What’s it like to be the owner of a medical staffing firm serving more than 300 health care facilities nationwide?
pulse-logo“My son asked me not to answer the phone on his birthday,” laughs Dan Latham, owner and founder of Pulse Medical Staffing, LLC in Columbia.

“That’s what he wanted for his birthday.”

Latham founded the firm in 2010 with the assistance of Virginia Wilson, director of the University of Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center (SBTDC) in downtown Columbia. The MO SBTDC is a lead program of the University of Missouri Extension Business Development Program (BDP) which provides professional business analysis, consultation, access to technology resources and educational training on a variety of topics to businesses statewide.

Latham has been on call 24/7 for the past five years, answering the phone at 4 a.m., leaving work at 11 p.m., taking out the trash — whatever needs to be done.

Dan Latham founded Pulse Medical Staffing in 2010 with help from the MU SBTDC in Columbia.

Dan Latham founded Pulse Medical Staffing in 2010 with help from the MU SBTDC in Columbia.

“I enjoy working with people,” he says, such as the highly qualified medical personnel he places in the right facility at the right time. “I like that I am the one who can help them, send the hospital or nursing home the help they need, because I have been there.

“I enjoy this job. I don’t even call it a job.”

Tell that to the three other on-site staff and personnel he sends to medical facilities nationwide, including U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, with whom Latham secured a five-year contract with the help of Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (MO PTAC) counselors Bill Stuby and others. MO PTAC is another BDP program which helps businesses obtain government contracts.

“These guys [Stuby, MO PTAC] know their stuff,” he says.

It’s worked out very well for Latham and his hard-working crew. In 2011, he had fewer than 10 employees. That number is closer to 200 today and revenues have kept pace. In 2012, Pulse revenues were around $231,000. Today, it’s closing in on the $1 million mark.

Here is just one testimonial from a director of hospital development and quality implementation:

“Dan provides excellent customer service. He personally ensures the staff he provides is everything wanted in an employee. He pays attention to their appearance as well as their performance and competence. Dan will come to the hospital day and night to make sure his staff is a good fit for the hospital and that we are satisfied with their performance.”

That Pulse pays professional liability, a huge issue in health care today, is a plus; as is ensuring a contracted employee has the proper certifications, immunizations, workers’ compensation and other qualifications. Any individual Pulse sends is ready to pitch in immediately.

“We are the mortar in the brick wall” of health care, he says.

And Wilson has been a big help, he says.

“Back in 2008, when I met Virginia, she encouraged me, saying, ‘You can do this! You can run a business by yourself!’ ”
pulse-taking-pulseLatham had his doubts. He has a formidable medical background stretching back nearly 30 years that includes stints as an emergency medical technician, operating room technician, human tissue and transplant coordinator, staffing coordinator and licensed practical nurse with the Red Cross in St. Louis, health care facilities across Missouri and in Washington, Florida, Texas and South Carolina. His mother also worked as a nursing assistant, which smoothed his entry into the field.

He found he was very good at juggling the multiple, often life-threatening issues that define the field. “I was able to streamline everything in these positions,” he says. And he watched, listened and learned.

He moved to Columbia in 2003 to work as a staffing agency nurse. And he thought, why not start my own agency?

Wilson helped him make sense of financial flowcharts and other financial documents and helped him prepare a business plan. A good business plan is essential in obtaining loans, among other things. It’s a map to the future. There was no good model for a business like his, but Wilson and he went through it step by step until they had it nailed.

“She helped me see this was a feasible business,” he says. “She was constantly at my beck and call. I’d bring something to her and say, ‘I don’t understand this form the bank sent me!’ and she would help me make sense of it.

“She is an excellent resource for me.”

The Pulse Medical Staffing facility in Columbia, Mo.

The Pulse Medical Staffing facility in Columbia, Mo.

EquipmentShare.com Inc.

