Just another Saturday in October
WE'VE GOT ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT, YES WE DO
Iowa State entrepreneurs are not shy little people waiting to be found. They have a way of finding you.
I met Sue Hummel (’79 advertising design) on campus a few years ago when she was back to attend an Iowa State ring ceremony. Her father, I found out, had given her a class ring for her 50th birthday because her old one had worn out.
I thought that was pretty cool, and we got to talking. She told me she had quit her advertising job to strike out on her own with a pet-sitting business because she really loved animals and wanted to be
her own boss.
That went right into my VISIONS idea file.
Danny O’Neill (’83 political science & international studies) is well known on campus and is, in my opinion, sort of a poster boy for entrepreneurism. The owner of The Roasterie coffee company in Kansas City, Danny says he was an entrepreneur long before he’d ever heard of that word. He just knew he loved coffee, disliked his corporate lifestyle, and wanted to be happy. He uses that word a lot: happy. He also uses words like passion, vibrance, energy, creativity, excitement, non-conformity, customer service, and risk. Franchises bore Danny because they are cookie-cutter, batteries-included, everything-is-in-the-box businesses. He loves new ideas, even when they’re bad. The idea of risking his fortune on a new idea doesn’t scare him, but when he sees a long line of customers waiting at his coffee shop, he goes bonkers. His penchant for extreme customer service is legendary. He says a recent million-dollar customer order wasn’t as exciting as his very first order for $40 worth of freshly ground beans. Don’t ever tell Danny that something can’t be done, because he will prove you wrong.
VISIONS ran a story on Danny in 2000, but we couldn’t resist talking to him again for our story on Iowa State entrepreneurs.
Another story I couldn’t resist was an engineering grad turned lawyer turned creator of a peanut butter restaurant. Seriously, isn’t that the best story you’ve ever heard?
Jodene Jensen (’89 electrical engineering) told someone over in the College of Engineering a few years ago that turning her traditional career into an entrepreneurial one was like jumping off a cliff, but fortunately she found a couple of friends to take the plunge with her.
Jodene’s Web site for P.B. Loco asks, “Who gets up one morn-ing and says, ‘I think I’ll open a peanut butter restaurant?’”
of course, is, “An entrepreneur.”
entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes. There’s Madolyn Johnson
(’66 modern languages), who started her Signature HomeStyles home accents company 38 years ago and watched it grow into a multi-million-dollar business with 8,000 sales reps; and Brian Barkley (’90 hotel, restaurant, and institution management), CEO of Access One telecommunications, who was recently inducted into the Chicago-area Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.
There’s Mary Jo Banwart (’77 physical education), who started Cookies, etc. with her mother’s cookie recipes;
Iacovos Zachariades (MS ’95 instructional technology), who launched the Global Reach Web design firm in ISU’s Research Park in 2000; and Stephanie Lyke (’94 mechanical engineering), who just started the Go Girl Sport athletics apparel line.
There are entrepreneurs who’ve been out there for a long time, like Harvey Freese (’70 meteorology, MS ’73) and Charlie Notis (MS ’72 meteorology), who started Freese-Notis Weather, Inc., in 1973; and Dane Pigott (’09 architecture), who just invented the “Bev Barge” this year.
Some start early. Kelly Norris (’08 horticulture) has been an entrepreneur since he wrote his first gardening article for money when he was 13 years old.
He convinced his parents to buy an iris farm when he was 15. And now he sells
a gazillion different kinds of irises, some of which he breeds himself. And he’s
only like 22 years old.
Aayush Phumbhra (’04 MBA) is another young go-getter who originally started a company to help cash-poor college students get a better deal on textbooks and other goods by allowing them to sell to each other through his online classifieds site. His idea grew into the first and largest online textbook rental company in the country. As of last summer, Chegg.com had 1.6 million different titles for rent, and the company was rapidly outgrowing its 60,000-square-foot warehouse.
And talk about being in the right place at the right time: I heard about 2008 liberal studies grad Sara Martin’s Professional Home cleaning business just as I was starting to freak out last spring about how grubby my house was right before my youngest daughter’s high school graduation open house (which, in the state of Iowa, have taken on the scope of wedding receptions). Sara cheerfully cleaned my house so I could focus on color-coordinating the flowers and balloons and forks and little, tiny takeout boxes filled with candy.
Her entrepreneurial spirit made my life a lot simpler. But I guess that’s sort
of the point, right?
About the Writer | Carole Gieseke is the editor of VISIONS.