Racing Towards your Passion with Rod Smith

We saved one of the most interesting entrepreneurial business models of the semester for our final guest speaker presentation.

“Saved” is probably a bit misleading… It suggests some purposeful action on my—or our—part. This is not the case…

Rod Smith was our final guest speaker of the semester in large part because of three interrelated reasons. First is Rod’s high level of entrepreneurial success. Second is the fact that he recently purchased a beautiful “winter” home near Daytona Beach, Florida. Third, Rod was living there over the winter; nearly until the end of the Spring semester here. He returned to Monmouth just in time to graciously fill our very last guest speaker slot.

Back to “one of the most interesting entrepreneurial business models of the semester”…

Rod sells used Nascar racing parts on Ebay.

Maybe this does not sound like a “big time operation” or even a “good entrepreneurial idea”?… Think again!!

The entrepreneurial success story of Rod Smith is one of turning a hobby into a thriving business, creating and enhancing relationships, creating and taking advantage of opportunities, taking the right risks, and persistence.

Class member Marissa A. Abston provides further detail on this amazing story below. Enjoy!!

Prof. Gabel


Mr. Rod Smith was the last speaker to visit the Midwest Entrepreneur’s Class for the spring semester of 2016. During his presentation he told us about himself, about his business venture, about his hobbies, and about what he’s learned throughout these experiences.

Mr. Smith is currently 61.5 years old. He is from Monmouth, IL. At the age of 53 years old he became a full-fledged entrepreneur. He told us that he was a partial entrepreneur until then.  Eight to 10 years ago he briefly worked at the Chicago Speedway as a Pit Stop crewman. At one point he used to work at Monmouth College as the head of maintenance. He did not get a college degree. One thing he highlighted was that he had taken up a hobby that paid for itself.

Mr. Smith works through E-bay. The easiest way to describe his job is as an independent E-bay vendor. He specializes in the area of motor vehicle parts – particularly selling used parts from NASCAR. The supply end of his operation takes place mainly in North Carolina, USA, where he buys the goods he sells directly from NASCAR racing teams.

As an E-bay seller, Mr. Smith is required to pay E-bay a percentage of his profits. In addition to E-bay, PayPal is a vehicle used for transactions. They send a form to the IRS if their user makes $20,000 or more. Most likely that procedure is to make sure no one is skipping out on their taxes.

He informed us that there used to be 300-400 people that did what he currently does. The difference between them was they weren’t turning in E-bay’s fair share of the profits. The IRS cracked down on many virtual vendors when the wave first began as E-bay and sites like it arose. Now, after several years, they have regulations and protocol in place to avoid cheating the system. He believes it pays to do business ethically. Seeing the consequences his former competitors met, it seems he’s got it right.

In his business he has never needed to take out a loan. Mr. Smith says that’s due to his good skills in money management. He recommended that we all wet our feet in it. I noticed that not many of our speakers have self-proclaimed that they are good with their money management skills. This is a good asset to have under one’s belt. It probably saves money to have more skills because then he may not need to have an advisor since he is already adept in how to handle that. Even so, he has taken on an accountant to help him keep it all in line.

Mr. Smith’s working hours vary from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. He travels around the country collecting parts and in the process enjoys his hobby. In order to collect parts he needs a trailer, which may vary in capacity depending on what is being hauled. Usually he flies down to Charlotte, NC since he’s “older” now and will stay in hotels while he has someone drive his trailer down for him. Mr. Smith invites his friends to journey with him and pays them to pick up the parts as he does the transactions along the way. I thought that was a valuable lesson – take your friends up with you and it’ll be a more fulfilling adventure.

To efficiently conduct business he always has a hunk of cash on him to make purchases on the spot. He eluded to the fact that you never know what’s going to catch your eye until you see it. In this business, you don’t want to be caught unprepared. In addition to purchasing and supplying used parts, Mr. Smith also supplies pit crew guys for lower end/ranked teams because it is too expensive for them to afford fulltime-travel pit crews.

High-volume E-Bay sellers like Rod Smith get a lot of questions from prospective buyers. E-bay vendors are required to put in descriptive details about the items. Sometimes people want lots of information about the item and its origins. Many people fear not getting what they see in the picture when shopping on-line. Things like “How many main caps are you selling here?” and “Does the package contain the same thing displayed in the picture?” are asked often. So Mr. Smith opts to put everything that you need to know about the item in the description as soon as possible. In order to clarify what is being sold –for example– he will have a quantity of 5 items in the picture uploaded, a total of 5 items listed in the title, and will have a total of 5 items matching the picture and title exactly within the package. He gives a complete 100% guarantee on what he offers.

Mr. Smith always has very good feedback. Nobody has ever reported being unhappy nor dissatisfied with his items. The only responses he has gotten outside of good or excellent have been a total of 2 customers a year reporting that they are neutral towards his items. 1000s of customers report that they are happy and well satisfied consistently. Rarely will he sell items right out of his brick-and-mortar shop, but when he does it is usually to locals or those who are desperate to obtain a part.

Mr. Smith’s suppliers and customers both trust his character as a business man which furthers his reach into the industry and market. Due to that, business draws to him because people know they will get good quality. In some cases he must keep items for a minimum of 2 years before selling anything because of a deal that he made with the suppliers. Those are usually secretive products that the supplier wants him to wait on selling to test that he is trustworthy as a partner. Due to his integrity he passes those tests with flying colors, and goes on to do great business with them. His business has high demand all over the world. Mr. Smith is also brought business because others recognize this trustworthiness.

In addition to earning suppliers’ trust he ensures that his customers get the greatest offer by carefully examining whatever he is shown before purchasing it.  Sometimes he sells products for a higher price than he purchased it for because the item is so rare and can only be attained through NASCAR. Even so, he makes sure to never cheat his customers. Mr. Smith made an emphasis on the practice that he does not allow broken, dirty, or raggedy items to be sold regardless of the fact that he sells “used” pieces. He does his best to fix them up so that they operate as good as new or better. Then he sells it for a great price that is still cheap for the customer and profitable for him. There is a tool he uses often that cleans up even the greasiest parts they acquire. It appears that he is very fond of this tool because he boasted that it “works beautifully!” I believe that speaks to his character because he oozed the pride of a wholesome seller when he said it.

As Mr. Smith projected into the future, he said that they may need more workers down the road to keep up with the demand which is steadily increasing. Mr. Smith conveyed that hobby racers have increased despite the economy’s downturn. Such a trend helps his business grow. He told us that some equipment, such as engines, are much more difficult to transport. Occasionally his team has to take apart or split engines [or other major parts] in order to transport them. Tasks like that will eventually require more aid when he and his current helpers get older.

Following that he gave us a virtual tour of his winter house; it is very nice. Mr. Smith was pretty humble about it. One amusing insight was that he was nervous to touch anything inside for a while because he thought it was all too fragile. Though he enjoys his winter home Mr. Smith says he won’t sell his Monmouth home ‘for nothing’, he loves it here.

Another topic we shifted into was his two favorite hobbies. Mr. Smith likes golfing in his free time. He says it is a really nice pastime; especially in that southern weather. What he enjoys more is racing! He bought an entire racecar once from the UPS team at the end of a season. He told us that he raced himself [his times], but it hasn’t been for years. Mr. Smith would suit up his own cars with the parts he sold – he trusts what he buys. It’s the hobby that pays for itself [if you’re good at it].