Willy Schlacks didn’t formally graduate from high school. Or college.

equipmentshare-logoAnd now he’s running a multi-million dollar business with double-digit weekly growth that has expanded from mid-Missouri to St. Louis and soon Dallas with the help of the BDP.

He and his brother Jabbok, co-founders of the contractor equipment sharing firm EquipmentShare.com, were raised and educated in a faith-based community near Fulton, Mo. Its members work and contribute their earnings back to the community, and all share in the proceeds from business ventures — in the case of the Schlacks brothers, starting a construction company within the community, which gave them a solid business foundation and work ethic.

Jabbok and William Schlacks, co-founders of EquipmentShare.com, the Airbnb of construction equipment

Jabbok and William Schlacks, co-founders of EquipmentShare.com, the Airbnb of construction equipment

The brothers left the community with their families in 2010 and started Schlacks Construction, which they grew from a small firm in Fulton to a statewide one, also with some BDP assistance, especially that of the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (MO PTAC). PTAC’s mission is to aid businesses obtain federal, state and local government contracts.

Their communal background must have stuck with them, however. The brothers looked at contractors’ constant need for often exorbitantly expensive equipment, which can then sit unused during the off-season, and thought — why not share?

This was the genesis of EquipmentShare.com. Think of it as the Airbnb of construction equipment.

The brothers approached BDP partner Regional Economic Development, Inc., who share a working space with the University of Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center (SBTDC, another BDP program.) There they met counselor Collin Bunch, who pushed them to better target their customer base and clarify their revenue model. Bunch also introduced the brothers to Bill Turpin, CEO of the Missouri Innovation Center, which also helps grow mid-Missouri businesses. Other MU SBTDC staff later used GIS to better target clientele, especially in the Sunbelt, where there is no true construction off-season.

“Collin was very helpful,” says Schlacks. “His efforts, his networking, have been very valuable.”

The brothers also attended a boot camp which the University of Missouri SBTDC organized, and took their very bright idea to the annual Columbia Startup Weekend, which they then won. There they met two developers who provided the tech savvy behind EquipmentShare.com. The two developers became cofounders.

The EquipmentShare.com website streamlines the selection and rental process.

The EquipmentShare.com website streamlines the selection and rental process.

It gets even better: After winning Startup Weekend, the brothers applied and were accepted to startup seed funder Y Combinator, the Harvard of Silicon Valley. Y Combinator has funded more than 700 startups with a combined value of over $30 billion, according to the organization, including such now-household names as reddit, Dropbox and Airbnb.

“We flew out and had a 10-minute interview,” Schlacks says. “And we thought, ‘How in the world can they make a decision in 10 minutes?’” The Y Combinator screeners knew a good thing when they saw it, though, and invested $120,000 in the concept.

Other investors have since recognized the need EquipmentShare.com fills and have invested more than $2 million.

The firm has grown exponentially from just the brothers to the additional cofounders and 20 employees, with a Dallas office expected to open this fall. And this is just the beginning. Schlacks sees enormous possibilities in new equipment sales, insurance and maintenance.

But not just yet.

“This market (contractor rental) we are jumping into is so massive — the equipment alone could keep us busy for several decades!” Schlacks says. “We are moving so quickly, growing so quickly.” How quickly? “About 10 percentevery week.

“We feel we are filling a huge need for contractors,” he says. “That’s really the key to our growth.”

How does EquipmentShare.com work?

The idea behind EquipmentShare.com is simple: Connect contractor equipment owners not using often very expensive equipment with contractors who need it.

To do so, EquipmentShare.com has built a robust website that carefully vets every renter and covers all paperwork, insurance and logistics, including transportation — even, when required, overnight delivery so a contractor has absolutely zero downtime. The firm also inspects and guarantees each piece of equipment delivered. Once in the EquipmentShare system, almost any piece of equipment can be rented with a simple phone call, email, even text message.

