How old do you have to be to own a small business? What's the formula for finding entrepreneurial success?
Neither of these questions have simple answers, but what we do know is that there are no boundaries on age or dreams when it comes to running a small business.
As all of our readers know, we at Urban Tulsa Weekly have championed the local since our inception almost 20 years ago, so what better way to do that than to salute our small business owners.
These entrepreneurs remind us of us, and they are not just any random set of business owners. These are 30 business owners who are 30 years old or younger.
The businesses are a wide array of industries from medicine to manufacturing to restaurants.
Some might be relatively unknown around the city, but they play huge roles in our community with their business ventures and their community contributions.
We asked each of the business owners, along with their business partners, 20 questions about their business, dreams, plans and starting a business. From each questionnaire, we compiled a mini-profile on each one. At the end of each profile is a "Piece of Advice," some words of thought and inspiration given to those thinking of starting his or her or their own business.
Here are 30 people under 30 leaving their business cards on the UTW table for our city.
Sharí Alexander, 26, president of Presenting Matters
For five years, Shari Alexander has been providing effective communication skills to companies, individuals and even local celebrities such as NBC's recent Biggest Loser Danny Cahill. Talking about business hasn't always been the easiest battle for her business, though. "I had to carefully craft a response to the question, 'So what do you do for a living?' Saying 'I help people communicate better,' wasn't going to cut it," Alexander said. That hasn't stopped her from finding a niche and now putting her company's efforts behind developing products for those with self-driven study. Her ultimate goal: To turn the company into a go-to resource for everything on successful, professional communications.
Piece of Advice: Have clear direction and goals. It is easy to get sidetracked. Find an advisor whom you trust and who has achieved what you want to achieve. Also, do your research.
Brandon Autry, 28, president of Full-Scale Guitar
If you've bought a guitar or a music product that you haven't found anywhere else in Tulsa, there's a good chance that Brandon Autry's store, Full-Scale Guitar, 807 W. Houston in Broken Arrow and 1508 E. 15th St., sold it to you. After six years in business, his store has recently expanded to a second store on Cherry Street, so having a business has taught him a great deal about prioritizing life.
"I've managed to finally have a personal life, which is awesome," Autry said. "A business is like raising a kid. When the child gets older, they are able to stay at home by themselves and allow the parent to have a little bit of a personal life. But you still get the emergency calls from the babysitter from time to time."
Piece of Advice: Do it, and don't copy anybody. It's like what Arby's says, "Different is good." Be in it for the long haul, and don't hire someone you can't fire. There's no better time than right now.
Ren Barger, 26, Executive Director at Tulsa Hub
Ren Barger's non-profit, Tulsa Hub, wants to get you up and walking--or at least biking. After living in cities with an already-established biking transit culture, she felt the need to bring it to Tulsa. In its first year, Tulsa Hub has been working to get itself organized and build an active coalition. That hasn't slowed her or the organization down in realizing their overall vision. "The long-term vision of Tulsa Hub is to create several bike-Hub 'kiosks'-- well-equipped autonomous work stations (bike trailers or biogas vehicles), which Hub affiliates can operate on-site at community interface events, like schools or on the River Parks," Barger said.
Piece of Advice: Be humble. Be sure that goals for the enterprise are clearly defined before you begin (especially so you will know how they change in situations.) Make a business plan. Have at least one trustworthy partner, with expectations clearly defined before the venture begins. Be honest with yourself about what you are willing to lose (sleep, family time, financial resources or security, etc.) and what you need (cash, personal-time) to continue in the face of goals not following your projected timeline. Always have a Plan B or exit-strategy.
Gabriel Bernal, 29, owner of Big Daddy's Glass
When the rocks fly from construction zones or highways and strike your car's windshield, Bernal's shop, Big Daddy Glass, is the one to call. The mobile glass company has provided auto glass replacement service to the Tulsa area for four years, but it almost didn't happen. "The most difficult part of getting the business started for me was having the guts to do it," Bernal said. "I believe the hardest part is that first jump because after that, you'd better start swimming or you're going to drown."
