The Knox Country Area Partnership for Economic Development: An “Entrepreneurial Facilitator” That Can Help You Succeed (for Free)

Each semester I try to have as a guest speaker at least one “entrepreneurial facilitator”; an organization existing to provide assistance to entrepreneurs (and often other types of businesses).

We had our first such guest yesterday in class; The Knox Country Area Partnership for Economic Development. Visiting were three employees of the firm: Ken Springer, Kyle Kelley, and 2016 Monmouth College graduate Kate Rees.

Class blogger Jazmin Barajas tells us all about The Partnership and what it does for entrepreneurs below.

Prof. Gabel


Many of the people who have come to visit our classroom have been entrepreneurs that have started their own local business near Monmouth, IL. However, Thursday evening the Midwest Entrepreneurs Class got the pleasure to meet some people who are “behind” the entrepreneur’s startup and success. Ken Springer, Kyle Kelley and Kate Rees, who are part of “The Knox Country Area Partnership for Economic Development,” spoke to our class about how they help entrepreneurs start their dream business in Galesburg and the Knox County region.

Below is some information from The Partnership’s webpage ( about each of our guests and about how the Partnership operates.

The Staff

  • Springer is the President of the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development. He was born in West Michigan and earned a bachelor of science degree in International Relations from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in Applied Community and Economic Development from the Stevenson Center at Illinois State University. He was the Vice President of the Bloomington-Normal Area Economic Development Council which gave him the knowledge he needed to become the President of the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development. He was the first choice for the Board of Directors.
  • Kelley is the Client Manager for the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development. He was born in Galesburg however, worked in Peoria, IL in the banking industry for four years which he has brought a sales skillset to the Partnership and not only that but he works with small business.
  • Rees is the Communications Associate for the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development. She was born in Chicago, IL suburbs and graduated from Monmouth College with a degree in Public Relations, Communications, and Art, which her skills in marketing and graphic design bring creativity to the Partnership’s digital and social presence.
  • Which all the knowledge and job experience that they have they have been able to manage and run the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development since the hiring of Mr. Springer in December 2014.

About the Knox County Area Partnership

  • It is a private non-profit organization that helps with economic development to Galesburg and the Knox County region. they are a professional, non-partisan, non-political organization whose goal is the promotion of job growth, new investment and a better quality of life for the communities of Galesburg and the Knox County region.


The Partnership is a private non-profit organization; therefore, they get a lot of help from many private and public-sector investors which in total are 50 investors (5-6 are private and the rest are public). Some of those include: Ameren, Bullis and Sundberg Insurance Services, Carl Sandburg College, City of Galesburg, First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust, Galesburg Cottage Hospital, Hy-Vee, Knox College, Knox County, Midwest Bank (of Western Illinois), Mustain Law Office, and OSF St. Mary Medical Center.

In class… Thursday evening our guests talked to the Midwest Entrepreneurs Class about how they help entrepreneurs start their own business, or how to save an existent business from closing in Galesburg and the Knox County region. To begin with, the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development has four Priorities:

  1. Existing Business Expansion and Support Funds
  2. New Business Recruitment (bring in new companies to the area)
  3. Entrepreneurship
  4. Community Importance

However, they focused their discussion on number 3; Entrepreneurship. Here they have four ways to assist projects, which are in order from easies to hardest:

  1. Advisement (sitting down and talking to the entrepreneurs: Basic Information, market demographics).
  2. Site choice (help the company find the right location for their business).
  3. Successful Referral (help connect business to SCORE, a small business of mentors that help clients start their business: handles cash flow, local economy).
  4. Incentives (help borrow money from the bank than talks to city council who makes the decision to whether it happens or not).

They also provided us three examples of projects that show use how they work and what they do.

Judy’s Tumbling: Helped them find a better location than the mall in Galesburg giving them the chance to stay operation which created capital space. They also helped them partner with another business making them help each other grow. We were told the company chose the sixth location that the Partnership helped them look at.

New Restaurant (not able to disclose name yet): The Partnership helped them get a loan, find a location, referred business and marketing plan assistance to SBDS, and target to open no later than early June 2017).

Integrated Precision Agriculture: Help them obtain the forgivable loan of $10,000 from the city to start their business of using drones to spay fields. Also, helped them obtain all the licenses and permits that they need it to operate.

The Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development is a free service for whoever wants to start or save their business in Galesburg and the Knox County region. They are the people who have the answers to questions you have about becoming an entrepreneur.

The Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development is an organization that is 100% confidential, which means any information shared with them cannot be shared with anybody but with you. They can also choose who they can work with if they don’t see any future.

If you want to become an entrepreneur or change your business visit the Knox County Area Partnership for Economic Development; they have a book—and minds—full of ideas that they are sure will help you become a successful business in the area.

Thank you Mr. Springer, Mr. Keeley and Ms. Rees!

Jazmin Barajas

Of Grand Failures, Great Successes, and Ultimate Failure: The Turbulent Entrepreneurial Saga of Paul Schuytema (in his Former Life as a Video Game Developer)

Did you know that Monmouth was once home-base for a very successful video game development company? Its name was Magic Lantern Playware and it was co-founded and run by our guest speaker this past Tuesday; current City of Monmouth Economic Development Director Paul Schuytema.

