Local Entrepreneurs Honored at R.A.V.E. Event

Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week lead organizer Jamie Sundsbak holding the proclamation from Mayor Brede.

Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week lead organizer Jamie Sundsbak holding the proclamation from Mayor Brede.

The fifth annual Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week officially ended last night with the R.A.V.E. (Recognizing Awarding Valuing Entrepreneurs) event. This evening was hosted by Journey to Growth, Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. (RAEDI), and 504 Corporation.

Xavier Frigola, Director of Entrepreneurship with RAEDI, served as master of ceremonies at the event.  Frigola also runs RAEDI’s Economic Development Fund, which has invested in fifteen local companies- 82% of which are women and/or minority owned- since its inception. Frigola also serves on the executive team for the newly launched Southeast Minnesota Capital Fund and is an organizer for Rochester Global Entrepreneurship Week.

On Monday, Mayor Ardell Brede officially proclaimed it Entrepreneurship Week in Rochester to kick off this week-long celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation.

“What we do matters. It matters a lot,” said Frigola.

This year, Frigola, Collider Coworking Community Manager Jamie Sundsbak, and myself have been conducting an entrepreneurial census to accurately assess the innovation climate in Rochester.

“Back in 2012, we basically did not have technology-based startups,” Frigola explained.

Little money was being raised and few jobs were being created. Now, there are over fifty new companies in Rochester that have raised over $24M of capital in 2017 alone, creating seventy jobs.

“Our goal is to turn southeast Minnesota into an entrepreneurial center,” Frigola said, which will likely be a generational effort.

“This is what we’ve done in five years. Imagine what can happen over the next five or ten years, or even twenty,” he affirmed.

Three southeast Minnesota companies were recognized for their “will, determination, and drive” as the 2017 Outstanding R.A.V.E. Honorees: Licks Pill-Free Solutions, Sonex Health, and Envirolastech.

Licks Pill-Free Solutions, a pet product manufacturing company, is led by entrepreneur Amy Paris. The company creates all-natural pet supplements, such as goo-packets and gummies, for dogs and cats. Licks products have been stocked in PetSmart stores since 2014. Paris manufactures her products in Winona and is continuing to grow and expand the Licks product line.

Sonex Health provides a simple, non-invasive solution for carpal tunnel release surgery, minimizing nerve and blood vessel damage with their SX-One Microknife. The company built their first prototype in 2014 in a garage and had the first Sonex health procedure competed in February of this year. The business aims to spread into several key markets this year. Co-founders Aaron Keenan, Darryl Barnes, and Jay Smith accepted the award on behalf of Sonex Health.

Envirolastech manufactures brick, deck board, and pallet products using thermoplastic proprietary technology, turning trash into durable building materials. The company recently opened a new manufacturing plant in St. Charles to help propel their growth. Founder Paul Schmitt and Operations Manager Geno Wente accepted their award on behalf of Envirolastech.

For the second year in a row, a Lifetime Achievement Award was given to “honor and recognize those individuals that were entrepreneurs probably before we called them that,” explained Heather Holmes, Vice President of Marketing and Project Director at Journey to Growth.

This year the award was given to Mike Tuohy of Tuohy Furniture.

“[Mike] embodies the foresight, courage, and perseverance that’s required to build and sustain a successful manufacturing business in a dynamic industry,” said Joel Young, Chatfield City Clerk.  

In addition to running a business for decades, Tuohy is also a tireless volunteer, mentor, and leader in the Chatfield community.

In 1952, Tuohy began building furniture in his father’s basement; the father and son team purchased their first building in 1954 and began manufacturing church furniture. Tuohy bought the business from his father Joe in 1972, increased his workforce, and began building office furniture as a private label manufacturer. The family business has continued to expand over the years and was passed down to Tuohy’s sons Dan and Michael upon his retirement in 2001.

“I was lucky. As a senior in high school, I sat in graduation and they said, ‘Some of you have to stay home in Chatfield and create jobs here.’ And I thought, that’s a cold day in Chatfield,” Tuohy joked. “I decided well, here I am. Let’s do what we can do.”

He said as an entrepreneur you have an idea, but that idea always changes. Goal seeking is not a straight line, it twists and turns and often hits walls. He tells his sons, however, that entrepreneurship should be fun.

Succession plans are one of the most important aspects of any business, Tuohy explained. He has confidence in his sons and the job they are doing with his creation.

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“If you plan well and you hand your business off to the people that own it, then it stays alive and it stays creating jobs,” he said.

The final award of the night was the R.A.V.E. Warrior award, recognizing individuals who “advocate, promote, and support area entrepreneurs” and bring awareness to the value of building the local economy.

I was extremely honored, shocked, and humbled to be the fourth ever recipient of this award for my work with Rochester Rising. I follow in the footsteps of some intrepid entrepreneurs including Xavier Frigola, Jamie Sundsbak, and Rachelle Oribio, Product Manager of Pilot Programs at Techstars, an accomplishment that I don’t take lightly.

Thank you to my peers who considered me worthy of this award, and especially thanks to Rachelle for creating this touching video for me.