Luckily for Bernal, it did pan out, and the company has been focused on helping the community ever since. "I see a lot of people driving around Tulsa with tape and cardboard over their window because of their inability to afford to get it fixed," Bernal said. "Big Daddys Glass Co. is your hometown hero. We are from this community, so we really strive to help out where we can."
Piece of Advice: It takes a lot of hard work, perseverance and creativity. But it is a very rewarding job knowing that you are the reason for your own success.
Garrett Blackwood, 27, owner and founder of Blue Label Bartending
Why does it seem that you always have a friend in that bartender at your favorite bar hangout? Maybe he took a class or two at Blackwood's Blue Label Bartending School, 3303 ? S. Peoria Avenue. (Probably not, though.) Blue Label Bartending School pays greater attention to creating bartenders for private events such as weddings, holiday parties and so on. Creating a business centered around creating the toasts of the party doesn't necessarily mean that the business itself is a smooth drink. One of the worst parts for Blackwood in owning a business is laying off employees. "It is difficult to judge what the demand will be for a brand-new service; therefore, it is difficult to know how many employees will be needed," he said. "I have not had to let many of my employees go but letting go a great bartender or bartending instructor due to lack of work is not fun."
That doesn't halt the service from continuing to provide people with something they need and have fun while fulfilling that need.
Piece of Advice: If you have an idea, pursue it! The Tulsa Spirit Award contest is a great way to get funding, coaching and notoriety. Get your personal finances in order and go for it.
Travis Brotton, 29, owner of Oklahoma Wine & Liquor
Travis Brotton might be a newcomer on the business block, but he's definitely learned some long, hard lessons about starting a business--there's lots of paperwork and red tape. "There is always so much to do, and there never seems enough time to get it done," he said. "Paperwork is a killer."
The owner of Oklahoma Wine & Liquor, 1401 N. Aspen, might have had a couple of rough patches in getting into the swing of things, but he's enjoying every minute of having his own establishment.
"It may be a lot more work and a lot less vacation time, but I get to run my business the way I want it run," Brotton said. "It means total accountability for all aspects of the business. That, I like."
Piece of Advice: Good luck, and it always costs twice as much and takes twice as long as originally planned.
Jennifer Combs, 29, & Nicole VanEngen, 30, co-owners of
Quitting your job, selling your house and moving might seem like a huge risk in starting your own business--especially with no consistent income rolling in--but it seems to have paid off for Jennifer Combs and Nicole VanEngen, owners of J.Cole Shoes, 9930 Riverside Parkway. After two years in business, the pair has learned a couple of lessons in being the boss. "No job is too small or big for the boss," they said. "The employees learn from your actions. You must be willing to do anything you ask your employees to do." They've also grown wiser about who to hire as an employee. "You want your employees to represent your store as if it is their own," the pair said in an e-mail. "We definitely had some problems with this in the beginning. We learned very quickly not all employees care as much as you do."
Piece of Advice: Experience is your best friend when opening a business. Being knowledgeable about the business you are opening will help ease some of the hiccups you encounter. There will be extreme highs and lows. Take the good and bad and learn from both.
Jonathan Conneely ("Coach JC"), 29, president, founder and owner of Bootcamp Tulsa
If you're looking for a bootcamp workout without the military aspect of it, then Jon Conneely's business is right up your alley. Conneely focuses on getting Tulsa healthy through his Bootcamp Tulsa.
"A lot of our clients are people that have tried everything and are desperate for a solution and are searching for the answer," he said. "These people come to us with very little hope and expectation because they have been let down on multiple occasions. To see these people transform their life and experience the results that they desire and deserve is a success."
Conneely has a head start on helping Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma, but he still has some time to reach his top goal--to be the No. 1 go-to program in the city and state and to be a go-to expert on health and fitness.