This firm successfully completed and commercialized 20 video game projects and sold over one million units. It pumped roughly $2.5 million into the local economy. Its members published over a dozen books; many on how to best succeed at various video games of the day. Lastly, the firm represented an opportunity for what Paul referred to as “eight nerds to live their dream.”

Sounds like a great success; right?

Well yes; certainly… But then—and ultimately—no.

Paul’s firm no longer exists. It experienced the fate of many entrepreneurial firms; it ultimately failed. But it did so only after a very wild, up and down ride full of what Paul referred to as “grand failures” and “great successes”–and many “landmines” and “best of times” and “worst of times”–along the way.

I now yield to today’s student blogger–Victoria Bance–to tell in more detail the tale of reluctant (former) high-tech entrepreneur Paul Schuytema.

Lastly, THANK YOU Paul for sharing your story and experience with us!! It is understandable that many former entrepreneurs whose companies ultimately failed are reluctant to talk about what happened; it can be very painful. Paul seems to have learned from his experience and to have learned to have fun with it.

Prof. Gabel


Paul Schuytema was not the regular entrepreneur that planned everything out, the business ended up finding him unintentionally. Mr. Schuytema spoke to our class about his crazy journey on March 21, 2017.

It all began when Paul was a kid in the 70’s. He was very entertained by playing board games. He and family would bond over family game night.

As a child, he was also interested in formalizing rule sets. An example he gave in class was being able to make a playground set into a ship and the ground lava and having there be certain restrictions that made games more fun. There were many games he enjoyed playing such as “Cosmic Impounder”, “Cosmic Blitz”, “Squad Leader” and much more. The one game that he did not like to play was “Monopoly”. In 4th grade, Paul enjoyed ancient Greek and Roman figurine themed games; also he was interested in painting the figurines. Soon he began to formulate his own rules.

At the age of 13 his dad passed away and as a way to distract Paul from this, his mother bought him an HP41C calculator; that kind of looks like a scientific calculator. The HP41C had roughly enough memory space to store one icon that we see on computers today. Not long after that the Atari 800 came out. The Atari 800 had much more memory than the HP41C, more colors and a joystick. It was around this time that Paul started writing letters to Chris Crawford, father of modern computer games on the Atari. Crawford was able to teach Paul some of the secret keys of coding.

In the early 80’s Paul attended Knox College as a Computer Science major but soon found out that it was not what he expected. So he changed his major to something else he enjoyed; storytelling and writing. After graduating, he got a job at Monmouth College. Not long after that he starting creating video games. The first gig he was offered by Atari in early 90’s, they wanted him to help with the game “Mind Drive”. It was a game that you would literally use your thoughts to drive depending on what side of the brain you were using to move the character. This project didn’t turn out as well as they wanted. He said it was too easy to get sidetracked and you would just crash.

Later Paul got a second gig working for 3D Realms in Texas to be a designer for the game called “Prey”. At the same time, within the same company, there was another group of designer’s creating the MechWarrior game which was supposed to compete with “Prey”. The goal for “Prey” was to be the most violent game on the market. Paul had come to work one day to find out that the president terminated the game immediately. After that Paul did what anyone would do and left the company. From this experience, he learned the right and wrong way to run a business.

Paul then moved back to Monmouth, at the time he had a wife and two kids. The only internet they had in Monmouth around 1999 was dial up. He decided he wanted to make a game himself but needed to pay the bills at the same time. He started writing video game strategy guides during the day for money and at night he worked on his games. He made a couple games during this time. One was called “Second Genesis” and the other was “Gen Fusion.” Both were what he called “grand failures” because they didn’t have that popular name that people know such as “Star Trek” or “Rugrats”. The next game took him a little farther. The game was called “Forts-A Magic Lantern Game”. Paul went to a trade show to show off his work and got to meet Ed Fries, which at the time was head of all Microsoft games. Fries turned down his game disrespectfully.

After that, he did a pitch to Red Storm Entertainment. He made a demo to try to capture their interest in his work. He had to create all the technology on his own because he didn’t have much to work with. A while later they called and told him they wanted to send a team to Monmouth to make sure that he had a real company. At the time it was only him and a few other people; not really much of a company in any way. He had to make it look like the company existed, so he borrowed a few things from his mom bought some tables and chairs and made his space look like a business. A few months later the company sent him an okay a big advance check in the mail to get started on the project.

“Rainbow Six Covert Ops Essential Game” was a success. At the same time, Magic Lantern Playware wrote the largest existing encyclopedia on counter-terrorism. An interviewee predicted 9/11 exactly as it would happen. Because of the details and the accuracy of this, their show tech engine was used to provide tactical police training programs. Paul’s next game “Combat” was a success. He received $40,000 from Rainbow Six Game.

The next game he was offered to create was “Survivor” which he knew was not going to be good because they were rushing him and his team to make a deadline. But before the game came out they offered him the next game “Survivor Ultimate”, which was a little bit better in picture quality. But when it came out it was popular to a target market they didn’t expect to hit; younger to middle age women. The games sold a lot but were, according to Paul, not all that good.

