Dusty Spurgeon ‘10- The Unconventional Farmer

Yesterday in Midwest Entrepreneurs class we had our second “farmer as entrepreneur” guest speaker in a row; Dusty Spurgeon, a 2010 Biology (major) and Chemistry (minor) graduate of Monmouth College. However, Dusty—who co-owns and operates Spurgeon Veggies in Galesburg, IL with her mother-in-law Eloise Spurgeon—is a very, very different type of farmer than Paul Rickey (our last guest speaker in the class).

Links to the Spurgeon Veggies webpage and Facebook page are provided below.

http://spurgeonveggies.com/

https://www.facebook.com/SpurgeonVeggies

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., weather, fluctuating seed and other material prices, and dynamic market demand). A key takeaway is that while the two farmers are quite dissimilar in some important ways (e.g., scale of operation and target market) they are in other ways quite similar; mainly, at a macro-level, that both are entrepreneurs who must continuously adapt to market conditions to effectively run their increasingly complex businesses.

Below, Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Kayla Moore tells the story of Dusty Spurgeon and the ongoing growth of Spurgeon Veggies.

Prof. Gabel

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Only six short years ago, Dusty Spurgeon was in the same place that I am now in—a senior at Monmouth College wondering what to do with her life when she got out into the real world. I have learned from listening to many of the speakers we have had in class, that there is not one set path for each of us to take in life; that your degree does not limit you to only working in a certain field. Dusty was a biology major in college, but after realizing that she did not want to go through any more schooling, she gave up the long path to becoming a scientist and was left not knowing what to do after college.

Dusty’s passion for growing fresh produce in environmentally friendly ways began when she took a class here at Monmouth College called Food For Thought. The different books that she read for the class opened her eyes to the way food is processed in the United States, and even led to Dusty changing her own eating habits. The class also made her want to have her own garden to grow fresh fruits and vegetables someday. Little did she know that someday soon she would co-own a 3 acre farm and produce fresh fruits and vegetables for not only herself, but an entire community.

Dusty married, and not too long after, her mother-in-law Eloise asked her if she would like to partner up to help with Eloise’s small CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) business. What started out as kind of a gardening hobby for Dusty became a life-long commitment. Through a lot of passion and hard work, co-owning, managing, and farming Spurgeon Veggies has become a career with which Dusty can now make a living wage. Dusty started to no longer think of Spurgeon Veggies as just a garden, but rather a farm and a business, which she said was the turning point in the business and her career. With little education outside the field of science, Dusty had to teach herself how to do many of the things that are required to run a successful business, and through a lot of trial and error, she had to gain skills in agriculture as well.

Dusty is a very different type of farmer than Paul Rickey, a “conventional” farmer that spoke to us in class last week. Dusty and Eloise use a small European made walk-behind tractor to work all three acres of land that they farm. Whereas on a conventional farm, 1-2 crops are grown on many acres of land, Dusty and Eloise grow hundreds of varieties of vegetables and fruits on only a few acres, which they are able to do because their crops produce much higher yields than conventional crops do. They also have different methods of protecting their crops against pests and weeds such as using row covers and plastic mulch.

Today, Spurgeon Veggies CSA firm in Galesburg, Illinois has around 100 members and 4 drop off sites for CSA members to pick up their shares of produce. Spurgeon’s Veggies is continuing to use environmentally friendly methods to manage their land, and continuing to grow in part because of the marketing that Dusty has done on their Facebook page and website. Dusty and Eloise hope to hire their first employee this year, as well as grow their CSA program to around 200-250 members, and expand the farm by a couple of acres. Dusty hopes to purchase a bigger property outside of Galesburg someday to expand Spurgeon Veggies and keep the business growing and growing.

Thank you Dusty for being our guest speaker!

Kayla Moore

Paul Rickey ‘76: The Farmer as Entrepreneur (On Top of Everything Else)

As some of you know, I am originally from a small, agricultural-based industrial town in SE Iowa; about an hour and fifteen minute drive 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—really hit me hard shortly after my return when watching the Super Bowl and seeing the unconventional Dodge Ram Truck advertisement—featuring the iconic voice of the late Paul Harvey—at the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AMpZ0TGjbWE

I thought of this stunning, still resonate ad before, during, and after our guest speaker presentation this past Tuesday by 1976 Monmouth College graduate 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 an increasingly complex and risky market environment.

Enough from me… I turn things over to Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Steven May to tell you—to quote Paul Harvey—“the rest of the story” on Paul Rickey and the Farmer as Entrepreneur.

Prof. Gabel

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Our guest speaker for this past Tuesday is, a man that’s already taken the journey all of the students in the classroom are now facing and that’s graduated from Monmouth College. An Alum of Monmouth College, Paul Rickey ‘76 gave the class great wisdom and knowledge about his life and key lesson he learned throughout his journey.