Now he goes to car shows and engages in other ways. Local racers know him well. Instead of racing he has relaxed into driving an electric car and has only filled it with gas 5 times since he’s bought it. He found that amusing, because now he’s more interested in aspects that don’t involve him driving it although it’s a nice car.

After that Mr. Smith enlightened us that these things [our preferences] aren’t out of reach. He says it only takes 2-3 days to be taught how to create an E-bay business if that’s what you are interested in doing. Then he told us what he’d do different: Mr. Smith says if he’d lived in the Charlotte area he would have made a million dollars easily because it is flooded with racing fans and participants. But he’s glad he didn’t and he won’t because he doesn’t like the summer weather – it is north Daytona, too hot. Jokingly he also said it’s too easy to get lazy in that beautiful southern weather in Florida. Most of the class shared that sentiment with chuckles.

What is the biggest challenge Mr. Smith foresees? Getting older. A simple and straightforward answer. He says as time progresses it gets harder to get out of bed and start. He’ll never get bored with this, but he may get too tired to conduct business like he currently does – fully immersed in it 1st hand. So he’ll go with the flow and find a way to still go further with it.

Mr. Smith says this business has been a dream come true. In the past he thought he’d retire from Monmouth College at 75 years old. He would have been happy doing that. However, this turned out to be better and he is very happy with the results. Nobody tells him what to do now, but he does work with a team and they have to work better to have optimal performance. He left us saying “Drunk kids break stuff, it’s a part of the flow.” and laughed – that concluded our time with Mr. Rod Smith.

Listening to him, it is visible that you can go further in your career when you actually enjoy what you are doing. You are more likely to care about it and also more likely to explore how to do it better on your own time – it is no longer a chore. I think the essential lesson from our last speaker –Mr. Rod Smith– is that we can make a fulfilling life out of doing our hobbies as our occupation; work doesn’t have to be work.

By: Marissa A. Abston

Tim Wells ’87: “Find Your Lick” and Relentlessly Pursue your Passion

It is not often that one can honestly and accurately say that they are in the presence of someone who may well be among the best few in the world at what they do.

However, that is exactly how I felt last Thursday in the presence of Tim Wells, a 1987 graduate of Monmouth College. I suspected it the moment one of the students introduced himself to Tim with the words “It is a pleasure to finally meet the legend…” and it was confirmed for the subsequent hour and twenty minutes he was with us in class.

Tim is among the very best in what he does with regard to (1) “primitive hunting” (via bow and spear [note that he threw the javelin while a student at Monmouth College]), and (2) creating and running an entrepreneurial enterprise related to the pursuit of his passion for “primitive hunting.” In this regard, Tim (1) is the creator and host of the #1 bow hunting cable TV show in the world (“Relentless Pursuit”), (2) holds sponsorships with several major hunting product manufacturers, (3) sells a variety of hunting-related products via his personal webpage, and (4) is a major star within the world of hunting on YouTube (and other online venues). Information about Tim and his entrepreneurial ventures can be found at the links below.


Another thing noteworthy about Tim’s visit is that while many of our guest speakers this semester have spoken about “pursuing your passion” I believe none have pursued and lived out that passion quite like Tim has.

The one thing that will stick with me more than anything else from Tim’s visit in this regard is his loyalty TO his fans/customers. Allow me to clarify… In business classes, we often talk of seeking loyalty to the firm and its products among customers/clients (e.g., via consistent meeting of customer expectations and the creation of meaningful and valuable experiences). It seems that Tim Wells has done such a good job of creating loyalty amongst those that follow him that he in turn feels an intense loyalty toward them.

This was witnessed most vividly when Tim spoke of the harrowing experience of running one of his spears through his own thigh while on a hunting expedition in the African wilderness. Specifically, while telling us the amazing story of how he survived this ordeal, he discussed how he realized he might well die but that he felt he owed it to his loyal fans to film every bit of his death and to share it with them. Luckily, he lived through the ordeal… Not many things “blow my mind” but this tale indeed did… Wow…

I now turn things over to class member Cole Trickel to share with you more details on the amazing Tim Wells ’87 and his visit to the Midwest Entrepreneurs class last Thursday.

Prof. Gabel


First things first…

Thursday April 28th Tim Wells came to campus to talk to a group of students about his entrepreneurship adventure. He grew up in Canton, IL which is just a hop, jump and a skip from where he graduated from Monmouth College in 1987, where he came to run track. Tim also talked about how times have changed since 1987, when he was allowed to have his bow in his room and string a buck up from the balcony of his dorm room. “Canton is a great place to grow up, if you like the outdoors”, just for the fact there is not a whole lot of indoor activities in Canton. This is part of the reason why his foundation of success is built on faith and family values. Tim claimed that you cannot be successful without a solid foundation and a good education.

Tim created and hosts #1 bow-hunting show in the world, “Relentless Pursuit,” and shared with us a number of the thousands of wild stories that go with it. Included in the stories he shared with us was “the shot heard around the world.” This might seem a typical hunting story that you would tell around a bonfire late at night, except this was no fictional story. “The shot heard around the world” is the story of Tim Wells putting an arrow between the eyes and through the skull of a North American Brown bear. It was said that it could not be done, and so he set out and accomplished the task that no one else was brave enough to attempt. This “relentless pursuit” of the seemingly impossible is key to Tim’s entrepreneurial success.

Stories like these are all fine and dandy but Tim’s successes is not what made me envy him as a successful entrepreneur. The way he claims that we are part of the circle of life, humans are consumers of Earth’s every resource. It is of high importance for people to understand where Earth’s resources come from. Tim travels the globe to hunt but also to spread awareness to pursue the passion of hunting. Tim is a lover of life, you take a life, you give life to something else, it is all part of the circle of life.

Tim also talked about how the education he received here at Monmouth College has helped him to set himself apart from the competition in the hunting industry. The writing skills that he was required to receive here and helped him to write his book, “A Demon in the Dark”, that has been published globally. It distinguishes the difference between hunting and poaching. Tim claims that we students are the future of society and to keep an open minded; not bull-headed like I know I become sometimes. If you have a great idea and work ethic you can go anywhere, do almost anything and be successful. With that being said, success will follow, but success sometimes breeds jealousy. People wish they were as successful as you are and will cut you down to get it, this is why Tim says to surround yourself with good people, people that want you to succeed. With technology now-a-days it easy to do something stupid on camera and everyone is going to see it.

Now for some number figures… Once you become famous people will know your name and people will want to be like you or cut you down; it goes both ways. Tim told us, for example, that he gets paid 5K every time he wears a certain hat or t-shirt on television and/or talks in some sort of interview and an additional 100K a year just so that one hunting products company can use his name (as a user and sponsor of their products). Tim talks about seizing every opportunity possible because you never know when one opportunity is going to be worth that 100K every year. Talk about marketing at its finest. Tim is basically a “rock star” celebrity in the world of hunting. Professional hunters and other sportsmen want to grow up to be like him, just like little Billy wants to grow up to play Quarterback for the Chicago Bears.