Piece of Advice: Get started! So many people never get started. To be successful at something, you have to first start. If you never start, you will never finish. Second, I would tell them to get a coach and to be coachable. Lastly, never quit. Never give up!
Patrick Cuningkin, 28, CEO of I'm Delivered/955SHOP 955shop.com
After working long hours as an insurance agent and spending time away from his family, Patrick Cuningkin discovered an untapped hole in delivery service to create his business--a grocery delivery service. There was a little bit more behind driving his motivation for starting a business--his family. "I understood the importance of the need for coverage due to having a child that year that had two open heart surgeries six months apart," he said. "With me not being able to take off of work and stay or even travel I became discouraged. This pressure encouraged me to do even more to better prepare my family to become financially stable." Now, four years later and several lessons later, his grocery/restaurant/retail/prescription delivery service is open, running and making its mark in the community.
Piece of Advice: Plan ahead! Every vision will need a plan to move it forward. "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that reads it," Habakkuk 2:2. Don't give up! Finish the race that you are destined to be in. Give it your best. There are so many learning opportunities, so it is important to keep a journal of your journey. Plan, plan, plan ahead and run the plan by trust-worthy experienced people.
Quentin Franklin, 27, owner of Sooner Recon LLC soonerrecon.com
In his first year of law school, Franklin decided to leave school and pursue his own business. With his brother at his side, they started working out of the back of a truck, building fences and decks. Now, two years later, working out of a truck has turned into a small-scale construction and general contracting company. Franklin admits that while his company might not be overflowing financially, especially with the downturn of the economy, he has learned he can accomplish more in life than he ever thoughy he could. "I just want people to be satisfied with the job I deliver," he said. "I look at it as a project we have worked on together, so hopefully they can feel the same sense of accomplishment I feel when it's finished."
Piece of Advice: Do it! I tell people all the time. Sometimes I can tell when people just want to fantasize about running their own business. Other times you can tell when someone has the personality for it and can handle the pressure--then I encourage them that they should go for it, but also caution them it's not as easy as it looks.
Jeremy Green, 30, founder/CEO of RealTime Rehab realtimerehab.com
As a former physical therapy patient himself, Green saw a need to make at-home exercise programs easier to understand and follow. Real Time Rehab, 2 W. 2nd St., Suite 210, provides exercise programs on DVD that physical therapy patients are better able to follow at home. Being consumed by building an exercise database, software and business doesn't always mean a great deal of downtime for an owner, though.
"Running your own business means sacrificing everything to achieve your goals," Green said. "Ninety-five percent of my life is business, not much of a social life, which I am OK with because I truly love what we do. One day that will change and I will enjoy that time of my life as well." Hard work does seem to do good for some, as Green was announced as last year's Tulsa Mayor's Entrepreneurial Spirit Award winner.
Piece of Advice: Listen and learn from everyone! Everyone has something valuable to contribute. Good information and opportunities will come from places you will never expect!
Jeremy Grodhaus, 29, Chisholm Wildermuth, 27, and Cassandra Peters, 26, partners of L7 Studios
Jeremy Grodhaus, Chisholm Wildermuth and Cassandra Peters have a bit of a complicated partnership when it comes to handling L7 Studios, 6910 E. 14th St, Suite B106. Grodhaus handles the day-to-day operations as owner/manager of the studio, while Wildermuth and Peters are partners who also have their own individual businesses. They all work together in making sure that L7 Studios is a success by offering a place where local musicians can get their music together and out there.
"I want people to think L7 Studios when they think of recording in Tulsa," Grodhaus said. "There is some stiff competition out there, but my goal isn't to corner the recording market of the Tulsa area, though. We want musicians to think about us for our contribution to the whole music scene here because they are what make Tulsa music, Tulsa music."
No matter what the next step is for the studio, they're plan is to always, "think local and be local."
