TEK-CAR Metal, LLC
Established in 2010
Two years ago, Steve Huss and business partner Terry Usherwood took on a challenge: Revive a steel processing center that had been run into the ground. Because of the plant’s troubled past, traditional bank funding was out of the question.
The Entrepreneur Fund, however, was able to look past the mill’s history to the strength and promise of the business plan and the entrepreneurs themselves. The Fund provided them with $100,000 in financing and helped them find another lender for the remainder of their expenses.
“Without the Entrepreneur Fund we wouldn’t even have the doors open,” Steve said. “I wouldn’t even be here.”
Steve and Terry worked one-on-one with the Entrepreneur Fund.
“They were absolutely fantastic,” Steve said. “I mean, they were really smart. Very helpful. They kind of orchestrated this whole thing.”
The ongoing support from the Fund continued when Steven Peterson became their main contact.
“Steven Peterson is sharp to work with and detailed,” Steve said. “He’s been out here three times and he emails me, I email him. He’s excellent.
In 2012, they surpassed the $1 million mark in sales.
We help entrepreneurs like Steve grow strong businesses every day.
To learn more about Steve Huss, visit our website at EntrepreneurFund.org.
Who: Jay Strangis
Where: Brainerd, Minnesota
What: American Waterfowler Magazine
After 25 years in the outdoor publishing industry, Jay Strangis wanted to start his own magazine. He published American Waterfowler in 2010, but ran out of funds at the nine-month mark.
“Fortunately the Entrepreneur Fund was there because we would have dried up and blown away,” he said. “They’re much more flexible. They want you to start up and they want you to succeed. They’re dedicated to business growth and they’re part of Minnesota.”
For Jay, the Entrepreneur Fund offered more than just a start-up loan. They were his advisers, as well.
“They make it easier for a small business guy,” he said. “Of course they’re going to study your plan. They’re going to look at it with a critical eye and say ‘Will this work or won’t it?’ But they’ve seen a lot. So they’re not only a lender, they’re a coach. Where do you get that when you’re a small business owner out there by yourself?”
Since his first start-up loan, Jay has received two additional loans for growth and marketing from the Entrepreneur Fund. He well exceeded his growth goals and his vision is paying off.
Jay’s business grew more than 100 percent over the first year of publication and is set to grow another 40 percent this year. He now employs four other people. American Waterfowler has a paid circulation of about 18,900 and more than 1,200 Facebook followers.
Who: Luke Popham, co-owner of Anytime Fitness
Where: Grand Rapids, Minnesota
When: Established 2006
What: A 24-hour gym that falls on the higher end of membership numbers in the nation
Luke Popham’s road to business ownership was not without its obstacles. At 24 years old he wanted to start an Anytime Fitness in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. He and his business partner, Jeremy Rebrovich, had a passion for the fitness and health industry—and according to Luke, not much else.
“We were just a couple of guys in their 20s with nothing in their pockets, starting a business,” Luke said.
They were turned down for loans from Brainerd to the Twin Cities before they found the Entrepreneur Fund.
“We owe a lot to the Entrepreneur Fund,” Luke said. “They listen to your vision and they take in your passion. When they see a business that they think will succeed, they don’t hesitate.”
The Entrepreneur Fund stayed with Luke and Jeremy over the next six years, even helping out when they had trouble with a leasing company. When Luke and Jeremy decided it was time to expand, they once again looked for funding in Duluth, Brainerd, the Twin Cities and Grand Rapids. And once again, the Entrepreneur Fund came through with a loan.
The Grand Rapids Anytime Fitness will be moving to a bigger building in September, expanding from 4,200 to 7,000 square feet. And with a membership of 950—well above the Anytime Fitness national average—Luke and Jeremy have successfully brought their passion for fitness to a small community.
Jim and Mary Stukel
Who: Jim and Mary Stukel
Where: Duluth, MN
When: Started in 1999
What: Tortoise and Hare
Jim and Mary Stukel wanted to make a change. As athletic coaches at the collegiate level, the demands of game travel were tough on their young family. In 1999, the couple decided to use their connections in the athletic community to open a sport shoe franchise.
“We had no experience running a retail business,” said Mary Stukel. “The Entrepreneur Fund taught us to write our first business plan and then gave us our start-up loan.”
When their franchise contract expired, the Stukels set out as an independent store. Mary explained, “As we changed our name, it was a new chapter and we returned to the Entrepreneur Fund for the Growing Neighborhood Businesses program.”
The couple walked away from the series with a new way of doing business. “We had been all over the place trying to serve every sport,” said Mary. “Now we have a clear focus on running and walking shoes, which helps us keep our inventory in a profitable range.”
Jim and Mary are also implementing a re-branding plan for a consistent look for store signage, a new website, and social media presence.
Mary summed up the experience, “The bottom line is our business is growing again.”
