Former firefighter and nurse Onnie Sanford never intended to start her own business. However, a strong desire to recover her fitness and energy after childbirth put her on that path.

Sanford now owns and runs Paleo Num Yums, an Augusta business that sells pre-cooked meals to health-conscious individuals.

“As a nurse, I understand the relationship between nutrition and health, and that for many, nutrition is hard to get their hands around,” Sanford said.

Feeling out-of-sorts after her second pregnancy, Sanford launched into high-intensity training and worked with a nutritionist at the gym.

“I learned how to eat, and everything changed,” she said.

Not six weeks after delivering her third child, Sanford was back in shape. Friends asked her to cook the paleo diet-inspired meals she’d learned from the nutritionist that had helped her recover. She would post the meals on social media and use the extra money to pay for groceries.

She launched the business in January 2016. As it grew, her friend Kyle Flanagan, a successful entrepreneur and long-time University of Georgia Small Business Development Center client, suggested she contact Augusta Area Director Rick McMurtrey.

“When Onnie approached us in 2017, she was looking for another location that would allow her to continue growing. She had two full-time and two part-time employees, and her sales revenues were on pace to reach $165,000,” McMurtrey said.

They worked together on location selection, with McMurtrey pulling demographics indicating that a 1,300 square-foot space next to an Earth Fare market would be a good fit. He helped with sales revenue projections to complete an executive summary for Sanford’s bank and helped her plan a discussion and a build-out allowance with the landlord.

“Rick kept his finger on my pulse throughout,” she said. “He sent me to the SBDC’s GrowSmart® program and other workshops. He came out six months before I was scheduled to move and talked about my long-term goals and processes that would get us through it.”

The first year, sale revenues grew more than 200 percent and Sanford added six new part-time employees. Onnie’s husband Dwayne now helps with human resources while working for a local fire department.

“Rick and the SBDC have given me a better understanding of what I’m doing,” she says. “When someone comes to me with ideas, I decide whether it will work for my business, tell them if it won’t, and remain confident in my decision. They’ve given me a better head for business.”