The Small Business Development Center knows firsthand that small businesses are the backbone of American free enterprise. Every day, they are working to grow local economies, create 21st century jobs, drive innovation, and increase America’s global competitiveness.
Encore Entrepreneur (Age 50+)
Artisan Restoration LLC, Kasota
Mark & Sandra Johnson
Mark Johnson’s passion for old buildings goes back to 1976 when a farmer gave him an old granary. That reclaimed wood is part of the home he still lives in today. Mark launched Artisan Restoration at age 60, utilizing his decades of experience as a general contractor to find and rehabilitate old treasures to delight his clients and prevent old structures from becoming an endangered species. His unique log cabin and barn projects are always one-of-a-kind, and his quality craftsmanship makes him a sought-after builder across the Midwest. Mark serves on the board of Friends of Minnesota Barns and often volunteers with his church and historical societies. In addition to this regional award, the SBA chose Artisan Restoration as Minnesota’s Encore Entrepreneur of the Year.
Family-Owned Small Business
Blue Earth Monument, Blue Earth
Blane, Lori & Mark Maher
Blue Earth Monument, Inc. is a locally-owned family business creating loving tributes since 1877. All of the monuments are created in-house by skilled artists and craftsmen, offering custom shapes, custom artwork, shape carved designs and more. Lori and Mark Maher became owners in 2008, then sole owners in 2011 when Lori’s father retired after 52 years. In 2015, they expanded with a new location in Albert Lea, managed by their son Blane. The company is known for its knowledge and excellence in caring for families at the most difficult times.
Minority-Owned Small Business
KATO Trucking LLC, Mankato
Nagi Obeyd & Ayan Musse
KATO Trucking is family owned and operated, providing skilled drivers, and safe and efficient deliveries across the country. Ayan Musse is the operations manager. She was born in East Africa (Somalia) and grew up in Egypt. In 1997, she came to the United States as a refugee. Ayan was appointed to the Minnesota Emerging Entrepreneur Board by Governor Mark Dayton, and is very involved in the greater Mankato community. Nagi Obeyd is the primary driver. He was born in East Africa (Somalia) and came to the United States as an immigrant in 2000. He has aspired to be a business owner since he was young and is dedicated to leaving a legacy for his children.
Veteran-Owned Small Business
River Valley Birth Center, St. Peter
Joe & Erika Urban
Perceiving a need for more maternity care options in rural Minnesota, Erika Urban attended a conference in 2011 on starting a birth center. Three years later she and Joe purchased and renovated a beautiful Victorian home in St. Peter, creating a nationally accredited and state licensed freestanding birth center. Erika serves as the director and one of the midwives, while Joe manages the property and the technology. As of March 2018, the midwives of RVBC have attended a total of 226 births. Joe served four years of active duty with the US Navy, and Erika served six years with the Minnesota National Guard – experience that reinforced their work ethic and desire to serve the community.
Woman-Owned Small Business
K & G Gymnastics, Mankato
Gabe Essay & Katie Olson
K & G Gymnastics is the realization of a mutual dream for Gabe Essay and Katie Olson, after years of training, competing and developing their gymnastics talents individually. The Mankato business was launched in 2011. Today it has 800-900 kids registered each session and hosts multiple teams including Mankato East/Loyola High School, Mankato West High School, club teams, competitive teams and youth. Its 32,000 sq. ft. facility is the largest in southern Minnesota. K & G excels at providing a fun, exciting and safe place for area youth to stay fit.
Young Entrepreneurs (Under age 30)
Ag Storm, St. Peter
Ben Wenner & Tyler Wenner
Ben Wenner and Tyler Wenner founded Ag Storm in 2010, which manufactures agricultural equipment focused on innovation and niche products that solve common problems for farmers. It all started with the Rock Hawk™, a patented rock picker grapple system to pick up rocks with the tractor while in the field. The Rock Hawk has since been followed with many other inventions which make up the scope of their ever-growing product line. The Wenners describe Ag Storm’s target customer as the forward-thinking farmer and predict that the company’s “innovation will be constant, disruptive, and aggressive.”