Author Archives: tmiles

Wine for Those Without

When English mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, his response was simple: because it’s there. Anyone who thinks humankind has run out of novel goals to reach is just not thinking creatively enough. Michael Delcau (’13) is hard at work trying to achieve his dream of opening the northernmost winery in the world in Iceland. Most people would consider trying to break into the wine industry on land that sits a stone’s throw away from the Arctic Circle a quixotic endeavor, and Delcau is among them.

“It is a country that, to my knowledge, has never in its history had commercial scale wine production, and probably for good reason,” he said. “I like to think of it as a good challenge.”

Delcau’s project is more than whimsy – it is an amalgamation of two subjects for which he has a passion. His interest in wine started during his time at Truman when he met fellow alumnus Jared Steck (’13) whose family was in the business. Through Steck, Delcau learned about the winemaking process and all the technicalities associated with it. For a chemistry major, there was a certain appeal, and he soon found himself purchasing equipment and dabbling in his own production.

His love for Iceland fully matured thanks in part to an internship Delcau completed during graduate school. While working toward his Ph.D. in chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, he secured a three-month internship in Reykjavik with a large biotechnology company. Much of his time was spent researching the native seaweed and its potential to be used as a natural preservative. Delcau also found time to volunteer at an artic fox sanctuary where his duties included feeding the animals, teaching visitors about the fox and its current status in the wild, and even playing with some of the baby foxes.

After returning to the states to complete his degree and start work as a postdoctoral researcher at Iowa, Delcau still felt a pull from Iceland. Although it may not look like the ideal place to start a wine business, he sees opportunity.

“It has enormous potential and is extremely unique, even for a project,” Delcau said. “Iceland is one of the few countries in the world without a winery, and furthermore the niche of fruit wines does not exist in the country at a commercial scale production. They have unique herbs and fruits such as bilberries, crowberries, birch and angelica that would make a very special gift, souvenir or just a beverage to enjoy.”

For now, Delcau is starting small. He lives primarily in Iowa City, but ideally, he would like to split his time evenly between the U.S. and Iceland. He is working with two collaborators in Iceland on a number of issues which include navigating the many local, state and federal laws in the food and alcohol business. In Iceland, wine is not available at the grocery store and can only be purchased from government-run liquor stores. Additionally, Delcau does not yet have a vineyard of his own.

“At this stage, we are sourcing our fruit from people in Iceland or picking berries to experiment with in our batches,” he said.

The first bottles of wine from Delcau’s Westfjords Winery label will be available starting in 2019. Eventually he hopes to produce around 2,000 bottles annually, but the inaugural batch will be small with only about 200 bottles. Nearly half of the first order will be meads, a sweet wine made from honey with a moderate percentage of alcohol. The remaining half of the first batch will be split between bilberry and crowberry wines known for being sweet and tart, respectively, with more of a fruit flavor.

Customers who visit fjordswinery.com in search of a bottle might take notice of some of the brand’s unique names such as The Arctic Fox and The Puffin. Like the name of the winery itself, they are nods to the Westfjords region and some of the species that inhabit the area.

“I wanted my wine to embody not only something unique to Iceland, but more specifically something unique to the Westfjords,” Delcau said. “The region often gets overlooked, not only among tourists, but among locals as well due to its isolated nature. It is off the common highway, so I wanted to emphasize this region is worth visiting. Each wine will encompass an interesting aspect of the Westfjords region and be named accordingly.”

Being true to Iceland sets Delcau’s brand apart, but he anticipates that might not always be a good thing. Wine connoisseurs rarely hold fruit wines, or “rural” wines, in high regard, and some might not even consider them wines at all since they are not made with grapes.

“I am okay with this criticism, but then again, our goal is not to make a beverage traditionally from grapes,” Delcau said. “Growing up in Missouri and going to school in Iowa, I was surrounded by many non-traditional fruit wines. Pineapple, dandelion and blackberry wines are largely produced in rural regions of Iowa – these fill in a cool niche with the local fruits. So, I thought why not take the same approach in Iceland where they have such interesting, delicious and antioxidant-rich fruits like crowberries which people don’t use for winemaking. I think the people of Iceland and the tourists to Iceland will appreciate being able to drink native wine.”