After that one of his own employees stole the equipment used to make the games and then crashed a car that Paul co-singed leave Paul with the bill. He learned never to co-sign and not to trust everyone. After that Paul continued to make games but more along the lines of “Foosball”, “Mahjong”, “Front Runner” and “Video Game Tycoon”. Some were better than others. Not long after the company went bankrupt.

Why?… Industry change that was not taken seriously and failure to adapt.

The video game industry started to take a new route. When the console Xbox came out it pretty much put wiped PC gaming off the competitive map. It was impossible to compete with console games because there would have been a bigger need for employees to work on a game than what he had and the technology was much different. Paul at first thought console gaming was a joke and would never succeed. He was wrong. It all happened—and ended—very fast.

Today Paul is the Director of Economic Development for the city of Monmouth. His wife Susan is the owner of Market Alley Wines in town and he helps with web development. He continues to use what he learned from his experiences—from the grand failures and the great successes–to better the company that the two own.

Victoria Bance

Bill Hurckes ’81: A Teacher/Coach Turned Financial Consultant Hired to “Worry For” the Client

Our guest speaker this past Tuesday was one I had eagerly anticipated having in class for some time for a variety of reasons. For one, knowing how many of our graduates go into finance-related jobs and careers, I look to have at least one finance-related entrepreneur as a guest each semester; something I have failed to achieve at times in the past. Also, our guest was a first-time speaker in the class and an alum of Monmouth College whose visit had been discussed and arranged well in advance.

William “Bill” Hurckes’81 founded and presently heads up Hurckes – McCord Financial Management, a full services financial planning firm based in Peoria, IL (see: ). His guest-speaker appearance in the class exceeded my expectations; just as Bill’s firm aims to do with its clients. Not only did Bill’s financial planning expertise come through loud and clear but his “entrepreneurial story”—starting as an Education major at Monmouth College then a college and high school basketball coach—was truly captivating and inspirational. We learned, perhaps above all else, that being a successful financial planning entrepreneur is certainly not “all about” knowing investments and other financial planning tools. Instead, Bill Hurckes shows us that success in the field takes patience, keen listening skills, some level of psychological understanding, and becoming a trusted  expert in worrying about complex things that many persons would rather pay someone else to worry about for them than face themselves. Below, class blogger Simran Arora prides further detail on Mr. Hurckes’ ongoing entrepreneurial journey.

Prof. Gabel


Bill Hurckes graduated from Monmouth College in 1981 with a degree in education. After his graduation his dream was to be a basketball coach. So he began teaching and coaching at the high school level in 1982.  In 1986, he moved up to the college level as a assistant football and and head women’s basketball coach at—Monmouth College’s chief rival—Knox College (in nearby Galesburg, IL). He worked in Knox for four years as a hardworking coach.  Soon he realized that his family was getting bigger and their needs were increasing too. This is where his ongoing entrepreneurial journey began.

He decided to get a part time job that would make more money and that would allow him to be with his family (as his two sons were growing up). A coaching colleague invited him to sell life insurance; he had never thought about it and didn’t have any plan for this opportunity.  So he believed in himself and worked as an agent for selling life insurance as his part time job.  He made this decision and didn’t regret it. He maintained his coaching positions at Knox while he began his second career.  A turning point came in 1992 when he decided to leave his dream job of teaching and coaching and stepped into a new business—based upon but expanding on his part-time insurance sales work—where he didn’t have any business plan and no one to work with him. He also made another major decision by moving his family back to central Illinois, and made a home in East Peoria, Illinois, where he and his wife still live.  Bill named his financial consulting business “Hurckes and Associates (even though there really were no “associates”).  As he told the class, at this point he was really scared and uncertain about his future.  But things have worked out very well for Mr. Hurckes now 25 years later.

In the early years, Bill spent much of his time going to people’s homes to discuss his services and products.  As his business grew, his main focus went from insurance needs to financial/investment planning needs.  After acquiring the appropriate licenses and education, Bill turned his insurance firm into a full service financial planning office. He said that most of the people who come to him are because of client referrals and because of his reputation as someone who can be trusted to manage the client’s money and future. He serves his clients diligently and gives them helpful advice on several key aspects of their financial situations. He told us that with his strong menu of “Gold Medal Services,” he and his associates—he does now have associates—give the client a comprehensive review of tax planning, investment plans, retirement planning, risk management and estate planning

Mr. Hurckes informed the class that he determined that instead of investing in traditional advertising/marketing, they found it more beneficial to spend money on events for his clients, which are encouraged to bring their friends or family members.  They provide two type of events; educational workshops and client fun events.  The workshops are on a variety of topics pertinent to the financial planning process.  The other events are not sales-related events but just fun get-togethers where clients and their guests can come and chat, have a good time, and get to know Bill and the other members of his firm.

At the end of his talk Mr. Hurckes provided some great advice for the students. He said that we should “always follow the heart.” Here he stated that there are people who will guide or misguide us but that no matter what we should just follow what we really value in life. In addition to this he also said that we should “always be passionate” about the work we do (and that if we do this we will enjoy our futures much more).

