During National Small Business Week, we’ve learned so much from the nation’s inspiring entrepreneurs. Small business owners like Greg Golden from Mustache Pretzels, Keitha Dendy from Home Made Luxe, and Michele Lucas from Spindaroos are some shining examples of dedication and perseverance. And they are why we believe that small businesses are the backbone of the American economy.

Some people just have a natural entrepreneurial spirit within them.

Neelima Gogumalla, owner of Creative Chef Kitchens, is one of those lucky people. However, despite a natural appetite for success, she is humble enough to seek mentorship, and then pay the knowledge forward to other entrepreneurs embarking on their small business journey.

Creative Chef Kitchens is a certified, commercial kitchen space for both new and established small food ventures. Neelima’s goal is to bring all of the components needed to start and run a small business under one roof. This includes everything from a variety of consulting services on regulation and compliance, to packaging and labelling, nutritional information, barcoding and batch numbering, recall plans, and more. Since 2013, she has helped launch and develop more than 100 food startups.

Neelima is one of 102 small business owners selected as winners in the 2017 American Small Business Championship. She already has big plans to use her prizes to expand her business and help even more food startups launch and grow. The $1,000 gift card from Sam’s Club will be used to buy invaluable kitchen equipment like display racks, small wares, and stainless steel food carts as well as cleaning supplies. With knowledge gained through the mentorship and training events provided by SCORE and sponsored by Sam’s Club, she is going to expand the size of her current kitchen facility.

Last week, Neelima traveled to Dallas for the ASBC winner’s training and networking event hosted by SCORE. We caught up with her between sessions to hear about her experience.

Q: We’re glad that you could join the other small business owners at the event. How’s the day been for you so far?

It has been a tremendous day. One thing that I’ve noticed so far is that no matter where individuals are in their small business journey or what industry they represent, they are energetic and optimistic. I’ve met a lot of small business owners outside of the food industry, but the energy is always the same. They are excited and putting their heart and soul into their business. That’s the type of energy that I like. I try to feed off of that energy.

Q: It sounds like the energy is very contagious! What are some of the training sessions that you attended?

I attended Social Media Marketing, which was extremely helpful. My business is very local, so I don’t engage in social media as much as I’d like to. This training session exposed me to the various ways that I can target and reach my customer base more. I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned back home and implementing the strategies. Being able to use online tools that make my life easier is great. When I get home, I’m going to review everything.

Q: Overall, what would you say is your biggest takeaway so far?

My one takeaway would be to reinforce with my customers that SCORE is available to help them fly even further in their business venture. It was a real eye-opener to see how many small business owners in attendance have a SCORE mentor. I consult close to 40 startups a year. Since it’s just one of me, I advise many of them to complete a profile with SCORE to match with a mentor.

Q: Sounds like you’re definitely paying it forward to other small business owners. Okay, last question so you can get to your next session: If you could turn back time, what is something that you would share with a younger self?

I used to think if I was going to start a business of my own, then I needed to do something that no one else had ever done before. I wanted to be the first one and never wanted competitors. I’ve learned that it’s not about being the first, but about how well you implement your strategy. I may have let go of a lot of opportunities in my younger years because I didn’t pursue something that another business was doing. So, I’d tell myself to do it, because you might do it better.