Delcau predicts his wines might have their own niche in Nordic cuisine and could pair well with certain foods in Scandinavian restaurants. Wherever his products ultimately fit in the wine culture is irrelevant.

“I have always wanted to do something of my own, with not even a goal to make a lot of money, but to sustain a moderate lifestyle and do something I love,” he said.

Future projects for Delcau might go beyond wine. He has considered venturing out into other biotech areas of innovation with foods like beer, yogurt, cheese and coffee, all which could incorporate food-related biotechnology and bioprocess.

Michael Delcau

The Entrepreneurial Spirit

Some people have it. Most people don’t. That inner voice that tells them to zig when the rest of the world zags. To bet on themselves rather than take the safe route. To trade a job with a guaranteed salary and benefits for days spent toiling away in the basement or garage hoping to make their vision a reality. Knowing they will fail a dozen times before seeing success, but understanding that once they achieve it, all of their sacrifices will be justified. Call them dreamers, risk takers, innovators or rebels, they all share the same entrepreneurial spirit.

There is no one-size-fits-all description of an entrepreneur. Many of them own the small businesses that form the backbone of the economy. Others are visionaries who create billion-dollar empires. The specifics of their individual efforts are not as important as the overall role they play in society. Entrepreneurs see a need, and they fill it. They understand the philosophy of “build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Whether their mousetrap is simply providing an improved version of an existing service or bringing something entirely new into existence, improvement is at the heart of what they do, and the hard work of the entrepreneur often has a hand in moving humanity forward.

Not surprisingly, a countless number of University alumni have followed their own entrepreneurial dreams. Truman is a perfect breeding ground for innovators. The liberal arts nature of the school promotes critical thinking skills across multiple disciplines. Put into practice, those skills are ideal for evaluating a problem and developing a better way to address the situation at hand. Liberal arts graduates are often creative enough to envision grand goals and rational enough to be strategic in implementing plans to achieve them.

Naturally, many alumni entrepreneurs are products of the University’s School of Business. Those students fortunate enough to envisage their potential business early on are understandably going to be drawn to the school so they can learn the techniques needed to bring their ideas to market. While only a handful begin their business ventures before they graduate, many will take advantage of the school’s plethora of resources to sharpen their own skills. Among its host of classes, the School of Business offers an entrepreneurship course every fall. Additionally, there are two student organizations — the Innovative Community of Entrepreneurs and the Student-Run Business Initiative — available for budding entrepreneurs to gain experience. Separate from Truman, the School of Business actively supports programs offered by the local Missouri Rural Enterprise and Innovation Center as well as the Small Business Technology and Development Center.   

As successful as the School of Business has been at producing titans of industry, it is important to remember there are several paths to the top of the mountain that is entrepreneurial success. Many CEOs lead successful companies without ever having sat through a business management class. Some might argue majors outside of the traditional business realm, particularly those associated with creative disciplines, have an advantage because they encourage non-conventional approaches. While the debate about which field of study is the most useful will rage on forever, the fact remains that the idea for a successful venture can come from anywhere. Mathematics and computer science majors are capable of creating apps that could make any smart phone a little better and the programmer a little richer. The following pages will prove a chemistry degree can be the catalyst for starting a multimillion-dollar company (Kevin Tibbs), an education degree can open doors beyond the classroom (Stephanie Hollenbeck, Shaunelle Curry) and journalism majors can ask the right questions to find the answers to success (Doug Villhard). The broad-based nature of a liberal arts education makes it ideal for entrepreneurs, whether they have dreams of running their own corporation from a high-rise office or starting a cottage industry in the dining room.

Entrepreneurs do not always dabble in something new, or even in something material. They are simply the ones bold enough to take on the financial risks of betting on themselves to be successful. That includes the attorney who decides to hang out her own shingle in private practice and the accountant who would rather work one-on-one with his clients than crunch numbers from a corporate cubicle.