Last thing… Tim owns the word “slock”. I have never shot a bow before that he tells us that it is the noise that a bow makes when the arrow in released. That is pretty awesome to own a cool word like “slock”.

The last couple of things that Tim wanted to leave us with is that while sacrifices have to be made to be successful, just make sure they are not the wrong sacrifices. Entrepreneurial moment: “When you find your lick, and are making the good money, reinvest in your company. Don’t be stupid like me and blow it all away like I did when I first started off.”  Also have the ability to take risks, keep your sense of humor wherever you are, whatever you are doing, be able to laugh at your failures and learn from them.

Who you are as a person defines you, that is why Tim’s foundation is built on faith and family values.

Cole Trickel

Larry Gerdes: Forty Years of Entrepreneurial Experience and More

Thursday of last week we had the pleasure of having as our guest speaker Monmouth College Board of Trustee member Larry Gerdes.

This was a rare opportunity to tap into the experience and knowledge of someone with not only nearly four decades of entrepreneurial experience but also many years of experience as a facilitator and evaluator of entrepreneurial activity (as a venture capitalist).

Below, class member Matt Juhola nicely summarizes what we learned from Mr. Gerdes.


Prof. Gabel


Larry Gerdes spoke with our class and shared his many stories with us from his humble beginnings as a small town kid from Illinois to becoming business partners with Monmouth College alum Walter Huff which led to his involvement as a venture capitalist.

Mr. Gerdes was born and raised in Walnut, Illinois to German immigrants and lived there until he attended the University of Illinois to pursue an agriculture degree. While he was at U of I, he was interested in business and took accounting, finance, and marketing courses. He continued his business education by enrolling in graduate school at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

His amazing entrepreneurial journey began in 1974 while working at a bank in Peoria when Larry met Walter Huff who was seeking $1 million to install mini computers throughout hospitals that could hold medical information. Larry continued to work with Walter Huff by getting him the funds he needed for his company, HBO and Company, and ultimately left his bank job and jumped at the opportunity to become partners with Huff and moved their company to Atlanta despite being advised not to by his mentors.

In 1981 Gerdes and Huff went public with HBO (and made $15 million and turned several of their employees into instant millionaires). Ten years later, the company was sold to McKesson for close to $13 billion.

As if that was not enough, Mr. Gerdes then started working with one of his mentors, Don Lucas, at Sand Hill Financial Company in California and helped double the size of the company, increasing its revenue to $150 million. Larry would go on to make 59 investments through Sand Hill, with the most prominent being in Oracle, an American multinational computer technology corporation. Huff and Gerdes continued to work together and in 1991 started Gerdes Huff Investments, a private investment firm based in Atlanta, GA.

One of the companies Mr. Gerdes took over and had great success with was Transcend Services, a company in Atlanta then run by several women who outsourced medical records of hospitals. Gerdes had Transcend focus its service on medical transcriptions so the company could become successful in the market. He originally invested $700 thousand and eventually sold the company to a major competitor for a substantial profit.

Larry still ventures into other companies, primarily healthcare based, and is an active investor to this day after 40 plus years of experience. He continues to have success in his ventures by using data to make better decisions and believing in good management teams that work hard and believe in their system, much like he did with Walter Huff as a young professional.

Matt Juhola

“Hard Heads and Softballs”: Bar Rescue to the Rescue Again

At least once each semester the inevitable happens; we wind up being without a guest speaker. Entrepreneurs are busy people who sometimes have to cancel out on things not directly related to their businesses; and I failed in multiple last-minute attempts to get a “backup” on overly short notice.

Yet such challenge is actually welcome in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class; as long as it happens but once or twice a semester… It gives me the chance to reinforce one of the most important (general) things that business students can learn: The need to adapt to changing circumstances (and the need to be persistently ready to do so).

So that is what we did… And, as I almost invariably do, I turned to an old friend in this time of need: Spike TV’s Bar Rescue (

If you are not familiar with Bar Rescue, the series stars consultant—and now entertainment entrepreneur–Jon Taffer, a no-nonsense former bar and nightclub owner who has owned, flipped, or somehow otherwise “rescued” nearly 1,000 such businesses in his career. Taffer and his crew of expert bartenders, chefs, and designers is brought in by bar owners–entrepreneurs–to save their declining and often severly neglected and dysfunctionally run businesses. After a period of surveillance and consultation and training meetings, Taffer brings in local contractors and other service providers to renovate and update the facility (based on his extensive bar/restaurant marketing and management expertise).

And that is exactly what happened in the episode that we used to remedy our no-speaker woes last week… The dysfunction- and remarkable-turnaround-laden episode of the series that rescued Midwest Entrepreneurs last week was entitled “Hard Heads and Softballs.”

Below, class blogger Austin Johnson summarizes what takes place in the episode as well as what we can learn from it. As you will see, an extra challenge for this particular entrepreneurial business is the very unique layout of the facility and the property it sits on; coupled with dual and potentially clashing target market segments.

And thank you Jon Taffer and Spike TV for rescuing us yet again!!


Prof. Gabel


Todd Chester and Scott Mack invested in a bar together in 2012 called the SRO (Standing Room Only). This bar has been in Anoka, Minnesota since 1976, so it had been a successful bar for a long time.

The owners added their own names—“Mac and Chester”—but still have the original SRO sign because it is well known within the community. They both thought this would be a good business decision.

What makes this bar unique and challenging is that it consists of not only a bar but twenty-three acres of land, two bars, and four softball fields. The softball fields are a great thing to have because it will be appealing to a lot of people. Families can come to the games and order food or drinks from either bar.

Unfortunately for Scott he didn’t think he would have to worry about the behavior of Todd. But, as we saw in the video, while Scott is working out on the softball fields trying to help the bar, Todd is in the bar drinking and acting like an idiot with his friends. There are some very poor business decisions being made by both of the owners; like giving away drinks, letting bar patrons do burnouts with their motorcycles on top of benches, and then setting the benches on fire (and standing around and watching them burn).

Not too surprisingly, when Jon Taffer shows up, the bar is losing money; about $6,000 a month. This means they aren’t making a profit in order to pay their bills. If you can’t pay your bills how are you supposed to run a business?

Also adding to the problem is that the management situation is very poor and the workers have no organization, which gets in the way of efficiency. If the bar is crowded the workers need to be getting the drinks out as fast as possible and with the right ingredients. It also becomes obvious that the employee’s weren’t trained properly.

Todd is afraid to tell his friends to stop destroying stuff and being rowdy because he says that they are the ones keeping the business going during the “off season” (in the colder months when softball cannot be played on the fields outside). Todd feels that these customers are the business’s truly loyal customers. However, it seems that they might only be going their so often because Todd gives them free drinks. This still shouldn’t trump the fact that he is destroying his bar and putting his family at risk to loose everything.

After Todd leaves the establishment and lets his wife manage the bar, they start to make a lot of improvements. Taffer remodels the bar and brings in professional helpers to make the menu more appealing. They also train the employees at SRO so that they are better prepared to serve their customers. The proper training and remodeling of the bar is a great opportunity for SRO, but they must keep up the work. They can’t let the bar get out of hand again and I think with the right management it will be a successful bar. The Standing Room Only sits on a lot of land to attract customers and now that Todd and his friends aren’t destroying everything I think they can become a better business.