Mr. Rickey shared with us his knowledge about the world we live in and how it’s changing rapidly in front of our eyes. Growing up in Seaton, IL, his family’s legacy has always been farming and he was next to carry the torch. Mr. Rickey stated “all I’ve ever want to do is follow my parents footsteps” and he has done so with a few new innovative techniques. Mr. Rickey’s family business is dealing with row cropping in the agricultural profession. The family farm was started in 1847, and to him and his friends they now call it the “legacy farm”, being that the farm has been through five generations. Mr. Rickey manages 942 acres of farm land, mostly owned by his mother. In the early stages of his farming career Mr. Rickey remembers driving a tractor at eleven years old, which is outstanding because many people don’t learn how to drive a car until their in their late teens.

After graduating from Monmouth College with a degree in Business, Mr. Rickey had no doubt in his mind what he’d be doing for the rest of his career. Having the necessary skills and knowledge, Paul Rickey turned his family’s farm into an entrepreneurial business. Mr. Rickey stated “back in the day, less than half the farmers had a college degree and many farmers saw no use for a college degree”. He describes himself as “stubborn and cheap” and those are the same qualities that helped in excel in the farming business. In his teachings, he touched on the importance of being efficient, by keeping total cost down, but still being more and more effective in what he does. As his business grew, his techniques had to change. One of the things that he had to drop from his business was livestock, due to the added responsibilities of constantly having to care for the animals.

One of the main things that surprised me about Paul Rickey was his ability to use technology to his advantage. With the new integration of GPS, which operates his combine without a driver, he was able to operate at a cheaper cost and get more accomplished. Before today’s class meeting I never knew technology of this kind existed. This is one of the many techniques Paul has used to innovate the farming process and in doing so he has expanded the bushel amount produced on his farm to great lengths. With expanding the bushel count on his family’s farm he has also managed to double the yield rate on the farm in his lifetime, which is an extraordinary accomplishment. Although he has done many revolutionary things with his family’s farm he still has one goal and that one goal is “being able to carry a chainsaw in ten years”. I think this exemplifies how hard-working he is and how he is always thinking about being as efficient as possible by doing all he can by himself.

While speaking to the class Paul Rickey gave us many pieces of advice that will help each and every student accomplish their goals. The two that stuck out were, “show up on time and be ready to play”. These two stuck out to me because I pride myself on showing up early and facing the challenges that the day brings. Throughout his career Paul Rickey has faced many challenges but the one he spoke about was the flooding of 161 acres. The flood took him four years to recover from, but because of his organization and managing skills, he was able to eventually weather the storm by applying for and receiving assistance from the government.

Paul Rickey’s visit to class was inspiring and motivational. His intelligence and creative thinking helped him carry the torch of his family’s farm and help the business rise to a level no one in his family has ever seen before. On behalf of the class, I would like to thank you for today’s teaching.

-Steven May

John Twomey: Taking the Road Less Travelled

 

Two delightfully unique aspects of last Thursday’s Midwest Entrepreneurs class were the guest speaker—retired entrepreneur and local philanthropist John Twomey—and an insightful poetry reading.

While Mr. Twomey is “a regular” in that he speaks to the class every year, he is anything but regular in terms of experience and character. In addition, he adds something new to his fascinating presentation each year. One of the additions to his most recent visit was a reading of Robert Frost’s classic “The Road Not Taken” (see: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173536). He shared this poem with the class in the context of the imperative of making choices; of making the right choices—for you as an individual—and how the right choice is often not what others are either doing or expect you to do. The last three lines of the classic work read as follows.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I feel confident in saying that (1) John Twomey—a world class track athlete, World War II veteran, six-decade entrepreneur, and local philanthropist now 93 years young—repeatedly chose to take the road less traveled, and (2) that doing so has made all the difference in his extraordinary life.

I now leave it to Midwest Entrepreneur class member Tanner Matlick to tell the rest of the “John Twomey story”; at least what little of it that was—and can be—shared in one class period. I encourage those interested in the more non-entrepreneurial aspects of Mr. Twomey’s life to watch the following YouTube video of a presentation he made in November of 2014 at the “Hearing From Our Very Own” annual luncheon sponsored by West Central Leadership, Inc. in Monmouth, Illinois: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4I1Ml10LO9E).

Prof. Gabel

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Our guest speaker for class this past Thursday was a man that is pretty well known in the local community; not only for his entrepreneurial work in farming and the grain storage industry but for all aspects of his amazing life.

John Twomey was raised in the small town of Roseville Illinois on a small farm. After serving for some time in the Military, Twomey returned to his small town roots and was immediately faced with a significant life choice that he had to make. Twomey was a world class track runner who had a good chance to make the U.S. Olympic track team. However, his father was in need of help with the family farm because his manager quit without any notice. Twomey gave up his track career and pursued a career in farming when he came home to help his father with the family farm. From that day forward Twomey was motivated to be the best worker he could be. That motivation eventually turned a small farm that started with one very small grain elevator into one of the biggest and most successful grain storage businesses in the United States. Because of Mr. Twomey’s hard work and innovative and unconventional approach to running the business, during his 66 years with the firm, its grain storage capacity increased from one barge of grain to 900 barges (at the time it was sold to Consolidated Grain & Barge several years ago).