For further peace of mind, EquipmentShare.com uses telematics. This is almost any system which merges telecommunications and infomatics, ubiquitous today from phone GPS and navigation to the exact, real-time location of a city bus or package. Customers are thus able to track the location and use of their equipment in real time.

“Telematics is not new,” says Schlacks. “Our telematics gives the contractor real time data on their fleet to make educated decisions. Now a contractor can see the utilization data and have a solution beyond just selling the equipment. If he sees it’s not being used or barely used, he can now rent it out. We have some contractors making up to $20,000 per month lending idle equipment. That’s huge for them.”

EquipmentShare.com offers a wide variety of equipment.

EquipmentShare.com offers a wide variety of equipment.

SBTDC clients Tyson Hunt, Logboat Brewing, and brothers Jabbok and William Schlacks, EquipmentShare.com, have been named to the 2016 Columbia Business Times 20 Under 40 list. Learn more:

The annual list celebrates 20 Columbia professionals under the age of 40 who have positively impacted the city.

Logboat Brewing Co. logoWe first reported on Logboat in 2014 as the brewery was poised to open. Since then, the brewery has thrived and grown, becoming a community staple.

Says Hunt: “Involvement with the Small Business Technology & Development Center, as well as with One Million Cups, has been a tremendous asset to my growth professionally and hopefully helped budding entrepreneurs like myself.”

EquipmentShare.com: Peer to peer equipment rentalWe reported on EquipmentShare.com in September 2015. Today, the firm has expanded to serve about 1,000 companies in Missouri, Kansas and Illinois, with plans to expand to Texas and Florida and ultimately overseas.

Mobile Food Vendors

NAICS: 722330, SIC: 5812

By Theresa Ehrlich

Street vendors no longer just sell hot dogs, tacos and snow cones. Today you can get anything from freshly prepared sushi rolls to grass fed organic hamburgers. Street food is having a significant impact on food culture. Professional chefs are leaving their restaurants to open their own trailers. Among them are Jerome Chang, former pastry chef at Le Cirque and now co-owner of DessertTruck in New York City, and Chef Laurent Katgley, owner of Chez Spencer, an upscale French restaurant, who operates a lunch truck which sells skewers of escargot in puffed pastry.4 Even Taco Bell has joined the fad, sending out its own fleet of taco trucks to roam the streets.6

Click here for the full article: Mobile Food Vendors

Screen-Shot-2014-12-22-at-2.39.40-PM-248x300The Small Business Development Center, a nationwide program that has centers in 27 cities and towns across Missouri, was created with two purposes in mind: to create jobs and to help entrepreneurs succeed.

Columbia’s SBDC, located downtown, has helped business owners big and small thrive throughout the years. Past clients include local favorites Hot Box Cookies, Patric Chocolates, and Logboat Brewing. Through educational classes, workshops and one-on-one training and counseling, SBDC helps business owners through every step of the process.

Entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones recognizing everything SBDC has to offer. In the past year, the center has received two outstanding reviews, one from the U.S. Small Business administration and one from the association of Small Business Development Centers. These reviews have served as just another reminder to the SBDC staff of the impact they have on their community.

Click here for the full article.

NEMS/MEMS Works LLC

Nanotechnology once was confined strictly to the realm of science fiction. It conjured visions of vastly miniaturized submersibles coursing through the veins of patients in need of treatment, as in the ’60s sci-fi flick Fantastic Voyage.

Keshab (left) and Shubhra Gangopadhyay founded their Columbia-based nanotechnology company NEMS/MEMS Works LLC in 2004.

Keshab (left) and Shubhra Gangopadhyay founded their Columbia-based nanotechnology company NEMS/MEMS Works LLC in 2004.

However the world of super small technology is no longer a dream. It’s here today. And a husband-wife doctoral engineering duo — Keshab and Shubhra Gangopadhyay — at the University of Missouri in Columbia is taking its “nano” vision from the laboratory toward the marketplace.