Some estimates indicate 34 percent of the U.S. workforce is made up of freelance workers, and that number is projected to be as high as 43 percent by 2020. In perhaps a sign of that shift, one of the events conducted by the Kansas City Alumni Chapter this year was an alumni reception and entrepreneurial panel discussion. Alumni entrepreneurs came together to discuss their paths to success and offer advice to others looking to blaze their own trails. The gig economy – the idea of putting one’s specific skills and talents to work independently – is increasingly more popular, and advances in technology are creating new opportunities that may not have existed in previous years. Social media was a novelty a decade ago. Today, a social media strategist is a sought-after position, and marketing firms can put countless hours of work into the digital world alone. Aspiring entrepreneurs are limited only by their imagination in terms of how to implement technology and carve out their niche.

For those brave souls willing to take risks, they will be the ones filling the future needs of society. Some may change the world, some may change their communities and some may just pay their bills. It is not always about the money. In most cases it is about following their dreams, believing in themselves and seeking the freedom that comes with being their own boss.

Love for Business Leads to Success

Lara Maple

Starting a business comes with a tremendous amount of challenges, from coming up with the idea to growing the business itself. For Lara (Hardcastle) Maple (’90), these challenges were not the end of the road but an opportunity to channel her passion for business.

Maple started her journey working at AT&T for seven years on a fast-track program in marketing and sales. After retiring from AT&T, she became a full-time mom to her two children, a role she considered a priority and never a sacrifice. During this time, she and her husband, Clint (’90), began Grain Valley Dog Supply LLC, which has since grown into a multimillion-dollar pet distribution business. The two did not stop there and have since founded four other businesses: Maple Realty LLC, Maple Land and Cattle LLC, Lara Maple Properties LLC and Lara Maple Real Estate LLC. With two children and five businesses, they are never short of things to do, and their busy lifestyle has given them the opportunity to enjoy every moment.

“Business ownership allowed my husband and me the flexibility to remain involved in the kids’ activities and attend their events throughout the high school years,” Maple said. “It also afforded us the opportunity to be involved in our community and give back to the causes that are dear to us.”

While Clint focuses on Maple Realty and the land and cattle operation, Lara primarily focuses on the dog supply and real estate businesses. The success of their businesses comes from their hard work, time commitment and love for what they do. While dog supplies are not Lara’s passion, the business itself is.

“I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about new ways to motivate my team,” she said. “I get excited about ideas to streamline processes, and I’m utterly obsessed with how to make my customers’ experience phenomenal.”

Being a goal-oriented person, Maple enjoys a challenge not only in business but also athletics.

“While I work hours that most people think crazy, I try to find time to do something athletic every single day,” she said. “It might be going for a run, often fighting the sunset, doing a P90X workout at home or heading to the tennis court.”

Tennis serves as an outlet and the only time Maple fully separates herself from her work. She plays on a competitive women’s USTA tennis team, and in 2017, went all the way to win the national championship match.

In search of a personal challenge outside of work, Maple heeded a friend’s advice to participate in a sprint triathlon.

“I was looking for something to test me. Something that was completely out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Not letting anything deter her from achieving her goal, Maple added swimming and biking to her routine of workouts and began training. She achieved her goal of completing and placing in her division.

While her drive and determination are the key to her success, Maple credits her years at the University for helping prepare her, especially her accounting and marketing courses.

“I loved my time at Truman,” she said. “I had amazing professors who exposed me to areas of business that I had no idea I would need. Specifically, the accounting coursework at Truman has proven invaluable. Understanding your numbers and your financial statements is so critical for any business.”

Currently residing in Odessa Mo., Lara and Clint now have another reason to get back to Kirksville and reminisce about their time on campus. Their son, Alec, currently attends Truman. Not surprisingly, his major is business.

“The Truman experience will be something that all three of us will always share,” she said.

Young Entrepreneur Takes Old-School Approach

Most 20-something entrepreneurs today are using technology as a means to build their empires, but Austin Hayden (’15) is taking a decidedly retro approach when it comes to selling his recreational water pads.

“We do not sell online,” Hayden said. “We respect the brick and mortar of the boating industry.”

As a sophomore in college, Hayden debuted the ParadisePad after receiving inspiration while spending some time on the lake. The product is a foam water pad that attaches to a boat or dock and is used as a platform to hangout on in the water.