Believe it or not a fire that burnt down one of Twomey’s grain elevators in 1956 is what lead him to the idea of building grain storage in a different and more efficient way. Twomey came up with the idea to build flat structures to store the grain (instead of conventional tall round structures). These flat structures were 240 ft. wide for air and ventilation purposes and stretched anywhere between 500ft – 1100 ft. long. This innovative new style of storing made the grain easy to preserve for a longer period of time and in turn made his grain much higher in quality. With this newfound success it wasn’t plausible for Twomey to remain a small family farmer. Due to his new innovation with his new model of grain storage buildings he was forced to expand.

This expansion led him to a location along the Mississippi River on the outskirts of a town called Gladstone. Gladstone was literally the perfect place for a grain storage facility that shipped its corn via barge. It was perfect for many reasons. The water was deep, it was right below Lock and Dam 18, and there was lots of space to build his massive grain storage warehouses. Twomey did exactly that. When it was all said and done Twomey had built 8 massive grain storage warehouses in Gladstone that housed around 50 million bushels of grain.

With this expansion came the hiring of many new workers at the Twomey Company. Mr. Twomey knew the type of employees he wanted in his company and he hired people based on character and attitude. While knowledge of grain storage was a “must have,” Twomey felt that  it didn’t matter if you knew everything there was to know about grain. Instead, to him, it all ultimately came down to how good of a person you were. One of Mr. Twomey’s most successful hires came when he hired a man by the name of Ralph Lafary who was the mastermind behind the engineering and construction of the custom-built conveyer systems that were needed to accommodate Twomey’s massive flat grain storage structures.

Twomey was convinced that in order to get the most out of his employees he had to treat them right. Mr. Twomey created generous pension plans, profit sharing plans, and bonus plans based on hours and years of service for his employees. These programs served as incentives for his employees to be the best they can be. The employee retention rate for his lucrative business was very high.

Having great employees was one key to John Toomey’s success but the other great key to success was constantly finding ways to keep the cost of their business down. The buildings were constructed in the most efficient way with as little material as possible. The grain was stored in a way that allowed these more cost-efficient buildings to be strong enough to hold the huge volume of grain that was stored inside. Twomey even realized that by storing the grain outside before building storage facilities was a way to get ahead of the curve. Mr. Twomey was an entrepreneurial genius that knew exactly what he wanted and knew exactly how he was going to do it.

Over the years Mr. Twomey has been through a lot. Sixty-six years in the grain storage and grain selling business isn’t always a walk in the park. Twomey had to build his line of credit over a long period of time with hard work, determination, and positive attitude towards working in general. Even though things didn’t always go his way—take, for example, the fire, storms, floods, and not being financed for a 3-day period once in the “busy” season—he stayed the course and made difficult decisions that took the business to great heights. More importantly, however, these tough decisions made John Twomey the man he is today.

John Twomey served as an inspiration to us all by showing us that if we follow our heart and if we work hard enough at something success will follow. John Twomey changed the grain storage game for the better. He is a great innovator and a great man who we can learn a lot from.

Tanner Matlick

A Serial B2B Outsourcing Entrepreneur in Our Very Midst: The Entrepreneurial Past of Dr. Lee Miller

This Tuesday’s class involved a last-minute change in speakers.

Effective entrepreneurs must be constantly ready to adapt to often sudden, unpredictable change. And that is just what we did…

Luckily for us, on faculty here in the Political Economy & Commerce Department at Monmouth College is a former serial entrepreneur who started and ran three business-to-business (B2B) firms prior to his formal academic career (who just happened to be in the classroom to see our originally scheduled speaker).

Below, class member Jeff Larsen tells the story of this entrepreneur; Dr. Lee Miller. Pay particular to Jeff’s discussion of outsourcing; a key general area of great opportunity for entrepreneurs in the B2B marketplace.

Prof. Gabel

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Lee Miller is a business professor here at Monmouth College, but before his teaching career began he was an entrepreneur who started up and owned three different manufacturing corporations.   Miller went to Ohio State University where he got his mechanical engineering degree.  His first job out of college was with Eaton Corp. in Cleveland, Ohio as a mechanical worker.  He moved all around the country working for them and moving up the ranks within Eaton.  He eventually earned a management position where he needed to know a good amount of accounting so he decided to get his MBA.

While working at Eaton Corp., Miller saw their need for outsourcing to smaller companies for certain projects as an opportunity.  So it was at that time that he decided to create Manufacturing Solutions, Inc.  He started the company up from money that he had saved throughout his career and his father also chipped in 50% as a silent partner.  Manufacturing Solutions mainly made mechanical parts that larger companies didn’t want to do themselves so they would outsource the job (to someone who can do it more efficiently than they can themselves).

At Manufacturing Solutions, his first job was for his old employer, Eaton Corp., where he passed with flying colors.  The company grew more and more each year and even did some outsourcing jobs for Ford Motor Company.  After ten years of owning Manufacturing Solutions, Miller sold the company to pursue other passions.  When he sold the company, there were 40 full-time employees.

After some time off, Miller decided to start up another manufacturing company, but this one would manufacture medical supplies.  This start up went much smoother than the first one because Miller had experience and also had more funds to start the company up.  This company mainly focused on producing a medical device used in biopsies.  Miller actually patented the design while taking classes to earn his Master’s at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).  This product sold very nicely to customers, but mainly to a company located in Baltimore.  The Baltimore company wanted to buy in larger volume than Miller’s company could produce so instead of hiring more employees and moving to a larger plant, Miller decided to sell the whole product line (equipment and all) to the Baltimore company.  This company lasted around 7 years.