Simran Arora

Ed Wimp ’12: An Entertaining and Inspirational Entrepreneurial Breakthrough in the Music Entertainment Industry

Last Tuesday was the much-anticipated guest speaker appearance of 2012 Monmouth College graduate Ed Wimp. I was impressed with Ed before I even met him due to the obvious fact that he has been an ambitious young man who has accomplished a lot in a very short period of time in a very dynamic and tough industry; music entertainment tour management and consulting. See more about Ed at the link below (and on Facebook and Twitter).

I am even more impressed with Ed after having him speak in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class. I knew he was ambitious coming in but I underestimated the extent of it. This is man only 4-5 years out of undergraduate college who has shown what I would call an “aggressive fearlessness” in creating and taking advantage of opportunities (and then effectively networking and leveraging relationships to expand both his client base and the range of services provided to them).

I now turn things over to class blogger Paul Engo III to tell you more about what we learned from Ed Wimp this past Tuesday in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class.

Lastly, Spring Break is next week so the blog is likely to be less active than usual. See you back here soon…


Ed Wimp, a former student in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class here at Monmouth College, came to speak to the class on Feb 28th. Wimp is a well know music industry Tour Manager and Consultant (and recently entered the industry of book publishing). He has his own business operation in Orlando, Florida.

When Wimp was younger he didn’t always know what he wanted to do but he did know that whatever he did would have to deal with music. What got him the job he is currently at was by simply asking a family friend about the position. Some call it “luck”, but Ed Wimp would call it networking.

Wimp started out by helping managing tours without pay. They wanted to test out how he would do in the operation. He did well and later was offered a job. Through the job he has been able to manage or otherwise work with several famous artists, such as Wiz Khalifa, Earth Wind and Fire, and A$AP Rocky.

One of the unique things about Wimp’s job is how a lot of his work goes without recognition or praise. It seems that if Ed is doing his job well, no one notices; because no one notices when nothing major is going wrong. One of the questions presented in class was “What keeps you going when people don’t give you credit for the work that you do?” and his response to that question was “The work itself is fast pace and the people are like a family, so I just love what I do… When things run smooth that is enough credit and praise for me”. It showed his love for the music and the people are what give him the drive to do the work that he does today.

Today Ed Wimp is very successful and is still in school currently looking to get his Law Degree (to allow him to expand on the services he can provide to his clients in the music industry). Because he is still a student, he makes his schedule fit around his class schedule.

Having him speak in front of our class was such a great honor. After hearing him speak I feel as though I got a real understanding of what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur. It takes a good bit of skill, but networking is what puts you the opportunities that you want to be in. So thank you Ed Wimp for that. He is a perfect example of what a small town college named Monmouth College can produce.

Paul Engo III

Franchising as a (Highly Structured) Entrepreneurial Option: The Case of Mike Luna and McDonald’s


As the class learned yesterday–from a long-time practicing McDonald’s franchisee–franchising can represent a special type of entrepreneurial venture. No one probably knows this better than Monmouth’s McDonald’s franchisee Mike Luna, who has been with McDonald’s in some capacity almost continuously since 1960. As Mr. Luna told the class, he opened McDonald’s store #154; of the roughly 35,000 the company now has around the world. Learn more about franchising at McDonald’s at the link below.

One thing we learned by sharp contrast yesterday was the vast variety in level of structure—inversely, the level of freedom to do exactly as one pleases—within entrepreneurism. Previous guest John “Beefy” Huston dropped by as an “audience guest” yesterday. As Mike Luna talked to the class about the various corporate rules he is contractually obligated to abide by as a McDonald’s franchisee the point came up that we were probably witnessing the bi-polar extremes of structure faced by entrepreneurs; “Beefy” Huston who pretty much does as he pleases and Mike Luna who must abide by a long list of corporate rules (in place to ensure the success of individual McDonald’s stores). Nevertheless, both entrepreneurs love what they do and are highly successful in the Monmouth area.

Enough from me… Class blogger Landon Walker tells us more about Mike Luna’s story of franchising as an entrepreneurial opportunity below.

Have a nice weekend!

Prof. Gabel


Last Thursday, our Midwest Entrepreneurs class had the opportunity to gain insight from Mike Luna. Mr. Luna is not the common entrepreneur around the United States. He is what we call a “franchisee”. Mike has been a McDonalds franchisee for a long time and is very skilled at what he does.

Mr. Luna has been around McDonalds since he was a teenager. When he was 16 he was working at a McDonalds in Galesburg, Il. Mike later went off to school, but eventually made his way back to McDonalds. Mr. Luna had the opportunity to buy into a store in Kewanee, Il. He took the opportunity and learned lots before opening his own store. He now owns a store in Monmouth, Il that he opened in 1990.

Mr. Luna credits most of his learning from a longtime friend he calls “chief”. Mike also learned lots from being a part owner of the store in Kewanee before selling his share to open his own store. Although Mr. Luna enjoys owning his McDonalds in Monmouth, Il, he does express the cons to being a franchisee.

When buying into McDonalds one must pay $45,000 every 20 years to the organization. Every year the franchisee has to pay at least 9% of earnings (depending on where the store is located) to the organization. Each owner has to go through what is called the “3 legged stool” system. This is where the McDonalds corporation decides what the suppliers/distributors carry and then the owner has to buy supply from the supplier. The corporation decides what stores will look like, what machines are used, where the store is located, and even what wallpaper is in the store.

