Posts Categorized: Entrepreneurs

Lori Biwer-Stewart, linocut printmaker

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More than a hobby: Lori Biwer-Stewart, linocut printmaker
Story and photos by Sara Friedl-Putnam • Originally published in the Fall 2015 Inspire(d)
Artwork by Lori Biwer-Stewart

lori_horizontalLike many artists, Lori Biwer-Stewart discovered her calling very early in life.

“I’ve loved to express myself artistically for as long as I can remember,” she says, recalling long, happy hours doodling and drawing as a child growing up on a farm outside Elma, Iowa. “It’s the only thing I ever thought I could do really well.”

That cMoreThanHobbyLogoonviction – and a naturally curious mind – led Lori to a commercial design degree at Hawkeye Institute of Technology in Waterloo, Iowa, and, a few years later, a basic printmaking class at MacNider Art Museum in Mason City. Armed with an abundance of natural talent, an expansive library of reference books, a deep love of the art form, and, yes, two printing presses, she began making (and selling) linocut prints out of her home in Osage, Iowa, more than 20 years ago.

Today she is known across the Midwest for her crisp, whimsical work, which explores themes like youth and innocence, relationships, and spiritual awakenings through the use of symbolic images like birds, doors, or keys. “The carving process is very therapeutic for me and has gotten me through many bad moments,” Lori says, candidly referring to her longtime struggle with depression. “Some people can write well or tell interesting stories – I much prefer to speak through the images and symbolism in my linocuts.”

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Popularized by the likes of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso in the early- to mid-1900s, linocut is a deceptively simple, relatively inexpensive “relief” printmaking technique in which the artist uses a knife or gouge to carve a design into a sheet of linoleum (sometimes mounted on a wood block), inks the linoleum with a brayer (i.e. roller), and impresses the image onto paper either by hand or with a press. It was the ability to use the technique to create bold, decorative designs that first piqued Lori’s interest.

“Linocut printing enables artistic expression like no other art form – the cut of the knife creates a primitive feel that only adds to the intent and intensity of the message being communicated,” she says. “Sometimes my work is dark and sometimes it’s fun, but it’s always thought-provoking; whatever the image is, my goal is always to make the viewer think and question.”

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ShinyThingsShe does exactly that in pieces likeMe and You,” in which a floating red balloon tied to an empty yellow chair symbolizes the yin and yang found in so many relationships…and “Fireflies,” in which a jar of fireflies nestled among wildflowers conjures up childhood memories of capturing the magical insects on hot summer nights…and “Shiny Things,” in which crows hording small gleaming objects suggest the tendency of so many to collect things they don’t really need. The three works are among more than 70 linocuts currently displayed on her website, www.lbstewart.com.

Her always eye-catching work has earned Lori, who also works as a graphic artist at Curries in Mason City, more than a few awards at art festivals over the past two decades. Yet, despite the accolades, she admits she still struggles with the challenges of “getting out there” and marketing her work, especially through social media. She encourages other artists just starting out to stay on top of current social-media trends and to do what she has done from the start – stay true to self. “Do what really interests you – whatever subject that is, whatever medium that is,” she says. “You will never find joy in your art if you are just creating what you think people will buy.”

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Sara Friedl-Putnam has never considered herself particularly “artsy” or “craftsy,” but after being inspired by the talented women she profiled in this issue is seriously contemplating making a few gifts this coming holiday season.

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Biwer-Stewart will display her work at the Wausau, Wisconsin, Festival of Arts on September 12-13 and the Autumn Artistry in Osage on September 19. Her work is also available in galleries across the Driftless Region and online at www.lbstewart.com.

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“More Than a Hobby” is a special section of the Fall 2015 Inspire(d) Magazine. We’ve highlighted doers and makers in the Driftless region who are turning what they do like to do into so much more than a hobby – it’s a living! We love that. Stay tuned for additional More Than a Hobby features online in the coming weeks!

Sum of Your Business: Peter Awad

“Slow Hustle: Life as an entrepreneur is about making both slowness and hustle a priority. Get good at both. Efficient at both. Talented at both. Obsessed with both.” – Peter Awad
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Introduction/Interview by Aryn Henning Nichols • Photos courtesy Peter Awad • Originally posted in the Spring 2015 Inspire(d)

PeterHeadshotPeter Awad is a man of mystery. At least, it might appear that way to the casual observer. He and his wife, Melissa, live with their four children in little Decorah, Iowa, yet every day, Peter does business with folks across the world. What’s the business? High-end/high-performance car parts – sold on the Internet – through his 15-year-old company, Import Auto Performance. That would be enough to keep anyone super busy, but Peter was also a founding partner in the blogging venture, GoodBlogs – a community blogging software that “combines the innovation of crowd-sourced content with the power of content marketing.” Throw in a fourth child, all while he and his family set off on a 10 month adventure across the country, a little sleep here and there, and what’s the goal? That’s the hard part – exploring the buzz phrase that’s on everyone’s lips, but no one knows how to manage: the life/work balance.