Miller’s third company was more part-time and short-lived than the other two.  This company was called Machine Solutions, Inc. and they mainly produced parts for mechanical machines.  It was at this time that Miller received a teaching offer to Bangkok University where he taught for three years.  Miller then moved back to the U.S. to teach here at Monmouth College.

Lee Miller ran three successful corporations, which he built from the ground up until he sold them.  His main philosophy in running those businesses was to do it until you lost the initial love to do it.  Every business move he made was done because it was what he wanted to do with his life at that given time.  Miller always said that he wanted to run his businesses until eventually he would teach at colleges, which is where he is at now in his career.  He also encourages people to continue to take classes at different schools throughout your life to continue to learn different fields of study.

Jeff Larsen

Old School Entrepreneurial Excellence: John “Beefy” Huston

 

Yesterday the Midwest Entrepreneurs class was treated to the entrepreneurial story of another hard working, highly successful—and to many in attendance “unconventional”—local business owner. I say “unconventional” due to the fact that John “Beefy” Huston runs his business in very hands-on and low-tech fashion; thus not conforming to the norms and expectations of many people today. He is, as he put it, “old school.”

The story we heard on Tuesday is not about conforming or worrying about often superfluous expectations. It is instead about working hard, treating customers with respect, keeping your word, doing what you do as an entrepreneur better than anyone else can, and, as a result, being able to live out the life you want to the fullest.

The captivating entrepreneurial story of John “Beefy” Huston is told below by Midwest Entrepreneurs class member Nick Kamberis. Enjoy!!

Prof. Gabel

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Mr. John Huston, or “Beefy” as friends, family, and others in the surrounding area know him, is a local entrepreneur who owns his own landscaping business. He did not grow up knowing the landscaping business as he went to the University of Illinois graduating with a degree in animal sciences. During high school and college summers he worked on his father’s farm until he sold it. Since he didn’t have work anymore after college he chose to go into the landscaping business.

He started his own landscaping business in the summer of 1995 and continued working until the present, making his business 21 years old and still going strong. He gets most if not all of his product that he uses from Hoerr Nursery located in Peoria. The main way Beefy gets his clients is through customer satisfaction, repeat business, and positive word of mouth. He uses a remarkably small amount of advertising and does not have a website, he does not even use a computer.

Beefy normally works on older houses, renovating the surrounding landscaping, but also works for business including banks and family owned firms. He normally works a 30-mile radius around his home town, but sometimes ventures farther for family and family friends. He owns six trucks and three trailers and a lot more landscaping equipment. His only employees are usually 2-3 high school and college kids, where he can give them some spending money. His busy days are between the months April and November, depending on how the weather is.

Since landscaping is technically a seasonal job, during the winter he spends his time substitute teaching at local schools around the area. He also drives a bus for the schools, for basketball games and such. This is not done mainly for money but rather networking and being seen at community events. If he is not teaching or driving a bus you will not see him around town as he is traveling around the world, although not so much this year as he is working extra to pay off a new house he had built last year.

One of the main things I got from listening to Beefy speak to us is that if you are going to be working with people, always be nice to them because “word gets around” and they give you referrals. Another thing is to impress your client by showing up early when meeting with them. And finally, the most important thing, always love what you are going to be doing for the rest of your life; like Beefy loves landscaping (and the travelling it allows him to do).

Nick Kamberis

Young Entrepreneur Preaches that Hard Work Pays Off

Our first guest speaker of the young semester was a good one (and a former student in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class); 2011 Monmouth College graduate Will Zimmerman.

Below, current class member Jordan Junker tells the story of Will Zimmerman’s fascinating journey from Monmouth College student to successful entrepreneur. It is, as you will see, a story of hard work, determination, and personal achievement.

Prof. Gabel

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Will Zimmerman came and spoke to Midwest Entrepreneurs on January 19th. Will owns Modern Grain Systems, a company that sells, builds, and maintains grain bin storage systems. Will is a Monmouth College Alum that graduated with the Class of 2011. When Will was in his senior year at Monmouth he took an independent study to work on his business plan and at the young age of 21, successfully took out a loan of $200,000 to purchase Modern Grain Systems.

Zimmerman had worked for the firm’s previous owner, Bill Thompson, since high school. He was approached by Thompson to buy the company because of the hard work and expertise he displayed on the job. Zimmerman learned from a young age that you have to work hard and that you can’t take any shortcuts to get where you want to be in life. This mindset helped Zimmerman project almost $4 million in sales the first year that he owned Modern Grain Systems.

After the first year Zimmerman owned his company he was able to pay off half of his loan of 200,000, and after his second year as owner he had fully paid off his loan. Being able to pay off a loan of this amount is a huge accomplishment for any entrepreneur. Zimmerman also overcame his biggest fear of not being able to repay his parents for the loan they game him within the first year that he was the owner.

