uEntrepreneurs: The Learning Center for Entrepreneurs ™

Mark Knudson: Venturi Group

After getting his doctorate in physiology from Washington State University, Mark Knudson got a National Institute of Health post-doctoral fellowship and joined the faculty of the University of Washington, where he spent four years.

This is when he realized that his patience with the pace of academic life was growing thin. Faculty meetings seemed to go on forever, including one to decide whether the department head should get the corner office. And Knudson realized that he wanted to do more interesting things than teach or conduct research, and to do it at a faster pace. Read more

Robert Kierlin: Fastenal, Inc.

In 1967, when Bob Kierlin started Fastenal in Winona (Minn.), it was the smallest of 10,000 fastener (such as nuts and bolts) businesses in the United States. By 1997, it had become the largest.

The company became profitable by 1969, reached $100 million in annual sales by 1993 and $1 billion in sales by 2004. Kierlin was the chief executive from startup and still remains chairman.

The only equity raised, prior to the initial public offering, was $22,000 at startup from Kierlin and three Winona friends, and an additional $9,000 a year later from a fifth investor who was a friend. From this start, Kierlin has built a company that has a market cap in excess of $5 billion. Read more

Horst Rechelbacher: Aveda

If you had not demonstrated academic gifts by the age of 12, teachers in the Austrian school system in the 1950s asked you to become an apprentice and learn a trade.

Horst Rechelbacher, who admits to being an indifferent student, had an eye for art, drawing, painting, and a passion for aesthetics, and he became an apprentice hair stylist at a salon across the narrow street from his house.

He also worked at the adjacent deli after school before he started work in the evenings in the hair salon. On weekends he accompanied his herbalist mother to the mountains to pick herbs. Read more

Gary Holmes: CSM Corporation

Gary Holmes started a business selling light bulbs with a lifetime warranty at the age of 11.

By the time he was 16, the business was grossing over $200,000 per year and his mother suggested that he sell it to have a “normal” childhood. However, he had already started buying apartment buildings and sold his light bulb business.

After finishing college at the University of Minnesota Business School (later renamed Carlson School of Management) Holmes became a mortgage banker to learn how the “big boys” played the game and to build a network. Read more

Glenn Hasse: Ryt-Way Industries

Glenn Hasse started helping his mother and older brother manage his parents’ drive-in restaurant at Excelsior, Minn., at the age of 11. His dad managed a creamery in Plainview, Minn., which was 100 miles from Excelsior. His dad’s goal was to manage the best creamery in the state.

After Glenn spent two summers of long days working at the drive-in and dealing with customers, he started working at the creamery for his dad. Hasse learned how to run a spotless, state-of-the-art food operation from his dad, who emphasized the need for cleanliness, sanitation, effectiveness, and efficiency.

These lessons were his foundation when he started Ryt-Way before he was 24. He started packaging general products for large corporate customers, some of whom were in the food business. Read more

Ed Flaherty: Rapid Oil Change

At the age of 11, Ed Flaherty started mowing lawns. His dad saw that Flaherty was starting to make money and told him, “Congratulations, you are now grown up and can buy your own clothes.” He was only half-joking.

Flaherty continued to work at his dad’s auto body shop and his dad’s friend’s auto junk yard, learning more and more about cars. When he finished high school and college, he set out to be a school teacher.

But before that came the Army. Flaherty worked at the Pentagon and got an MBA in the evening. Then he joined a consulting firm that worked with the Pentagon, where he drummed up so much business that he was offered a partnership. Read more

Tim Doherty: Doherty Employment Group

Tim Doherty grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota. When he was a teenager in 1970, his family moved to Litchfield to run an A&W Root Beer stand that his parents had purchased. The drive-in did not do too well, and his parents shut it down after seven years.

After finishing his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, Doherty tried his hand at life insurance sales, and then he went to work for Procter & Gamble.

When P&G wanted to move him to St. Louis, Doherty decided to quit because his fiancée was studying law in Minneapolis and she did not want to move, because she would have to start all over studying to pass the Missouri bar exam. Read more

Kenneth Dahlberg: Dahlberg Electronics

Ken Dahlberg was a triple ace and one of the most successful pilots of the Second World War. At the age of 91, he still flies his own jet.

With $1,000 earned from his salary when he was a POW, he built his first fortune by bringing the benefits of the transistor and miniaturization to millions of hard-of-hearing persons with his “Miracle Ear” invention.

In retirement, he then started a venture capital fund and found a second venture called Buffalo Wild Wings that he led to a second home run. Most of us find it difficult to create one home run. Read more

Richard Copeland: Thor Construction

Ask Richard Copeland why he succeeded, and his answer is that it is because he is “always a hustler.”

When he was growing up in Minneapolis, Copeland saw that the hustlers had the cars and the clothes. Obviously, one does not build a $100 million+ business by being only a “hustler.” Copeland saw business opportunities, went after them aggressively, learned on-the-job at breakneck speed and had the character to persevere.

If there is a prototypical entrepreneur as envisioned in the movies, Richard Copeland would fit the mold (in fact, he would even say that the mold was created with him in mind). He combined street smarts, leadership abilities, an opportunistic perspective, unlimited ambition, and the courage to enter new fields where he was a novice, with the willingness to learn and work endless hours. Read more

Dan Cohen: CNS/Breathe Right

Dan Cohen, the founder and builder of CNS/Breathe Right®, has opened his latest venture, BodySound, at one of the premier shopping malls in Minneapolis to test his latest product, which is a luxurious combination of home theater and chair that incorporates sound vibration to soothe the body.

Why? Because Cohen believes that market research should be real and that the best data is from customers who pay real money.

Cohen has always had an independent streak. After finishing his medical studies at Temple Medical School, he came to the University of Minnesota to become a certified neurologist. But he never practiced as a physician or a neurologist. He was more interested in research and developing new products. Read more

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uEntrepreneurs: The Learning Center for Entrepreneurs ™