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Peter with his amazingly beautiful family (from left): wife, Melissa, baby Ayers, Summit, Brighton, and Wyndsor.
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To simultaneously counter AND add to that struggle, Peter recently launched yet another company – a super cool podcast called Slow Hustle – that chronicles life as an entrepreneur.

“Business is hard. It’s fun, exciting, crazy and also stressful, depressing, debilitating. It’s the ultimate of roller coasters,” he writes at slowhustle.com. “After talking with dozens and dozens of entrepreneurs, I realized I am not the only one feeling these extreme emotions. They are actually universal and seemingly part of the entrepreneurs’ handbook (which doesn’t exist).”

PodcastScreenshotPeter interviews entrepreneurs from all over – the list includes people like Mendel Kurland, evangelist at Godaddy; Willie Morris from Faithbox (pictured at right); and Rand Fishkin, founder of SEO company, Moz. The fun, funny, and motivating conversations cut to the core of those roller coaster emotions, highlighting what has worked and what hasn’t for these business-owners. Peter’s hope is that the podcast will help others with their own struggles as entrepreneurs, salespeople, household managers, etc. Because life is short, and choosing to be your own boss means you’re in control of it. But take it from Peter – sometimes you just gotta slow your hustle.

Check out and subscribe to the Slow Hustle podcast at slowhustle.com.

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Other links:
iapdirect.com
www.goodblogs.com

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THE BASICS:
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Name: Peter Awad
Age: 34
Business: Slow Hustle/Import Auto Performance/GoodBlogs
Years in Business: 15 Years

GoodBlogsTell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?
It happened by accident while in College. I was studying to be a Mechanical Engineer, working at an engineering internship and in my spare time started selling auto parts online out of my bedroom. I didn’t have any money so I would sell products and then have them rush shipped to me so I could ship them to my customers. It was one heck of a way to build up some funds so I could hold an actual inventory. Stressful but necessary.

What’s the best thing about being your own boss?
Having seemingly unlimited options of how to create value and increase revenue for your company and family.

How about the worst?
Having seemingly unlimited options of how to create value and increase revenue for your company and family. You read that right and it’s not a typo. The biggest pro is also the biggest con. Sometimes its tough to stay focused because of it. Sometimes it’s amazingly stressful. If you have the skin for it, it can also be amazingly fulfilling and rewarding.

Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?
Quite often. The key is having clarity and to do so, it’s a must to remove emotions from the scenario. Clarity paired with taking time to step back to see the bigger picture will allow you to come up with creative ways to overcome huge obstacles. The bonus? Big obstacles commonly allow for growth and innovation. You’ll hear this as a business owner (or prospective owner) and think “that’s baloney” but it’s the truth. Our darkest days are when we are forced to think more creatively than we ever have to when it’s easy peasy.

Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?
Lots. Without mentors (who have all become good friends) I’d have a difficult time gaining a different perspective. It’s important to have mentors in all walks of life: Younger, Older, different industries, etc. Creative ideas and solutions come from those you least expect because they don’t have the industry baggage you do. They say “why not?” when you say “no way. that’s not possible.”

What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?
Sheesh. Where do I begin? How about: Entrepreneurship is manic-depressive. It’s ubiquitous. If you find an Entrepreneur that says his days are always even keel, have him call me. We’ll bottle his secret sauce and retire.

Some days you’ll feel like you are crushing it. Everything is going right and falling in to place perfectly. The next day the business feels like it’s crushing you. Could be back-to-back days, weeks or months. Either way, it happens and you simply find ways to deal with it best.

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How do you manage your life/work balance?
I’ve decided it doesn’t exist. Work is part of life and life is part of work. The best ways to manage is to have clear guidelines that you follow. For example: Knowing that once you leave work, you put your phone in airplane mode from dinnertime until the kids go to bed. That way you’ll have undisturbed quality time with the family. Or taking a long lunch and enjoying a nice lunch, walk and/or book. Will you succeed every time? Absolutely, not. All you can do is put systems in place and have accountability partners that can help to keep you on track.

What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?
Freedom from cubicles. Flexible hours. Watching my kids grow up and wanting to spend as much time as I can with them. Solving problems others haven’t solved before. Creating, innovating and helping others do the same.

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”
–Abraham Lincoln

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We’re excited to be hosting a new, regular Q&A section in Inspire(d): Sum of Your Business, featuring entrepreneurs in the Driftless Region. Our readers have asked to learn more about people who have started their own businesses, how they’ve done, and how they’ve done it! We thought that sounded like a great idea. Who knows – maybe you’ll even be Inspire(d) to create a business yourself!