Zimmerman operates the firm out of Avon, IL and sells grain systems that range from large 110,000 bushel bins to smaller bins that only hold half of that. Zimmerman’s first project as owner was built just outside of Monmouth. It was a three-bin project with two large bins and one smaller bin. This project accumulated to around $950,000 for Zimmerman, who started his presentation with the video of the project at the link below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qELQMCDRtk

Zimmerman is not only a hard worker but a family man as well. His business is seasonal so during the summer and fall he is very busy doing all of his projects. During these weeks Zimmerman claims that sometimes he can work 7 days a week and up to 100 hours per week. With having a wife and two kids it is hard to balance time with his family and work during this busy season, so after the busy season he does things such as bring his kids to work or takes a family vacation to make sure his family is always first in his life. But there is always work to be done. Will told that class that he had unloaded supplies from semi-trucks each of the last two very cold days.

As I spoke about earlier, Zimmerman is an extremely hard worker. Even though he is the owner of the company you will see him on the work site working along his employees just as hard as they are. His advice he shared to the class was “Work as hard as you possibly can, then work 10% harder.” He also followed that with “no one is going to give you anything so you have to make them notice.”  

Zimmerman is the perfect story of a successful entrepreneur, a man of his word that strives to keep his family first while working a hectic schedule.

Jordan Junker

 

Jolene Willis: Facilitating Entrepreneurial Start-Up and Success—and Economic Development—in Rural Illinois

Our last speaker in the Midwest Entrepreneurs class this semester was Jolene Willis, Sustainable Development Specialist, Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and Associate Manager, Illinois Cooperative Development Center. Following are links to webpages related to these organizations.

http://www.value-added.org/cooperatives/

http://www.iira.org/

Having Ms. Willis as our guest speaker helped attain two goals for the class this semester. One goal was to have more farming/agriculture-related guest speakers; Ms. Willis was the fourth such speaker in the class. The second goal reached was to have a greater diversity of speakers; in terms of industry, function, and stage of life product or firm cycle. In this regard, Jolene was the only speaker this semester that might best be referred to as a “facilitator of entrepreneurial start-up and success.” More specifically, in her positions—housed within Western Illinois University in Macomb—Ms. Willis provides a diverse wealth of information, assistance, and services to persons interested in starting or more efficiently running cooperatives and other businesses in rural Illinois; all with a view toward achieving the broader goal of stimulating and enhancing economic development statewide.

With regard to the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA), Jolene told the class that the Institute was created in the 1980s in response to the farm crisis that hit Illinois and the entire Midwest particularly hard at the time; a massive event with still-lingering impact that we had heard about from two other ag-related speakers earlier in the semester. She also informed the class that much of the IIRA’s operations involve staff members travelling statewide providing varied assistance in rural areas where information and other resources are particularly lacking.

The Illinois Cooperative Development Center (ICDC) exists within the IIRA and is operated through a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Grant. According to the ICDC’s webpage, the organization “helps cooperatives and other businesses in rural Illinois start up and succeed, through technical assistance, training, and publications.” While most everyone has likely heard of “cooperatives,” one of the key things we learned in class is exactly what a cooperative is. Quoting from the Preface to “Co-ops 101,” a publication of the USDA Rural Development Program that Ms. Willis distributed to the class: “Cooperatives are business entities that people use to provide themselves with good and services.” She added to this basic definition the notion that co-ops are formed on the basis of need in the sense that if the co-op is NOT formed, the goods and services in question will likely not be available to local residents at all. She provided rural electric cooperatives as a prime example here. Further, Jolene noted that co-ops are a “key tool for community economic development” in rural areas.

Finally, the class was informed about ICDC’s ongoing efforts to assist in the formation of rural retail food co-ops. Here, Jolene reinforced something that I have told the class several times before this semester: What seems like a crisis to some people is likely seen by others as an opportunity. Specifically in this regard, Jolene explained that while ongoing retail concentration in the food sector—exemplified, for instance, by the growth of Wal-Mart and major grocery store chains—has caused many firms to close stores in rural areas, it also creates opportunities for entrepreneurs to start-up locally-sourced organic and other food stores in the communities in which they live. The ICDC stands ready to assist in this regard (as well as to help existing locally owned grocery stores adapt to changing market circumstances and stay in business). Jolene provided as a “success story” for the ICDC here the Macomb Food Co-Op (http://macombfoodcoop.net/).

All in all, our last guest speaker of the semester was one of the most informative. I myself came into class thinking I knew a lot about both cooperatives and assistance programs available to ag-related entrepreneurs. I left knowing far more than I ever thought possible (and also that I had grossly overestimated my level of knowledge on both matters).

The quantity and quality of the work done by Jolene Willis and her colleagues at the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and the Illinois Cooperative Development Center is truly amazing. Thank you so much for being our guest in class!

Regards,

Prof. Gabel

Linda Lewis and The Flipple Story: A Great Idea Poised for Mass Adoption

Our next-to-last guest speaker of the semester addressed some entrepreneurial issues we have heard from others as well as at least one big new issue: How difficult and frustrating it can be to get mass acceptance of your product; no matter how great an idea and product you have.

This is indeed the “point in the entrepreneurial journey” where Linda Lewis of Galesburg, IL finds herself.

