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Member News: C.C. Eship / NACCE Journal Winter/Spring 2010

Want a Solution to Our Economic Woes? Encourage an Entrepreneur

Tuesday, January 19, 2010   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Matthew Montoya
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By Ronald E. Thomas, Ph.D.
President

Dakota County Technical College, Rosemount, MN

In the midstof a bleak economic outlook, facile tips and theories regarding how to survive the downturn and make things better aren’t enough. Entrepreneurs need examples of successful ideas turned into action to gain the confidence necessary in the current business climate.

A great example of this demand for action comes from Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s book Start-up Nation, an insightful and thought-provoking look at the entrepreneurial model found in Israeli culture.

In the first chapter, the authors describe Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi’s participation at the Forum for Young Leaders, where he was challenged to find a way to make the world a "better place” by 2030. His idea was to make one country completely oil-independent, thereby inspiring a domino effect of oil-independent nations across the globe.

Words into Action

When current Israeli president Shimon Peres heard Agassi’s idea, he called Agassi to offer support and to ask an important question that perhaps we all need to ask when we consider ideas and suggestions: "Nice speech, but what are you going to do?”

After being encouraged by Peres to pursue his idea, Agassi took action, becoming founder and CEO of Better Place in January 2008. The company quickly became the world’s leading electric vehicle service provider and through a partnership with Renault, is working to develop exchangeable batteries, as well as the infrastructure and operations to support electric vehicles.

The company’s work has such appeal that Agassi initially raised $200 million for the project, followed by an additional $135 million in 2009, garnering massive attention and support around the globe.

While Agassi’s story is one example of the kind of words-into-action approach we need, we have even more examples of inspired entrepreneurship close to home. One such example of local entrepreneurial success is Noelia Urzua Garcia and Minneapolis-based La Loma Tamales.

Noelia left her village of Quebrantadero in the Mexican state of Morelos 16 years ago to move to Minnesota. After working in the Twin Cities food service industry for a few years, Noelia decided to flex her entrepreneurial muscles and, with her husband, Enrique Garcia Salazar, founded the La Loma Coffee Shop in Minneapolis.

Renting kitchen space by the hour, the couple watched as the tamales that Noelia’s mother had taught her to make as a young girl emerged as the cornerstone of La Loma. The modest coffee shop evolved into Cafeteria La Loma and now sells as many as 2,500 tamales a day.

Noelia and Enrique have gone on to found La Loma Mexican Restaurants in Minneapolis and in St. Paul, a catering business, and a wholesale tamale business that serves more than 260 stores in Minnesota and is on track to expand its sales nationwide. La Loma has 35 employees, many longstanding; annual sales top $2.5 million.

When asked for the ingredients to her entrepreneurial success, Noelia credits thoroughly researched business plans and treating her employees like treasured members of her family, saying that La Loma’s employees are the real key to why the company is prospering.

Noelia also spotlights education as a crucially important component of any entrepreneurial journey. Five years ago, she decided to improve her English, which led her to Dakota County Technical College. Since then she has taken a full array of business entrepreneur courses and will earn her degree in Supervisory Management in May.

As a result of her hard work and success, Noelia recently received the honor of being named the NACCE Entrepreneur of the Year.

Start of a plan

These two examples only begin to tap the barrel of entrepreneurial success. In fact, according to a Nov. 6, 2009, Wall Street Journal article entitled "New Business, Not Small Business, Is What Creates Jobs,” as recently as 2007, two-thirds of all new jobs resulted from new businesses. This gives us the beginning of an action plan to revitalize the economy: create new businesses to generate new jobs.

Certainly, this is easier said than done, but I believe one way we can breathe new life into the entrepreneurial spirit of this country is by sharing success stories like those of Shai Agassi and Noelia Garcia.

Over the next few months, please send your own entrepreneurial success stories to me at ron.thomas@dctc.edu. Your stories will inspire prospective entrepreneurs and small business owners across the nation and demonstrate that the educational programs and ideas we tout have been effectively put into action. I look forward to hearing from you.


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