Sum of Your Business: Brett Reese

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By Aryn Henning Nichols • All photos courtesy Brett Reese

PartnersIf ever a person were “born an entrepreneur”, it would be Brett Reese. Reese is one most inspiring business professionals I’ve ever met. We recently chatted about business beginnings and parents’ lessons in money over breakfast at Restauration in the Hotel Winneshiek – one the properties maintained by Rebound Hospitality, a Northfield, Minnesota, company owned by Reese (pictured, far left) and his business partners Jennifer Sawyer and Todd Byhre.

“I still remember the first dollar my brother and I saved. We pooled all our change together to get this one bill. But then we realized there was only one – who gets to keep it?!” he says with a laugh. “We agreed we’d have to share it.” That was just the beginning of Reese’s investment partnerships and doing nothing – business-wise – alone.

Born and raised in Castle Rock, Minnesota, Reese went to Luther College in Decorah. He graduated in 1981 with a B.A. in accounting and political science and passed the CPA exam as a senior. After graduation, he worked as an auditor with Grant Thornton in Minneapolis. While continuing this “day job”, he made the leap into self-owned business ventures in 1982 with the purchase (with a partner) of a Northfield pub, where, coincidentally, Reese logged many an hour working in his younger years.

He currently calls Northfield home with daughters Meredith and Milly. It also serves as the birthplace and home office of Rebound. For many years, Reese ran Rebound as a consulting business that worked as a sort of “business doctor”, helping mismanaged or financially troubled companies in a variety of industries rebound to success. It was 2008 when the investment and advisory side of the company – Rebound Enterprises – was founded with the help of business partner Jennifer Sawyer. Reese currently serves as Managing Principal of the Organization.

Archer House

From Rebound Enterprises grew Rebound Hospitality. The Rebound partners had a passionate desire to preserve, maintain, and enhance the Archer House River Inn (circa 1877) in Northfield (pictured above). During its renovation, which began in 2008, Rebound Hospitality was then created to invest in and preserve historically significant properties – such as the Archer House – that are important assets to their communities. On January 1, 2010, a second property was added – the Hotel Winneshiek (circa 1905) in Decorah. The company – whose vision is “to create a portfolio of historic boutique inns and distinct properties” – currently has five properties on its roster – stretching from Des Moines, Iowa (Des Lux Hotel) to Lakeshore, Minnesota (Lost Lake Lodge) – pictured below.

Lost Lake lodge

Rebound also encourages everyone on its team to give of their “time, talent, treasure, and thinking” in the communities where they live and work. It comes back to one of the biggest lessons Reese has learned along the way: “Don’t work in a vacuum. Do nothing alone. Together, we can always achieve so much more.”

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The Basics:
Name:
Brett D. Reese
Age: 56
Business: Rebound Enterprises
Years in Business: 35

Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

Being an entrepreneur was in my blood at young age. At age five I wanted to be a CPA – just like my dad – though I didn’t know exactly what he did, just that he would “bang away” on a great big old adding machine that spit out numbers on paper.

I rode my bike at age 10 to my first job watering trees at Switzer’s Castle Rock Nursery for $.50 per hour, and then “graduated” to baling hay for a local farmer at $1 per wagonload.

BrettwithHorseI grew up on a hobby farm, and at age 12, started my own cow/calf operation. To fund the business, I took out my first loan with the President of the Castle Rock Bank, Dan Nicolai, who, 44 years later, is still the President of the Bank and someone I still do business with!

I bought my first business at age 23 – one year out of college – with my first business partner Dave Delong. We had the opportunity to purchase the “Rueb-N-Stein,” a bar and grill in Northfield, Minnesota, where I had worked from 9th grade through college. I had worked every position, knew it inside and out, and learned a great deal from the owner, Dan Freeman. My partner ran it while I worked along the sidelines and continued working as a CPA in the Twin Cities.

After 3 years as a CPA auditing companies, I followed my entrepreneur spirit in “taking the leap” by leaving public accounting to became my “own boss” as a “turnaround artist/business doctor.” Playing basketball I was known as “Rebound Reese,” and now found myself helping companies that were struggling by “Rebounding” them back to health. Over time Rebound Consulting became Rebound Enterprises with verticals in Hospitality/ Real Estate/ Manufacturing / Financial Services / Community and now recently Rebound Solutions – led by partner Jennifer Sawyer.

Also at a young age, I learned the value of delegating and surrounding oneself with partners and people smarter than you – helping them realize their dreams, while they’re helping you realize yours.

