Our last guest speakerS of the semester were the extremely busy and driven entrepreneurial family of Alicia and Travis Pence.
Alicia is a December 2010—but officially a 2011—graduate of Monmouth College with a Major in Psychology. She is the founder and former executive director of the Family Outreach Community Center in nearby Stronghurst, IL. See her company’s webpage at: http://www.familyoutreachcommunitycenter.org/. She was our only social entrepreneur of the semester; meaning that her firm’s goals are stated not in terms of sales and profits but in terms of somehow helping others (e.g., decreasing food insecurity and helping the disadvantaged learn life skills that they can use to better themselves and their families and communities).
Travis has recently become somewhat of a serial entrepreneur; having evolved over the last couple of years from running his graphic design company–Lightning Designs in Biggsville, IL—to now focusing more intently on the business he has always wanted to run; Stronghurst Collison & Refinish. Both of Travis’ businesses can be found on Facebook.
Two entrepreneurs warrant two bloggers… So I now turn things over to Tia Robertson—blogging on Alicia’s entrepreneurial story—and Octavio Rodriguez (who focuses on Travis’ expanding array of entrepreneurial activities).
Alicia Pence, a former student here at Monmouth College, spoke to the class last Tuesday about her work in “social entrepreneurship.” “Social entrepreneurship” was something I had never heard of but soon learned that it involves making life better for other people. Right away, it was easy to see that Alicia loved her job as well as genuinely cares about the well-being of the people in her community. It all made sense once she mentioned her background in psychology as well as her core Christian values.
Alicia is the owner of Family Outreach Community Center (FOCC) in Stronghurst, Illinois which she started while she was still a senior here at MC. During school she worked various jobs and internships that have made a huge impact on her work now. The most notable being her work with a local church and the Jamison Center Community Center (http://www.jamiesoncommunitycenter.org/). While working for a youth group at her church, Alicia noticed that the basic needs of many of the children coming through the doors were not being met. She mentioned that kids would come with tattered clothes and empty stomachs many times. This jumpstarted her passion and led her to take three steps that led her to being a “social entrepreneur” focused on helping those in need. She described the three-step process as follows.
- Write it down on paper: She mentioned that she and her friend weren’t sure how they would go about fixing the problems they saw around them but the first step in making something happen was to write out their ideas for a center, the services they would offer, and funding.
- Research: Any great idea needs research to back it up. This is exactly what Alicia and her partner did. They dug deeper into problem and researched ways to solve it; as well as whether or not there was truly a need for this type of service in their community. After her research she learned that Henderson County was not funded by a lot of the local grants or United Way making it hard to support the community and keep up with basic needs. After looking into what she would need to open up her own community center she realized that this truly was an achievable goal which led her into her next step.
- Paperwork: In order to open the center there were a variety of forms that needed to be filled out first. Many of them were available on the internet and after some time—and lots and lots of paperwork—she was ready to go!
The FOCC is a not-for-profit organization that offers a variety of services to the public. The FOCC is also not government-funded, which makes it a lot more flexible and easy to run. It offers a food pantry, clothing closet, mock interviews, and resume assistance to the public. Because they are not government funded there is a board of directors who oversee the operations of the Center. Local churches and members of the community also donate as well.
Alicia has an obvious passion for people and specifically the small community she is an integral part of. She believes in not only helping people once but continuing to “walk along side” them and making life better for them now and forever. She truly is a diamond in the rough who I was very excited to hear about because I am also passionate about this topic and can see myself being a part of an organization like this when I graduate. This class has made a huge impact on me specifically because of entrepreneurs like Alicia and many more that we have seen who truly care about the people they work with.
The Pences run two completely different businesses which, as we learned, sometimes makes it difficult for them to see much of each other. As a result of this hectic dual entrepreneurial lifestyle, Travis’s wife, Alicia, has to ask him to come home every night for dinner or Travis would stay at his business. This just shows the passion this man has and the drive he has in order to be successful.
Travis is from a small town in Illinois named Biggsville. He has lived here for most of his life and values the small community lifestyle. He went to a community college for two years and started working at local auto repair shops in Galesburg. This allowed him to gather the hands-on experience that eventually gave him the opportunity to recently start realizing his dream of owning his own repair shop.
In 2012, Travis started a graphic design company named “Lighting Designs” in Biggsville, IL. At first they only had a small 24-inch printer and did jobs for local businesses. With the company receiving more and more demand they increased to a bigger printer in order to become more efficient. Travis did not only create the designs, but was involved in every step of the business operation. He installed the signs, answered any questions the consumers had about the projects, and created strong bonds with each and every customer. By running his business this way he was able to create brand loyalty with his consumers and stand out from any competitors. He was also located in a small town which helped with the brand image as well. Travis went on another entrepreneurial journey during this time as well.
Travis Pence is an entrepreneur who was able to capitalize on buying an existing business with an established customer base. He was able to buy his own repair shop in Biggsville, IL. This location is only a couple blocks away from his house, so it was a perfect buy convenience wise. However, this deal did not take place immediately. He asked the owners if they were willing to sell the building and the owners could not decide at the moment. They told Travis that they would let him know. This process took over a year. Instead of waiting around for the decision Travis—the hard worker he is—worked at a steel factory for the whole year. This was an experience that gave him extra assurance that he did not want to work for someone else. It allowed him to see that owning his own business was the only way for him.
After about a year the owners and Travis finally came to an agreement on August 1, 2016. He bought out not only the building but all of the equipment they had as well. He relied upon a local bank at which he had personal connections in order to fund this purchase. He was also able to keep the same phone number, which was crucial in keeping existing customers. Travis changed the name of the repair shop to “Stronghurst Collison & Refinish.” Their main job is to fix cars that have been in an incident and need repair. They work with the insurance company of the consumer in order to be paid. They send out an estimate to the insurance company and essentially the insurance company pays him the amount.
I know this may sound like an easy process but that is the complete opposite of what it is. Travis says he had this whole plan in his mind for about ten years. He knew his plan straight out of college was to buy the existing repair shop in his town. In less than a year and half he was able to do this and that is why I respect him heavily as an entrepreneur.
At the moment he is doing well with his family and his business. He is even doing a job right now that he estimates at $11,000. This just shows that he is seen as trustworthy in his community and is more on the expensive side, however you know the job will be done right at Stronghurst Collison & Refinish. Travis Pence was able to grow his brand name in the community and stick to a target market that will allow him to excel. He was able to handle his life situations in an intelligent way by planning years ahead.