Nanotechnology is the science and technology of building devices from single atoms and molecules. The basic dimension, the nanometer, is one one-billionth of a meter. To put that in perspective: a red blood cell is 7,000 nanometers in diameter; the head of pin is about 1 million nanometers wide.

The Gangopadhyays initiated their academic careers in their native India … Keshab earning a doctorate in nuclear engineering and Shubhra obtaining hers in physics. In the mid-’80s they each pursued scientific research and teaching — he in engineering and math, she in physics and engineering — at universities in India and Germany.

Shubhra holds the LaPierre Chair, an endowed professorship in the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri.

Shubhra holds the LaPierre Chair, an endowed professorship in the College of Engineering at the University of Missouri.

While in Germany, Keshab collaborated with a professor from the United States. That association led to an invitation for Keshab to serve as a visiting professor of mathematics at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where Shubhra also pursued her academic career. During more than a decade at Texas Tech the Gangopadhyays also explored entrepreneurism by devoting time and energy to a company involved with semiconductors.

They left Texas Tech in 2003, when Shubhra was offered an engineering endowed professorship as the LaPierre Chair at the University of Missouri.

“She decided to accept the position and I supported her,” recalls Keshab. “After she assumed her new position, I preferred to be a research professor at the University, keeping a significant amount of time available for entrepreneurial activities.”

The following year the enterprising pair of academicians formed NEMS/MEMS Works LLC. They pointed their company toward the pursuit of nanotechnology in the fields of energy, security and medicine.

Steve Apperson, vice president for R&D at NEMS/MEMS, explains one small aspect of the nanotechnology research process. Martin Walker (left) is the company’s vice president for facilities and administration.

Steve Apperson, vice president for R&D at NEMS/MEMS, explains one small aspect of the nanotechnology research process. Martin Walker (left) is the company’s vice president for facilities and administration.

They are synthesizing new nanomaterials for integration using microfabrication techniques to make novel microdevices. Collaborating on this project with the Gangopadhyays are Steven Apperson, an MU doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering, and Luis Polo-Parada, assistant professor of medical pharmacology at MU.

“We are beginning to produce nanomaterials that can be used very effectively for biosensors and medical applications,” explains Keshab. “In the near future, the company envisages the manufacture of a shockwave generator microdevice for cell transfection, drug delivery and gene therapy.”

Among their efforts is a proto-type nanodevice to help physicians treat life-threatening illnesses. Dubbed “the smart-bomb of the nanotechnology world,” the molecular-sized device speeds and targets the delivery of drugs to treat diseases such as cancer. The miniscule device is “smart” because it can target only diseased cells. This would enable physicians to aim the proper amount of treatment to the exact location, while minimizing undesirable side effects.

Company colleagues discuss a research-related question in the NEMS/MEMS laboratory.

Company colleagues discuss a research-related question in the NEMS/MEMS laboratory.

Thus far the Gangopadhyays and their research team have tested their nanodevice only on animal and plant cells, achieving a high success rate. A significant amount of time — two to five years — and additional testing will be needed before this therapy is available for human applications.

While the Gangopadhyays are busy in the lab, they also are exploring commercialization possibilities for their work with the help of a dedicated team of tech-savvy business counselors at the Small Business & Technology Development Center in MU’s College of Engineering. SBTDC counselors Jim Gann and Paul Rehrig are an integral part of the NEMS/MEMS business team, according to Keshab.

“They have the right expertise and we’ve needed their professional help for business negotiation with the University and the outside business world,” says Keshab. “Jim has been helping us develop the business plan for each technology and Paul has been helping us with our SBIR proposals. They also mentor us in preparing our presentation to potential investors.”

The Gangopadhyays know the next five years are very important to the transfer of their nanotechnology research to the marketplace. They are confident the assistance of the SBTDC technology specialists — Gann and Rehrig — will help them develop a model for commercial success.

