Sunday, January 31, 2010


The working title for this post was 'Ulrich and Eisenhower'.

I was reminded once again this week of the powerful role preparedness plays in small business planning.

If you're going after outside investments and loans, you will need very specific financial projections based on assigned income and expense assumptions. All enterprises need this as they mature.

For most self-funded startups and newly emerging enterprises these kinds of financial projections should not be your first step. The money stuff will be built in of course, but you need to learn about a much wider range of subjects before you can start your financials.

Our Iowa County Entrepreneur's club this week was amazing I thought. Ulrich and Alex Sielaff from the Sielaff Corporation in Mineral Point shared a detailed overview of how their award winning design and manufacturing skills recently earned them Small Manufacturer of the Year from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Ulrich is rich in intellectual property - 25+ patents - but he is even wealthier in business experience. He described a life of enterprise that has merged opportunity and threat successfully for decades. It was a truly wonderful story that I learned a great deal from.

What also struck me later that if you looked back on the history of how their Sielaff Corporation had to innovate and respond to new market conditions it would not look like a straight line.

Now imagine if you were starting a new business and you were asked to create a formal business plan using the map Ulrich and Alex described. Build in all the zigs-and-zags. Chart out all those shifts and turns the Sielaff Corp. had to take to make opportunities out of change - rapid, unanticipated shifts in products, markets and globalization just to name a few.

That kind of business plan map - for a new or emerging small business - would not go over well with people lending money or investing.

However, there is a great lesson in the Sielaff story for startups and newly emerging enterprises. Ulrich and Alex have created extensive social networks (the face-to-face kind) within their industry. They stay at the leading edge of manufacturing by building deep knowledge and respect for all their stakeholders, and really great design into every part of their enterprise.

The Sielaffs succeed and innovate because they have a wide, proactive knowledge of their field and can change wisely and quickly, as necessary.

Looking backwards, that probably didn't produce the kind of business plan map Ulrich would have written at the beginning of his enterprise. However, what an admirable and successful place it took them.

The Eisenhower quote I bring in often goes like this, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything."

To me this means that you must thoroughly research as many possible inputs to your endeavor as possible. You will indeed craft a plan based on what you learn. But as the story goes, it's the journey that's more important than the destination.

The plan you design is typically not the one that happens. What will determine if you grow or fade is your knowledge, resources and love of your field. Your ability to survive and grow will depend on your answer to that challenge. But that same challenge is also your greatest opportunity as Ulrich and Eisenhower and countless legions of small businesses can attest. Building your skill and the ability to adapt rapidly and wisely will be your greatest resource.

The strongest advice I can share with any new startup or emerging enterprise regarding business planning is to fill the toolkit with as much knowledge and information about your entire field, not just the specific slice you will compete in. Learn widely about every detail, every subset of the field you will be working in. Create systems to store incoming data. Build in processes to continuously search out new resources.

Take good notes. They will serve you well as your own business map develops. I promise.

More important, Ulrich and Eisenhower promise.

Happy planning. Enjoy the journey.

The Sielaff Corporation, Mineral Point, WI

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Many people want to start their own enterprise but they never begin.

This is due to a variety of personal reasons of course. One very common reason I've seen over the years is that people just don't give themselves permission to try.

They are put off by all the language of commerce - market research and business plans and financing and on and on. It all sounds like too much to learn.

These planning steps are needed of course, especially as the organizations people plan grow more complex and expensive.

However, most people considering entering this fray can do a self-funded, slow startup with little or no money. You can also start your own enterprise in a way that you can fit into your own time schedule, if you have realistic expectations for growth.

That leaves only the fear of the unknown as the main reason people don't give themselves permission to try.

Give yourself that permission and take the first steps.

The only thing you have to lose - if you do this right - is your nagging feeling that you should have tried to start your own business.

Of course the first steps should be small steps. Some of them will be wrong. As long as they don't cost much money you will be smarter and better ready for the steps that come after that.

Do not give up on your dream of starting your own enterprise. There is lots of help available. There are mentors. There is training. There are free and low cost tools available that will connect you to knowledge, customers and possibilities almost without limit. This is the renaissance age of entrepreneurship, and it's just beginning.

Give yourself permission. You can do it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Raw data

We had a very interesting statewide group meet at our Courthouse in Iowa County this week (the oldest working Courthouse in Wisconsin).

The group is called the Partnership for A Stronger Economy (PSE). It's a gathering of a wide range of private industry leaders, workforce leaders and an economic development leadership team from the Wisconsin Assembly that meets regularly to find truly new ways of doing business in Wisconsin.

I was honored to be asked to make the opening presentation. I got to discuss the Driftless Foods project and the economic development possibilities built into that design.

My wife, who was also my business partner for 20 years, says that I share raw data with everyone, generally as fast as I get it in.

A friend was at meeting in Washington DC recently and was able to hear the President speak about rural economic development. He was telling me about it on my cell phone as I was walking over to give my presentation to the PSE. I understood him to say that the President had heard about our project at the meeting and had cited it as valuable.

So I mentioned it during my PSE presentation, of course. I joked about my new friend Mr. Obama, but I said I had to check on it further. I did the next day and my friend who was at that meeting told me that the President hadn't cited our specific project (Darn! What an endorsement that would have been…). My friend said that he felt the President indicated that projects like the ones we are trying to do in Iowa County would be an example of what the federal government should be supporting.

I told my wife about the lost presidential endorsement and all she could say was, "Could you hold on to the raw data for just a little longer next time?"

