Survival of the Smartest

Entrepreneurs use the business end of their brains

Business Entrepreneur Instructor Bob Voss

As the award-winning instructor of the Business Entrepreneur program at DCTC, Bob Voss has never discovered a single best way to start a small business. What Voss has discovered is that entrepreneurs can substantially increase their chance for success by learning the smart way to start a business.

“We’ve had hundreds of successful business owners emerge from our program,” Voss said. “Not one of them was equipped with a silver bullet for success, but they all had business plans based on intensive research and asking all the smart questions.”

Like most marketplace experts, Voss believes the global economic turnaround depends on the prosperity of high-growth entrepreneurs. Here are four of the brightest in the business.

Yeti, Set, Go

Nate Johnson wants everyone to wear more than one hat

Nate Johnson | Co-Owner | Shop Animal Hat

For most of us the yeti, or abominable snowman, is a man-ape cryptid patrolling the high snows of Himalaya in places like Nepal and Tibet. For Nate Johnson and his wife Bonnie, the yeti appeared out of nowhere as the inspiration to start a new online business: Shop Animal Hat.

“I was in Duluth last summer and I saw this yeti animal hat in a shop,” said Johnson, a DCTC graduate with A.A.S. degrees in graphic design technology, multimedia and Web design and applied visual arts. “I bought it and wore it home and got tons of positive feedback from my friends. People really liked it.”

That’s when a not-so-abominable idea took shape in Johnson’s mind. He had the skill set to design and build a website, create a logo and basically brand a small business. What he lacked was the business acumen to make that business fly.

“That’s where the Business Entrepreneur program makes all the difference,” he said. “Bob Voss shows you how to be a successful entrepreneur. You can have loads of talent, but you still need to know how to market it the right way.”

Click to shop at Shop Animal Hat

Johnson contacted the animal hat manufacturer and explained his plan to sell the hats online. “They didn’t take me seriously at first,” he said, “but now Shop Animal Hat is probably their most successful vendor.”

The plan was to sell maybe 20 animal hats over the course of the winter season 2010–2011, but so far the new business has sold more than 800 hats from Rasta Sock Monkeys to Crazy Puppies to Spirit Bears to Siberian Tigers.

“We sell to customers as far away as Australia and Brazil,” Johnson said. “We hope to double our business next year. We’ll invest wisely and not overextend.”

Johnson’s advice to would-be entrepreneurs: “Action always beats inaction. Don’t wait until it’s perfect. It’s always going to change and you’re going to keep learning.”

Johnson and his wife reside in Lakeville, Minn. The couple is expecting a baby daughter in July. No word yet on what animal hat she’ll be wearing. For your own hat, visit Your favorite animal is waiting for you.

For My Peeps

Janelle Meier finds the right mix

Janelle Meier | Co-Owner | Black Barn Bakery

With bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry from Southwest Minnesota State University and an M.A. in Management from the University of Mary, Janelle Meier, 41, built a solid career in environmental health and safety in the public sector, academia and corporate America. Even so, the massive downturn in 2009 cost her a wonderful job as a safety engineer at Seagate.

Collaborating with her husband, Ben, a navigation analyst at Honeywell, Meier took the entrepreneurial plunge and launched Black Barn Bakery, a small business based on helping people with multiple food sensitivities—something Meier and her family understand all too well.

The couple has two children, a daughter, Cora, age eight, and a son, Evan, age five. Between them, Evan and his mother have food allergies linked to gluten, eggs, dairy products, yeast, wheat and peanuts. Ben and Cora can eat anything and everything.

Because Meier had no experience as a business owner, she opted to enroll in the Business Entrepreneur program, earning her certificate in 2010. “Bob’s classes challenged my preconceived notions about running a business,” she said. “We learned about targeting our markets, negotiating contracts and recognizing the variables defining the intertwining relationships we have with our customers. We interviewed business owners in our same industry, which was a huge help.”

Click to shop at Black Barn Bakery

Meier also knocked heads with Voss about pricing. She wanted to keep prices low to accommodate her customer base. “These are my peeps,” she told Voss, pointing out that she shared and understood the difficulties of her customers.

“If you price yourself out of business, you won’t be able to provide the products they need,” Voss countered. “You will be doing your customers a disservice.” Voss won the argument.

Today, Black Barn Bakery makes gluten-free baking mixes for home bakers contending with gluten intolerance or sensitivity, including individuals with celiac disease. Made without wheat, soy, corn, dairy, eggs, sesame, peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish, the mixes have been taste-tasted for deliciousness by Meier’s toughest customers—her husband and children. Meier pointed out that individuals on the autism spectrum can benefit from diets free of gluten and casein, the latter a protein found in milk.

Meier empowers her business with social media, making the most of Twitter, Facebook, blogging and YouTube. Black Barn is also venturing into retail marketplaces, with products on the shelves—including banana bread, chocolate doughnut and pumpkin cookie mixes—at Lakewind Natural Foods, Valley Natural Foods and Mackenthun’s Fine Foods. To learn more about gluten-free baking, visit Black Barn Bakery online.