Among the most salient and oft-repeated entrepreneurial concepts in the class throughout the semester is that there must be adequate demand for your product; with this demand based most significantly on providing unique and meaningful benefits to targeted customers.

Linda Lewis has come up with a product that seems to do just that. Yet, as she told the class, she has become frustrated in “educating” the public on this “never been seen before” product called Flipple; a funneling adapter that attaches to bottled water so a nipple or sippy top can be added. She has been successful in placing Flipple in numerous stores across the nation but her target market is not looking for it. She also admits she does not take the time nor have the revenue to support the desperately needed channels of social media.

As Linda told the class, the made up “Flipple” name stands for “funnel-flip-add-a-nipple.”

The complete “Flipple Story” can be found at the Flipple webpage: http://babyflipple.com/index.html. Also see the firm’s active Facebook page; with 2,700 “likes” and counting: https://www.facebook.com/babyflipple.

The ongoing “Flipple story” is a long one—seven years to date—replete with a grand “eureka” discovery moment, commitment, risk-taking, hope, trial-and error, adjustment, and—first and foremost I believe—relentless pursuit of Linda Lewis’ entrepreneurial dream.

For more on this captivating story as it was told first-hand by the inventor/entrepreneur to the Midwest Entrepreneurs class, I now turn things over to class blogger Sawyer Shaw.

Prof. Gabel

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Throughout this semester, we have seen great diversity in entrepreneurial businesses. Only one prior to Linda Lewis—Lee Miller—had concerned patenting a product. None had discussed such trial-and-error and ongoing challenge as Linda Lewis and her “Flipple” products.

The Flipple Company is a local business based out of Galesburg that creates ease and convenience for parents of infants by making universal “funneling adaptors” that fit onto water bottles and allows for on-hand baby formula any place, any time. Simply put, Flipple products can quickly and easily transform any water bottle into a baby bottle or sippy cup.

Linda Lewis, the “Grandma-preneur,” came up with this handy idea when a peaceful day at the lake with her family turned disastrous when she found that they had left all the baby bottles at home when her grandson became hungry. With her grandson’s increasing hunger pains, she desperately poured baby formula into a water bottle. This resulted in a very sticky, but fed grandchild. Linda Lewis and her family spent the rest of the afternoon collaborating on ideas on how to solve this messy conundrum.

The following days were spent experimenting—speculating and gluing and measuring—an attachment to water bottles that would made it easy to pour baby formula right into the small bottle opening and then attach a nipple. When they were done with the first prototype, Linda’s grandson even chose Linda’s personally made attachment over his commercial baby bottle!

Seeing how easy and convenient her new invention was, the light bulb turned on and the rest is history. Linda quit her job of 30 years to produce the bottle attachments full time and bring them to market. The Flipple Company had begun.

Linda did what many similarly driven entrepreneurs find they “must” do; risk it all and take the leap! She withdrew from the security of her job of 30 years, a decision that I am sure did not come easy. But for anything worthwhile, is it ever easy? There was no certainty to the success of her business venture. All she knew was that she had a great product that could make any parents young children relieved to have.

Next came the patenting of the product. Patenting is a very rigorous and expensive process, with patent lawyers charging around $550 per hour. Then Linda had to sell the product, something she still struggles with to this day. She was able to get some initial sales through Amazon and other outlets and then she experienced a major hurdle: The design of the mouth of standard water bottles changed. The Flipple products already in the market no longer fit correctly and she did not know how to get them out of the market place. The products received several bad reviews online due to this event which was completely beyond her control.

Linda did not give up. She did not lose faith at the sight of possible catastrophic failure. Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, once said: “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Just as Thomas Edison’s reluctance to accept defeat produced the light bulb, Linda’s reluctance to give up on her idea continued the growth and perfection of a great product. Linda has since changed the design to fit all water bottle mouths to increase usefulness and convenience.  She has also expanded the need by adding a special sippy top that can replace the nipple; thus turning a water bottle into a baby bottle or sippy bottle.

The Flipple Company is a relatively low-overhead business, outside of the single-cavity mold that cost $40,000. She operates her business by herself, in her basement. She even does her own packaging and order processing for online purchases. She doesn’t have employees, a shop, or many tools to pay for. Being low overhead means that one can keep the cost of production low, which is a plus. But at the same time, low-overhead businesses are limited to the amount and range of the work that can be done, as well as a lesser amount of exposure compared to larger-scale businesses.

Mass exposure of such an exclusive product like the Flipple at such small scale production has its challenges, as Linda knows. But everyone has got to start somewhere. To build the name and interest in buyers, Linda presently sells at very small profit margin, because if the price is too high for the risk of the potential store, the product is no longer attractive. To build exposure, Linda has entered Flipple products into many contests; including a large one sponsored by Wal-Mart. She has also built a very active Facebook page and maintains a company webpage.

Flipple products are available at BuyBuyBaby (http://www.buybuybaby.com/), Amazon, Hy-Vee, Schnucks, and several other prominent regional or national retailers. Yet Linda still struggles with getting the level of awareness and acceptance with consumers that she wants. As she told us, she is continually “pounding the pavement” trying to get her products into more and more retailers. She said that it typically takes 4-5 calls to even get to the right person with most retailers. As she told the class, after seven years of risking it all and working very hard, Flipple products are “just now getting traction.”