Austin Johnson

Dr. Nic Mink: The Accidental Liberal Arts Entrepreneur Who Transformed a Fundraiser into a Multi-Million Dollar (Sustainable Fish) Business


Our guest speaker last Thursday was Dr. Nic Mink, President & Chief Salmon Steward at Sitka Salmon Shares ( and

Coming in, we knew that Nic and his firm were connected in some fashion to two previous class speakers. First, although Sitka Salmon Shares is legally based in Sitka, Alaska, it has warehousing and distribution operations in the Sustainable Business Center in nearby Galesburg, IL. Recent class speaker Ann Mueller is the center’s recruiting and communications director (see:

Second, given that the firm operates somewhat like a community supported agricultural (CSA) enterprise, we knew that the business model would have some similarities to Spurgeon Veggies run by class speaker Dustie Spurgeon (see: and

We also knew of the interesting and unusual genesis of the firm; a fundraising trip to Alaska by a Knox College professor and two students. Quoting from the Sitka Salmon webpage:

Our story begins in 2011, when a Midwestern college professor, Nic, and his two students traveled to Sitka, Alaska, for the summer. There, they engaged in conversations and deepened their understanding of the importance of protecting Southeast Alaska’s wild salmon populations and the pristine environment that supports one of the world’s last great salmon reserves.

They returned to the Midwest with boxes of line-caught, wild Alaskan salmon, harvested by their fisher friends in Sitka. To say the fish was well-received would be an understatement. People raved about the salmon’s taste and were impressed by its traceability. They quickly made the connection between their consumption and the impact this small act could have on conservation efforts and the health of Alaska’s sustainable fisheries. Perhaps, the group thought, they were on to something.

 Well… They were “on to something” indeed!!

Shortly thereafter, the sustainable fish business based on a “boat-to-table” supply chain began. An initial investment of about $10,000 yielded around $7,000 in first-year sales. Today, however, the firm has sales of almost $4 million (with 80% of this amount being direct-to-customer retail sales and the remaining 20% wholesale sales to restaurants and chefs).

Below, Midwest Entrepreneurs student Connor Gillen provides details on how the company went from so little to such much so fast.


Prof. Gabel


Nic Mink, who was a first time speaker in our class, is the co-founder and CEO of Sitka Salmon Shares.  Sitka Salmon Shares sells “shares” of sustainably caught fish all across the Midwest United States year-round.  The fish are caught in Sitka, Alaska by family fishermen who have to follow certain procedures to maintain the high quality of fish the business offers.

The business idea began five years ago while Nic was teaching at Knox College in the Environmental Studies Department.  He had traveled to Alaska with two of his students as part of a fundraising project where they would sell salmon from Alaska to Knox College faculty and staff. After visiting Alaska, Professor Mink decided to make a business out of what was a fundraiser.

The main idea for the business is providing its’ members the knowledge of where there food came from, how it was caught, where it was caught, how it was delivered and things like that.  His main idea on why he started the business is because he is passionate about finding a way to build a better food system.  He said that more and more people at this day and age are eating healthier and wanting to know where the food they eat comes from.  They provide each of their members with all the details about the fish while delivering a high-quality product.

As stated above, family fisherman catch the fish in Sitka, Alaska.  The fish is then processed there in a facility Sitka Salmon recently acquired. The fishermen are required to follow procedures to makes sure each fish has a high quality taste when it’s finally delivered.  There are 13 fishermen that are apart of the business and most of them are young.  Nic thinks having younger generation fishermen helps carry out the value of the business because they understand why they have some certain procedures that other fishermen don’t have.  For example, Nic places a restriction on how long the fishing trips last so that the fish isn’t on the boat for extended periods of time before being processed.

After it is processed in Alaska, it then gets loaded onto barges that travel to Seattle, Washington.  The fish are then put on trucks and transported to one of their distribution centers, which are located in Galesburg, Chicago and Madison, WI.  The fish are delivered to “members” of the business in 5-pound boxes once a month.  “It’s kind of like a wine of the month club,” said Nic.

Wholesale is also the second way Sitka Salmon sells its fish besides delivering it to households.  Wholesale accounts for about 20% of the sales in the business and is usually delivered to chefs who use it in restaurants.  Direct consumer distribution though has better margins and also has better cash flow for the business since each member has to pre-pay.

The first year the business was up and running, Sitka Salmon totaled $7,000 in sales.  In 2016, they had an incredible $3.6 million in sales.  The first two years of the business, Nic did not pay himself a salary.  But once the business began to grow rapidly, Nic paid himself a salary and also hired an accountant and lawyer.  He attributes some of the firm’s recent success directly to having a great lawyer and accountant.  He also says that these two employees “pay for themselves” because they are so great at the critically important things they do.  The business has grown rapidly over the last couple years and has been recognized as one of the top companies focused on sustainable fish and community-supported fishing in the entire country.

Lastly, one of the biggest things Nic attributes his success to is the fact that he is both a social entrepreneur and liberal arts entrepreneur.  Although, he did not receive his degrees from a liberal arts college, he has taught at Knox for a number of years and has a very diverse educational and experiential background.  He has a Ph.D. in natural resources management and history from the University of Wisconsin.  He has excellent writing skills and not just knowing one area has really helped him succeed.  Knowing a lot about a lot of different things helps him effectively speak to a wide variety of people and he can fit in with just about any group of people.  His ability to also tell a good story gets people emotionally involved and helps him sell his product and his message.  It is all these skills that he can fit it to any situation and speak the language of capital that has helped his business have so much success.

In the future, Nic wants to grow as fast as they can, but keep the values of the company first.  The values of the company will always come first with Nic.  As he put it:  “If a business puts its values first, then the money will soon follow.”

It was a pleasure to listen to Nic talk about his unique business and I am glad he has had so much success with it.

Connor Gillen

Rev. Dr. Kathleen Fannin: The Incidental/Accidental Artist Entrepreneur

One of the most satisfying guest speaker visits of last year’s Midwest Entrepreneurs class for me was that of former Monmouth College Chaplain Rev. Dr. Kathleen Fannin (who has taken a passion for painting realized only after retirement and turned it into an entrepreneurial venture). The reason for this high level of satisfaction was seeing someone talk passionately about something that they truly loved and how they had transformed it first in to a hobby and then realized it could become a means of starting an entrepreneurial business (which at the very least pays for adventurous pursuit of the loved hobby).

Kathleen made her second guest speaker visit to the class last Thursday; it was every bit an interesting and insightful as the first. Below, class member Blake Bichsel provides further detail on her captivating story.

Lastly, see—and buy–her paintings at her artists webpage : My personal favorite of her many works—the original of which hangs on a wall at home—can be found at:

Prof. Gabel


So far in our classes we have had a lot of very interesting guest speakers.  Rev. Dr. Kathleen Fannin kept that trend going.  She was the chaplain here at Monmouth College for thirteen years before she became an artist.  The interesting thing about her entrepreneurial adventure was that it began after she had retired from being a chaplain.  She said that when she started she had no idea she could draw, and even told our class that she wasn’t even sure she could draw a stick figure.  You might find that very hard to believe if you saw one of her paintings though.

