Andy Jorgensen and David Anderson are very different people. One lives in Sioux Falls and the other in the small community of Wilmot in northeastern South Dakota. One sells fireworks and the other repairs and restores vehicles. One went to tech school and the other got a traditional 4 year degree. However, they both had an ambition at a young age to start their own businesses. As you will hear throughout this story they also have many of the same views on how to support young entrepreneurs in South Dakota.
First I’ll introduce you to Andy Jorgensen. He owns FireBros, a fireworks company based in Sioux Falls.
FireBros isn’t just another fireworks stand on the side of the road. Customers can go to the FireBros website and view video of their fireworks in action before they buy.
Jorgensen says, “A lot of stores have these screens where you get to watch the firework and those are phenomenal because the customer sits there and knows exactly what it does and they’re very confident in seeing the video. They go, ‘I want that, I want to see that live.’ And, so my thought process is if you can give them that experience on their couch from the comfort of their home they would prefer that.”
After customers buy online, they pick up their fireworks at one of two FireBros locations but Jorgensen is working on a delivery option. This is no easy task due to the many regulations on the fireworks industry but in true entrepreneurial fashion Jorgensen is ready to take on that challenge. However, Jorgensen doesn’t call himself an entrepreneur. Rather, he says he is an opportunist.
“I just jump on opportunity,” says Jorgensen, “I’m really just a prospector in a gold mine right now. And I hope it’s a gold mine. I see that there’s a bunch of people walking this direction with shovels and I’m the guy sitting there going how can we make this big?”
Jorgensen didn’t always know what he wanted to do after he got out of college but he had the opportunity to work with a few start ups in Sioux Falls which gave him the knowledge, skills and inspiration to start his own company.
David Anderson on the other hand always knew what he wanted to do for his career.
“I guess since the fourth grade,” says Anderson, “I think I made up my mind in the fourth grade, that I was going to have my own business and wanted it to do with cars. I wanted to fix up old cars. I really like old cars and so since the fourth grade this is what I’m going to do. And I just did it.”
Anderson now owns Route 15 Body Works which provides a number of automotive services including auto body repair, maintenance and restorations. Although Anderson had an ambition to start his own business in his hometown, his biggest obstacle was overcoming the skeptics.
Anderson says, “The thing I always heard was that, ok, you got to go to college, get a good job and move away and that’s what success is. That’s what they kind of preached to you and a lot of the parents. And I always thought that was wrong and I disagreed with them. Because in the same breath the teacher would be like, our school is shrinking, the town is going to die. But you just got done telling us for 12 years we gotta leave.”
Anderson says he’s proof that you don’t have to move away to a big city to become successful. He says small communities need to start encouraging younger people to take this path.
“What’s going to grow a small town is entrepreneurs, period,” says Anderson, “Because an entrepreneur is going to come create a business and hire people.”
Anderson says starting a business in a small town is advantageous because the start-up costs are low. He says small towns need to start realizing they can be an asset to entrepreneurs and stop pushing their young people to move away.
Back in Sioux Falls Andy Jorgensen says the business atmosphere is very welcoming and supportive. He says there are plenty of mentors and people that are willing to help young entrepreneurs.
“We go to these big conferences and they charge you 30 grand to be apart of their mastermind groups. Now if you got a million dollar business and you can make 5 million dollars because of that it’s totally a good investment. Around here, I’ve got people that are retired Walmart executives, I’ve got people that are, you know they’ve been working for payment processing companies and they retire and they’re like we want to help. Right, we just want to help. And there’s this like we’ll pay it forward. We want to see young people flourish and it’s like ok well what do you want in return? I want to help, that’s what I want in return,” says Jorgensen.
However, he does think that Sioux Falls could do better in a few areas and one of those is to encourage more risk taking.
“The industries of Sioux Falls are healthcare, insurance and banking,” says Jorgensen, “So if you think about that they’re job is actually to come in, work a spreadsheet and say here is the way that you can consistently, safely make money and minimize your risk. And that’s how they make money; is to minimize risk. So when you talk about the business culture in Sioux Falls, the business culture is supported by organizations that minimize risk. However, we have this entrepreneurship conversation where it’s all about making risk and taking risks.”
Jorgensen says that failure needs to be more accepted and even encouraged because that is how people learn and become successful.
“And if you talked to half the good leaders in history, they like tried a bajillion things and finally one worked.”
Both Jorgensen and Anderson say that being young and starting a business has given them an edge. They say parents, teachers and community leaders need to start encouraging even younger people to start their own businesses. Jorgensen says ideally before they even go to college.
“I might ruffle some feathers saying this but by the time they hit college they’re kind of already part of the system. And I’m not tin hat wearin’, the system is evil. I’m just saying, like, they already need steady income and they’re already lickin’ their chops at a 401k,” says Jorgensen.
Jorgensen and Anderson say apprenticeships are the future of education. Anderson says the traditional college path is just too slow.
“Secondary education, I suppose there is a place for it, but it has proven to be an inefficient way to transfer information and knowledge,” says Anderson, “You know, a lot of people go 4 years and they get out in 5 and they have a lot of debt. And what they’ve learned is already outdated because the industry moves so quick or technology moves so fast. Everything they learned is outdated so now they can’t find a job, because they haven’t worked because they don’t have a background.”
Anderson says he seeks out young people to train for his business and that most of his employees have learned on the job. Jorgensen wants to start an apprenticeship of his own so he can share his knowledge and skills and help other young people start businesses.
Both Anderson and Jorgensen say the path of success is going to look much different for future generations and families, communities and teachers need to support that. They say to keep young entrepreneurs in South Dakota communities need to be welcoming, supportive places that foster the entrepreneurial spirit rather than hindering it.