Piece of Advice: Shut up and go for it. The worst thing that happens is you learn something and then have to go get a job working for someone else. Same thing you are doing right now. (Grodhaus)
John Hill, 7, founder and owner of HYPERLINK "http://www.FamilyPetSearch.org"; FamilyPetSearch.org
When he's not busy doing homework or cleaning his room, 7-year-old John Hill has dedicated his business to helping families and their pets. "My top priority was getting my Web site up and running as quickly as possible," Hill said. "There were lost pets out there and I need(ed) to act fast." In being a "super hero," Hill has seen his Web site reunite families with their pets, but he's also seen a great number of pets still lost and posted to his site. In the near future, he would like his Web site to get to families across the world, so they can find their pets anywhere. In 20 years from now, though? "I don' know," he said. "You see I think I will be out of college and working somewhere on earth."
Piece of Advice: Work hard and be good.
Noelle Kilgore, 28, co-owner of Shoe Gypsy
Husband and wife team, Noelle and Ben had such a passion for shopping and for shoes, that they put their energy into opening a shoe store of different styles in Tulsa. Low and behold, Shoe Gypsy, 1604 E. 15th St., made its mark in Tulsa late last year but getting to the opening point wasn't easy. "Because of the economy, a small business loan was difficult to obtain," Noelle Kilgore said. "We are blessed with wonderful relationships with a bank in my hometown. They believed in our business and our ability as business owners and granted us the loan."
In setting up their small business, one of the top priorities for the new owners was to give back to the community and to non-profits. "We wanted a way to give back. We have already contributed to wells through charitywater.org in the short amount of time that we have been open," she said. "We both have been blessed so much, and we want to provide tangible hope to those in need."
Piece of Advice: Make sure you have a great support system. Our family and friends have helped us in tremendous ways. Surround yourself with good people and people who will give you wisdom, not just advice. Ground yourself in something. Our faith in God has been the driving force behind every step of this business. It's been our foundation.
Stacy Lamb, 28, owner, lash stylist and licensed esthetician of Wink Eyelash Salon
Going from helping others with skincare issues to learning about eyelash extensions might be a bit off base, but not for lash stylist Stacy Lamb.
"My passion was to help others with skin issues, as I had struggled with skincare problems for several years," Lamb said. "I also wanted to be unique and provide a service to set me apart from the rest, so in November of 2007 I enrolled in an Xtreme Lashes workshop to become certified in Semi-permanent eyelash extensions."
The venture into the world of lashes has paid off as she has expanded her business, Wink Eyelash Salon, 807 E. A Street, Suite 101 in Jenks, into her own salon in the past year and is looking to add a fourth stylist to her team soon.
"My main goal thus far, has always been to be this area's most credible place to go for eyelash extensions and to provide the best customer service," she said. "I can honestly say, we are definitely the most skilled and knowledgeable in this service. If we continue to strive for the best in these two areas, we'll never lack on clientele."
Piece of Advice: I have been told over and over again by my husband throughout the process of starting my own business that "if it was easy, then everybody would do it." It's absolutely true. Starting and running a business is not easy at all. It takes a lot of time, energy and hard work. But, it's all worth it. Stay true to your dream or goal, whatever it may be. Be determined and go for it. If you are willing to work hard enough, then you'll be successful at whatever you choose to do.
Kristen McCormick, 27, owner of The Recycling Revolution therecyclingrevolution.com
Out of the large movement to go green have come a number of groups to advance the cause.
Kristen McCormick has been a part of that movement, but she started off in an unusual way. "There probably aren't very many people who can say they started their business on an unemployment check," McCormick said.
Being laid off from her job gave her an opportunity to start the environmentally friendly service that she had been considering for some time.
Now, the Recycling Revolution is helping people and businesses across Tulsa to learn about recycling as well as leading a more sustainable economy. "I want to prove that a business can grow and be successful without exploiting people or the environment," she said. "It's about longevity as well as making a paycheck responsibly."