Hailing from Des Moines, Iowa, Hayden originally came to Truman to play soccer and obtain a business degree. His main focus was on his game and grades, and ParadisePad added an opportunity to gain experience while still enjoying his college years.

“I looked at it as a very serious annual internship, which I created,” Hayden said. “ParadisePad was something I did in my free time or where my mind wandered many times during class.”

As graduation got closer, sales began to increase, and Hayden knew his idea was turning into something more than an internship. That growth was achieved without the
help of online retailers. Initially due to high shipping costs,
the use of local businesses for distribution formed into something special.

“It quickly turned into a respect thing,” Hayden said. “We’re supporting the boating industry as well as local businesses.”

In order to ensure customer satisfaction, Hayden will ship a product direct if there are not any dealers already carrying ParadisePad. However, sticking to his mission to help local businesses and grow his own, Hayden will then call up a dealer in the area and let them know they missed out on a sale. Despite operating outside of the current marketing norms, ParadisePad has grown and is now sold in 40 states with occasional shipments to Europe and Australia.

Looking to expand the product line, Hayden has added inflatable stand- up paddle boards, large inflatable pads that are more buoyant than the traditional foam pad, and an inflatable pad for yoga on the water.

In addition to helping people have fun in the sun, Hayden has a goal to give back. ParadisePad is currently partnering with Folds of Honor, which provides educational scholarships to the families of fallen and disabled soldiers. That is not the only patriotic aspect of ParadisePad. Hayden has made it a point to ensure each pad is constructed entirely of American-made products in an effort to guarantee their quality.

“Once I was able to test the first ParadisePad made in America, it was evident I was about to be producing the best foam water pad in the industry,” he said.

While his approach may be old school, Hayden’s attitude is still youthful, and the sky is the limit when it comes to ParadisePad’s future. Along with the new products, he has many ideas for expanding the company, including obtaining more dealers, adding more products, attending more events, sponsoring a professional wakeboarder or wake surfer, taking over lake markets and being more established overseas.

“As a 25-year-old who has been selling foam water pads for a living for six summers now, I feel like I’m still starting up,” Hayden said. “We want to be known as a big player in the boating industry, as a family business that makes high-quality water products, gives back and continues to come out with groundbreaking products summer after summer.”

Austin Hayden

Passion Project Becomes Small Business

There are many ways an idea can become a reality, and for one of Kirksville’s more unique business ventures, inspiration came from an unusual source – fourth graders.

Stephanie (Sonntag) Hollenbeck (’14, ’15) has taught at Ray Miller Elementary School in Kirksville since graduating from Truman. Part of her curriculum includes “genius hour” during which time the students are encouraged to research and work on a passion project. Before long, Hollenbeck’s students were the ones giving the teacher an assignment.

“Once the kids were in the swing of things, they kept asking me what my passion project was, and they made me pick one, so I picked learning how to start a business,” she said.

As the school year progressed, Hollenbeck often used the genius hour to explore the finer points of opening a small business. By April 2017, she had decided to make her passion project a reality. In July, she and her husband, Aaron, opened The Ville Escape Room downtown.

“An escape room is a collaborative, social experience where you are put into a scenario that is different from your everyday life and there is some sort of objective to accomplish,” Stephanie said.

Rising in popularity over the last several years, escape rooms commonly include locks, keys and puzzles the participants have to solve in order to be successful. Storylines can consist of scenarios such as robbing a bank or breaking out of a jail cell.

“That’s really just more of the surface level of what it is. People come because they want that social experience we rarely have anymore because of technology,” Stephanie said. “People are forced to interact together and communicate, and it also puts you in situations you never experience in everyday life. It kind of takes you back to the childhood state of play, but in an adult way.”

The Hollenbecks first visited an escape room in Kansas City in 2015 and thought it would be fun to bring something like it to Kirksville. They develop the storylines and puzzles for rooms in The Ville and can spend up to three months perfecting each one before it is made available to the public. While they do not get to participate in the scenarios they create, they do get a sense of enjoyment from the rooms.