Dr. Fannin has written several books over the course of her career as well.  She said one day she had “writer’s block”, so she went to Dick Blick and got some supplies to do watercolor paintings.  The first painting she did was of an owl.  She was in love from the start; she loved her new found hobby and was very surprised how good she was.  She shared her new hobby with her friends and family by sending them notecards featuring her paintings.  One of her friends liked her notecards so much he asked to buy the actual painting from her.  She continued to improve her artistic ability and decided to enter an art show in May 2012.  She had a painting win “best in class” at the art show; and by December she had sold eight paintings.

In November 2013, she attended her first craft show where she had a lot of success.  She had only paid $30 for her table and ended up making $400 that weekend.  She continued to do lots of paintings for her friends as well.  The first couple paintings she didn’t charge very much, but she was doing something that she loved and that’s all that mattered.  People then began asking her to do paintings of their own homes and things and that’s when she realized she could charge a little more because people were willing to pay more for something that was special to them.  She would take a picture of the house, then draw the outlines with pencil, and begin to paint.

At the craft show the next year she decided to get a double table that only cost her $50 and it really paid off.  That weekend at the craft show she made $960.  She sold things such as notecards and prints and even some original paintings.  She painted a beautiful picture of historic The Holt House here in Monmouth and it sold for $450 (see: ).  She also sells prints of her paintings on her page and for $30 a year they take care of everything from the customers ordering the products to shipping the products to them.  The website also has other products like phone cases, and shower curtains that have her paintings on them as well.  She doesn’t really do a whole lot as far as marketing goes.  But she does post all of her paintings on her Facebook page for all of her friends to see.

Recently, Kathleen has been experimenting with painting on Yupo paper, a plastic material which the paint does not absorb into. She shared with us several of her Yupo paintings done as part of her recently concluded “Lenten Painting Series.”

After becoming an artist she realized that just because she painted something and absolutely loved it, doesn’t mean other people would want to buy it.  That also goes the other way around; she said that she has had a couple paintings that she didn’t think were very good that sold relatively quickly.

Like most of the speakers so far she is doing something that she absolutely loves to do.  She asked us, “If you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing, then why are you doing it?”  She also told us that she strictly does this for fun and never wants to see this as work, she just wants to be able to enjoy it.

Blake Bichsel

Ann Mueller: Sustainable Business Center Director (and Entrepreneurial Facilitator)

Our guest speaker this past Tuesday was Ann Mueller, Recruiting and Communications Director for the Sustainable Business Center located at 2900 West Main Street in nearby Galesburg, IL. See the Center’s webpage at:

I introduced Ann to the class as the first of 2-3 “facilitators of entrepreneurial activity” we will have as guest speakers this semester. By “facilitators of entrepreneurial activity” I mean that the guest is not an entrepreneur themselves but rather that they—and their organizations—help entrepreneurs expand or otherwise succeed in any of a variety of ways.

As stated on its webpage, the Sustainable Business Center performs this important, often hidden function by offering environmentally sustainable entrepreneurial firms that already have some level of success—i.e., “second-stage” firms—the opportunity to move their operations to the next level and beyond via provision of “office space and accompanying office amenities, warehouse storage, manufacturing space, land for organic agriculture production, and a Food and Drug Administration-certified commercial kitchen.”

I now turn things over to Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Matt Bertelsen to provide you with further details on what we learned from Ann Mueller about the Sustainable Business Center. Further details on the Center can be found at the weblink provided above or by contacting Ann via phone (309-343-1191) or e-mail (

Prof. Gabel


There is a facility west of Galesburg, Illinois that some would call a “little known treasure” of the area.  This facility is called the Sustainable Business Center (SBC).  Our class had the opportunity to learn all about the Center and its goals for the community when SBC Director of Recruiting and Communications Ann Mueller came to speak to our class.

The SBC got its start in 2010 when the Carhartt clothing manufacturing company donated the building—a former Carhartt manufacturing facility—to the Human Links Foundation (see:  The future of Galesburg’s economy looked bleak but Human Links had a vision and believed that it could be turned around.  From that vision the Sustainable Business Center was born with some ideas in mind: create gainful employment, produce well-made, high quality products, and create an environmentally sustainable economy.  From these ideas came a mission: “Bring jobs to the Galesburg area by nurturing and growing businesses that represent green technology in its purest form”.  The second hidden treasure created by the Sustainable Business Center is the restaurant in the facility called “en season”.  A second mission was established for the restaurant: “To bring local food that is wholesome and pesticide-free back into the community”.

The Sustainable Business Center has created a business plan that not only helps boost the economy in the Galesburg area but also helps create a sustainable environment and economy for future generations.  The Business Center provides a range of support services and a space to work to help start-up or established businesses build and succeed.  With this in mind they began searching for tenants that would use green technology, clean energy, and sustainable agriculture practices in their business plans.

In the Center’s 88,000 square-foot facility, it houses three tenants, along with the restaurant.  The first tenant, Intellihot Green Technology, is a company that creates smart tankless water heaters which save energy (see:  These water heaters recently won a first place award in the Illinois Clean Energy Fund Awards.  The second tenant, Sitka Salmon Shares, allows members to sign up for a “share” of the harvest of an independent, small boat, family fisherman (see:  The third tenant, Jerry’s Mojo, is a mobile coffee shop that uses a 100% electric, zero emission vehicle (see:  Jerry’s mobile coffee shop’s location can be tracked on social media.  The restaurant in the facility, en season, is an entirely farm to table restaurant.  All food used is locally grown by both local farmers and in the SBC’s garden and pesticide and antibiotic free (see:

The Sustainable Business Center still has some open space for tenants looking to follow a sustainable and green business plan.  For more information on the facility visit its website

Thanks to Ann Mueller for being our very informative guest speaker!!

Matt Bertelsen

Life’s Game of Learning from Failure – The Paul Schuytema Experience

Today’s class blogger is Marissa A. Abston.

Below, Marissa tells the captivating tale of Paul Schuytema and his more often than not chaotic up-and-down experience in the video gaming industry. This wild ride began with Paul first working for a number of different companies and culminated with him—reluctantly—at the helm of his own entrepreneurial venture; Magic Lantern Playware Incorporated (a now defunct but once highly successful video game development firm based right here in Monmouth, IL).

The class learned several valuable lessons Tuesday. One was something we had not heard before in such detail; the importance of learning from failure. Most specifically: In fast-paced, dynamic high tech industries, failure can occur when even successful firms do not see major change coming soon enough to adapt.

This leads to another important lesson learned: the need to continually scan the market environment looking for changes which may represent opportunities (to take advantage of) or threats (to guard against). With both, adaptation is necessary.

In the case of Magic Lantern, as you will read more about below, a threat was not taken seriously enough and adaptation was too little and too late to save the firm.

Enjoy!… And thank you Paul Schuytema!!

Prof. Gabel


Paul Schuytema spoke about his experiences that led him through his first entrepreneurial adventure during his visit to Midwest Entrepreneurs on Tuesday. He never set out to become an entrepreneur, it found him.

