Three young entrepreneurs to watch in the U.P.
Being young and finding a good job can be hard enough. Starting a business while in your twenties can be even harder.
Three Upper Peninsula entrepreneurs are out to show the world that they can and will succeed.
The first is Jessica Tompkins.
Whoever said hunting is a man’s world never met her. Tompkins, a Michigan Tech senior, grew up in this world.
“I’ve been hunting since I was in a car seat,” says Tompkins, who took to a bow around the age that most are learning to ride a bike.
Her after school activities included doing homework in the back of a truck while surveying the landscape in hopes of finding their next target.
Once Tompkins reached college, she stumbled across a gap in the hunting world--bow hunting clothing for women.
This 2010 dorm-room revelation led Tompkins on a mission to create a business by a woman for women.
Her first step was to speak with Bob Mark, a business professor who suggested she submit her idea to the MTU Elevator Pitch Competition.
It was a good thing she entered, because Two Bows LLC
swept the competition and got first place.
To begin the networking process and get the ball rolling, Tompkins joined Tech’s entrepreneurship support center. During this time she incorporated her business plan, sketches and her prize money from the competition to get sample products made. She later joined the Keweenaw Economic Development Alliance. Soon, her idea was starting to look a lot like a real company.
She credits her school, community and support groups with helping her cultivate her idea and produce results.
“Michigan Tech is surrounded by faculty, staff, students and a community that is very encouraging, open, honest, and supportive when it comes to someone wanting to start their own business,” says Tompkins.
Through her networking efforts, Tompkins met a Michigan-based clothing producer, where a majority of the items sold by Two Bows will be made.
Geared up and ready to start selling for this year’s hunting season, Tompkins is ready to take on the challenges ahead.
“We are armed with designs, manufacturers, a website, awaiting customers and a solid foundation of supporters and advisers,“ she says.
Houghton is not the only town to produce an up-and-coming young entrepreneur. Kingsford has a new young business professional who works in the medical field.
At a young age, Dr. Brandon Maki knew he wanted to become a chiropractor. He was only in fifth grade when this dream began--and it was all because of allergies.
Maki’s allergies bogged him down. Medications weren’t helping. His father invited him to come to his chiropractor and after getting some adjustments from the doctor, his allergy problem seemed to dissipate.
“At the time I didn't understand how it worked, nor did I care, but I enjoyed being able to breathe and play outside without constantly sneezing,” Maki says.
Maki received his bachelor’s degree from Ferris State University in Applied Biology, then attended chiropractic school at Palmer College of Chiropractic in Iowa.
An independent person, he always wanted to go into his own practice. Knowing he had the choice of starting out working for someone else or jumping in on his own right away, he chose the latter.
“I felt that it was better to face the struggles while I was young and just getting on my feet rather than after I had a family,” he says.
Maki opened Maki Chiropractic
in Kingsford not long after graduating in spring 2011; he was barely 25 at the time.
Getting new patients and building his reputation in the community was harder than he expected, says Maki. He found that word of mouth and the Gonstead Method, which deals with using precise spine adjustments to help patients feel relief, helped him get new patients in the door.
Maki Chiropractic consists of just two people: Dr. Maki and his mother, Melanie, who is his office manager. Together they help an average of 15 patients per day.
While being young can be a good thing in some professions, sometimes running a chiropractic office at such a young age can be difficult.
“I think it (age) can be a burden at times,” he said. “Maybe it comes with the territory of being in an alternative field along with my young age, but there are definitely times that people seem to doubt me. I think the biggest thing is to be confident… If you are good at what you do, age shouldn't be an issue.”
He hopes to build his client base through primary physician referrals and is also considering adding fitness and injury consultation for business employee health programs. However, he doesn’t want to increase his business to the point that quality suffers.
“It's important to remember that growth shouldn't be reached at the sacrifice of patient care so I want to ensure that whatever things I add at the office they are to better serve the patient,” Maki says.
He is glad that he is on the path he has set forth for himself and his family.
“Knowing that at the end of the day, the effort that I put in is going to reflect directly on what I take out; I think seeing that correlation between hard work and success is what I like the best," he says.
Another city cultivating a young successful professional is Marquette.
If you live in Marquette you have probably visited a website, seen an ad, or liked a Facebook page that Ben Johnson's business had something to do with creating, sustaining or expanding.
At age 29, Johnson is the owner of Elegant Seagulls Creative Agency
which works with big names like Sortable, V.I.O. and MGH.
He explained how the name Elegant Seagulls came about.
“I was at the beach and some seagulls flew over and someone said how beautiful and elegant the seagulls were and the name stuck…people don’t always get it, but they usually remember it," he says.
He didn’t originally plan to start his own business; it just kind of happened.
While in his mid-twenties and living in Marquette, he worked freelance jobs while searching for his dream job. The problem was, he didn’t want to leave Marquette, yet wasn’t finding what he wanted locally.
So he started working for himself, using his spare bedroom as an office.
Johnson began with branding, print and web design services and it grew from there.
Now that Elegant Seagulls has developed, Johnson puts approximately 60 hours in a week and has his own office with three full-timers, an intern and two part-timers, most of whom also are in their twenties--not much of an age difference from Johnson.
“It takes balance, no matter what age you are, in order to create a fun and productive working environment. We’re a close group that just jives really well,” he says.
“We joke around a lot,“ he says. “You need to keep things fun or the creativity dies.”
At Elegant Seagulls, teamwork is one of the top aspects that makes the business work.
“Getting ideas from different perspectives always strengthens our projects,” Johnson says.
Elegant Seagulls has grown to be a successful and important business in the Marquette community. About half of their 100 current clients are local, yet their client base stretches past the border of the U.P. and throughout the country and the world.
“My favorite part about running Elegant Seagulls is seeing it grow. A lot of time goes into running a business and having it be successful is a great feeling,” Johnson says.
The company wants to expand over the next year by hiring one or two more full-time employees and, with increasing mobile phone and tablet users, they are delving into the new area of mobile design and development.
For Johnson, the future is bright; and knowing this makes him excited about what is to come for his business.
“In 10 years from now I would like to see our team double or triple in size and be working with large national brands and business,” he says. “I feel like we are just scratching the surface of what Elegant Seagulls can be.”
Julia Woehrer is a freelance writer, photographer and social media coordinator. She attended the School of Art and Design at Northern Michigan University where she concentrated in photography and minored in journalism. She volunteers at a local no-kill cat shelter and enjoys spending time with her cats, Bella and Macy.