For some, it’s their family. For others, it’s saving the world. When it comes down to it, every entrepreneur has a driving inspiration.
Entrepreneurship may be oh-so-trendy right now, but owning your own business is hard work with long hours, unpredictable pay, countless naysayers, and almost always, fumbles along the way. So why do entrepreneurs do it? What drives them?
As part of National Small Business Week, one small-business owner from each U.S. state (and D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam) is being honored on Capitol Hill this week. Nominees submitted applications the final state winner was chosen by a regional director with the Small Business Administration.
Entrepreneur.com checked in with the state small business honorees and asked them: “Where do you find inspiration for your business?”
Here’s a look at some of our favorite answers. Responses have been gently edited for clarity and grammatical correctness.
1. Dr. Shieh’s Clinic & Associates
Entrepreneur: Thomas Shieh, MD, FACOG
Headquarters: Tamuning, Guam
My grandmother, who died of cancer, inspired me to go into the field of medicine and before she died, she said to make a positive difference in whatever field that I choose to practice.
2. Blake’s All Natural Foods
Entrepreneur: Chris Licata
Headquarters: Concord, N.H.
That is an easy question to answer: my family. Every aspect of Blake’s – our brand promise, strategic direction, daily decision and the meals that ultimately make it to the shelves – these are all inspired by family. We want to be the trusted choice by busy families, college students, retirees, etc that understand the benefits of natural and organic food but simply don’t have the time to prepare their favorite meals from scratch. That pretty much describes our family perfectly so every aspect of our business is a direct reflection on not only our corporate values but our family values too.
3. Janska, LLC
Entrepreneur: Jan Erickson, Owner, Founder & President; Jon Thomas, Co-Founder & Vice President
Headquarters: Colorado Springs, Colo.
Our customers inspire us. Just today we received an email from a wholesale customer who related that while in New York City a woman joined her on an elevator wearing a Janska coat. When our wholesale customer complimented her on it, the woman said that it was her favorite coat and people have stopped her many times on the streets of New York to ask her where she purchased it. This is just one of dozens of examples of how our customers inspire us to do what we do every day. We are passionate about creating apparel that combines comfort with style and to manufacture flawless garments right here in the USA.
4. APSCO, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Larry Mocha
Headquarters: Tulsa, Okla.
I try very hard to listen to successful people and read what they read. For example, Good to Great was recommended to me and was and is a source of inspiration for me.
5. Fusion Hospitality
Entrepreneur: Bhupender "Bruce" Patel
Headquarters: Tupelo, Miss.
I grew up in the hospitality industry. The inspiration for Fusion Hospitality came from the desire to meaningfully build on a family business.
6. Express Kitchens
Entrepreneur: Max Kothari
Headquarters: Hartford, Conn.
I was running a small hardware store in the north end of Hartford doing two million dollars in annual revenue in a tough inner city neighborhood. Professor Michael Porter from Harvard wrote a paper on inner city revivals. They picked two people, one from North Carolina and me, to go to Harvard in their Owner President Management program. We were with CEOs that did over 100 million dollars in business. The basic concept was to teach people how to fish rather than give them fish as a mechanism of inner city job growth. I wrote the Express Kitchen business plan in 2002. Today, our revenue for Express Kitchen is expected to reach $18 million and the hardware store my wife runs is expected to reach revenue over $6 million. Between the two stores, we have over 100 employees and make $24 million in annual revenue. It’s the same location, same inner-city neighborhood, same work force, but the difference is an educated and inspired leadership.
7. PARS Environmental, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Kiran K. Gill, President and CEO
Headquarters: Robbinsville, N. J.
My inspiration for my business continues through being able to solve challenging environmental issues for our clients, and playing a positive role in the stewardship of our environment. I am also inspired by the significant opportunities for growth and new technologies in the environmental field.
8. High Plains Architects
Entrepreneurs: Randy and Janna Hafer
Headquarters: Billings, Mont.
Our “place” – Montana. And our people.
9. Bleed Blue Tattoo and Piercing
Entrepreneur: Thomas Ray Conrett, a.k.a. Tommy Ray
Headquarters: Lexington, Ky.