“Seeing people play our game and come out so ecstatic, that’s the reward for us,” Aaron said.

In its first year, The Ville has expanded to include three different rooms. With bookings available three nights a week, and by appointment, the Hollenbecks do not have plans for the operation to make them wealthy.

“The escape room will probably never be a full-time business for either one of us,” Stephanie said. “This is more of something that we wanted to give back to Kirksville.”

The Hollenbecks do not take a paycheck from The Ville, and instead have chosen to reinvest their profits from it in the business and employees. They offer above minimum wage, as well as performance bonuses, professional development opportunities and a program to help pay for textbooks for the college-aged members of the staff. So far, the investment has paid off, and the Hollenbecks are pleased with the qualities they have seen develop in their youthful six-person workforce. They also hope to be setting an example in case any of their employees want to start a business of their own someday.

“I could see it happen because we are showing them that it is possible and business isn’t just left to big box stores and millionaires,” Stephanie said.

During her research, Stephanie learned most businesses are started for less than $5,000. She would encourage anyone looking to start their own enterprise to find a mentor, not pay for any services they do not understand and, perhaps most importantly, be flexible.

“It’s not going to go according to the business plan,” she said.

Aaron and Stephanie Hollenbeck

Better Products for a Better Life

Ask any number of business owners the key to success and the answer most likely to come back will be passion. To stake your financial hopes and dreams on a project, not to mention untold years of your life, you must be passionate about what you do. For parents, nothing is more important than their children, and Kevin Tibbs (’95) was so passionate about the health of his daughter he risked everything to start a business that would give her a better life.

After graduating from Truman with a degree in biology, Tibbs went to work in St. Louis as a formulation chemist focusing on personal care products and cosmetics. When his daughter was a toddler, the family realized she had asthma and skin sensitivities with one of the major contributors coming in the form of the cleaning products they used in the home.

“With each spray we were filling the air and surfaces in our home with toxic and irritating chemicals that would trigger a reaction,” Tibbs said. “I decided to dedicate my time to developing better cleaning products – cleaners that were safe, natural and effective.”

Tibbs put his chemical knowledge to work and established a line of four different types of cleaners. In 2008, he and his business partner quit their jobs and concentrated their efforts on the new company, Better Life.

“I resigned from my job and a very successful career, during a down time in the economy, with a toddler and a newborn, to start Better Life,” he said. “There wasn’t a safety net, so failure was not an option. Because I believed so strongly in what I was doing, and the difference these products could make in people’s lives, it kept me motivated to make certain Better Life was successful.”

Tibbs personally creates and tests each product the company makes, and he requires specific quality guidelines be met before their release.

“Better Life products needed to work as good or better than the traditional chemical cleaner, but they had to be safe,” he said. “This meant beating the performance of that big orange bottle of laundry detergent on your washing machine, but not using any of the harsh, toxic chemical ingredients that are in it.”

The company started by selling products at two Whole Foods locations in St. Louis and soon expanded to the franchise’s other locations in the Midwest. Word of mouth was the main way the business grew in the beginning. As the reputation of the brand’s quality spread, momentum picked up, and more opportunities became available. Before long, Tibbs could be seen as a guest host on the Home Shopping Network. A 2013 appearance on the hit television show “Shark Tank” boosted sales, especially through the company website.

Better Life may have started with the noblest of intentions, but Tibbs still wants it to be as successful as possible.

“My dream has always been to make Better Life a well-known, household name, and each day I work toward this goal,” he said.

At the 10-year mark of its founding, the company is now a multimillion-dollar enterprise. While the profits are nice, Tibbs draws the most satisfaction from his customers, whether it is the pet owner who is thankful it was a Better Life product her dog got a hold of rather than a traditional chemical cleaner, or a person with sensitivities who can finally clean their home. Tibbs is achieving his original goal and helping many others along the way.

“This makes me smile, and thankful that I am part of something special,” he said.

Tibbs, with daughters Rachel (middle) and Allison

A Different Kind of Mogul

Shaunelle Curry

The term “entrepreneur” often conjures up images of individuals clad in business attire trying to devise as many ways as possible to maximize profit from their concepts. While that does cover a vast number of innovators, it fails to acknowledge one emerging group, social entrepreneurs.

