$100 and a Dream: A Small Business Owner’s Journey

Brittany Harrington, President and Owner of Harrington Diving & Marine Services, shares her story of how she started a successful business with her husband, Peter. With hard work and determination, they achieved their dream and you can too!

My husband, Peter, and I live in New Milford right on the lake. We work where we play. We take a lot of pride in what we do on the lake because our neighbors are our clients.

We started off doing private residential work, very small projects like invasive species removal and dock repairs. Recently, in 2020 our business really took off, which is bizarre, because we were in the midst of a pandemic. With any business, you start small and once you can gain capital you’re able to progressively get more aggressive with bids and different projects. To think, we started our business with $250!

My husband had acquired equipment over time. As a commercial diver, he was diving for other people and spending most of his income on purchasing equipment for himself not even knowing where we would end up. When we had accumulated enough equipment we paid the $250 to open an LLC. There were no investors. It was just the two of us as a mom and pop business. We are proof that you can start a business with the bare minimum. If you have a skill or a product that people want, you could launch a business.

Since we live in New Milford, we were able to network and speak to people in the community who needed our services. We slowly started to move into local municipalities doing aquatic invasive species removal, dock repair, dock inspections, and that kind of thing. Down the line, I started applying for certificates as a woman-owned business. I became part of a Connecticut database, which provided access to different bids set aside for women-owned small businesses. I realized that my company filled that void because most diving companies are part of a larger marine construction industry.

When the pandemic hit, a long-term project for Peter had ended. Suddenly, it seemed like there was nowhere to go. There was no work. I said to him: “Well, this is the time when you go back to working for someone else, or we take our business to the next level.” At the end of the day, we have to provide for a family. My daughter was nine and my son was six months old at the time. It was terrifying. I started to consider what’s the worst that happens? Peter might end up having to work for someone else and we would scale the business back to a seasonal business.

Right now, the water level on the lake is really low, so there’s not really any diving work. But we knew there were other things that we do during this time, such as dredging, seawall repair… there’s a lot we could offer as waterfront experts. We were up against the wall and we had to push forward. That’s when our business really started to take off.

When I was in college, I wouldn’t have imagined that this would be my career path. Originally, my dream was to be an architect. My parents didn’t have money to pay for my education, so I worked really hard and got into college on a merit-based scholarship along with loans. I was part of the National Art Honor Society, National Honor Society, and the National Society of Leadership and Success. I was the first to go to college in my household and I knew at a young age that my goal was to get out of the house and to better myself and my family. I worked my butt off to get where I am today. I just knew if I could just make it through with my Bachelor’s degree, I could figure something out. When I graduated, I ended up working for several structural consultants and worked for a lawyer to understand the legal side of a business. Eventually, I landed a job as an engineering technician for the town of Bethel, and then I really got to see the back end of things– the bidding process and project management from start to finish.

Now, I run the entire day-to-day operations for our business. As women, we’re expected to maintain the home, take care of the kids, and work to contribute just as much financially. There are times where I fall flat on my face as a mom, as a wife, and as a business owner. I’ve learned that I can’t be afraid to fail. I have to get up and keep going.

I have a $100 bill that’s laminated along with a note that my husband wrote, right before we met. It reads:

“By May 10th, 2041 I will have in my possession $10,000,000 which will come to me in various amounts from time to time during the interim. This money will come to me from a marine-based construction company, which I will own. In return for this money I will show people how to obtain peace and serenity in their lives.”

That was written in 2013 and he met me less than a year later. Our business was born in 2016 and then I took it over the operations in 2017 and Peter became my lead diver. It’s a pretty cool story, because we were just two kids who put our heads together. Now, I am on board to make that 10 million!

My advice to emerging entrepreneurs is don’t stop! It might seem difficult to look towards the future when you are just trying to get through college, but even the part time jobs you are working now to pay for school are the training ground for your small business. Working in food service, for example, is teaching you supply and demand, revenue generation, and the day-to-day operations of a business. So, keep working hard and don’t let any obstacles stop you. There’s always a way around. There’s always a way to push through. There were times that both Peter and I needed that $100 bill because we were struggling, but neither of us took it out of that laminated sheet because our goal and path had been set based on our dream. Fast forward to today and here we are making it a reality.

Recommended Resources:
Small women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses could register on Biznet and CTSource to access statewide bids and open solicitations for the State of CT. These sites are essential resources for any small business. The Department of Administrative Services is a business owners’ greatest tool and has taught me a lot about what I need to run a business in terms of qualifications, certificates, workers compensation, payroll, sales tax and more. They are here to help you to succeed

By Tara Malone
Tara Malone Associate Director, Regional Campuses Tara Malone