Through trial and error, Linda Lewis continues to learn, grow, and adapt, and without adaptation, a business can never succeed! Linda has faced failure and did not give up on her product. Through creativity and ingenuity, Linda has created a product that appeals to parents by providing convenience (and lessening desperation). She left her comfort zone, sacrificed it all, and created a product that deserves to be in every brick-and-mortar and virtual baby aisle in America! I am sure she will one day experience the success she deserves.

Sawyer Shaw

Words of Entrepreneurial and Big-Corporate Wisdom from William Trubeck ’68

Last Thursday was scheduled as an “open/review” day to compare and contrast the past several speakers and to otherwise “catch up” on class matters.

But early in the week it dawned on me that we should  look for an opportunity to have someone from the Board of Trustees–or another Distinguished Visitor–on campus for President Clarence Wyatt’s Inauguration come share their wisdom with the class.

With the assistance of Gena Alcorn ’88 and Steve Bloomer ’83 in the Development Officethat opportunity was quickly and fully realized.

Bill Trubeck, a 1968 graduate of Monmouth College and a former Trustee elected to the Monmouth College Hall of Achievement in 2005, graciously agreed to be our guest speaker. Although Mr. Trubeck is not formally an entrepreneur, he was able to share with the class a wealth of knowledge about entrepreneurs, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the role of entrepreneurship in the U.S. economy stemming from both his several decades of executive-level experience in major corporate finance, as well as his personal business dealings and friendships with T. Boone Pickens and other well-known entrepreneurs.

Today’s class blogger is Celina Gonzalez. Below, she nicely recounts the wonderful stories and advice shared by Mr. Trubeck.

Thanks to Gena Alcorn ’88Steve Bloomer ‘83 and Bill Trubeck ‘68 for making last Thursday’s class one not to be soon forgotten!

Prof. Gabel

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On April 16, 2015, we gladly welcomed our special guest speaker in our Midwest Entrepreneurs class former corporate CFO and Monmouth College Trustee—and major benefactor—William Trubeck ’68.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Monmouth College, Mr. Trubeck served as a U.S. Army Captain in Vietnam and Cambodia from 1968 to 1970.  He then earned a master’s degree in business from the University of Connecticut. With more than 30 years of experience in executive leadership positions, chief financial officer, and corporate director positions for Fortune 500 companies, including specific experience as the CFO at H&R Block, Waste Management and International Multi-Foods, he has led a variety of major corporate restructuring efforts during his career. In addition, Trubeck served on MC’s Board of Trustees from 2002 to 2014.

Mr. Trubeck spoke to the class about his extensive knowledge of doing business as a consultant, with many entrepreneurs by helping corporations make major strategic decisions.

With executive-level, and other, corporate experience, Trubeck informed the class on how he helped facilitate his entrepreneurial work as a consultant by helping corporations make major strategic decisions. He explained: “The body of information you accumulate over time will be used for future situations.” He then shared four main stories on highly successful entrepreneurs he has known and worked with over the years. He connected his dealings with T. Boone Pickens back to one concept: “Find where the opportunity lies and take advantage of it.”

Mr. Trubeck also informed the class that in today’s world, there are many successful entrepreneurs, many of whom took what they learned in the corporate world, built on it, and found a way to do something better than anyone else for certain customer segments. Executives, such as Trubeck, see the role of entrepreneurship in the national or global economy as being the most likely developers of the most impactful of all future innovations. They will do this, he said, driven both by the “entrepreneurial spirit” and their ability to “think outside the box.” Here, Trubeck urged students to “think outside the box, make a product unique, have the gist to do it, and be prepared to fail.”

Mr. Trubeck also discussed the importance of hiring people to gather and analyze information that can greatly benefit a business to help expand or start a new market. Yet, focusing on what will expand, with providing a unique essential service, or product, will change the world. Here, Mr. Trubeck again spoke of T. Boone Pickens’ long-term thinking about economic sustainability and water as a resource that is presently being underutilized. He explained the ideas Pickens has about innovative services that will allow the average homeowner to have a unit for their home that will effectively process saltwater into drinking water. Similarly, Trubeck’s other stories focused on stressing that there are markets that are in particular need of entrepreneurial attention that ultimately represent major opportunities for entrepreneurs. So, one has to find where the opportunity lies and take advantage of it.

We, as business students, frequently hear “strong work ethic and extraordinarily hard work is necessary for entrepreneurial success.” This, in fact, is true. However, the insight to be gained, as Mr. Trubeck jokingly mentioned, has never been mentioned before: “Marry rich.” So, it stuck.

Mr. Trubeck also discussed the largest “keys to success” and “hurdles to overcome” for entrepreneurs. The bottom line, as he told the class, is knowing that the brand building process requires capital and a strategy. The success starts from actually being able to have the funds to efficiently start the business. Furthermore, one of the largest obstacles faced is commonly financially being able to support and maintain the business.  It starts with an understanding that one will have to invest a great amount while being at a high risk of losing it all. However, although it is easy to understand, not many are able to risk so much. Those few entrepreneurs with a vision and strong, motivated characteristics realize the full potential of great entrepreneurial visions and seek to make it happen. Mr. Trubeck added: “Those with drive and enthusiasm are those who get up and take initiative. They go out and gather money from here and there to make their idea happen”.

