the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay. “I’m a civil engineer; I am partial to bridges. They’re all different and unique in their own way,” he says.
De León recently finished work on another project, the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in metro Washington, which connects Northern Virginia to Southern Maryland, and he’s helping oversee that region’s Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project construction. He still networks and attends industry association conferences, which helped him build a company that’s been around for 25 years. He hasn’t forgotten what made him successful.
“You have to be excited and have a passion for your work,” he says. “Never stop learning. I’m always reading about what’s happening in my industry.”
Photo courtesy Mark Remes
Mark Remes, BES Studios
Remes, an old-school print journalist, fell victim to the fate of many newsroom veterans: burnout. He turned to television, where he fell in love with the medium and for more than 20 years, has been running production at BES Studios, a comprehensive video production company.
He admits that production is labor intensive, but the challenge of getting from the first client meeting to a completed product is what drives him. “The hours aren’t good. You can’t just go home and sit and watch CNN. Crews are always coming in, people are checking into hotels, you may lose a teleprompter operator and have to replace them. Your adrenaline is always pumping,” Remes says.
BES has worked with individual, large and small advertising agencies and the U.S. Army. Remes says that working in a creative environment is new every day. And while personalities exist, the end game is that the team creates the best product and experience for the client. “This business is synonymous with egos. You want to celebrate that. The trick is how to make it work so they feel like they’ve contributed. As long as everyone is having fun, you don’t want to get in the way of that drive. You have to harness it,” he says.
Casey Longyear and Marshe Wyche, Rumors Boutique
Casey Longyear describes her relationship with her best friend and business partner, Marshe Wyche, as “totally yin and yang.”
They met at a party in 2003, becoming fast friends and eventually roommates. The week Longyear graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, the duo put on a fashion show that inspired Wyche. “She said, ‘What do you think about opening a store?’ I thought about it and later while in Spain, I said to her, ‘Let’s go for it!’ ” Longyear recalls.
They bootstrapped their West Broad Street business without outside help, working multiple jobs while sleeping in the store on a twin bed. Since starting their second-hand clothing boutique, they’ve opened locations in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (2013), and Miami (2015), and they sell a “couple hundred dollars a day” in pieces on Instagram. “Thrifting is really fun,” Longyear says. “Rumors is our life. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Sheri Bias, Liquid Talent Group
Sheri Bias’ human resources management and casting skills have helped her agency build a roster of talent that’s garnering attention at local, regional and national levels. After years of shuffling her son, Justin, around to other talent agencies, Bias purchased Liquid Talent Group in 2011. She “was handed a box of papers and spreadsheets” and went to work at building an infrastructure around a business without one.
By pounding the pavement, she attracted clients like Fox television network, Walmart, Pizza Hut, Toyota, the Virginia Lottery and the SPCA. She cites a commitment to training and skill-building classes that Liquid offers actors and voice talent that have allowed it to crack a competitive national market
“A lot of our success has come by word of mouth. We get a lot of referrals from experiences people have had at Liquid, whether it’s clients or talent referring back. It’s about treating people right,” she says.
Justin Mattison, Q.U.A.D. Athletics
Justin Mattison was gaming on his Xbox when his then-girlfriend told him that his name had been called in the 2003 Major League Baseball draft. Then Joel Matthews, a Miami Marlins scout, called and said he’d been drafted and had the chance to play baseball and make his dreams come true.
Mattison, a California native who played college ball at Virginia Commonwealth University, spent a few seasons in the minor leagues, including stints in the farm systems for the Marlins and the San Diego Padres, before ending his career in 2007. Now, he’s bringing his experience to help young athletes at his company, Q.U.A.D. Athletics. “We are athletic development for baseball players,” Mattison says. “The business of baseball makes it a year-round sport.”
Mattison hopes to help his players reach the majors, if that’s their goal. One of the boys, pitcher Matt Henson of Frederickburg, recently signed to play Division 1 baseball at Longwood University and another, a 10-year-old named Hartley, has taken to Mattison’s mentoring with hopes that it will help prepare him to play at the University of North Carolina.
“The kids who become students of the game are the easiest to work with. Every kid that I have that deeper connection with creates more influence,” he says. “You can teach that player to be better and you get to see that player grow. That’s my passion.”