Mr. Luna treats his employees well and, in turn, he expects his employees to treat the customers well. Mike described the importance of customer base as “you can’t run a restaurant without people”.

Mike Luna is a great example of an entrepreneur in the United States. He has taken risks all throughout his career and continues to work hard and succeed. He stated in class that he has finally started taking two days off work a week. This should give an idea of how difficult it is to be a successful entrepreneur in the world today. Just like Mike, if someone works hard at whatever business they so desire, it will have a chance at taking off. You just have to take the risk to find out.

Landon Walker

Susan Schuytema and Market Alley Wines: Creating a “Third Place” in Downtown Monmouth

by Midwest Entrepreneurs Student Christopher Tworek

This past Tuesday we had the pleasure of listening to Susan Schuytema tell us the story of her journey as a successful entrepreneur.

Susan originally started working at the age of thirteen and had several jobs throughout her life ranging from a struggling journalist to an usher at Wrigley Field to a airport security worker to a very busy and stressful marketing job in healthcare. She is a very outgoing person and prides herself on her love for the people she works with and for; her employees and customers. Susan is an extremely wonderful person with a lot of pride in her business (in what she calls “her baby!).”

What was really interesting about Susan was her willingness to work hard and never give up. She constantly wanted to go out and make a living. Yet for quite some time she was not exactly sure what she wanted to do; so she did a bit of everything.

However, journalism only took her so far. She was not able to make a good living and had to work other jobs to make ends meet. Soon after being fed up with this reality, she got into marketing in the healthcare sector. This was much more income savvy for her. Yet she was not satisfied. She did not like doing this. She wanted something more. Soon after she married her husband, Paul, and with him they brainstormed what now is known in Monmouth as Market Alley Wines.

What was intriguing about Susan is her consistency with what she recalls as “the three places” that everyone needs in life. “Those three places,” she exclaimed, “are your home, your work, and the place where you go to congregate, usually on the weekends or after a long day at work.” This third place is where Susan saw her opportunity to make a living and become a successful entrepreneur.

Susan and Paul brainstormed about what type of business they could set up. Together, with the combination of the Buxton Retail Report—commissioned by the City of Monmouth to show what locals were going out of town to buy—and Susan’s love for wine, they researched and discovered that Monmouth had a real market for wine. Susan had previously studied abroad in France. There she fell in love with what she and others call ‘the language of wine.’ So they decided to open up a wine store.

Through some financial support from her mother and confidence from her family she had made her passion for wine a reality and opened up Market Alley Wines in June of the year 2011. Market Alley wines is located in downtown Monmouth, Illinois. It is a small yet very popular and successful business.

There is a very homey and comfortable vibe when you enter Market Alley Wines. They sell hundreds of different types of wine from several distributors. They also have sales in a variety of craft beers, wine accessories, gifts, and some home decorations. Recently they have gotten into the fast growing bourbon business. A lot of the customers that come to Market Alley Wines are women. Yet she welcomes all people to her store and tries to have something for everyone. As I mentioned before, Susan wanted Market Alley Wines to be that “third place” that people go to unwind and socialize; a place where “everyone is welcome and equal.”

People do not only come there for the wine, the bourbon, or the craft beers. A lot of customers travel to Market Alley Wines for the live music that is played every Friday and Saturday night. Her husband is the person who pushed for the live music every week. Susan loves the idea of live music and her customers thoroughly enjoy it.

Market Alley Wines is open until 6:30 Tuesday – Thursday and 7:00 pm on Friday and Saturday. Due to the ever growing crowds of people every week for music they have recently upgraded their seating to nearly double of that at which it was previously. You are also able to host events at Market Alley Wines. These events range from bridal showers to retirement parties. She is very involved in her community and is very credited to her community involvement.

To wrap it up, Susan is extremely friendly woman who loves her community and the people in it. She has no problem hosting benefits and prides herself on her special skill which is remembering every face that she sees in her store. She wants you to be a part of it. Market Alley Wines is her baby, she will never let it go.

Christopher Tworek

Working to Live (Instead of Living to Work): The Enlightening and Entertaining Entrepreneurial Saga of John “Beefy” Huston

Many times over the course of roughly 20 years of college/university teaching I have advised students to strive for the goal of “working to live (rather than living to work).” I also advise them that achieving this goal does not come easy; it requires dedication and lots of very hard work both during and after their formal educational experiences are over.

Being an entrepreneur—as opposed to working for others—is of course a particularly appropriate path for those hoping to “work to live rather than live to work.”

Yesterday, students in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class heard from a guest speaker that I believe epitomizes the hard-working entrepreneur who works to live—and structures his business around his chosen lifestyle—more than any other speaker we have ever had in the class.

Our guest yesterday was long-time local landscaper John “Beefy” Huston; whose ongoing entrepreneurial saga is both enlightening and entertaining. It is enlightening in that it demonstrates that it is indeed possible—through entrepreneurship—to have a meaningful and enjoyable life. His saga is entertaining to hear told in large part because it at times so sharply contradicts common assumptions about “the imperative of business growth” and the “need to keep up with technology” as to be comical (in a very meaningful, positive, and enlightening way).