Within my clients and their stories.
10. Green Technologies
Entrepreneurs: Dr. Amir A. Varshovi and Marla K. Buchanan, JD
Headquarters: Gainesville, Fla.
My inspiration comes from my conviction that sustainable processes and products are critical for the future of our world and our environment.
11. BrightFields, Inc.
Entrepreneurs: Mark A. Lannan and Marian R. Young
Headquarters: Wilmington, Del.
Our employees and our customers – in that order.
12. Best Bath Systems Inc.
Entrepreneur: Gary Multanen
Headquarters: Caldwell, Idaho
We get inspiration from the end users of our Best Bath Systems accessible bathing units. Because we are the manufacturer, we are in the unique position to listen to customers and make changes or develop new products based on their feedback.
13. Spectrum Aeromed
Entrepreneur: Dean Atchison
Headquarters: Fargo, N.D.
We have a simple mission at Spectrum Aeromed, to save lives. We all agree it’s a critically important undertaking and we are motivated daily to design and build great air medical equipment for our customers around the globe as they work to save lives.
14. EverLast Lighting, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Michael Olen Nevins
Headquarters: Jackson, Mich.
My business is based on lighting and human factors, and how we can encourage healthier living. The company was founded in 1997, based off of a personal need. The company originated on the principle that people who spent the majority of their day indoors needed healthy, full spectrum light in order to lead a productive and happy life. Slowly the business transitioned from not only residential products, but also energy-efficient lighting solutions for commercial and industrial applications by launching the EverLast brand and product line a few years later.
15. Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Co-Owners Mike Gueringer and Paul Reesnes
Headquarters: Sherwood/North Little Rock, Ark.
Most of our management team has been with CAC for over 15 years. The short answer is “passion.” We are passionate about providing the best customer experience through unmatched quality and service. Passion for the niche market we serve drives the inspiration to be the best.
16. Tomato Palms LLC
Entrepreneur: Nancy P. Ogburn
Headquarters: Irmo, S.C.
My inspiration comes from the fact that my company’s mission is to keep materials out of the landfill. I tell people we are saving the earth one bottle at a time. It feels great!! We also donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of aluminum cans to local homeless shelters each year. That is a win/win for us.
17. Metaphrasis Language & Cultural Solutions, LLC.
Entrepreneur: Elizabeth Colón
Headquarters: Chicago, Ill.
My inspiration came from seeing individuals who were not proficient in English struggle with communicating when they were trying to access services in the healthcare, education or social service agencies. When you think about the breakdown in communication due to language barriers, you realize that these individuals feel powerless so I felt that it was my responsibility as the daughter of parents who also did not speak English to create a business where we can solve this disparity.
18. TEVET, LLC
Entrepreneur: Tracy D. Solomon
Headquarters: Mosheim, Tenn.
When I am in front of a customer and they tell me why they love to do business with TEVET, why they prefer TEVET over the competition, and that my employees are going above and beyond to take care of them: This is where I find my inspiration. Also I find inspiration from my team. My team is highly involved and has brought great ideas to the table.
19. PracticeLink.com and MountainPlex Properties: The Guest House on Courthouse Square, Radio AM 1380, The Market Courthouse Square, The Ritz Theatre, Otter & Oak Outfitter
Entrepreneur: Ken Allman
Headquarters: Hinton, W. Va.
I find inspiration when our teams identify a need and engage the challenge of providing a solution. It’s also inspiring when our communities and industries find value in our efforts—and we’re grateful for the opportunity to serve.
20. Strider Sports International, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Ryan McFarland
Headquarters: Rapid City, S.D.
Our business is building bikes that help kids learn to ride. To stay inspired and motivated, I like to spend time riding (refueling myself) and spend time interacting with end users, the kids on our bikes (understanding their true need).
21. Virtual Enterprise Architects, LLC
Entrepreneur: LaKeshia Grant
Headquarters: Washington, DC
I'm inspired by my employees. I have the most dynamic, diverse and entertaining employees who keep me motivated. We are a family and as the matriarch of the family, I must ensure that their needs are met. This allows me to always seek opportunities to keep them employed and allow others to join us. Without a culture of teamwork and family, we would not be as successful as we are.