He went on to tell us that the right idea will ultimately help you gain capital in the long run. Moreover, it is important to remember that you can always make use of more than one funding source. Personal savings, borrowing money from friends and family, or getting a loan from the bank are the most commonly used methods to start the funding of your business. Trubeck also explained that venture capitalism is an option; however, the investor usually wants a larger portion of the company’s equity stake than the entrepreneur might be comfortable with.

Mr. Trubeck also discussed how if the entrepreneur realizes the full potential of their venture, with the understanding that the brand is both intellectual property and how an individual makes their living, he or she will understand that difficult decisions are absolutely necessary for the long-term good of the business. For example, being in debt. Further, Trubeck noted: “You can’t be afraid of debt.” However, he explained that one of the main reasons many well thought-out businesses fail is because they simply run out of money. So: Realistically estimate your financial needs beforehand and leave room for the unexpected future, then seek to gain information on your market to analyze so that you will see the change and the hard times coming.

Mr. Trubeck also told the class that businesses must remain worthwhile. In a world that is constantly changing, one must learn to think or adapt differently by thinking creatively to set themselves apart from competitors. It is necessary to survive, but it requires a lot of thinking and good ideas. Analyzing markets and gathering information, however, can speed up the process. Moreover, the goal of every organization is to strategically use its assets to achieve a greater amount of success to generate revenue and pay off previous debt. But, where and from who will I gather the assets from to start the business is the main question one should ask themselves. A great plan is simply just a great plan. The entrepreneur has to have the drive, dedication, and strongly believe that they will succeed–but might fail–to gather up the needed money to properly execute the plan.

In conclusion, William Trubeck ‘68 mentioned that it was important to “get a business going, get it started, become successful, think for the future, and contribute by giving back to the community” With all the success that one encounters, I appreciated how Trubeck constantly feels obligated to “give back” to the community. We enjoyed hearing everything Mr. Trubeck had to say. Thank you Mr. Trubeck!

Celina Gonzalez

From the Beginning – A Passion Turned Into a Business

Today’s class blogger is Travis Gray. Below, he tells the evolving story of one of Monmouth College’s very own—Chemistry Professor Brad Sturgeon—and his passion for brewing craft beer; a passion he has both already turned into a small entrepreneurial business and is in the process of expanding significantly. You can find webpage and Facebook page links for Prof. Sturgeon’s DeNovo Brewing Company at the links below. Note: “DeNovo” is Latin for “from the beginning.”

https://www.facebook.com/DeNovoBeverageofMonmouth

http://www.denovobrewing.co/index.html

I also must say that this is perhaps the most vivid manifestation we have seen in Midwest Entrepreneurs of the science-business partnership we champion here at Monmouth College; a science professor who has started an entrepreneurial business sharing his knowledge to help educate aspiring business students and future entrepreneurs!

Cheers!

Prof. Gabel

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Having a career that involves doing something that you love is what everyone dreams of having. Now imagine having two jobs that you love, and owning a small business all at once!

Brad Sturgeon, co-owner of DeNovo Brewing does just that. He’s a full time chemistry professor, a part time pyro technician, and an owner of a small brewery.

For Brad, DeNovo isn’t so much a job; rather it’s a hobby that he has been able to turn into a business. Brewing beer is his one of his passions and eventually that passion grew until next thing you know, he was talking about opening up a brewery. Eventually, Brad partnered with Steven Murmann, who is a local dentist. Together they brew in the basement of Dr. Murmann’s office. Each one of them is knowledgeable about their product and can brew from start to finish. Together they both bring their own skillsets to the table. Brad knows the chemistry behind a good brew and Dr. Murmann knows how to weld and program some of the machinery.

The journey hasn’t been the easiest for them, but they’ve gained experience and have both learned a lot about state and federal laws.  They currently do not make enough to take home a paycheck, but the business is sustaining itself for the time being; and building a fan base in the Monmouth area. As Brad has said, “we’re neither losing money nor making money”. For a new small, part time business, this is not all that bad. It seems the two entrepreneurs are taking their time and getting to know the complex beer business before jumping in too strong.

Although it’s important to note that some of the expenses are already covered, such as rent, since they are in Dr. Murmanns Office.  That is a huge benefit to their whole project. There are plans to make more profit by possibly brewing larger quantities. There are several businesses in the area that would like to start carrying DeNovo. Currently Market Ally Wines, Fat Fish Pub, and Danny’s are the only places available to buy this small town beer.

Although Brad and Dr. Murmann haven’t thrown their selves into the deep end, they are certainly getting their feet wet. For two people with successful full time jobs, maybe that’s all they want. Who wouldn’t envy these two? They’ve taken their passion and turned it into a business. It’s a fulfilling part of their lives, and although it may always be a local thing, maybe that’s how it should be, just a couple of guys brewing beer to share with their local community.

Travis Gray