Enough from me… I turn things over to Marco Tawadrous to provide further detail on the entrepreneurial story of John “Beefy” Huston.

Have a nice weekend…

Prof. Gabel


John (Beefy) Houston started his career on his family farm in the 90’s. However, things were hard for family farmers at the time and John decided to start doing landscaping jobs on his own. When he started his business he was only 24 years old. But even then he knew the importance of earning a reputation for being honest and always doing high-quality work. John is not a “cheap” person to ask to come do your landscaping. But he is the right guy you can trust and feel comfortable with because of his focus on doing things right.

Most of the time he starts work in March and ends around Thanksgiving. There is little that can be done in the winter so he travels extensively in the winter months.

Being an entrepreneur is right for John because he sees work as being something that should allow you to live out your chosen lifestyle to its fullest. John sees that life is not only for jobs and we live and die while we are working. He is that type of person that while talking to him you can see that he is the one that makes his work fit his life. Not all entrepreneurs can do this.

He doesn’t want his business to get bigger. For John, getting bigger is just more worries in his life to take care. He said that he can hire up to 10 employees in the summer but he chooses not to. Most of his workers are college students looking for summer work.

His philosophy is “what goes around come back around.” He means that when you treat people right they will treat you right in return.

He doesn’t spend any money on advertising unless it’s for charity. He trusts that the people will know his work because of referrals and because of the quality of the work he does.

John is a very organized person. After the employees leave the work site he usually stays and makes sure that everything has been done right. He also then prepares his equipment for the next day so that he doesn’t have to worry about it the following day. I believe that being so organized and detail oriented is one of the most important things that the entrepreneur should do.

John also advised us to “see and be seen locally in events, dinner, and games.” This means that as an entrepreneur in a small community like Monmouth you should always be aware of what is going around you and get to know more.

He also has a policy “if you will be five minutes late you should call” and let the client know. People always like to see that that type of respect and appreciate it. He also sends thank you letters to his customers after the job is done. It was not surprising to hear John say that he often does work for multiple members and generations of local families because they trust him so much.

Beefy wants to retire by the time he is 55. He believes that the harder he works now the less he’ll have to work later. He is a financially smart business person and consumer in that he always pays off his debts as soon as he can (and always before he has to pay interest!). He buys a lot of materials for landscaping jobs but he always takes advantage of opportunities to get discounts.

Overall, John “Beefy” Huston works for what can help him live his life to the fullest. He isn’t like some other entrepreneurs and business people that you hear about that are always looking for more and more money no matter what it takes to get it.

Marco Tawadrous

Will Zimmerman ‘11 and Modern Grain Systems: Building Satisfied Customer Relationships (One Grain Storage Bin at a Time)

Last Thursday in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class we wrapped up an early-semester mini-series of ag-related entrepreneurial guest speakers. This series—of four great speakers—had previously featured a retired grain bin storage services firm owner with over 65 years of experiences, a local “traditional production” farmer managing a 1,000-acre family farm, and the owner of a Galesburg-based specialty crop Community Supported Ag (CSA) venture.

The series concluded last Thursday with former Midwest Entrepreneurs class member—and 2011 Monmouth College graduate—Will Zimmerman; the inspirational young entrepreneur behind Modern Grain Systems (a firm that custom-builds grain bin storage buildings).

We have thus seen in a very short period of time a diverse glimpse into ag-related entrepreneurial opportunities that exist here in the heart of the U.S. Farmbelt. Although we have had but a glimpse into these vast opportunities I think it safe to say we have provided some enlightening insight into the variety and abundance of such opportunities that exist. Hopefully students have had their eyes opened to the fact that (1) a large number of such opportunities exist, (2) there is room for—and demand for—ag-related entrepreneurial innovation, and (3) farmers are indeed entrepreneurs (that run increasingly complex and risky businesses). I would be overjoyed if even just one student has been inspired to seek out, create, and pursue such an opportunity in the near future!!

With that said, I now turn things over to class blogger Micam Smith to tell us much more about Will Zimmerman’s ongoing entrepreneurial journey.


Prof. Gabel


Will Zimmerman, a former student of the Midwest Entrepreneurs class here at Monmouth College, came to speak to the class on February 9th. Will is the owner of Modern Grain Systems, a business operating out of Avon, Illinois, that builds and manages grain bin storage systems. He has been building grain bin storage systems since he was a sophomore in high school, until one day he decided to buy out the business he was working at. As a senior at Monmouth College, Zimmerman took an independent study to work on his business plan and at the age of 21 he successfully obtained a loan of $200,000 to buy Modern Grain Systems.

The previous owner of Modern Grain Systems, Bill Thompson, noticed the hard work and the knowledge Zimmerman enacted while working at the business. At just 18 years old, Will Zimmerman was head of his own crew building million dollar grain bin storage system set ups. Even though Zimmerman was very young, Bill gave him the opportunity to buy the business because he knew Will would keep the business operating successfully. Will took that opportunity and never looked back. He now owns a business reaching 4-4.5 million in sales.