22. Golden Cannoli Shells Co. Inc.
Entrepreneur: Valerie Bono, Maria Elena Bono Malloy, Eric Bresciani, Edwin Bresciani
Headquarters: Chelsea, Mass.
As a second-generation business owner, inspiration is just walking in the door and seeing what our fathers created with pride, passion and persistence. Now it's up to use to continue the core values and continue to grow.
23. Triangle Rock Club
Entrepreneurs: Joel Graybeal and Andrew Kratz, managing partners
Headquarters: Morrisville, N.C.
Our mission statement is “to transform and enhance people’s lives by enthusiastically sharing our passion for climbing.” It’s incredibly inspirational to hear how we’re doing that. One of our customers just posted their engagement picture on our Facebook page. This couple’s first date was at our original location – he proposed at our newest location. A mom of one of our youth climbing team participants told me “climbing has changed her son’s life.” Seeing people’s lives changed as a result of their experience with our company is truly incredible – it doesn’t get any better than that!
24. TailsSpin Pet Food & Accessories
Entrepreneurs: Co-owners Jusak Yang Bernhard and Jeffrey A. Manley
Headquarters: Savannah, Pooler and Macon, Ga.
Our three rescued dogs, Kai, Riley, and Cosmo. They give us their unconditional love. They are the reasons why we started our pet store. They are always grateful to be with us…to see us. This is what they teach us. Without sounding corny, we believe our sense of being grateful is the main reason of our success.
25. Switchback Brewing Company
Entrepreneurs: Bill Cherry and Jeff Neiblum
Headquarters: Burlington, Vt.
In a glass of beer! [Editors' note: In response to question -- where do you find inspiration]
Entrepreneur: Cynthia M. Reed
Headquarters: Mesa, Ariz.
Providing secure jobs for my employees.
27. House of Bread Anchorage
Entrepreneurs: Ginna and John Baldiviez
Headquarters: Anchorage, Alaska
Meeting new customers each and every day inspires us to keep improving the quality of our products and service.
28. Proventix Systems, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Harvey Nix
Headquarters: Birmingham, Ala.
Hospital infections do not discriminate. They harm young and old alike, leaving scars, causing pain and sometimes even death. The more infections we prevent, the better off we all are. Proventix developed the nGage quality monitoring system to improve patient safety and quality of care in hospitals. The system monitors hand hygiene 24/7 to change behaviors, encourage compliance and ultimately, reduce the human and economic costs associated with these infections.
29. Coffee By Design
Entrepreneurs: Co-founders Mary Allen Lindemann and Alan Spear
Headquarters: Portland, Maine
At Coffee By Design, we believe that a great cup of coffee can change the world. We find inspiration for our business both locally as well as worldwide. Being a coffee roaster as well as retailer, we have the opportunity to visit and see firsthand the farmers from whom we buy our coffee beans. These trips remind us that the way in which we do business makes a difference. Since coffee is mostly grown in Third World countries, we see how by paying a sustainable price for an extraordinary product helps to create and support sustainable economies. We believe that getting to know our coffee partners and their families, we form a long term relationship which benefits us all.
On a local level, having opened our business in Portland, Maine in 1994 when the vacancy rate was 40 percent in our downtown, we see how our efforts and those of so many others have made a difference in raising awareness that locally owned small business is vital to our community. We are inspired every day by the small businesses around us that when told "no, you can't do that", say "why not?" and create amazing businesses which make Portland, Maine unique.
30. Lightwell, formerly known as Oxford Consulting Group, Inc.
Entrepreneur: Michelle Kerr
Headquarters: Columbus, Ohio
Every time I walk the through a customer factory or customer service and see our solutions embedded into their organizations, I am so inspired. Getting the opportunity to partner with such a broad and diverse variety of companies is so rewarding. It makes me want to do be more creative, more innovative, the trusted advisor our customers have come to rely on us to be!