Molasses Cookies by Black Barn Bakery

Muskie Maiden

Julie Gournoe-Hedensten catches anglers with original lures

Julie Gournoe-Hedensten | Owner | Muskie Maiden Lures

Bucktail Muskie Lures (note muskie bite marks)

The burliest member of the pike family, the muskellunge, better known as the muskie, is a spectacular sport fish famous for its brash power, aerial stunts and catch-me-if-you-can belligerence, the latter trait giving it the title, “Fish of 10,000 Casts.”

When Julie Gournoe-Hedensten launched her new business, Muskie Maiden Lures, the last thing she wanted to do was take 10,000 tries to land a customer. That’s why she enrolled in the Business Entrepreneur program at DCTC.

“I was working at Factory Motor Parts in Eagan, Minn., when I decided to take Bob’s entrepreneurship classes,” said Gournoe-Hedensten, who had been with the company for more than 10 years. “I liked my job, but right after I signed up for the program, the recession hit the auto industry and I got laid off.”

Luckily, she had already landed an idea for her own small business with help from her husband, Steve, a muskie fishing aficionado. Everyone in their family loves fishing for muskies, a sport that mingles art with science and then tosses in magic for good measure. The lures alone are legion with four basics: surface baits, jerkbaits, crankbaits and spinnerbaits, all with countless variations.

“I took one look at the lures and knew I could make them,” said Gournoe-Hedensten, who had been designing and crafting her own custom jewelry for years. She focuses on bucktail and spaghetti lures, both spinners, but also makes actual jewelry—bracelets, earrings and necklaces⎯using traditional lure blades to create an enticing theme.

“We set up a booth at the 2010 Minnesota Muskie Expo, which is held every year at Concordia University in St. Paul,” she said. “We sold both lures and jewelry. Anglers are always looking for new lures and I was happy to learn later that mine worked great. Anglers also feel good about buying something for a loved one who might not share their love for muskies—and that’s where the jewelry comes in.”

Bob Voss’s coursework gave Gournoe-Hedensten a sound business foundation and even helped her brainstorm a name for her business, which features the catchy tag line: “WHAT’S IN YOUR BOX?” After earning her Business Entrepreneur certificate, she’s looking at getting the new Small Business Operations certificate. You can get your own Muskie Maiden lures or jewelry at the next Minnesota Muskie Expo, which is scheduled for April 8, 9 & 10, 2011, again at the Ganglehoff Center on the Concordia campus. A Muskie Maiden Lures website is in the works.

Gournoe-Hedensten setting up for Minnesota Muskie Expo

A Bronx Tale

Mike Norton loves his work and it shows

Mike Norton | Owner | MRN Home Services, Inc.

A native of the Bronx, the northernmost of New York City’s five boroughs, Mike Norton worked as an aircraft mechanic for nearly three decades, servicing airliners, including the Concorde, for major airlines like TWA, Eastern and Air France at airports like La Guardia, JFK, Miami International and MSP International. That all came to an end during the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association strike at Northwest Airlines in 2005.

“I worked at Northwest for the majority of my career,” said Norton, who graduated from Aviation High School in Queens before entering the airline industry. “My direct managers at Northwest were absolutely wonderful people.”

“Bob’s classes gave me a better understanding of the financial aspects of business ownership, including accounting and keeping records. If you’re going to start a business, take some business classes at DCTC. It definitely helps tremendously in the long run.”

After losing his mechanics job due to the strike, Norton, 52, went right to work helping a friend with his remodeling business. That job served as a transition to starting his own business, MRN Home Services, Inc. MRN happens to be his initials, but it really stands for Maintenance Repair New, which stands for accomplishing virtually any task, job or project a homeowner might require. Stellar work triggered word-of-mouth advertising, which took over from there, bringing in clients nonstop.

“I grew up in the industry,” Norton said. “My grandfather was a stonemason and bricklayer so I was mixing cement and helping him lay brick and block from a very young age. We were always doing stuff around the house.”

Because Norton didn’t have a background in running a business, he enrolled at DCTC and received his Business Entrepreneur certificate with plans to earn the new Small Business Operations certificate down the road.

“The program helped me with networking and how to market the business,” he said. “Bob’s classes gave me a better understanding of the financial aspects of business ownership, including accounting and keeping records. If you’re going to start a business, take some business classes at DCTC. It definitely helps tremendously in the long run.”

Norton’s daughter, Katherine, 19, came to DCTC as a PSEO student, graduating Phi Theta Kappa from the Executive and Administrative Assistant in 2010. His son Frank, 17, also a PSEO student at DCTC, is majoring in Software Development. Norton resides with his children and his wife, Nancy, also a New Yorker, only from Long Island, in Farmington, Minn.

Aerial view of the Bronx

For more information about the Business Entrepreneur program at DCTC, contact:
  • Bob Voss
    Business Entrepreneur Instructor

1 Comment

  • Gluten Intolerance says:

    I think we all know before entering in the world of business we must have our learning’s and understanding regarding the business we want to start. Thanks for posting it in here.

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