Growing up in the 1970s entertainment was dominated by board games. His family was fond of bonding through playing them. At the same time the evolution of computer technology was occurring. As a child Paul grew interested in the concept of rule sets as he played more board games, to him it made playing more interesting. “Cosmic Impounder” was one of his favorite games along with “Boot Hill,” “Panzer Blitz,” “Squad Leader,” and “Airfix.” Eventually he got into table top board games and from there acquired a special interest in “ancients” which were Greek and Roman figurine themed games.

In the 4th grade he made his own games with rule sets which was the first step towards turning his explorative gears. During that period technology was becoming more accessible to the public, and was capturing the interests of his age group. The king of tech gaming was originally the PC.

Unfortunately Paul’s father passed away when he was 13 years old, and his mom saw his interest in technology so she bought a computer to distract him and give her some mobility since she had more to take care of. His mom provided him the super tech at the time which was an hp41c computer that looked like a scientific calculator around 1975 or 1976. It was the first computer targeted to the homes of the general public. That kicked off his interest in coding as he tinkered with the HP41C trying to program games the moment he had it. Shortly after the HP41C came the Atari 800. That revolutionized not only the tech of the era, but propelled Paul’s interest in coding further. He went into detail about Atari being the first to come up with the scrollable map for the digital world. He was fascinated and excited to see the new innovation with 250+ colors and more than 1K of bytes to examine. To further his knowledge about programming Paul acquired the book by Chris Crawford: “How to Program the Atari.” One day Paul wrote him and wound up being mentored by Crawford through exchanging messages. Crawford was teaching him the secret keys to the kingdom of coding.

When he applied for Knox College his intent was to major in game programming, but since they didn’t offer it as a major he chose to forego formal education in programming and take up writing. Even though he didn’t get to go down the path he envisioned he went to graduate school. There was a chapter in his life that he worked in Monmouth before catching his first break in the field that he desired to pursue.

The first gig he attained out of college was working on the game “Mind Drive” by Atari during the time shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The “Mind Flight” system was used to operate the “Mind Drive” game by channeling human thought. An entire fleet of games was proposed to be directed by the axis of the left side and right side of the mind to complete certain functions. Paul’s experience with this project taught him that just because it is a good idea, it may not be doable; either with the current technology or it just might not take the interest of audiences.

That company went under fast and he had to adjust so he applied for the game designer position at FASA Interactive in Chicago for the epic game “Mechwarrior3”, which had a new impact on the gaming industry. He genuinely enjoyed working on this project with the FASA Interactive group. Paul was in his first marriage and also had his 1st child at the time of these developments. He was also getting paid twice as much than he had made at his previous job in Monmouth. At this point in time he still hadn’t wanted to build his own company.

Later on Paul got offered a job by 3D Realms in Texas to be the designer of the game ‘Prey’ as he was finishing up his work with the “Mechwarrior3” project. To him this was the most awesome game he ever had developed to date. 3D Realms required him to develop a game with the title being “Prey”, starring a Native American, whose last name would be “Brave”, and it had to be the most violent game ever. This game design caused him to stretch his mental parameters further than he’d ever experienced. It thrilled him to test how far he could go with it. The fruits of his team’s work was great because this game elevated the scene of digital programing dynamically with reflective surfaces and full color radiosity lighting features which transcended the then top notch graphic designs. His team designed the game backwards by writing a novel of the game first and then wrote the game to mirror the story. The audiences for 3D Realms were 18-35 year old men. He moved to Texas with his 1st wife for the duration of his job with 3D Realms. Paul was dedicated to the improvement and continual exploration of the possibilities for software development of “Prey” setting up opportunities for new levels. 3D Realms paid low salaries with potentially huge bonuses, so the only reason to stay on was out of a passion for developing the games and hoping that they do well enough to get hefty royalties from.

Awkwardly, 3D Realms had 2 games competing with each other; targeting the exact same audience, and using the exact same tech within the company. One game was led by the company president and the other one was ran by Paul which put him in a tight situation. Through this experience he learned how not to run a company which would serve him later. Paul went into work one day and right before sending off the “Prey” game to Japan for a test the President told him the game had been killed effective immediately – no warning. He was forced into making a decision between losing his stocks but stay in the company or taking the next game offer and walking away from the company. Paul decided to leave the company responsible for the Duke Nukem franchise. This was the moment when Paul Schuytema decided to create his own company.

Thankfully Paul’s wife wouldn’t allow him to sell their house here in Monmouth, IL because they returned after the “Prey” project concluded.  He came back to Monmouth in 1999 with no real internet present yet, just dial up to work with. “Magic Lantern Playware Incorporated” is the business which Paul created without any money and rented office space.

The first venture he made was writing up to a dozen strategy guide books for playing through popular games in order to make money. Paul emphasized to us that not everything you try works! Sometimes it’s just going to suck.

The first game he made was “Second Genesis”, his first failure. It was a PC game covering the common plot of crashing on an alien planet and finding a way to repair your ship using the planet’s resources. He moved on to teach us that publishers want to make contracts with designers that are making something that’ll catch the market audience’s attention. If it wasn’t a big franchise like Star Wars, they weren’t taking it.

The second game was “Gene-Fusion AD 2310”, which was also a failure. So he sold the rights to a German company and moved on to the next project. Another token Paul gave was that you should constantly try to overlap contracts so that you are left hanging after you finish one. Have them lined up back to back in a capacity which you can handle.

The third game: “Forts- A Magic Lantern Game” was also a failure. Failures prepare you to get better at what you do. Paul met Ed Fries – head [at the time] of all games in Microsoft – and managed to present his Forts to him at a tradeshow. Fries disrespectfully dismissed Paul’s game out of confusion.

After that horrible experience he was able to do pitch documenting to Red Storm Entertainment who’s responsible for the Rainbow Six franchise. When Paul acquired the okay to present an idea to them, he made a demo to try to captivate their interests to invest in him to work on or even create their next project. He had to create the technology from scratch, designing new facets to the graphics. Once he presented it to them they sent a team to Monmouth to check out the validity of Paul’s ‘company’. So Paul went through some extravagant means to make his company seem that it was more than it really was so that Red Storm Entertainment would hire him so that he could have his breakthrough. They arrived, believed the ruse, 8 months later called him, told him yes, and gave him the big advance check to do the project.

“Rainbow Six Covert Ops Essential Game” was his first success under Magic Lantern Playware. As he developed this game, Magic Lantern Playware wrote the largest, most comprehensive existing encyclopedia on counter-terrorism to date. It was so accurate that an interviewee they’d taken a detailed account from to include in the encyclopedia predicted 9/11 exactly as it would happen. Because of its detail their show tech engine was used to provide tactical police training programs.

Paul’s second great success was a game called “Combat.” For it, he got $40,000 for the Rainbow Six Game with biannual development report before receiving the next payment.

Success 3 was the “Survivor” game from Infrogrames, which rose to be his favorite game. At this time Paul had a formal office location in Monmouth, IL; but even with that they couldn’t get everything they were tasked with done. They had 8 weeks of work to complete within 5 days’ time due to their lack or resources and helping hands. They [Paul & his business partner] slept when they could which was rare but it was worth it because they attained huge royalties awhile after the game was put out and selling well. However it turned out to be a terrible game.

