Derek Voelker learned to dive in the Marine Corps who honored him with a Medal for Combat Valor for his service during the Battle of Fallujah. Since his time in the Marines, Derek graduated from one of the most renowned underwater welding and commercial diving schools in the country, the Diver’s Institute of Technology, obtained a Bachelor’s from the University of Washington and collected twelve diving certifications. This June marks another noteworthy achievement for the Seattle native as he celebrates the two year anniversary of his burgeoning business, Seattle Dive Company (SDC).
Specializing in yacht maintenance, house boat repair, recovery and minor marine construction jobs, Seattle Dive Company serves boat owners from Bellingham to Tacoma, bringing, “the same values, skills, safety standards and honor required of military service to each dive.”
SDC employs some of the highest ranking graduates from the Diver’s Institute of Technology, hiring one to five contract divers at a time depending on the season. Providing new graduates on the job training is a big opportunity for divers looking to make it in Seattle’s growing maritime industry. Derek reflected that these new divers are eager to learn and easier to train than some maritime veterans. “Diving on a national level is really tied to the price of oil,” he added. “So the more the price of oil goes up, the more work there is offshore. But when the price goes down, all those divers that were offshore come back inland to look for work.” When they come back they can be hard to work with, he reflected. That’s another reason why he likes to work with divers right out of school.
Luckily for Derek, the industry as a whole is very healthy. “There’s a big demand for work,” he said and there are a lot of baby boomers in the industry who are retiring. This combination provided the perfect climate to jumpstart Seattle Dive Company, but at first financing wasn’t looking favorable.
Derek already had a business model, plan and mentor when the opportunity arose to buy a client list from another marine small business. He approached traditional funders for a loan to purchase the client list and the necessary equipment to get started, but he said “the terms were very unfavorable, pretty unrealistic really.” That’s when he found Business Impact NW.
“The best part of working with Business Impact NW is you have a personal relationship with someone as opposed to a bank,” added Derek of his work with Chief Credit Officer, Sunil Nair.
“We’ve been able to bounce things off of Sunil, like we were looking into some other financing and the SBA did have some options for us, but we ended up finding a better deal elsewhere through the recommendation of Sunil. Although he recommended we look elsewhere, he was still able to help us navigate through that channel,” Derek stated. “He’s also a sounding board. Part of our terms are that we have to run everything by him… It’s that extra check which is helpful for us.”
In 2018 SDC doubled their revenue. “This year, we are blowing last year’s numbers out of the water,” he added. “I’m really grateful to Business Impact NW for their partnership.”
For those aspiring to be entrepreneurs, Derek recommends embracing risk, having realistic expectations, being prepared to work long hours, assembling a good team that you can trust, getting a good mentor and “if you’re unsure how to do something there are resources to help you get there.”
Discover the business resources Derek mentioned by visiting businessimpactnw.org/services/counseling.