Shaunelle Curry (’95, ’97) has always wanted to be a force for good. Although teaching fifth grade brought her joy, she left the classroom and joined a non-profit agency in order to have a larger impact. She wanted to be there for the children that came to school hungry or did not have the resources they needed to succeed. She spent time with kids who were on track to enter the juvenile justice system and others who were victims of sexual assault. The kinds of things most people feel sympathy for but try to avoid, Curry met them head on, and she soon realized what she was meant to do.

“I had the heart of a social entrepreneur. I wanted to bring about systemic and institutional change in my community,” she said. “I thoroughly believe that if I see a need and no one else is stepping up to address it then it must be for me to do.”

Much like with for-profit ventures, social entrepreneurship can encompass a great deal. At the core, social entrepreneurs develop, fund and implement change on any number of cultural, social or environmental issues. Goals can be local or grow in scope to serve national and international needs.

While working with at-risk youths in California, Curry realized how something as simple as the music they listened to could influence their lives in a negative way.

“There were certain cultural norms and roles for women that were perpetuated in the music they loved,” she said. “I wanted to help address those environmental influences and raise youth awareness of the larger structural maladies which manipulated their lives.”

Curry worked with teenagers in St. Louis, Chicago and Inglewood, Calif., to petition radio stations to celebrate Mother’s Day weekend with a 24-hour period free of denigrating and misogynistic music. Mother’s Day Radio, or MDR as the movement was known, was a success, and a follow-up symposium a few months later kept things moving in a positive direction. More than 200 students were brought together to examine violence and misogyny in mainstream media and pop culture and the correlating impact it had on their communities. It was a “lightbulb moment” for many of the teens in attendance.

“The overwhelming demand from the students was to be able to take this message to their friends in a way that was relatable and did not alienate them or make them seem ‘preachy,’” Curry said.

Capitalizing on the enthusiasm of the students, Curry created Media Done Responsibly to both further the movement and continue the MDR branding already established by Mother’s Day Radio. MDR is now an incorporated 501(c)(3) that serves as a media literacy education and mentor program.

“We train college students to be peer mentors for middle and high school students,” Curry said. “Our college mentors go into local middle and high schools across Los Angeles County and teach kids to analyze and understand the 13-plus hours of media they consume on a daily basis.”

Curry is back in the classroom with a day job as a media studies lecturer at California State University-Los Angeles. She knows as well as anyone that media is a tool which both influences and reflects culture. Her hope is the work of MDR can help break the cycle of violence, misogyny, bullying, racism, sexism and heterosexism which leads to anxiety in so many children today.

“Depending on the messages they’re receiving, coupled with the way they interpret and internalize those messages, their mental and emotional health can be jeopardized,” she said.

Today, MDR has shared its curriculum and training with more than 30 schools, primarily in the southern California area, but Curry is working to make it more accessible for teachers from around the country and eventually overseas.

In Business to Help Businesses

Success can sometimes be a detriment. A business can go from startup to sensation almost overnight, and those that are not prepared to strategically move forward can become overwhelmed. Some businesses stagnate, others shut down. Entrepreneurs who find themselves in that no man’s land between failure and growth would be wise to seek the services of Dan Schmidt (’02), who has carved out a successful niche guiding business owners into the next phase of their ventures.

Schmidt logged several years on both the auditing and consulting sides of the accounting and finance world since graduating from Truman. In 2014, he created the Emerging Business CFO as a side project, and by the following year he was able to make it his full-time occupation. Based in Kansas City, EBCFO is a fractional CFO and accounting services firm.

“It was created to fill a gap I saw with early growth stage companies,” Schmidt said. “It’s about helping entrepreneurs and small business owners understand the business side of their business.”

Schmidt has looked at enough balance sheets to know a business is more than just numbers on a page. Even if those numbers look good, the owner needs to understand what they mean and what the next move should be. Schmidt works primarily with a client base that earns between $1 million and $10 million in annual revenues.

“This is the stage that most business owners struggle through – cashflow is tight, complexity has increased to the point that the owner can’t keep it all in his or her head, and informed strategy becomes paramount for continued success,” he said.

