Mankato: Enterprise Minnesota
Enterprise Minnesota (formerly Minnesota Technology) opened a Mankato office in February 2008 staffed by 44-year-old Greg Thomas, a lifelong Mankato resident, and Mankato West and South Central College graduate. Prior to Enterprise Minnesota, Thomas served as director of sales for North Mankato-based James Tower, and earlier spent nine years in the wireless industry helping launch outstate services, most of it with Sprint.
“When I started (with Enterprise Minnesota) earlier this year,” said Thomas in a Connect Business Magazine telephone interview, “was the first time the company ever had a dedicated business development person in Greater Mankato. Over the years, we’ve helped lots of companies in this area, but there has never been someone stationed here.”
In part, Thomas was drawn to Enterprise Minnesota because, through it, he felt he could have a direct impact on the health of the business community in southern Minnesota.
“In June 2006, we introduced a complete re-brand and name change, when our name became Enterprise Minnesota,” said Thomas. “Our focus now is on helping small- and medium-sized manufacturing companies through our various consulting services. We can help with operational business excellence (lean manufacturing), growth services (new product development, market analysis, Internet marketing), and applied technologies (IT services, and helping companies select software), the latter being our legacy from when we began in 1991.”
Since 2004, the company hasn’t received any direct funding from state government. It has been a stand-alone, nonprofit, for-fee consulting service. However, Enterprise Minnesota clients can apply for certain state and federal funding to slice up to 50 percent off the company’s already below-market consultant rates.
He said, “We’re very result focused now. In our service agreements, if a company isn’t satisfied with the result, we pledge to either do it over or give the customer’s money back. The vast majority of what we do is roll-up-your-sleeves, applied work. It’s not just classroom instruction. We help you apply knowledge learned to solve real-life business situations.”
Sleepy Eye: Uniquely Yours
Diane Mullins came to Sleepy Eye looking for love, and the town hasn’t disappointed her.
In early 2005, New York native Mullins was living in Sarasota, Florida, when a girlfriend told her about an Internet dating site featuring single parents. Mullins was a single parent of three children. In time, she met on that website a man from Sleepy Eye named Glenn, and the two began developing a relationship over the telephone three or four hours a night.
“It was so much better to get to know Glenn over the telephone,” said 48-year-old Mullins in a telephone interview. “There were no distractions.”
On April 7, 2005, Mullins took the step of visiting Glenn in rural Sleepy Eye—even though she had never seen “a cow or soybean plant” close-up in her life. Immediately upon meeting face-to-face, the two instinctively knew the relationship would work.
Then she thought of starting her own business. Mullins had been a registered nurse, a homemaker, and over the last seven years, the national sales manager and a consultant for a company making water safety devices for children.
“I thought of starting many different kinds of businesses the last three years, but none of them would work in Sleepy Eye,” she said. “Then I was going to open an upscale gift shop and thought the town would like it.”
When she went to a landlord to rent space, the landlord said the town needed a floral shop. Mullins went to the chamber of commerce for information, and the chamber director said the same thing. Finally, she went to the city manager to discuss various issues about opening a gift shop, and he said the same.
“But I didn’t know anything about flowers,” she said. Picking up on the need, she went to a Minneapolis school earlier this year to learn. On April 7, 2008—the third anniversary of her visiting Sleepy Eye—she opened Uniquely Yours at 232 Main Street East. She said, “I sell fresh flowers, and arrangements for weddings, funerals, and birthdays, and I have Tele-Flora. I also have the gifts I initially wanted to sell, and gourmet chocolate truffles.” She also has complimentary tea and coffee for shoppers, and an antique-decorated store.
Sleepy Eye: Studio 34 Fitness
Most people in Sleepy Eye know of 47-year-old Brent Mielke as “The Zoo Man.” Over the last 20 years, he has performed live in front of more than five million people in the U.S. and Canada, been on numerous television shows, and in one year alone performed 2,300 times.
He used to live in Adrian (Minn.) until a tragic fire two years ago wiped out his full-blown zoo there. So Mielke moved back home to Sleepy Eye and with him brought along his side business, Studio 34 Fitness, which he opened at 144 West Main Street about July 1, 2007.
“As The Zoo Man, I travel around the nation doing wild exotic animal shows,” said Mielke in a Connect Business Magazine telephone interview. “In 47 states so far, I perform for professional sports franchises, libraries, schools, county fairs, town festivals, television programs—whoever wants me.”
The Southwest Missouri State graduate has two Masters degrees; one in wellness/exercise science and the other in herpetology (reptiles)/zoology. He said Studio 34 Fitness makes good use of one Master’s degree, and The Zoo Man the other. When his The Zoo Man business slows in the winter, he is able to spend more time at Studio 34 Fitness.
As for Studio 34 Fitness, Mielke is a competitive bodybuilder and powerlifter. In fact, his business, and Sleepy Eye, will be hosting the Independent Bodybuilding Association’s (IBA) “Mr. U.S.A. Bodybuilding Championships” on August 16. The IBA is one of four national bodybuilding organizations.
“Ours is a natural contest—no one on steroids,” he said. “I’m all natural. The guys I hang around with—we work hard, maintain our lifestyle year around, and we don’t take any shortcuts with steroids.”
He said Studio 34 Fitness offers group exercise classes, personal training, and has “tons” of different exercise equipment. Mielke said he is an entertainer at heart, and tries making exercise fun to help his customers take their mind off the pain and agony associated with becoming fit.
Mielke also wanted to say that he speaks at churches to young people about creation, and works to “do all to the glory of God,” he said.