IdeaMensch collects Louisville success stories from Heine Bros., Comfy Cow, Yoga on Baxter and Learning House
People use the word “mensch” in Yiddish when they’re talking about “good people.”
IdeaMensch is a community of entrepreneurs who share best practices with startup-minded people. Mario Schulzke, a German-born entrepreneur, wanted to start his own business in the United States, but was stalled by the delay of his Green Card.
While he was waiting, he decided to research and to learn by interviewing other successful business leaders. He published these interviews online and captured some on video.
Eventually the Green Card came through.
But this pursuit of business advice didn’t end for Schulzke, and the venture eventually became IdeaMensch, a website and community highlighting best practices and business advice from successful startups.
Yesterday, Schulzke brought IdeaMensch to Louisville as part of the four-month, 48-state IdeaMensch Road Trip: “People with ideas live everywhere.”
The goal of the road trip is to ignite people with big ideas all across the country and to inspire them to bring their ideas to life. The Louisville event, held at Workshop in Butchertown Pointe, was the 24th event in the 23rd state.
Schulzke and his entourage have been on the road since July 2, and their stop in Louisville included adding Louisville entrepreneur and designer Collin Ferry to the team. He will travel with IdeaMensch Road Trip until its conclusion in Las Vegas on October 24.
The event at the Workshop featured four guest speakers:
- Mike Mays, co-founder of Heine Brothers’ Coffee, which opened Louisville’s first coffee bar in 1994, spoke about how Hurricane Ike helped save the business. Just as the economy began to tank, Louisville was hit by the 2008 freak storm. Many Louisville residents were left without power for up to two weeks, but all Heine Brothers locations retained electricity. Mays describes buying out Target’s power strips and delivering them to stores where people congregated post-storm to share information, get a cup of coffee, and most importantly, charge their electronic devices. Mays cites “treating people and the planet with dignity” as his driving business principal. All Heine Brothers stores practiced recycling before it was easy or common. His company provides access to health and dental benefits, a 401K program, and paid vacations to any staff member working more than 25 hours a week. And on a monthly basis, Heine Brothers gives back to the community by donating product to local charitable causes and by making monthly donations to several local non-profits including Dare to Care and the Center for Women and Families. Mays says that he “stopped apologizing for growth” a long time ago and that “coasting is really dangerous.” He and his partner hope to have 20 Heine Brothers locations in this market– including Southern Indiana– by 2015.
- Tim Koons-McGee of The Comfy Cow cites Mays as a mentor and Heine Brothers as a business model to emulate. He attended the event with his husband and business partner Roy and said that their decision to create a startup was a decision based on the desire to do something “together.” The partners only decided on an ice cream shop after attending the National Convention of Ice Cream Retailers and discovering that the community offered an exceptional mentoring program. Koons-McGee says that entrepreneurs should be “constantly reaching out for help and advice. None of us are reinventing the wheel.”
Kristi Fulkerson has a very different start-up story for her business Yoga on Baxter. Unlike Comfy Cow or Heine Brothers, Fulkerson didn’t start with backers or investors. She started with $3,000 “in a sock drawer” just a short while after declaring bankruptcy. In the early days of Yoga on Baxter, Fulkerson knew that she just needed to get four students in the door each day to pay her rent in her basement studio, so she focused on delivering outstanding customer service to keep students coming back. In the early years, Fulkerson reinvested every penny back into the business, networked, donated to local fundraisers, and focused on branding the business. Her strategies paid off. “It’s not a big life,” says Fulkerson, “but it’s a nice life.” Yoga on Baxter is now housed in her “dream building” on Eastern Parkway, which she’s currently renting but in the process of buying. She has 10-15 employees and independent contractors who share her passion and more than 2,000 clients walking in the door each month. Last year, she even worked out Lady Gaga when the pop star was passing through town. “I made her cry,” Fulkerson admits.
The final speaker, and one of the event’s sponsors, was Steve Huey, a serial entrepreneur who recently left The Learning House to found Capture Higher Ed. Capture Higher Ed. is a business that identifies prospective students and works with them through the college application process and delivers them to client-institutions, decision-ready. This cuts down on the time institutions have to spend on prospective student development, leaving them free to cultivate relationships with students more appropriately matched to their culture. Huey stressed creativity and risk-taking, and especially how we need to foster those skills in young people and students. “After all,” he said, “we don’t need factory workers any more.” As an employer, he charges that his employees “ask forgiveness, not permission,” and used an example of his young daughter’s artwork as proof that we need to be fostering the “coloring outside the lines” ethic in students and workers.
Mario Schulzke leaves Louisville with good impressions of the city. He said it was the kind of city that should be attracting young professional people in their 30’s who want a good place to raise a family. “An interesting and well-developed retail environment [like Louisville’s] is increasingly rare,” says Schulzke.
That three of the four speakers for the evening were from the retail sphere surprised and impressed him.
The next stop on the IdeaMensch Road Trip is Nashville.
About Melissa Chipman: Melissa Chipman is Louisville-based jouralist and editor who recently made a career change after 13 years of teaching at elite private schools in Louisville and New Orleans. Chipman has a BA in English from Columbia College of Columbia University in New York City and an MA in English from the University of New Orleans.