EBCFO is not limited to clients in the Kansas City area. Because the firm uses 100 percent cloud-based technology its employees have been able to provide services in destinations as far as the United Kingdom, Ghana and Australia in addition to a growing stable of domestic clients.

It helps that Schmidt has an entrepreneurial spirit of his own. He was the neighborhood kid with the lemonade stand in elementary school and the lawn care business in his teen years. During college, he managed the business side of his band, Until Tomorrow. Schmidt also can relate to clients because he has taken the leap of faith himself in committing to EBCFO. With a wife and three young boys at home, he knows the concerns of others who are in a similar position.

“The running joke at home is that it wasn’t so much a leap of faith as it was blindly jumping off the cliff,” he said. “Sometimes if you look at the implications too long you don’t end up moving. So, we jumped, and then figured out how to land on the way down.”

Part of the credit for his soft landing goes to his liberal arts education. That multifaceted approach to learning has come in handy, whether it is troubleshooting for his own business or in his role as a consultant.

“A founder is required to move in and out of different modes of thinking multiple times a day,” Schmidt said. “It’s also crucial to be able to grapple with problems from multiple perspectives. The liberal arts focus at Truman has proven invaluable for me in this. I’ve lost count of the times that a mode of thinking from my music, chemistry or general education coursework has directly correlated to a finance or accounting problem.”

Education is something Schmidt feels is key to success. He encourages aspiring entrepreneurs to be voracious readers, as well as to find a mentor and a community of like-minded people to offer support. His most important piece of advice, however, is to remember the reason for starting a business in the first place and maintain the proper perspective.

“Find balance and rhythm in your life,” he said. “Work is a great opportunity to add value to and serve those around you, but it shouldn’t be the only way you do.”

Don’t Get a Job – Create One

Doug Villhard

Like most students, Doug Villhard (’94) went to college to “get a job.” He and his wife Diane (Certa) (’95) had that idea reaffirmed over and over before they graduated. They were at school to learn the skills to get a job. No one will ever argue that is a bad thing, but Doug and Diane have another option they offer to their own four children as they prepare for their futures: start a business and create jobs.

Since graduating with a degree in journalism, Doug has gone on to have success in a variety of fields. He runs one company with his brother, and he started several others.

“I personally think a journalism major is the best undergraduate liberal arts major, hands down, ever created,” Doug said. “You learn to communicate simplistically. You learn to ask questions. You learn to listen. You have to have a general knowledge of many subject areas and types of people. You have to be continually inquisitive.”

A trait common among successful entrepreneurs is a penchant for promotion, so it should come as no surprise one of Doug’s most successful ventures is a technology company he founded in 2007. Based in St. Louis, Second Street is an audience engagement software platform used by media companies to run contests and interactive content on their websites. The hope is to help traditional media outlets create revenue and find their place in the digital world, and Doug has a noble view of the work his company does.

“As a journalism major and First Amendment proponent, it is important to us that there continues to be a local journalist at every local government meeting to maintain a check and balance,” he said. “In part, Second Street helps local media companies to continue to afford to provide that essential coverage.”

Currently, Second Street works with more than 3,000 newspaper, television and radio stations throughout North America and Europe. The company is hardly Doug’s initial foray into the business world.

“Rarely does an entrepreneur’s first idea pan out,” he said. “It took us several businesses and several failures before we got it right. Starting a business is easy. Having it be successful is hard.”

Despite early failures, Doug seems to have cracked the code to entrepreneurial success. Another prosperous venture of his is Villhard Growth Partners. This firm buys and invests in various enterprises, primarily those specializing in business and health care services. Although Doug ultimately has a hand in helping upstart firms, he sees a value for himself beyond the financial.

“I learn more from the companies I invest in than I contribute,” he said. “As humans we become too insular sometimes. Seeing how other businesses are run is the best education possible if you ask me.”