Update May 2014: The MU Office of Economic Development highlights Dr. Shubhra Gangopadhyay in week one of their Entrepreneur of the Week series. Read the story here.

Hot Box Cookies

On his 21st birthday, Corey Rimmel, instead of visiting a local watering hole with his buddies for a celebratory first legal drink, enjoyed milk and cookies at his newly opened business, Hot Box Cookies in downtown Columbia.hotbox_logo

Corey and co-owners Adam Hendin and David Melnick have barely had a moment to celebrate anything recently. Hot Box Cookies has kept them and their 26 employees hopping from the moment the first batch of homemade customized delicacies came out of the oven.

“We haven’t even really advertised,” Corey says. “This is all word of mouth, a little bit of door mail, helping out with a couple of tailgating events and having a prime location on Broadway. We haven’t had time to work our way through our marketing plan — we’ve just been too busy.”

No doubt. Corey, Adam and David are all juniors at the University of Missouri. While Corey and David major in accounting, Adam is considering atmospheric science.

MU students (left to right) David Melnick, Corey Rimmel and Adam Hendin opened the doors to their downtown Columbia shop Hot Box Cookies in October 2008.

MU students (left to right) David Melnick, Corey Rimmel and Adam Hendin opened the doors to their downtown Columbia shop Hot Box Cookies in October 2008.

The three best friends grew up together in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, Mo. They attended Parkway Central High School and came to MU expecting the typical college experience. Several months ago, Corey visited the University of Indiana and saw a cookie bakery and delivery business near the campus. He thought the concept was rather novel, and in conversation with his friends a few days later, mentioned the idea.

“At first we were just joking, kicking the idea around,” Corey says. “Before long, we were holed up in the library every night doing research. Then, one day, we said, ‘Well, let’s just see if we can do it.’”

Armed with their research, they sought out every resource they could, including the local Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) chapter, where they were assisted by Gary Duncan, owner of Frameworks, a local gift and framing store. Then they found Virginia Wilson, business specialist with the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Center in MU’s College of Engineering.

Slowly, the trio finalized the plan. The next step: financing.

Armed with $30,000 of their own investment, the partners approached Keith McLaughlin, senior vice president of the SBA Lending Division at The Bank of Missouri in Columbia.

Six visiting students from Kalamazoo, Mich., enjoy a well-deserved milk & cookie break on a Saturday afternoon.

Six visiting students from Kalamazoo, Mich., enjoy a well-deserved milk & cookie break on a Saturday afternoon.

“I think when I talked to Keith on the phone the first time, he was just a little bit skeptical,” Corey says, with a healthy dose of understatement. “But then we went to see him, and I just never quit talking. I thought the meeting went really well. Keith looked at our plan, our numbers and our research, and a few days later he called me and told me they would do the loan.”

Hot Box Cookies is one of a kind — as is every cookie they bake.

Starting with homemade dough in four flavors, bakers add whatever you like to make your cookies specifically to your taste. You order in increments of six, and you can pick them up or have them delivered within minutes of their emergence from the oven. Packaged up in a small pizza box, the cookies arrive at your doorstep while they are still warm.

An order of six, customized cookies is $5.95 plus $1 delivery fee. Or you can walk into the store and select them fresh from the case. Sit at one of the tables, play a board game, use the free wi-fi and enjoy a cold glass of milk or one of Corey’s signature smoothies or shakes. What else could you possibly need after a hard day of work or school?

Hot Box Cookies opens on weekdays at 4 p.m. (noon on Saturdays and Sundays), just about the time when kids traditionally come home to milk and cookies after school. It’s also the time that currently works best for these school-bound cookie entrepreneurs.

“It’s after we get out of class,” Corey says. “We’d he open earlier if we didn’t have class.”

What’s better than a cookie hot from the oven and milk?

What’s better than a cookie hot from the oven and milk?

