RICHMOND -- A bad experience at a summer camp when Isaiah Ham was a child became the seed for what is now his growing entrepreneurial venture.
Poison ivy was growing near a play area at the camp, and Ham, then about 11 years old, woke up one morning with his face swollen and blistered. “They took me to the hospital and found out it was poison ivy,” he recalled.
A 2016 graduate of VCU, Ham also has worked as a summer camp counselor, a job that made him aware of the risks posed by ticks, which can carry Lyme disease.
So just after finishing college, Ham started Ivy Oaks Analytics, a small business that provides tick, mosquito and poison ivy control at summer camps and recreational centers. In addition to a proprietary tick control service, Ivy Oaks works with a lab to test ticks it collects from camps for the presence of Lyme disease.
“Once we work with clients, we can certify them,” Ham said. “We list the camps that we work with on our website, as a public resource.”
In its first season of business in 2016, Ivy Oaks provided services for about 10 summer camps. This past summer, the client base grew to 61 camps. “We’re hoping to have similar growth next year,” said Ham, who has employed five seasonal staffers.
The business has involved some significant capital investments in equipment, trucks and trailers, and a lot of time on the road, traveling to camps from Virginia into the Northeastern states. Ham said he has gotten calls from camps as far as Florida and the Midwest.
Ham “bootstrapped” the business himself, covering much of his initial expenses on credit. “I don’t think I could have done this myself,” he said. “At least once a week, I need to call somebody.”
Ham’s SCORE mentor is Emmett Richardson, who has worked with him for more than two years, first with planning the business and, subsequently, as it has grown, on financing, sales, marketing and risk mitigation.
“Working with Isaiah has been interesting and rewarding,” Richardson said. “He has the qualities necessary to be successful. He is passionate about what he is doing, very much a self-starter, and works hard at being successful.”
Ivy Oaks Analytics also was selected as one of six local startups for this fall’s class for Lighthouse Labs, a Richmond-based business accelerator that offers grants and mentorship to new companies. The business also won third place in the SCOREcard Business Model Canvas Competition in early 2016.