We not only got to talk about Driftless Foods, but the PSE group also got to hear a brief overview of our new Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen from Tom Schraeder of The Hodan Center. This also gave Tom and I the chance to talk jointly about the entrepreneurship and economic development possibilities inherent in community access kitchens, particularly models based in centers for adults with disabilities.

I firmly believe the legislative economic development leaders present got a good understanding of the rural economic development landscape we're helping to design in Iowa County and Southwest Wisconsin. I thought our ideas got a very positive response.

Just wish we could have held on to that endorsement

Wisconsin's Partnership for A Stronger Economy (PSE)

PSE members

Hodan Center

Obama to Support Local and Organic Food Download PDF article article by Jim Slama, President of

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Nice Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen article

The magazine Country Today did a nice piece on the new Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen recently.

I know I'm pretty enthusiastic about the entrepreneurship possibilities of local foods, but Editor Jim Massey caught me bubbling it seems. And I thought I was toning it down.

New, sustainable enterprises and regional food systems can be created to profitably serve the rapidly growing market for local foods.

Our new Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, operated by the Hodan Center, will be a piece of that puzzle. The work Mark Olson and friends have created with the Driftless Foods prototype will surely be a vital and important prototype for larger regional food system replications.

These are not the ONLY pieces of the puzzle. A lot of parts go into a system. These are just our contributions to the discussion. We're doing experiments to help build reproducible regional food systems. The plan is to take that knowledge and help reproduce it with local groups working in their own foodsheds to create platforms for local foods entrepreneurship.

Here's a sampling from the Country Today article…

"Rick Terrien bubbles with enthusiasm when he talks about the economic development possibilities a new community kitchen will bring to Iowa County.

Terrien is so enthusiastic about the project that he's moving his economic development office into the building.

'This is such a fabulous story. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it,' he said."

What I think is so compelling about our new Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen, The Farm Market Kitchen in Algoma, and others that will be opening soon, is the opportunity to do so much good in so many directions.

Talked with John Aue from Butter Mountain organic potatoes this morning at the market about this. Between the Innovation Kitchen and Driftless Foods, we can potentially create possibilities for new, young farmers to come on line and food entrepreneurs to have easier, affordable access to the infrastructure, both hard (buildings and equipment) and soft (branding, marketing and pre-built sales channels). Along the way we can help existing farmers experiment in diversifying some of their operations, build in conservation enhancements, and get some cash flow going back towards our farmers and our rural communities.

These experiments won't get everything right. There will be value knowing what doesn't work also. However, I'm convinced the Driftless Foods project will become a replicable prototype for regional food systems. I'm also convinced that the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen will open up new small-scale local foods processing opportunities that can be replicated elsewhere. I believe these opportunities can be profitable for all involved, especially the lucky consumers!

Mark Olson always says, 'There is genius in action'. Yep.

The Country Today article by Editor Jim Massey

Innovation Kitchen link at the new Iowa County EDC web site.

Butter Mountain organic specialty potatoes

The Farm Market Kitchen in Algoma, WI

Photo is of the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen on Dec. 11, 2009. Getting closer!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Welcome to 2010! Entrepreneurship opportunities in regional foods

A friend sent me to a good Business Week article ("Entrepreneurs Keep the Local Food Movement Hot", by John Tozzi, Dec. 18, 2009) discussing a new study called "Community Food Enterprise: Local Success in a Global Marketplace". The study created multiple case studies focusing on the economic and community benefits of local and regional food enterprises.

I like that this study includes a focus on local ownership of food businesses. Developing local ownership of local food infrastructure is at the core of the Driftless project.

Here's what Woody Tasch from Slow Money has to say on the subject: "Advocates for local food say success depends on nurturing an interlocking network of small companies that produce, process, distribute, and sell food." Tasch continues," "We as a society and as an economy need to start optimizing for a large number of small things, not just relying on a small number of large things."

The study was a project of the Wallace Foundation, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and The W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Here is an overview: "The local food movement is now spreading globally, yet is not well understood. To many, local food is exclusively about proximity, with discriminating consumers demanding higher quality food grown, caught, processed, cooked, and sold by people they know and trust. But an equally important part of local food is local ownership of food businesses. This report is about the full range of locally owned businesses involved in food, whether they are small or big, whether they are primary producers or manufacturers or retailers, whether their focus is local or global markets. We call these businesses community food enterprises (CFEs)."

"This report provides a detailed field report on the performance of 24 CFEs, half inside the United States and half international. We show that CFEs represent a huge diversity of legal forms, scales, activities, and designs."

They found 15 strategies for creating success consistent with their community character:

-Hard Work
-Local Delivery
-Vertical Integration
-Shareholder Loyalty
-Better Access
-Better Taste
-Better Story
-Better Stewardship
-Better Service
-Revitalizing Local Economies
-More Community Spirit
-More Social Change

As almost 5 years of posts on this blog will attest, this list above matches sustainable work practices I know to work.

I have not finished the full report, but this looks to be a wonderful effort toward identifying measurable economic and social benefit that arises from the development of Community Food Enterprises (CFEs). The individual case study I've been paying close attention to and highly recommend is their "Zingerman Community of Businesses".

As we work on our CFEs in the Iowa County area in the coming year, - especially the Driftless project - this kind of empirical support will be highly valuable.

There is a strong demand for local and regional foods and not enough infrastructure to help suppliers meet that demand.

Local foods and regional food systems are emerging as one of the hottest of all topics in economic development. What a time to be a local foods entrepreneur, investor, or - best of all - consumer!

Happy New Year 2010!

Community Food Enterprise report

Business Week Article, Entrepreneurs Keep the Local Food Movement Hot.

Slow Money Alliance

Thanks for the Business Week article tip to Neil Lerner, a friend and Director of the Madison area Small Business Development Center.