Entrepreneur Epitome Of Cool

June 6, 2005
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Grand Rapids Business Journal this week profiles the 21 companies selected as finalists for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. They are the main reason for GRBJ’s existence, and in fact are vital pieces of the regional economy.

The finalists represent a diverse group of businesses. They filled a niche, solved problems and created new services. Some left Fortune 500 companies to start their own, using tax refunds, credit cards and more than one mortgage to get started, and creative thinking to work through the recent economic downturn.

Entrepreneurs are the “creative class,” not just for their areas of expertise but also for what they do in the community, and most importantly, for their inspiration. The latter has a “multiplier effect” by showing others how to climb out of the proverbial box. Finalists like Vern Ohlman have in this way provided a different path even for government and the way the city looks. Another, Diane Rodenhouse, is a woman with as many ideas as auto parts, and is a remarkable example of creative thinking who continues to push the boundaries of expansion.

The finalists are inspiring, too, for their life stories, not the least of which includes Jose Infante and Bing Goei. In the report on Goei, another frustrating and “traditional” issue is discussed: that of business financing. Experienced, Goei applied for a loan to expand his holdings, but he was told that if he acquired a bankrupted business chain, he would himself go bankrupt. The same bank financed another bidder with no experience. Outbidding the bank-financed bidder cost Goei an extra $200,000.

Dale Danver, owner of Holland-based Sordal Inc., was at one time a speaker of authority, so much so that audience members from NASA approached him with one of their ideas, giving birth to the company and a long relationship with thermal protection systems. Leveraging federal assistance through the United States Small Business Innovation Research program and the Small Business Technology Transfer grant, Danver has brought millions of research dollars into West Michigan to support Sordal’s product development. It has filtered to academic partners like GrandValleyStateUniversity and WesternMichiganUniversity

Technology has played a large part in the success of these businesses, from the bowling alleys to iMart, but the traditional attributes of ideas, strategy, patience and creative capital remain hallmarks of the entrepreneur.

The businesses represented are locally owned in this region and provide economic spurs. The Business Journal, too, is proud to be the only independent and locally owned news media/publishing business in the metro area.

The finalists will learn this week who among them has been judged top in six categories, but the true winners this week are the members of this community.    

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