Photo: Art Sidner
Le Sueur: KOSA, Inc.
Sandra and Jorge Brenes have turned love into a full-time business. Seven years ago, the couple met in Costa Rica, where Brenes was on a missions trip and Jorge was a native schoolteacher. They eventually married, moved to Brenes’ home in Plymouth, Minnesota, and soon began teaching Spanish.
“Our first class was in my parents’ living room in 2003,” said 27-year-old Sandra Brenes in a Connect Business Magazine telephone interview. “Then we did another session of classes and people really seemed to enjoy it.”
The couple slowly began perfecting their workbooks and methods, and on a part-time basis started offering more Spanish classes in 2005, when they moved to Le Sueur. Soon, they would have “company presidents, city workers, teachers, travelers, children—really anybody and everybody as customers,” said Brenes.
In December 2008, they began full-time, believing the potential for success existed because “in the smaller communities of southern Minnesota there were many Hispanics and a lot of people who didn’t know how to communicate with them,” she said.
Jorge’s experience as a cultural liaison in the Shakopee school district helped build relationships with other districts. They are now the community education Spanish language teachers for about a dozen districts and Jorge has become the community education soccer instructor for the Belle Plaine and Jordan school districts. They offer translating, interpreting, and cultural assistance to Le Sueur County probation officers.
For businesses, they have been translators, interpreters, and/or cultural liaisons. She said a business that has an onsite cultural liaison, for example, could significantly increase Hispanic worker trust, job retention, and productivity.
Website: kosainc.com Telephone: 952-356-7660.
Photo: Art Sidner
Mankato: Office Space Design
It was 2000: Dain Fisher had just graduated from Mankato West and was taking marketing at Rasmussen College in Mankato. His instructor, Gabe Stenzel, assigned a project of crafting a marketing plan for a business that could succeed in Mankato.
“I found there wasn’t really anyone competing here in office furniture and design, so I developed my own business plan,” said 28-year-old Fisher in a telephone interview.
The idea had come from Fisher’s knowledge of a supply of used office furniture his father, developer Curt Fisher, had removed from a building purchased a year earlier. Dain sharpened his idea with Stenzel, and Curt agreed to give his son the $1,000 worth of furniture to get started.
“The furniture was dirty and some had smoke damage,” he said. “So I found a company in Burnsville that remanufactured modular furniture. I started doing sales calls. Fisher Group sent me some leads and I established a small client base.”
He kept the business part-time until late 2008, when his wife, a recent MSU interior design graduate, joined him. “And instantly, having Heather here took our business to a new level,” he said. “Because of her, we were able to start working with architects—locally and here in the Twin Cities. And we began working with new furniture companies, too.” In just a year, among other projects, they have designed and furnished the interior of Ridley headquarters in Mankato, Ameriprise Financial (Graif Building), an Eagle Lake public building, and the Hilton Garden Inn.
In interior design, Fisher said, “Of first and foremost importance is space management. We learn how many people will be in a particular space and how to make it comfortable and productive. A well-designed space is proven to increase the productivity of a business.”
Website: osdmankato.com Telephone: 507-388-4405.
Photo: Art Sidner
St. Peter: Pheasant’s Ridge Memory Care Center
After graduating from Nicollet High School in 1976, Tim Wenner worked summer jobs for several homebuilders while attending college for construction management at what is now South Central College.
“My wife and I then started our own construction business in 1984,” said Wenner in a face-to-face interview. “A subcontractor friend, Harold Drummer, had asked me to build a split-foyer home for him. So I had a new house to do upon starting my business. That was huge.”
In 1999, his brother became a 20 percent partner. Eventually, the two purchased 3.5 acres in St. Peter with the intent of building rental units. “But after doing feasibility studies, we realized there was a need for assisted living for seniors in St. Peter,” he said. “From there, we opened a building with 16 assisted-living units three years ago. Finally, in early 2009, we opened a 13-person memory care unit.”
At first, he hired a management company, but terminated their agreement early on because they weren’t holding up their end, he said. His cousin, Pam Klingfist, an assisted-living administrator near Minneapolis, has helped him along the way.
What makes Pheasants Ridge different, he suggested, is the personal touch. For one, he personally visits about three times a week and knows each resident by name. “It has so many interesting seniors, and we’re able to help them maintain a certain standard of living,” he said. “They all tell good stories—Bob Wettergren always has one. It’s family-oriented. When there’s a birthday party or anniversary, my wife and I generally attend. It’s like having a second family.”
Wenner mentioned one employee, Mary Beth Paulsen, a personal care attendant, who has been with them since day one. “She puts her heart and soul into everything she does.”
Website: pheasantsridge.com Telephone: 507-931-0966.