Real Winners

These long shots overcame the odds and emerged triumphant.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the July 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Starting a business is one of the hardest things a person can do, but there are times in life when a person must overcome even greater obstacles, such as serious life-or-death issues that dwarf any other concerns. We talked with two entrepreneurs who overcame such obstacles--and started businesses to boot.

Don Katz, 29, founder of the Symposium Wine Bar in Irvine, California, is an entrepreneurial success using any definition of the word. With an extensive educational and experiential background in restaurant management, Katz was moving steadily forward in his career--until 2001, when he was struck with spinal meningitis. After awakening from a coma, he was blind, and doctors were unsure if he'd ever walk again. Six months later, he left the hospital, and with continued physical therapy, Katz is back on his feet.

In 2003, while brainstorming ideas of what to do next, Katz thought of blind taste tests for wine and figured he could make a go of a wine-themed business. The business he founded in November 2004, which offers tastings and seminars and also sells wine, gourmet chocolates, cheeses and more, specifically appeals to new wine connoisseurs who want to taste wine in a non-intimidating atmosphere. And thanks to his heightened senses of taste and smell, he's able to describe the wine in interesting and accessible ways--like "honey almond notes with a creamy finish." Says Katz, who expects 2005 sales to hit $400,000, "You can make a lot of plans, and things can change overnight--it's just one day at a time."

Someone who likely agrees with that statement is Gary Doan, founder of Intradyn, an Eagan, Minnesota, software firm specializing in data protection and archiving for small to midsize businesses. A serial entrepreneur in the technology industry, Doan, 53, was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1993. In 1998, doctors told him the disease would eventually cause liver failure. "I took a few years off to plan my next venture and to wait to get a transplant," he says. When he got one in 2001, it signaled a new beginning for Doan: "I walked out eight days later and have been healthy ever since."

Armed with his new lease on life, Doan launched Intradyn that same year, hoping to fill a need he saw in the market. And that vision paid off, as he projects 2005 sales in the seven figures. "I think you have to stay focused and [stay] in a positive light," says Doan. "Even though the odds were against me, I didn't pay attention to them. I never for one minute thought I couldn't do it."

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