Corey says the biggest surprise he’s had is how incredibly busy Hot Box Cookies is after such a short time in business. His biggest challenge is sometimes dealing with suppliers who run late or bring the wrong order. Employees are not a challenge, because the three entrepreneurs hired only their good friends and fraternity brothers.

“We don’t have to worry about trusting any of these people,” Corey says. “We all know them really, really well. And they all want us to be successful.”

Bakers arrive at the store about 15 minutes before opening and put the first batches in the oven. Things really get “crazy,” Corey says, late in the evening when everyone is studying or wanting a late-night snack. Two delivery drivers hustle to take the hot boxes throughout the delivery area. If more help is needed, it’s just a phone call away. One of the owners is onsite at all times. Things typically quiet down about 2 a.m., and the owners grab a few hours of sleep before heading off to class the next day.

“Fortunately for us, we’re all pretty smart,” Corey says. “So keeping up — at least so far — has not been a problem.”

What’s next for these “accidental” entrepreneurs?

“I really want to franchise this,” Corey says. “I’ve always had it in my mind that I would work for myself. And I’ve always cooked and studied the culinary arts. I didn’t know I was a baker, but it seems to have turned out that way. I think this would be really popular in other communities, particularly college towns.”

Landlord Arnie Fagan calls the early success “phenomenal.” He adds, “I live upstairs, and the smells — it’s wonderful!”

Must be. After all, it’s the sweet smell of success!

The relationship of humans and their pets dates back millennia. That special human-animal bond, which started when the first caveman enticed a canine ancestor to team with him on a hunt, is as important if not as immediately utilitarian today.

Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction receives the Rising Star of Entrepreneurship Award at a ceremony in Jefferson City. The award was presented by Max Summers (right), state director of MO SBTDC.

Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction receives the Rising Star of Entrepreneurship Award at a ceremony in Jefferson City. The award was presented by Max Summers (right), state director of MO SBTDC.

With the continual graying of our 21st century population and the ever-burgeoning population of animal pets in our society, a University of Missouri nursing professor focuses her research on the practical applications and health benefits of interaction between humans and animals.

Dr. Rebecca Johnson founded the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in 2005. As a joint effort of MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the Sinclair School of Nursing, ReCHAI is true to its name.

Among its many programs and research efforts: PALS (Pet Assisted Love and Support for seniors), an innovative online training program to promote animal-assisted activity for older adults; PAWSitive Visits, an animal visitation effort at senior housing facilities; and Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, a community project to walk shelter dogs and increase physical activity of human participants … children and adults.

Animals have always played a major role in Johnson’s family life, since her formative years in rural northern Illinois. During her early career working as a hospital nurse, she frequently saw many extended-stay elderly patients whose overriding concerns were not for themselves but for the pets waiting for them at home.

As part of the ReCHAI programming, Professor Johnson teaches a three-hour undergraduate course – Human-Companion Animal Interaction (Psych 2830). Johnson encourages students to bring their pets to class at the MU campus. Jessica Ludwig brought her long-haired dachshunds Oscar and Truman.

As part of the ReCHAI programming, Professor Johnson teaches a three-hour undergraduate course – Human-Companion Animal Interaction (Psych 2830). Johnson encourages students to bring their pets to class at the MU campus. Jessica Ludwig brought her long-haired dachshunds Oscar and Truman.

In many of those cases elderly people who could no longer care for themselves were forced to give up their pets. Those patients faced the double-whammy of moving to a new environment and losing a loving and trusted companion.

“So the Center is a culmination of what I have observed during these many years, and what I have learned in studying the growing body of research in the field of human-animal interaction,” Johnson explains.

ReCHAI developed from a serendipitous meeting in 1999 between Johnson and Joe Kornegay, then dean of the MU veterinary school. Their persistent efforts and those of Cecil Moore, former chair of veterinary medicine and surgery department, led six years later to the formation of ReCHAI.

