Catherine Downey is succinct when she talks about the help she’s received from the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center over the last dozen years.
“I’ve told many people I wouldn’t be in business without the SBDC,” she said. “I may still be hobbling along, but I don’t think so. They were essential.”
This month, Downey’s company, CATMEDIA, entered its first full-length feature film to the Sundance Festival for consideration. In addition to being the company’s first narrative feature film, “Mnemosyne” is also a woman-produced film. The production of “Mnemosyne” and submission to Sundance marks the culmination of Downey’s more than 30-year career in a male-dominated industry.
Downey credits the SBDC with guiding her through some of the most important decisions during those years. From helping her come up with a new marketing plan to laying the groundwork for unprecedented revenue growth, the SBDC has played a role in her success.
Signs of that success are everywhere in Downey’s metro Atlanta offices, which include a television studio. Shelves and walls are stacked with trophies and awards.
“She’s absolutely brilliant,” said Lloyd Atkins, the SBDC’s former director of Minority Business Development. “She’s a good listener. She took the advice I was able to give to her and she put it into her marketing strategy. As a result the business has grown steadily to the point where it has really taken off.”
Downey’s company provides a wide range of communications services, including advertising, media production, program management, training, and human resource management to public and private sector clients. She recently added the entertainment division that produced “Mnemosyne” and is working on a documentary. In the last year, CATMEDIA has seen growth of 300 percent with revenues exceeding $20 million.
“There’s no magic here; it’s just hard work,” Downey said. “I’m surrounded by good people who are experts in what they do. Life is good. I’m happy.”
There have been a few struggles along the way. Back in 2005, her revenues were declining sharply. Downey enrolled in what is now the SBDC’s GrowSmart program. She began working with Atkins to build her business acumen to complement her creativity.
Atkins helped her develop a new marketing direction that appealed to large corporations and the federal government. With the SBDC’s help, Downey got into a U.S. Small Business Administration program that helps small, disadvantaged businesses get a leg up in bidding for government contracts. CATMEDIA was eligible as a woman-owned company. That helped Downey establish a relationship with the federal government that now includes work with the Office of Personnel Management, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“The (SBA program) allowed the business to grow,” she said. “It was the SBDC that really opened that door and helped me get it. Federal contracting is not for the faint of heart. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through and it would’ve been impossible for me to do that on my own.”
On solid ground in 2012, Downey came to Atkins again to plan for the future. He met with CATMEDIA employees to get their assessment of the company and Downey’s management.
She had ambitious goals for revenue and staff growth, which the company has since surpassed.
The film, “Mnemosyne,” is a southern-gothic thriller. Set on an isolated island off the coast of the southeastern United States, the story delves into the world of a mysterious, sequestered commune. It follows the story of Cam, the son of Pastor, the tyrannical, yet charismatic leader of the island. When Cam’s sister Reilly falls ill, he must find a way to get her to safety or watch her die. Together with his friend Hannah, Cam discovers the sinister nature of the island. A harrowing game of memory and manipulation unravels—revealing that things are not always what they seem.
Downey hopes the that film will be accepted into the Sundance Film Festive and that her documentary, about the victims of sex trafficking scheduled for completion in 2018, will win an Oscar—the only milestone left on her to-do list from that 2012 session with the SBDC.
“In 2012, it was OK, that’s a big one,” CATMEDIA Web Developer Rob Nale said of the Oscar goal. “We were still a small company getting our bearings but (Downey) believed in us. The focus groups allowed us to be more relaxed.”
Atkins worked with Downey to find tangible ways to move toward completing her vision.
It’s that eye on the future which Atkins said sets Downey apart. She’s always looking toward the future. She didn’t let the day-to-day keep her from having that vision despite, until recently when she hired a company president, managing both the finances and the creative side of her company.
Atkins, who recently retired after 33 years with the SBDC, said working with Downey was one of the highlights of his career.
“Successful entrepreneurs are good planners,” Atkins said. “That’s what Catherine was not afraid to do. Sometimes I’d run into her at different events and we’d sit on the side just brainstorming. She has truly earned everything she has gotten.”