The final success Paul had was “Survivor Ultimate” which had been signed prior to the release of the first “Survivor” results came back. During this design they essentially faked the entire game just to put out a product because the target audience they had was actually totally different.

Through all of these experiences, Paul was a self-taught game programmer that explored due to a passion and learned due to genuine intrigue of how far the limits could be pushed.

Then, at the worst time conceivable, an unthinkable event occurred: all the company’s stuff got stolen in one night by a crazy man who lied with an agenda about his computer skills in order to get hired. Then the person fulfilling CFO duties stole off one day, getting Magic Lantern Playware in trouble with the IRS for having $50,000+ in payroll debt. Paul said that the lesson in this is “everyone hires at least one crazy person, eventually.”

After that catastrophe, Paul did several other games: “Foosball”, “Mahjong”, “Front Runner”, and “Video Game Tycoon” that had their ups and downs of successes. Even with the incoming businesses here and there he couldn’t enjoy the moment to the fullest because the publisher ran out of money due to poor management. This publisher told Paul that they had to kill the game and in actuality they stole his design for “prison tycoon”, went bankrupt and now he will get his money back from them.

The last three games he made were “Health and Fitness Club Tycoon”, “Texas Hold ‘Em”, and “Mahjongg Tiles of Time’.

Paul’s entrepreneurial journey in the video gaming industry came to an abrupt end in 2005. It was also the year that the industry began to vastly change because of the newer game consoles like Xbox. Paul reminisced about the website “I love bees,” which was a set up for the public because it creatively gave out coordinates of latitude and longitude that lead to real life phone booth locations with dates to go to them and that phone would ring at the given time which was how the game “Halo” was introduced to the public. He said he won’t ever forget that because this was the same weekend that “Spiderman 2” the movie dropped the weekend preceding that Tuesday that Halo was released and phenomenally broke records making a new standard in the gaming universe.

Huge blockbusters on consoles were the new wave setting the industry anew. Programming teams went from 5-10 people to 150-200 people swiftly. Quarter million dollar advances per game went down to $10,000 advances. Certified developers were the only group that made games on that platform of Xbox and PlayStation.

He then shifted into telling us a few details about his business. The main team that Paul worked with consisted of approximately 10-11 people in his company over time. They didn’t always make payroll on time however they only missed paying it once throughout the years. His mom bailed him out many times when he couldn’t make payroll so he never took loans from a bank. Paul didn’t really have the option to take out loans, because they couldn’t get a bank to be interested at the time in Monmouth or in the Midwestern areas because they had no concept of digital assets. Their mode of income mostly relied on living on advances, not royalties because of the gaming market’s structure. To be more cost efficient they outsourced the art aspect of their games and focused on the main designs. He mentioned that he had a partner running Magic Lantern Playware. This person was supposed to be the one in charge of furthering the company. However they weren’t the best organized person, and it showed in their sloppy conduct of business.

As far as a competitive shift, Paul didn’t see the console as a threat to his company because he didn’t think that Microsoft could achieve success with it. They thought it was the “Microsoft apocalypse,” not the beginning of the “PC & Atari apocalypse.”

In the end of his business during 2005 Paul was just broke. No debt, no profit. Fortunately he didn’t have to declare bankruptcy despite how often he got gipped in business deals. Prior to ending this journey he had bought a building in Monmouth with his own money envisioning that Magic Lantern Playware would be able to expand and move their offices in making it a tech center sometime in the near future. In a sense, it was a smart move not purchasing the building using company money because that allowed him to close it down without being in debt. But in reality Paul still owes money to pay for it.

To close out, Paul told us that even though he failed in this venture as an entrepreneur, his journey as an entrepreneur hasn’t ended yet. While he is currently the Director of Economic Development for the City of Monmouth, IL., he also does web development work for his wife Susan’s entrepreneurial business Market Alley Wines.

Paul’s story is one of perseverance which hopefully will carry him further with his gained experience as he works on his next entrepreneurial adventure.

Marissa A. Abston

Randy Vickroy ‘76: Intrepreneur Turned Entrepreneur, Helping Utilities Reach Their Full Potential

Our most recent guest speaker in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class was the most explicit and detailed example of some taking advantage of an outsourcing-based entrepreneurial opportunity that I have seen in nearly four years of teaching the class.

Randy Vickroy, a 1976 graduate of Monmouth College, came and shared his amazing story of developing unique expertise within large corporations which was eventually leveraged into consulting entrepreneurial success.

Randy is currently Executive Financial Consultant for Liberty Consulting Group of Pennsylvania, and is based in Denver, CO.  More about his firm can be found at: Key to his entrepreneurial success via outsourcing has been to do things utility firms could do themselves not only cheaper, but also more efficiently and otherwise better.

I turn things over to class member Cary Wicker for more details on Randy Vickroy and his ongoing outsourcing-based entrepreneurial success story.

Prof. Gabel


This past Tuesday we had the pleasure of having Randy Vickroy present to our class his career working within the Utilities industry and discussing how he developed entrepreneurial opportunities before turning to management consulting in the industry with Liberty Consulting. This was an especially unique presentation because Randy is  a graduate of both Monmouth College and Monmouth High School that was raised locally. In addition, his family has run a local business—Vickroy’s Furniture (—for over 60 years.

Mr. Vickroy began by going over how he started his path towards getting into the business of financial analysis, corporate finance, asset valuation, financial planning and management consulting. He decided shortly after graduating from Monmouth College to pursue an MBA from the University of Denver and specialized in finance. This in turn made him a very attractive and competitive job candidate and after a conversation with one of his professors at the University of Denver he was able to land a job within three days through his network.

His first position when hired by a gas and electric utility company was financial analyst which tasked him with finding ways to raise money to build power plants and transmission lines. He was able to do this by issuing stocks and bonds, leveraging assets and finding ways to saving the company money through the funding of these projects. This is where the gears started turning for Randy once he was promoted after a few years to a managing director.

As managing director he had a team that helped him develop and manage innovative alternative financing methods to fund infrastructure projects for the company. This is where Randy had the idea to refinance several groups of assets through captive finance subsidiaries, and to eventually retire the traditional utility mortgage. This saved the company in excess of $20 million annually and, as you might guess, attracted the attention of senior management.

Continuing in this line of thought he found more ways to save the company money and tried to show ways that he could provide his expertise to assist in forming these financial instruments for the industry as a whole through his contacts at Merrill Lynch and Lehman Bros. Alas, these banks turned down the offer because they were receiving enough commission selling mortgages. Randy saw an opportunity at this point to pursue consulting on the same re-financing opportunities with other companies, a market of about $70 billion, and founded his own consulting company.

When only 35 years of age, Randy folded his consulting into the Liberty Consulting Group, and helped Liberty to develop a consulting business with high-profile utility clients that thrives to this day. Randy works with a team of other utilities experts to provide consulting services to some of the largest utility companies and their regulators in the US.

Randy has helped Liberty build a very successful practice. This would not have been possible if he had not first been so highly motivated to develop his specific expertise and parlay it into an entrepreneurial consulting opportunity. Helping these enormous utility companies has been a wonderful achievement in assisting them to better finance and efficiently use resources to continue to help build American infrastructure and develop American energy to be the competitive industry that it is today.