However, soon after starting the Center Johnson discovered she needed more than her expertise in the field of human-animal interaction to make it a success. She found she needed training in budgeting and operational management. She also needed a business plan to attract the donations needed to support the Center and its services.

That’s when a colleague at the veterinary college, development officer Greg Jones, pointed her to an enterprising resource on campus … the Small Business and Technology Development Center at the MU College of Engineering.

“I had no business experience. So, I needed mentoring to create the Center, to plan for its future and to manage its resources,” recalls Johnson. “This was the main obstacle, which was wonderfully overcome by my affiliation with the SBTDC.”

Charlotte McKenney, assistant director of ReCHAI, brought Gordon setter Miss Holly for a visit to the residents of TigerPlace, a senior living home in Columbia. The activity was part of the Center’s PAWSitive Visits program, which arranges weekly scheduled visits between senior residents and a variety of companion animals.

Charlotte McKenney, assistant director of ReCHAI, brought Gordon setter Miss Holly for a visit to the residents of TigerPlace, a senior living home in Columbia. The activity was part of the Center’s PAWSitive Visits program, which arranges weekly scheduled visits between senior residents and a variety of companion animals.

She soon started working with Jim Gann, business development specialist with the SBTDC. He initially helped her develop a written business plan for the Center. The plan was necessitated as Johnson met with potential donors who asked to see a documented plan before contributing to her Center. They needed reassurance their gifts were going to a viable effort.

“We assisted Rebecca with such a plan, and as a result, she was able to gain funding from benefactors who strongly believe in her work,” says Gann.

Among those benefactors is The Roetheli Lil’ Red Foundation. Joe and Judy Roetheli, creators of the Greenies dog biscuits, gave $400,000 to ReCHAI in 2007. The Roethelis sold 750 million of the canine treats from 1998 to 2006 when Mars Inc. bought their company.

Charlotte and Miss Holly with another resident of TigerPlace.

Charlotte and Miss Holly with another resident of TigerPlace.

Donations from other sources followed. Once donors began contributing to ReCHAI, Gann and a colleague — Bill Stuby, a specialist with the Missouri Procurement Technical Assistance Centers — also assisted Johnson with other business elements.

“Jim has been absolutely invaluable in helping me forge the Center,” explains Johnson. “Very concretely he helped me with the business plan, has provided continued guidance on HR matters, and together with Bill, financial advice.”

As a result of the entrepreneurial guidance from the SBTDC, Johnson says: “It has been wonderful to see the widespread support of the programs that we have developed. It’s exciting to find that donors and corporate sponsors are very interested in partnering with us to further the work, and it’s rewarding to see that we are helping people and animals to interact beneficially.”

“If not now, when?”

Veterinary clinical pathologist Chuck Wiedmeyer started his commercial laboratory in November 2008.

Veterinary clinical pathologist Chuck Wiedmeyer started his commercial laboratory in November 2008.

With those words and the air of confidence they convey, Dr. Charles Wiedmeyer entered the world of private enterprise a little more than two years ago. After much planning and extensive discussions with several people — including his wife, Birgit — the research veterinarian started a commercial pathology laboratory in Columbia, Mo.

Comparative Clinical Pathology Services opened for business in November 2008.

“Looking back, and considering the condition of our national economy at the time, it’s incredible to think I made the move to open a business then,” says Wiedmeyer. “But I was ready.”

CCPS is designed for a need the board-certified veterinary clinical pathologist frequently encountered during his first 15 years in the field. That need came from a variety of sources that generate an increasing demand for research animal pathology services.

A blood coagulation analyzer (behind and to the right of Dr. Wiedmeyer) is one of the critical pieces of equipment used by the company’s lab technicians when processing blood samples of research animals.

A blood coagulation analyzer (behind and to the right of Dr. Wiedmeyer) is one of the critical pieces of equipment used by the company’s lab technicians when processing blood samples of research animals.

