The Number One Quality of All Successful Entrepreneurs
Written By: Dan Steininger, President and Co-Founder of BizStarts
As seen on the April 5, 2016 post in Milwaukee Business Journal OnRamp Blog.
Starting a business is not for the faint-hearted. Studies consistently show that entrepreneurs’ emotional commitment and passion for the problem they want solved is the number one ingredient to overcoming the challenges and inevitable disappointments in growing their business.
Could anyone doubt Steve Jobs’ commitment to shaping a world where technology empowers consumers? Does anyone doubt that Elon Musk passionately believes in reducing the impact on the environment of travel for consumers? Individuals such as these who are trying to solve the world’s social and economic problems.
Will Allen of Growing Power is a well-known and passionate entrepreneur making an impact in our community, but there are others who deserve mention.
Meet Melissa Tashjian, Founder of Compost Crusader. She got her start organizing compost sites within individual communities. In 2014, Compost Crusaders won 2nd place in Marquette’s Good Money Challenge (a funding competition for innovative business ventures that have a social or environmental impact). And one year later, she is running a profitable business that diverted 860,729 pounds of food scraps away from landfills in 2015.
For a quick education on composting, here it is in a nutshell: Handling the waste streams has become a major problem for most municipalities and landfills nationwide are rapidly facing a capacity crisis—and restaurants account for 45.8% of that waste stream in Milwaukee. Rather than throwing out food scraps and disposing of them in landfills, food waste can instead be recycled and utilized for energy production and as a soil amendment. So rather than using up space in landfills, the material can be transformed to serve other productive uses.
The Orchard Ridge Landfill, where Milwaukee County deposits about 75% of its waste, only has a life expectancy until 2025. Once it is capped, it will cost us all more to send our waste elsewhere. Accordingly, the City of Milwaukee has issued a sustainability plan that looks to divert 40% of the waste stream from the landfill by 2020. Melissa is being pro-active and has begun creating infrastructure that can keep food waste out of landfills.
Maybe we’re becoming numb to certain buzzwords like “greener” and “sustainability.” But seriously, look at the outcomes of this effort: precious space saved in landfills will have cost savings down the road; there is a beneficial, desired byproduct with proven uses; and methane emissions, to which food waste is the number one contributor in landfills, are avoided.
From non-profit to scalable business
When Melissa began, she was a non-profit setting up small compost sites near community gardens. Suddenly, more and more businesses wanted to come on-board and recycle their food scraps. Even as she was developing a great relationship with a compost farm, customers wanted to divert more material than she could handle.
Here’s why Melissa has been so successful: she immediately recognized the need for infrastructure to support this effort. That is why Compost Crusader is centered on making composting a truly sustainable service, and part of sustainability is ensuring businesses can financially support the program. As this young company has grown, economies of scale have emerged; the more material they are able to divert, the more cost affordable composting becomes for all involved – Compost Crusader’s customers included.
She has played an enormous role in developing an “eco-industry” here in Milwaukee. Compost Crusader’s consistent orders for new dumpsters have grown a local welder’s business. Its partnering compost farm has recently acquired an additional site for additional diverted material, an amount that keeps growing.
It takes more than passion
I’ve yet to meet a successful entrepreneur whose company didn’t solve an important problem in the world. Melissa is incredibly passionate about her company and its ability to help the environment and economic growth. She’ll be honest with you in saying the passion comes naturally, but to scale a business requires many skills that didn’t come so easy.
When asked what she would have done differently, she replies, “I would have taken an accounting class.” There is so much value in understanding business principles, and the key for her is always staying profitable. Melissa knows “businesses don’t run on grants,” so by maintaining a vision and focusing on what she needs do to stay in the black, she can sustain growth. That way, Compost Crusader can continue to have a bigger and better impact on the community.
Dan Steininger received major research and assistance from Tommy Tushaus, an associate working at BizStarts.
About the Author
Dan Steininger is the president and co-founder of BizStarts. BizStarts facilitates the creation of new companies in southeast Wisconsin. He currently teaches courses on innovation for the UW-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education for business leaders. Contact BizStarts >>
OnRamp offers conversation and connections among the entrepreneurs who are shaping Wisconsin’s economy, and brings corporations and start-ups together at statewide events. View other OnRamp blog posts >>