Piece of Advice: Love what you do and use a moral compass when making decisions. Don't sell too much of your company to an investor early on because you don't want to make any lifestyle changes or you think you have to go huge right away. Take care of the people around you and the people who helped you get where you are today, which sometimes means taking the long route. Make time for the occasional cup of coffee with a friend and talk about something other than business. Be flexible and adaptable. Otherwise, you might get left behind.
Lexi McGee, 27, and Nikki Webster, 23, co-owners of Berkshire Salon and Day Spa
Lexi McGee and Nikki Webster lucked into being owners of Berkshire Salon and Day Spa, 1615 Eucalyptus Avenue in Broken Arrow, after managing the salon for more than a year and a half. "We learned Berkshire would be closing due to some financial issues with the previous owner," they said. "We couldn't imagine having to break the news to 15 employees that they no longer had a job, due to no fault of their own. We seriously began to consider purchasing Berkshire."
Not only did they consider, but they followed up and after a quick two-week turnaround they were co-owners. Going from managers to owners in zero to 60 didn't come without its share of problems, though.
"The worst part of running our own business thus far has been drawing the line between friendships and employees. We were co-workers and friends with the girls for so long working on their same level," they said. "The most difficult part for us has been deciding where to draw the line between friendships and employee relationships."
Piece of Advice: I would advise them to become well educated in all areas of owning a business. We were up against a strict time schedule; we literally had two weeks to purchase a business. We walked blindly into a lot of things we didn't expect. Sometimes I look back and wish we were a little more knowledgeable at the time we purchased Berkshire. Having said that, if the opportunity arises for someone to start his or her own business, do it! You will never be as educated as you want to be, or as financially stable as you would like. If the opportunity unfolds, jump on it. It's the greatest adventure you will ever take! (Webster)
I would just say to make sure you're ready for the commitment. It's not just a job anymore; it becomes a huge part of your life. The second thing I would say is to be ready to be a problem solver. Fifty percent of owning your own business is about solving unexpected problems! (McGee)
Sloane Merrick, 26, owner of Sloane Merrick Art Studio sloanemerrickart.com
After overcoming a few jitters about owning a business, Sloane Merrick opened her own art gallery, properly titled Sloane Merrick Art Studio, 3718 S. Peoria.
"My father is a business owner/entrepreneur, and I have always wanted to be my own boss," Merrick said. "All my siblings own their own business as well, so I think it's in my blood."
(In fact, Merrick's older sister, Noelle Kilgore shares this list with her.)
In developing her own studio, Merrick wanted to be able to showcase and offer non-one-dimensional art. In doing this, she has discovered that commissioned art seems to be what people crave as they search for something for their homes or businesses.
Looking toward the future, Merrick wants to branch out into Internet marketing as well as possible interior design.
Piece of Advice: Do it!
Krystle Morris, 24, and Melora Frank, 23, co-owners and hair stylist of Blue Cameo Salon
For co-owners Krystle Morris and Melora Frank creating an atmosphere away from the everyday stresses was an important part of forming Blue Cameo Salon, 1717 E. 17th St. "We had a vision of a salon that was charming and intimate, a place where people could put up their feet and relax without all of their everyday chaos and the classic salon chatter," Morris said.
Opening the salon more than a year ago, there was a lot to learn about running a business for both Morris and Frank.
"The worst part of owning your own business is the endless responsibilities," Morris said. "Every day there is a new task to be done, but nothing brings you more satisfaction than completing these everyday duties. It is truly a labor of love."
With that, Morris hopes that she's able to continue bringing the fun, vintage feel to her clients and hopes to open more salons in the future.
Piece of Advice: I have learned that owning your own business requires a lot of patience. As much as you would like, you will never be an overnight success. You just have to stay focused on your goals and keep a positive attitude.
