A resilient sense of mission was one of the first things we noticed about the entrepreneurs we interviewed across America -- they’re driven by a purpose much bigger than themselves. While they all realize they need to make money, none of them mentioned that as a primary driver. Instead, they want to change the world in their own small or large way, create jobs in their beloved hometowns, and give back to their communities. They’re solving a problem that intrigues them and doing something they’re passionate about, while providing the best service in their industry.
This strong sense of purpose is a critical launching pad for a new venture. It does four things for your growing business:
- It gets you through the difficult times you’ll inevitably face,
- It sets a higher standard of excellence for your business,
- It appeals to like-minded team members who share your values, and
- It attracts and keeps customers who love what you’re doing.
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Let me introduce you to Benny and Julie Benson, two of the mission-driven entrepreneurs we met. Notice how their strong “why” for building their business impacts everything they do.
Meet the Bensons
Benny and Julie both grew up on farms in Colorado with horses, livestock, and wide-open spaces. When Benny was in high school, he traded a horse for his first motorcycle. The second motorcycle he bought was in two buckets full of parts. Then he started building and selling motorcycles, cars, and boats. In college, he and Julie both earned degrees in mechanical engineering and moved to California to work in corporate America. Of his first day on the job, Benny says, “I wanted to get there early on the first day, so I left two hours early; I showed up 15 minutes late. That was my introduction to traffic in Southern California.”
Benny and Julie enjoyed working on various engineering projects. In particular, they loved creating renewable energy from waste fuels; they just didn’t love doing it in Los Angeles. As Julie explains, “When our daughter was starting school, we took a look around at our environment and our lifestyle, and we didn’t like what we were seeing in Southern California. It was the rat race down there, and the rats were winning. So we thought, ‘We’ve got to get out of here.’ We just wanted a simpler life.”
So they started looking for a new place to live. Ten days after discovering Sisters, Oregon, they moved there to enjoy a better life for their family. Benny describes the criteria they used in making this decision: “Quality of life became the driver. It wasn’t ‘What [are we] going to do?’ It was ‘Where are we going to end up?’ We had to have a major ski area within an hour, we had to have an Olympic-size pool within an hour, and we had to be able to stand out on our deck naked and not worry about somebody looking.”
Initially, they started designing bio-gas plants that use waste fuels produced at landfills, wastewater treatment facilities, and manure storage sites. They operated their business out of a bedroom in their house and flew to various job sites from the airport in Sisters. After designing a number of plants, they felt they were in a strong position to start building them as well, so they did. Next they developed an IT solution so they could operate these plants remotely. Now they offer a complete one-stop service to their customers, including designing, building, and managing renewable energy plants -- all from their headquarters in Sisters. Eight years after starting ENERGYneering Solutions, they have 60 employees and have designed and built more than 50 renewable energy plants that are producing power for 150,000 households.
Benny and Julie both believe schools are the heart of any community. As a result, they’re heavily involved in their local schools in a number of ways. As engineers, they help design and teach classes in science, technology, engineering, math, aviation, and meteorology. Their hope is to light a spark in students to explore careers in these fields. Each summer they hire between six and 10 student interns to work for them. Then, while serving on the school district’s budget review committee, Julie realized how much the district was spending on heat. This was a problem ENERGYneering Solutions was well-equipped to solve. The company designed, built, and now operates a biomass plant for the high school, which saves the school tens of thousands of dollars a year.
Of their new life, Julie says, “I really like engineering. It isn’t about what we do for money, it’s about what we can offer the world because engineering to me is really just problem solving. It’s identifying an issue and hoping to make it better somehow.
“Now we live on a property where we have donkeys and horses and sheep and dogs and cats and birds,” she adds. “We’re heavily involved in showing horses, which is not something we could have done in Southern California.”
Benny agrees that they’ve achieved their purpose of merging livelihood and lifestyle in their new location. As he explains, “We can all take off a half day or a day. If it’s snowing, we’re skiing. We shouldn’t really be here today -- we should be on the lake right now -- but you guys were coming.” And then he laughed.