From the time he was a young boy in suburban Chicago, Chuck envisioned devoting his career to a small animal veterinary practice. After completing a bachelor’s degree in biology (with a minor in chemistry) at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, he went on to earn a DVM and a PhD in veterinary pathology at the University of Illinois. It was in that field that he found his true calling.

“During my graduate studies I was inspired by one of my professors, Joe Dorner, to devote my energies to veterinary clinical pathology,” recalls Chuck.

After completing a residency in clinical pathology at the U of I, Wiedmeyer joined the faculty at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2001. As a clinical pathology professor he saw the need for timely, reliable processing of research animal blood samples. Research labs around the country — at such places as pharmaceutical firms, universities, contract research organizations and zoos — all needed pathology services.

So, Wiedmeyer started exploring how to start his own commercial pathology laboratory.

“It was in the entrepreneurial spirit advocated by the University that I began to think, ‘Why don’t I do this myself?’” says the enterprising researcher.

The largest piece of equipment in the lab is an automated clinical chemistry analyzer, which the company leases.

The largest piece of equipment in the lab is an automated clinical chemistry analyzer, which the company leases.

By 2007 Wiedmeyer was serious enough about his idea that he took it to Jim Gann, a business counselor at the Small Business & Technology Development Center at MU’s College of Engineering.

“After I described my idea, Jim sort of rolled his eyes as if to say, “How are you going to work this out?’” Wiedmeyer remembers vividly.

During a series of meetings with Gann, the veterinarian and his business counselor discussed the many factors required to start the business, such as financing, management and business planning.

To address the business plan, Wiedmeyer secured the talents of five MBA students at MU’s College of Business. Soon the plan was on paper. Next, he showed it to the president of a bank in Columbia, who was favorably impressed by the plan.

However, after lengthy deliberation with his wife, Chuck decided to bypass a business loan. Instead he chose to take a home equity line of credit on his house. Birgit agreed, with the caveat that if the business went south and they lost their house “we’ll be moving in with my parents.” (While he admires his in-laws, the prospect of living with them offered Chuck extra incentive to succeed in business.)

The entrepreneur employs three lab technicians who process blood, plasma and urine research samples as soon as the shipments arrive at the lab. He pays his techs well in return for prompt, accurate and cost-effective work.

His approach to business is summed up by one simple question: “What is my business doing better than a competitor?” His three answers: “We offer our customers a competitive price. We give them timely service. And I personally offer expert interpretation of the results, which is critical for our customers and their research.”

Specimen receptacles must be removed and thoroughly cleaned after every use.

Specimen receptacles must be removed and thoroughly cleaned after every use.

At this point Wiedmeyer says his venture has arrived at a stage he can handle. CCPS turned a profit its first year and saw a 37 percent increase in revenue the second. The $26,000 line of credit he borrowed in 2008 was paid off in two years, so the Wiedmeyer’s home is safely in their possession. Because he has income from his primary job as a member of MU’s vet school faculty, Chuck currently takes no salary from his business venture. He plows the profits back into the firm to buy vital equipment, such as a recently purchased blood coagulation analyzer.

He and Birgit, who runs her own business as a freelance interpreter and translator and serves as his firm’s bookkeeper, pay the bills on the last day of every month. In addition to the employee paychecks and standard business expenses, they pay the rent to RADIL, the Research Animal Diagnostic Laboratory at MU’s Discovery Ridge Research Park in south Columbia. They also pay RADIL fees for marketing and for administrative processing of each sample CCPS analyzes. This symbiotic relationship is beneficial to both parties.

“It’s a good arrangement for our current needs,” observes Wiedmeyer. “So far, it’s gone much better than I anticipated. I suppose a lot of the credit goes to the planning and preparation I made before I opened the business. And a lot of that preparation came from my talks with Jim Gann. I value his advice and continue to seek his counsel when questions arise, which happens often.”