Caleb Oller, 23, & Matt Ralston, 25, co-founders and co-owners of MintJar LLC
In order to make businesses more efficient and professional lives easier, Caleb Oller and Matt Ralston set out on a mission to create web applications for companies. "We hope to provide something that, even if it doesn't bring them happiness, at the very least it diminishes stress and makes complex tasks simpler and easier to manage," they said.
Although the company has existed since 2008, the pair have been working toward the launch of their software line, Shifts, this spring. It's been an uphill battle to get to this point for them, though. "The biggest challenge to this point has been the ongoing effort of just trying to find the energy and enough hours in the day to reach our goals," they said. "We both have full-time jobs outside of the company, and it has been trying at times to make the time to push forward, but we are confident it will prove to be worth it as time goes on."
Piece of Advice: You just have to do it. Don't be afraid to share an idea with people. In fact, it's best to surround yourself with feedback, and partner with those who have strengths that complement your own. Ideas might not be a dime a dozen like some people claim, but it's a lot easier to think about something than it is to do it.
Dr. Sonda Powell D.C., 27, co-owner of Powell Chiropractic doctorpowell.com
Since high school, Dr. Sonda Powell has known that she wanted to be a chiropractor and own her own practice. She accomplished that dream three years ago and hasn't looked back.
"My number one goal when I started practice was to help as many people as I could fit into my office," she said. "I still have room for more patients, so I don't believe this has been achieved yet."
The special part about her practice is that she helps treat pregnant women and children, and she and her husband partner together at Powell Chiropractic, 6125 S. Sheridan, Suite H, looking to help everyone.
"When my husband and I began our practice we decided that no patient would be turned away because they could not afford our services," she said. "Practicing by this standard has allowed us to help more people than we could have if we would have turned them away. I look forward to the day that people look to their chiropractor for more than just back pain. Chiropractic has allowed me to help people heal from within, without the use of medication or surgery."
Piece of Advice: Anyone looking to start their own business needs to talk to other people who are in the same business to find out what they would have done differently. You can learn a lot from others' mistakes. There is always a way to get what you want: You may have to take the long road around, but you will get there eventually.
Bill Smith, 24, owner of Unique Collision Center Inc.
Sometimes starting your own business is as simple as taking your future into your own hands. That's what Bill Smith did when he decided to start Unique Collision Center Inc., 7656 E. 46th St, more than a year ago.
"After working at four different body shops over a six-year span, I and two other guys who were fed up with not knowing what the future has to hold for us, decided to take that leap of faith and start Unique Collision Center Inc," he said.
After coming up to code with city and state ordinances for the establishment of the body shop, Smith set out for his shop to make a name in quality care and customer service. Since opening, Smith said they've had a 100 percent customer satisfaction. "We may not be out on the street cleaning up or running for office, but I think we can bring some reassurance to the people of Tulsa (by) letting people know that there is a body shop out there you can trust," he said.
Piece of Advice: The best advice I could give would be to do your homework before you do anything, make sure you have a good location, and never think that you can't do it. Opening a business is not for everyone its hard work and long hours.
Licia Zampino, 25, & Shelly Harris, 24, co-owners of Boston Avenue Grille bostonavenuegrille.com
Cooking up in the heart of downtown has been Boston Avenue Grille, 15 E. 5th St., for the past two years. Co-owners Licia Zampino and Shelly Harris have gone through a 100-page business plan, approval of that business plan and increasing sales to reach the point of a debt-free restaurant.
"It is an incredible feeling of accomplishment and amazing when operations are running smooth," they said.
The girls have come a long way since dreaming of just being in the restaurant business while enrolled at Oklahoma State. They don't look to slow down either, as sales have increased and the catering aspect of Boston Avenue Grill has picked up.
"(We) hope for customers to receive a distinctive dining experience with a genuine touch," they said.
Piece of Advice: Our motto is "Don't ask anyone to do anything you are capable of doing yourself."
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