Who: Don Negley, owner of Rural Living Environment
Where: Babbitt, Minnesota
When: Established 2002
What: Serving people with developmental disabilities
Ten years ago, Don and Leanne Negley saw an opportunity. Leanne was working for the State of Minnesota managing group homes and understood the need for private business to serve people with developmental disabilities. They turned to the Entrepreneur Fund’s Stephen Peterson to help them craft a solid business plan, and learn how to best present it to funders.
“Without our plan, we’d never have made it through start-up,” said Don, “but what’s really helped over the years is having an Entrepreneur Fund consultant there to advise us whenever we need it.”
From banking issues to hiring to equipment acquisition, the Entrepreneur Fund gave Don and Leanne the right questions to ask.“There are not a lot of tools out there to help a business grow. They really helped us make the leap from a handful of employees to over forty.”
State funding to their industry continues to dwindle. Like any good entrepreneurs, though, Don and Leanne treat this as another growth opportunity. They’re expanding beyond their residential housing services to offer care in their client’s own homes. Also new will be Rural Living Environment’s supported employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. This may mean bringing a client to shelve groceries or sort nuts and bolts somewhere in the community.
Pursuing these new ventures required hiring more people and new services. “We were used to making all the decisions ourselves,” said Don. “It was a difficult transition, but we learned to pass along aspects of the business.” Now he and his wife are able to concentrate on the parts of the business at which they excel.
Today, Don and Leanne are prepared to take their business to the next level. They’re on track to hit two million in revenues within a year.
Who: Patrice Bradley, SwimCreative LLC
Where: Duluth, Minnesota
When: Established 2006
What: Advertising and Branding Studio
Increased revenues every year, nine employees and growing monthly.
“My goal has always has been to do great work with a talented team of branding and advertising professionals,” said Patrice Bradley, owner of SwimCreative. “I have imagined this studio for at least fifteen years, and every part of this business was designed with intention. But when I started, I wasn’t sure how to grow.” To build her business savvy, Patrice applied and was accepted to the Greenstone Group, giving her access to many programs such as Business Performance Coaching, Peer Group Coaching, a Strategic Review & Recommendation and the Women’s Business Center.
Through training with the Entrepreneur Fund, Patrice learned how to develop a vision, create strategies and implement action plans. “I’ve always had a ton of business ideas and now I know I can do anything,” said Patrice. “And I have an incredible business performance coach, Joe Sertich. Because of his mentoring and the other training I’ve received through the Greenstone Group, I feel like I have more business chops than if I had gone to business school. I have the passion, the Entrepreneur Fund taught me how to turn that passion into a successful business.”
Who: Steve Knauss, owner of the Thirsty Pagan Brewing Company
Where: Superior, Wisconsin
When: Established 2006
What: Microbrewery and pub with 9 unique varieties of beer and some of the best pizza in the world.
Steve celebrated his 6th year of Thirsty Pagan Brewing in May of 2012. In Just six short years, Steve acquired a fledgling local brewery and transformed it into a regional destination known as much for the region’s best specialty pizza and beer as for the lively local atmosphere.
After a successful career in IT sales, Steve was looking for new opportunities when his company was starting to downsize. Approaching the Entrepreneur Fund in 2005, Steve came with a rough brewery concept and looked at how to implement his vision into a business model that would work. Steve enrolled in one of the Entrepreneur Fund’s business planning workshops and worked closely with the Business Development staff to find existing breweries in the region to acquire or start his own. “When it came down to it, we came across 10 different scenarios…” said Steve. “But then the jigsaw puzzle pieces came together. The process was phenomenal.” At last, Knauss came across Twin Ports Brewery – a local brewery in Superior, WI whose owners were looking to sell. It was a perfect fit.
Merging his knowledge acquired in business planning along with the existing customer base and leading selection of beers of Twin Ports Brewery – resulted in a great opportunity. It was time. The Entrepreneur Fund assisted Steve with the logistics of purchasing the business and worked side by side as Steve assembled his team, purchased the business, and transitioned into his role as entrepreneur. In May of 2006, the Thirsty Pagan was born.
After four years of steady growth, the Thirsty Pagan outgrew its existing facility ready for an expansion. The Entrepreneur Fund stepped in multiple times to provide financing to accommodate the Thirsty Pagan’s expansion. The expansion into more space allowed for more seating, hiring additional staff, expanding the kitchen, and growing its brewing operations. The move transitioned from Steve running a small crew to building teams, hiring managers, and supplementing outside expertise needed for the growing company.
The Thirsty Pagan may just be Steve’s first milestone as an Entrepreneur. After being featured in the New York Times travel section, receiving the Superior Business Award’s Innovation Award, and a nomination at the region’s Labo Awards – the real success is walking into the Thirsty Pagan and watching Steve and his team build a thriving local company. It takes the persistence and skill of an entrepreneur for success to look easy, just what you see when you walk into the Thirsty Pagan.
Check out the Thirsty Pagan at www.thirstypaganbrewing.com