The link below is a video Zimmerman used at the beginning of his presentation to show one of the early projects that his company successfully completed; an almost $900,000 job.

Will Zimmerman and his Modern Grain System business has about 20 employees that are mostly 18-25 years old. His business is responsible for building various size grain bin systems that can range from $60,000 to millions of dollars. In the summer during his busy operating period, Zimmerman claimed that he could work up to 100 hours per week or even every day of the week. With a wife and two kids it makes it hard to find a clear balance between work and family but Zimmerman has learned how to efficiently do both and become successful entrepreneur. You can even find Zimmerman working side by side with his employees on the worksite because he wants his customers to know that he values the quality of his firm’s work (and he wants his workers to know that he would ask them to do nothing that he would ask of himself).

Not only is the work Zimmerman does important to him, but so are the relationships he builds with his customers. Zimmerman spends no money on advertising for Modern Grain Systems. Instead, he depends on customer satisfaction-driven positive word of mouth for his business to operate and expand.

Operating within an hour radius of Avon because he doesn’t want to “bite off more than what he can chew.” So, it is important to focus on customer needs and expectations. Most of his work is repeat work, meaning many customers come back to Modern Grain Systems when they need more or need to update their gran bins. With his business having a slow growth rate—picking up just 7-9 new customers a year—it is important for Zimmerman to complete the job to fit the customers’ exact needs so they will come back and can recommend Modern Grain Systems to other customers.

The Midwest Entrepreneur class learned a lot from Will Zimmerman. One thing we learned is the important of both hard work and having set objectives. One of the most important objectives Zimmerman talked about having was “work as hard as you possibly can” and “spend money on something that has a return on investment.”

Will Zimmerman is not just a perfect example of a successful entrepreneur, he is a successful entrepreneur FROM Monmouth College and it was great having him speak in class.

Micam Smith

Dusty Spurgeon ’10 – An Unconventional “Farmer as Entrepreneur”

Yesterday in Midwest Entrepreneurs class we had our second “farmer as entrepreneur” guest speaker in a row; Dusty Spurgeon co-owner of Galesburg, IL-based Spurgeon Veggies. However, this “farmer as entrepreneur” is about as different as possible as last Thursday’s guest Paul Rickey. Dusty, as can be seen at the links below, runs a small-scale, highly specialized Community Supported Ag (CSA) firm while Mr. Rickey is a more conventional, larger-scale farmer producing basic commodity crops.

While the students witnessed discussion of the great differences between Dusty Spurgeon and conventional farmers such as Paul Rickey, they also heard that both are entrepreneurs running their respective businesses in the face of the some of the same risks (e.g., unpredictable weather, fluctuating seed and other material prices, and dynamic market demand).

Below, Midwest Entrepreneurs class member J.T. Seeley tells the story of Dusty Spurgeon and the ongoing growth of Spurgeon Veggies.

Prof. Gabel


Seven years ago Dusty Spurgeon graduated from Monmouth College with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry. After taking a class called “Food for Thought” here, she got interested in the food industry and started to watch what she ate. She became particularly concerned about where the food she was eating was coming from.

Shortly after graduation, Dusty moved to Galesburg. Then Dusty’s mother-in-law sparked her interest in ag-related entrepreneurship when she asked her to join her in setting up a booth at the local farmers’ market to sell produce. About a year later, Dusty was formally involved in the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) business.

Dusty started working with her mother-in-law in the business and got to know the ins and outs of the CSA. Even though Dusty wanted to stay away from school she sure did learn a lot in the few years that she has been with Spurgeon Veggies. Upon starting she knew little about gardening or farming and did not even consider the business to be a business. She mostly taught herself the way of the field. She not only taught herself farming but since becoming a co-owner she has had to learn marketing, bookkeeping, mechanics, and even small engine repair in order to run the business and make progress towards the future they hope to achieve.

Spurgeon Veggies is a unique business, very different from what we heard about from last week’s speaker Paul Rickey. Mr. Rickey is a more conventional farmer who grows corn and soy beans for sale. Spurgeon Veggies works not only with CSA but also has a spot at the Galesburg Farmers Market in order to sell their goods. Their goods consist mostly of vegetables, some fruits, and also eggs (that sell year round). One of their greatest advantages in the market and what sets them apart is the wide variety of specialized vegetables that they have. Their variety goes above and beyond what you can find in the supermarket, whether it be different kinds of vegetables or even the difference in the colors of those vegetables. Another advantage they have is that they try to limit the amount of pesticides used by incorporating other things such as rotating crops every year, self-composting, and using row covers. These advantages help them be successful in the Galesburg area and also to manage risk.

The future of Spurgeon Veggies looks bright. They have currently slowed expansion right now because they look at moving to a new location in the next couple of months to allow them more space. They are also looking to expand their CSA size along with increasing their capabilities of doing winter shares with investments in high tunnels and greenhouses. Another possibility is adding more meat to their products by adding more chickens or even getting hogs. One last look to the future would be to purchase another stand at the farmers market which the recent investment of a fridge trailer would allow them to do. The future looks bright for this company and its expansion.

Lastly, a special thank you to Dusty Spurgeon—and her mother—for coming and sharing the knowledge you have acquired with us!