What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

• Independence, Flexibility, Freedom
• Controlling your own destiny
• The ability to take in and enjoy your kids’ activities, and spend time with them when you want
• Creating wealth for your family and investors
• Being able to choose to work with others by partnering and collaborating
• Seeing value where others don’t and being able to carry out a plan to realize it.

How about the worst?

• Lots of responsibility and at times being alone; Knowing that the buck stops with you
• Sometimes taking on too much risk; Payroll comes around and there is no money in
the bank!
• Long hours at times
• Going out on a limb and being criticized by others

Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

In 1990 I was on “top of the world, flying high” as the President of CCM, turning around this struggling local manufacturer located in my hometown of Northfield into a very successful company. Then the shareholders started fighting, and the minority owners bought out the majority owner, who then fired me. Never having been fired, it was difficult for me to get out of bed as I was so depressed. I would sleep till noon, getting up to play basketball over the noon hour at Carleton College, which helped keep me going. After a while (like months!) I picked myself up and decided that in the next turnaround project, I wasn’t only going in as management, but was also getting a piece of the action by taking an ownership stake. From this strategy, over time I was able to take ownership positions in a variety of companies that helped form the foundation of Rebound Enterprises.

Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

I owe a great deal to many individuals:

• My father Bert Reese, a great friend, mentor and rock (pictured with Reese below).
Dan Freeman – bought my first business, the Rueb-N-Stein from him in 1983 with
$5,000 down; Great Marketer. Learned from him what to do, and what not to do.
Bill Palmquist – helped me through my first major turnaround – Braco Manufacturing in Moses Lake, WA- where at age 25, I had to fire my first employee (I think I cried more than he did.)
Bob Skluzacek – Helped me develop as a CEO / President of a manufacturing company: CCM – Computer Controlled Machines. $2m in sales to $18m over three years; 20 employees to 150 employees; from near bankruptcy to success.
Curt Swenson – introduced me to MCG –Motion Control Group. A struggling company that was bankrupt that become a very profitable company. MCG built a relationship in China beginning in 1999. Owned from 1991 to 2008: sold just before the downturn of the Great Recession. A smart move!
Bill Cowles – first met him in 1987 when he was a customer of CCM; He became an important mentor and a valuable sounding board for me and still is today.

Brett with Bert Reese

What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

There were a lot of times I didn’t realize that “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” Experience has taught me to really think about this. If I don’t know, I learn from the experiences of others and surround myself with people who do know. To then go out and find the answers and solutions. By not working alone, but through teamwork and collaboration, together we can arrive at the very best decision.

How do you manage your life/work balance?

I have been very fortunate by living and working the best of both worlds! I have had the opportunity to work with companies both globally – traveling the world over on business with our manufacturing firms, and at the same time being a part of local communities with our hospitality businesses and real estate investments.

Also I am blessed to have Margaret Jacobson help manage my work as my administrative assistant, who keeps me organized and who says her work purpose is “I am here to serve you, to make your life better and easier.” How lucky am I?

I have a passion for life, wanting to bring positive energy along with a good attitude. I try to be the best that I can – in my work, with my family, and in my faith. Here’s what works for me:

  • Set aside time for faith, family, profession, working out / physical activity and good nutrition.
  • Lots of travel. Finding new, fun, and interesting life experiences.
  • To be able to work from anywhere, anytime. Pick and choose when to work and when to play, relax and enjoy life.

What keepsPresident Obama at Hotel Winneshiek you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

I am inspired by challenges; A banker recently shared – “that is what Rebound and Brett do – they take on the unthinkable, the worst of conditions and have the ability to turn it around into success.”

Also very inspiring is that “it is not every day that the President of the United States drops in to visit and stay at your home” – a quote by me (President Obama staying the night at the Hotel Winneshiek!).

Some additional quotes I live by:

Energy is Everything!

“Success is when Planning meets Opportunity” (by partner Jennifer Sawyer)

When the going gets tough, the tough get going

Never say never

You will never achieve your greatest success without failing

Treat others as you would want them to treat you

Do the Right Thing

In closing, I am very proud of the Hotel Winneshiek (pictured below), Restauration Restaurant, Tap Room, and the Steyer Opera House of Decorah. The management team of Dan, Tom, Tammy, Deb, Laura, and their staff have taken a beautiful hotel renovated by Helen Basler – “a gift to Decorah”– and made it into a sustainable, successful business. My appreciation and thanks to you all!

HotelWinn

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Reese has recently launched two more business ventures:

The Northfield Real Estate Fund – a local group investing in their backyard – it has both a community component (supporting the community) and also a return on investment. www.northfieldrealestatefund.com

Co-founded 3C Capital Partners – an angel investing group that invests in start-ups and small and emerging companies – both locally and regionally. www.3ccapital.weebly.com