When it comes to business knowledge, Doug is interested in disseminating as much as he is acquiring. He was the driving force behind Truman’s Bulldog B.I.T.E. pitch competition, and Villhard Growth Partners has been a sponsor in all three years of its existence. He has a few reasons why he chose to give back to the University through a pitch competition. Primarily, he wants students to know creating a business is as viable of an option as going to work for someone else, and a young person’s lack of finances is actually liberating.

“When your net worth is zero, what do you have to lose?” he said. “Go for it. Give your business idea a shot.”

Alumni pride is another reason the Villhards maintain a relationship with Truman.

“Diane and I owe so much to the University,” he said. “It is our great pleasure to give back in any way that we can, and Truman has a great and unique advantage over all the other state schools. Our students are already super smart when they arrive. That you can’t teach. The rest we can.”

In addition to their support for Truman, the Villhards enjoy contributing to charitable endeavors in their hometown of Glen Carbon, Ill., and even founded a Catholic high school that in just its sixth year already enrolls hundreds of students. Or, as Doug calls them, “future entrepreneurs.”

Broad Interests Result in a Variety of Businesses

Paul Garnett

Paul Garnett (’73) is a true businessman, and as the more than 20 companies in his family portfolio show, he will consider any venture that might create a profitable enterprise. Whether the need is for eggs on the plate, rare earth metals for cellphones or a quick pick-me-up from an energy drink, he has a product that provides. With such a diverse portfolio, it is a wonder how one man got involved in so many different things. For Garnett, these businesses are both a fascination and a way to make money.

“Although they’re unrelated businesses, I have a passion about all of them,” he said. “Diversification is a good thing because any business at any time can suffer an economic downfall. These businesses provide non-correlated assets.”

In 1975, Garnett moved to Beatrice, Neb., for a fresh start. The small town in the Cornhusker State allowed him to feel right at home and begin his work in the financial services world. Following a successful career with Edward Jones, he started several businesses, including Garnett Investment Strategies, which he is happy to now co-run with his daughter.

“At age 10 or 11, my daughter decided she wanted to do what I do,” he said. “It has been really neat to run a company with her.”

With opportunities everywhere, Garnett makes the most of a possibility when one presents itself. One such opening began with a call from his buddy working for the Kansas City Royals. About 20 years ago, a young athlete was seeking financial advice, so Garnett headed south to help. Seeing a need for financial advisors for professional athletes, he got to work helping many more stars with their finances.

“I began to wonder how many young professional athletes don’t realize the importance of saving and putting some money away because their careers are so short,” he said. “I made a focused effort to reach out and contact sports agents, and I started to get referrals from all across the country.”

After receiving such positive feedback, Garnett became a Registered Player Financial Advisor for the National Football League Players Association. Because of his success in the program, he was invited to speak at the 2015 Super Bowl pre-game activities. As is often the case, one event tends to lead to another, and while he was in Phoenix for the game he came across his next venture, a sports bar chain called Aroogas. The next thing he knew, Garnett had negotiated franchise rights for Florida and the Atlanta metro area. The up-and-coming chain plans to open 50 new restaurants in the near future in the Sunshine State.

Besides the restaurants, Garnett has a stake in a variety of other businesses, including one that consults on stadium security and another that operates medical helicopters for emergency transport to hospitals. Several other outlets he has a hand in include software engineering, eSports and the nutraceutical industry. Although his businesses are diverse, they all have one thing in common.

“At the end of the day, it is about creating something that was not there before,” he said. “It is about creating jobs and creating value, making a difference on a large scale and a small scale.”

Originally from Madison, Mo., Garnett came to Truman to play basketball and baseball. He credits his athletic background with instilling in him the competitive desire that has led to his prosperity. While he is driven to be successful, he is always looking to share his knowledge with emerging entrepreneurs. This spring, he returned to Truman to be a Bulldog B.I.T.E. judge and was astonished by the ideas the young industrialists pitched.

“I was kind of jealous of the contestants. I had no idea what I was going to do at age 21 and 22,” he said. “The sheer fact that someone at that age is already thinking about these ideas is really neat.”

Garnett never dreamed his path would lead to where he is today. Originally planning to coach basketball, he is on a different trajectory than expected. Even though he was unsure what his future had in store for him, he still fared well, achieving great things as an entrepreneur.