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The Origin of Ice House Entrepreneurship - Part 1

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

Many people within our network of contacts here locally, around Kansas and across the country are familiar with "Ice House Entrepreneurship." We use the term frequently when we speak of "Ice House" concepts or the "Ice House" way. It must sound very strange to people that don't know the origin of the term. For many of us, the "Ice House" way represents not only the way we should be starting new businesses, but the way we should all be thinking in how we solve the problems in our career, academic and personal lives. 

Most businesses start small and grow 

Most new businesses do not start as have been portrayed by our society. The impression we've had all these years was that businesses are started by people with business degrees from the top business schools with detailed business plans and projections. The plan is pitched and after receiving startup capital from venture capitalists, an all-or-nothing gamble takes place. I've not seen much evidence of those kinds of start-ups in the various areas of Kansas in which I've lived. 

Then, in 2011, I learned of a statistic that ninety-eight percent of the Fortune 500 businesses were started with less than $10,000 in start-up capital. Even the mighty Walmart started out as a small store owned and operated by Sam Walton. Amazon was started in a garage with a few computers and doors converted to desks by adding 4 x 4 legs. (When I did my hard time as an area manager at the now defunct Coffeyville Amazon fulfillment center, that's what we still used for desks; a door on 4 x 4 legs.) 

Introduction to the "Ice House" way 

This revelation came to me at a conference in Oregon in October of 2011 when I heard, for the first time, Ohio business man, Gary Schoeniger and international speaker and Pulitzer nominated author Clifton Taulbert speak of a book titled "Who Owns the Ice House?" 

From gutter cleaning to construction management 

Schoeniger, without a business degree and with little money, started a small business cleaning roof gutters. He recognized that homeowners had a problem; they knew their gutters needed to be cleaned, but didn't want to do the work themselves. Although he didn't like ladders either, he went door to door offering to clean gutters for a fee. One customer asked if he could fix her garage door opener. He told her he'd have to check and in the era preceding Google, he went to the library to find a resource to help him figure out how garage door openers work. 

One thing led to another as Gary tweaked his business model, always looking for new problems he could solve for his customers. A few years later, he owned and operated a multi-million dollar construction management firm. 

From flunk-out to another family business 

At the time he was a single father with a teenaged son living with him. The son had a friend named Jason whose personal life was a train wreck. Jason was about to flunk out of high school seeing no relevance in the subject matter. Again, one thing led to another and Schoeniger ended up adopting Jason. With no special training in helping a teenager with Jason's background Gary first set about finding something constructive for Jason to do after school. In his construction management business, Gary knew that most contractors don't like to clean up their sites (we all know this too) so the two went to garage sales picking up bargain tools and supplies that could be used in construction site cleanup. They designed some flyers and business cards and Jason became the proprietor of a construction site cleaning business. He became well known for his reliability and ability to use a calendar to do the work for his customers when and where needed without reminders. Jason operated the successful business until he was graduated from high school and enlisted in the Marine Corp. The business made him see the relevance in much of the subject matter in school and his grades improved greatly. 

Gary Schoeniger and adopted son, Jason Campbell, both started businesses with no special education and very little money. The businesses flourished as they both learned to solve problems for their customers. 

Changing how we grow entrepreneurs 

Gary saw the discrepancy between what we've been led to believe is required to start a business and his own experience, along with that of son Jason. He set about to change the way we educate people in starting businesses by studying the way successful entrepreneurs and business owners think in terms of solving problems for others. There was a huge challenge in this undertaking since most successful entrepreneurs can't verbalize how they think, let alone write it down. 

Next time; how it became "Ice House" 

In the next column, we'll explore how Schoeniger solved this problem and how he met Clifton Taulbert and co-authored the book "Who Owns the Ice House?" with him to become the center of what we now call the "Ice House Entrepreneurship" program. 

The next "Entrepreneurial Mindset" class featuring the "Ice House Entrepreneurship Program" starts in mid-August on Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 8 PM through mid-November. It is different than any other class with no heavy reading or testing. Most say it's inspiring; some, life-changing. Learn more at www.fablabicc.org 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  


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