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Rebuilding Rural Economy One Entrepreneur at a Time Part 1

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

Entrepreneurs think differently than many of us. When they see problems, whether in the things they do or products they use, or they observe other people having problems, they think “I wonder if I could figure out a solution for that and if people would buy it?” In business training, we call that finding a niche in the market, but it’s really about solving the problems of the marketplace. There will always be problems in the marketplace. 

Our society has led us to believe that businesses start with big business plans by people with business degrees--if from an Ivy league school so much the better—and big money raised from venture capitalists. This is the myth of business start-up. 

The truth is that 98% of new start-up businesses are started with less than $10,000 by people with no business degree. Starting small like this allows them to adjust their product offering as they learn very early what their customers really want. Whenever I can, I put my myth-busting hat on and spread the word about this 98% statistic. 

I recently had a special opportunity to do some myth-busting. When the Kansas Lt. Governor (LG), Lynn Rogers, came to town for his only Southeast Kansas stop on what he called the Rural Prosperity tour, I had the opportunity to host an entrepreneurs’ luncheon with the LG so he could hear a few stories from our area entrepreneurs about starting small and building a successful business. Although some of them started with a bit more than $10,000, none started with the hundreds of thousands we think are required to start businesses. Not only is it important that the LG and other politicians know about the myth of how small business starts, they also need to realize the important role these small business start-ups all over rural Kansas (and America) can play in rebuilding the economies of our rural communities. 

Here are summaries of some of the entrepreneurs that attended the luncheon. 

Nathan Berg 

Nathan Berg spent several years as an engineer before taking time off to spend more time with his family in leu of too much traveling. Since this decision, Nathan has used his entrepreneurial mindset, detail orientation and love of wood and woodworking to start Berg Reinvigorations, a company that can create custom timber and hardwood from tree to end user.   

Curtis Lavine 

In the early 1990’s Curtis recognized the need for quicker turn-around times in the certified re-building of jet aircraft fuel controls and Kansas Aviation was born. Curtis became one of the area’s first serial entrepreneurs starting or acquiring eight – ten other businesses over the years.  

Doug Misch 

In the early 2000’s, Doug and wife Gail liked to drive their Jeep to Colorado to meet friends while most of their friends used a trailer to get their Jeeps to the mountains. In those days, Jeeps did not come with arm rests, so Doug invented one. This evolved into a company, Misch’s 4 x 4, that invented and developed dozens of after-market Jeep products over the last 15 or so years. After selling the company two years ago, Doug helps other entrepreneurs in Fab Lab ICC’s Growth Accelerator program. 

Terry Trout 

Terry Trout was graduated from Pittsburg State University in 1996 with a degree in wood technology. He advanced rapidly in the industry become a plant manager of 100 employees at 24. Everything was good until corporate moved the plant after making Terry lay off all the employees. Terry was offered a demotion if he moved to either coast or Dallas Texas. He chose instead to buy an existing coffee shop having no restaurant experience. Today, Ane Mae’s Coffee and Sandwich House is one of the busiest restaurants in the area. 

Jaden Roggow 

Currently a freshman at Pittsburg State University, Jaden first came to Fab Lab ICC as a Sedan sophomore in a program for first generation college bound students called Upward Bound (UB). Jaden learned how to laser engrave in one of the UB classes, giving his mother a customized cup. As Mom showed the cup to her friends, those friends asked Jaden to etch for them and Mom’s friends became his first customers. Today, Jaden is the most experience laser engraving craftsperson we have as a Fab Lab ICC member and still comes to the Lab weekly with boxes full of orders to etch. 

We’ll take a brief look at the other five in the next column. 

There are hundreds of entrepreneurs in our region with similar stories of starting small and growing successful businesses. Several grow to a point where they have to hire employees to help fulfill customer orders. Several also buy and remodel buildings, buy equipment and otherwise spend money within the region to make their businesses work. Finally, although not all will become millionaires, some have and many more will. Most of these entrepreneurs will not cost a lot of money in the way of tax abatement and incentives, most will contribute time and money to make our communities better places to work, live and play. These kinds of entrepreneurs can have a major role in rebuilding our rural economy. 

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. Archive columns at jimcorrell.com.  


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