J.T. Seeley

Paul Rickey ‘76: The Traditional Production Farmer as Entrepreneur (and Professional Business Man)

I am originally from a small, agricultural-based industrial town in SE Iowa; about an hour and fifteen minutes from here in Monmouth. I moved away in the late 1980s for graduate school and to “see the world.” Upon moving back to the region in August of 2012, I soon realized that no matter how many places however far off and different I had lived in or visited there was still a lot of this region “in me” that could never be removed or denied. A big part of this is the agricultural-based nature of the region and a big part of that is “the farmer”; who they are, what they stand for, what they do, and how they do it.

This realization of the centrality of the farmer to this region—and how it is a part of me—came crashing down upon me shortly after my return when watching the Super Bowl in early 2013 and seeing the unconventional “God Made a Farmer” Dodge Ram Truck advertisement—featuring the iconic voice of the late Paul Harvey—at the link below.

I played this ad—one that still resonates with me since first seeing it now four years ago–last Thursday to introduce our guest speaker in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class; 1976 Monmouth College graduate and long-time “traditional production farmer” Paul Rickey (who farms roughly 1,000 mostly family-owned acres near Monmouth). Farmers are—as expressed by Paul Harvey and as exemplified by Paul Rickey—anything but ordinary people. They do and endure things most people find unthinkable.  They are also—from the perspective of this class and on top of everything else they are— entrepreneurs managing businesses in a very professional manner in an increasingly complex and risky market environment.

Enough from me… I turn things over to Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Kyle Schultz to tell you—to quote Paul Harvey—“the rest of the story” on Paul Rickey; the Traditional Production Farmer Entrepreneur.

Prof. Gabel



On Thursday, February 2, our class was blessed with an opportunity to listen to Monmouth College Alum, Paul Rickey ’76. Mr. Rickey had some great advice to share with us about how he made it through Monmouth College and moved into the real world where he became very successful.

Mr. Rickey’s farming story starts out way before he was born when his ancestors bought an 80-acre piece of land near Seaton, IL in 1847; for the price of $300 at the time. He described his farm as a “Legacy Farm” because his family still owns and farms on the original piece of land now 170 years later.

While Mr. Rickey was growing up, it was clear that he wanted to continue the farming tradition. He loved farming, and that is what he wanted to do.  He now farms close to 1,000 acres, but he doesn’t own it.  Mr. Rickey is a sharecropper, and he splits half of the crop with the landowner—his mother—and gets to keep the other half.  He chooses to do this instead of cash renting the land.  By splitting the crop with the landowner, he shares the risk with the landowner in case there’s a bad year.

So what is a good year for a local, relatively small farmer? Mr. Rickey was very clear about what a good year for him is.  “A good year for Paul Rickey is when he pays for 80% crop insurance and doesn’t need it.”  He explained that when he pays for 80% crop insurance, if yields drop below 80% from what is projected, the insurance company will pay for the loss up to 80%.  In order to have this kind of protection, he pays out a lot of money.  His share of the crop insurance costs him about $71.44 an acre.  That’s not cheap, but on some of his better ground, Mr. Rickey can get close to, if not over, 220 bushels per acre.  This number is way up compared to when his father was first farming.  Mr. Rickey said his father used to get right around 80 bushels per acre.  This is largely due the technological advances in the farming industry.

Mr. Rickey said that there were three things you need to do in order to be a good farmer. Number one, you need to plant and harvest your crops.  Number two, you need to mow your weeds regularly.  Number three, you need to keep your mouth shut.  (He mentioned he doesn’t do number three very well.)  As much as he would love to say that his farming skills are the reason his yields are better than his father’s, he just simply can’t.  Mr. Rickey is quick to credit the advancement of farming equipment/technology and new seed.  The new farming equipment and technology is just unreal.  Farmers are able to plant and harvest their crops way faster, more efficient, and easier than ever before.  There is GPS technology in the tractors and combines that allow the machine to drive itself.  With this technology, he always plants his crops in straight lines making it easier to later harvest.  After switching to the GPS Auto-steer, Mr. Rickey was able to harvest five acres more a day of soybeans.  He also credits GMO’s for his increased yields.  He explained to the class that the seed used today is so much more productive and durable than ever before.

Along with the advancement of farming technology and equipment, the farmers have also changed. Farmers today aren’t your stereotypical rednecks wearing bibs and a straw hat with half their teeth gone.  That is one thing that Mr. Rickey wants to be clear.  He believes in dressing very proper and maintaining a professional image. At the end of the day, Mr. Rickey is a business man. He has to meet with his banker to ask for loans.  If he doesn’t get that loan, it could be very difficult to finance his upcoming crops.  That is why he makes it a goal to always make his banker his best friend.  Keeping his banker happy is always a priority for him. It is important to him that he always maintains that professional image, and I think that is something we can all learn from him.

Paul Rickey’s visit to our class was truly something special. He is extremely dedicated to farming, and he loves it.  Every day, he gets to wake up and do something that he loves to do.  I hope that I can say the same thing one day.  On behalf of the class, I want to say thank you for taking the time to come and speak to us.

Kyle Schultz