Cary Wicker

Alicia Pence ‘11: Defining Heroic Entrepreneurship

Our first guest speaker the last Thursday before just-ended spring break was Alicia Pence; a December 2010—but officially a 2011—graduate of Monmouth College with a Major in Psychology. She is founder and director of the Family Outreach Community Center in nearby Stronghurst, IL. See her company’s webpage at:

I have said elsewhere of Alicia’s visit that I have come to feel that she is the most inspirational speaker that we have had to date (over the course of my three and a half years of teaching the class). And while all of our speakers are in some way inspirational, Alicia inspires in a very special and different way. She exemplifies, above all else, that the reward for an entrepreneur need not have anything to do with profits or selling anything other than love and hope.

Class member Tooba Ahmed echoes these sentiments—and more—below.

But first a note of clarification… In her telling of the heroic entrepreneurial story of Alicia Pence, Tooba refers to “scaling challenges.” The terminology may not be familiar to many. It comes from a “Global Perspectives” class Tooba took last semester on the topic of economic development and its relationship to human development in which social entrepreneurship is a key topic addressed. In short: (1) social entrepreneurs are persons running organizations focused on non-profit, social goals (e.g., alleviation of poverty and food insecurity), and (2) “scaling challenges” are challenges commonly faced by social entrepreneurs as they try to “scale up” their achievements from—say—one village or city to entire nations or regions of the world. Many may not think of this type of business activity as being needed in the United States. It is needed and, unfortunately, there is need for far more of it.

Enjoy (and be inspired)!

Prof. Gabel


What is a hero?

Someone may answer Superman, because he rescues people and saves the day, or maybe an idol that a child looks up to and thinks he or she may one day be.

Sometimes we think of peaceful leaders like Martin Luther King Jr, the Dalai Lama, or Gandhi but we usually stop short and don’t look around us. There are some people nearby that sacrifice their time and spend their lives focused on others rather than themselves and these people are nothing less than heroes.

We were lucky to have a hero in our class on Thursday (March 3).

Her name is Alicia Pence and she is a Social Entrepreneur, the first social entrepreneur to visit our class. Alicia had graduated in December of 2010 in Psychology, earlier than most so she could focus and kick start her business. Early on, Alicia worked hard, working 2 to 3 jobs to get through college, as well as being youth leader at her church. There, in Henderson Country, she saw families struggling to get by. Kids came to their programs with tattered up clothing and after talking to a little girl who ate rapidly at the programs, she learned that some parents were not eating to feed their kids the little that they had.

This angered Alicia Pence as well as the other youth leaders. Alicia started to call other community leaders to start something and with this she was able to make a nonprofit board. Alicia Pence had founded her non-profit organization, Family Outreach Community Center, in Stronghurst, IL. This was all while Alicia was still at Monmouth College, however, so she didn’t really know how to go about starting a business like this but she was motivated so she learned. She called the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) almost daily. Also, she needed to establish a mission statement. According to her company’s webpage, that mission is: “The Family Outreach Community Center exists to improve the quality of life for residents of Henderson County, Illinois by providing assistance for families in need, implementing programs targeted towards strengthening the community, and assisting other existing outreach programs in the county.”

When you start something as a social entrepreneur, you have to take risks and do other work that for-profit businesses do. This is what makes a social entrepreneur just as much an entrepreneur as anyone else starting their own business. In addition, social entrepreneurs routinely face a number of special challenges that more traditional entrepreneurs do not. These are known as “scaling challenges” and are faced as the social entrepreneur tries to expand achievement of their social objectives. These challenges include: Staffing, Communication, Alliance Building, Lobbying, Earnings generation, Replicating, and Stimulating market forces. Alicia Pence faces and overcomes these challenges in inspirational, heroic fashion.

Staffing: FOCC is fully volunteer run. There are many older church members around the age of 55. She has 70 volunteers. Staffing is interesting for a social entrepreneur, not only are you trying to get people to believe in your cause, you are wanting them to believe in your cause to the extent where they are willing to work for you. For free. You need some great communication skills and it is impressive that Alicia is able to have so many volunteers.

Communication: This is a crucial one. You not only have to communicate in order to get volunteers for the staffing challenge, as a social entrepreneur you are also trying to get people to fund you by believing in your cause by how you present it. You are asking for time from people as well as money. You also need to communicate to the actual people in need to come to you for help.

Alliance building: This refers to the partnerships, and other means of linkage to help in bringing the desired social change. Alicia does this by contacting other community leaders to start FOCC and help support its ongoing operations.

Lobbying: For a social entrepreneur, this is getting governmental support but this doesn’t affect Alicia too much since she is not heavily funded by the government to do the work she does.

Earnings Generation: This is where the money is coming from. This is also crucial for a social entrepreneur because unlike other businesses, you are not making money to put back into the business. This is money that has to be coming constantly from different funders to keep the program running. This is an extra challenge for an organization that is not funded by the government but Alicia didn’t show that there was a problem with this aspect. She gets no state funds but gets non-governmental grants and gets money from churches and other private organizations.

Replicating: This is the idea of being able to do one thing in another place effectively. There is not one way in creating economic or human development; if this was the case, world poverty and other things that can be changed would have been by now. Every area is unique with its own culture and its own unique group of people. Since Alicia is focused on one local area, she doesn’t have to worry much about replicating but the ideas she may have gotten from other social service organizations can be instrumental in her effectively replicating them for those in need in Henderson County.

Stimulating Market Forces: This is how well an organization can create incentives which make people want to utilize it while still helping the community. This could be micro credits which Alicia does not do or inexpensive health remedies. Alicia has a community garden which feed people, support community programs, and sell to farmers markets.

As we can see, Alicia jumps over the hurdles that come at her quite well and she is able to overcome the struggles many social entrepreneurs have. FOCC is intended to be a supplement according to Alicia. The people who come to her are not just supposed to receive free things but to actually work. When they work, they learn their skills, volunteers help with cover letters, how to dress for interviews, and how to make resumes. This way they find their goals for life and learn the skills to get them started. Alicia helps others help themselves; which, as social entrepreneurs know, is much better than just giving them things for free.

There are many different programs: a nutrition program, a parenting assistance program which gives diapers and such, and an employment and career development program. One really awesome thing Alicia does is Operation Backpack. Volunteers give some food to kids on Friday to help them get through the weekend. This not only makes the kids full when they could be hungry; it helps in their education because then the kids come back to school on Monday, they are not just waiting for lunch time to eat but are actually more focused. This indirect encouragement to learning is what can slowly help pry open the cycle of poverty where most of the kids are coming from.

There are also programs to help the parents and adults as well. There is a financial peace class which helps people get out of debt and gives them guidance on ways they can save more money for when they really need it. Alicia has volunteers that even have the power, of course with the permission of the person needing help, to take their debit card and force them to save. Volunteers teach people how to shop as well. This gives the family which is at rock bottom education to get out of the cycle of poverty, it gives them hope that someone is there each step of the way, and it gives them a lens in seeing a better future for themselves and for their children and this is what really makes Alicia Pence a hero.

Thank you for visiting our class and showing us a new way of entrepreneurship!

Tooba Ahmed