WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Five Boilermaker business owners
returned to the Purdue University campus to share their success stories at the
second annual College of Agriculture Entrepreneurial Day.
Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann and Indiana State Department of
Agriculture Director Gina Sheets were among those present at the event.
“You are creating the jobs of the future that will really
fuel the economy of the state,” Ellspermann told the crowd. “I’m going to be
your cheerleader. We hope you take the challenge to be a job maker. We want to
keep Indiana’s business friendly and ag friendly.”
Dean of Agriculture Jay Akrdige’s speech echoed a similar
message concerning job creation.
“We increasingly want to help our students think about the
notion of creating their own business, becoming an entrepreneur,” he said.
“Launching something that creates jobs, being a job maker and not a job taker.”
The event featured presentations from the returning Purdue
graduates. They represented degrees from across the College of Agriculture,
including biochemistry, animal sciences and agricultural systems management.
Kim DeWees, founder of Vision Ag Inc., graduated with a
bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics in 1995. Today, she leads a
full-service ag retail facility in Rensselaer.
“I learned that a corporate structure was not a fit for me
or my personality, so I decided to leave,” she said. “There’s a lot of
difference between an entrepreneurship and other organizations. You learn by
jumping in. There’s not a lot of structure. It’s not about certainty — it’s
Other entrepreneurs agreed that risk is a huge factor in
starting a business. Joe Garwood, cofounder and managing member of Fulcrum
Exploration, took a risk of his own after leaving a corporate job to start his
Garwood received a bachelor’s degree in ag systems
management in 1978. He held a successful career with DuPont Pioneer before
branching off on his own.
“I had this song inside me,” he said. “I am going to be an
entrepreneur. I’m going to die trying. I’m going to make this happen if it the
last thing I do.”
His evident passion for entrepreneurship took flight in
1999, when he started a private business in the oil production industry. He and
his partners still are growing their business in Dallas.
Another success story came from Barb Cohen, founder and CSO
of Arex Life Sciences Inc. Unlike DeWees and Garwood, Cohen does not enjoy
taking risks. She utilizes a scientific philosophy in running her business.
“Both my business partner and I were not initially ready to
found companies coming out of school,” she said.
“This didn’t mean that we wouldn’t get there. It was a
question of timing, experience building, connection building. I came to it with
enough experience to have an idea how to shape a practical product.”
Cohen, a 1979 graduate in biochemistry, is a pro when it
comes to running a research and development team.
“Like Picasso said, learn the rules like a pro so you can
break them like an artist,” she said. “That is also part of my inspiration.
“In some ways we are all entrepreneurs.
“We’re building something in lives, we’re bringing something
that can benefit other individuals, we’re building for the future and we’re
connecting with each other to enable that vision to perform.”