The 27th Annual Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards

This year, we were excited to bring back a safe, in-person element for the 27th annual awards.

In 2020, the word of the year seemed to be pivot.

Countless businesses and organizations employed that term to its fullest extent as they dealt with the storm and stress of the shifting tides and currents of the coronavirus pandemic. The annual Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards was no exception. Our normal in-person extravaganza was put on hiatus as we pivoted for the first time to honor our award winners in a televised ceremony, which aired on WILX-TV 10 and received stellar ratings for a production of its kind.

This year, we were excited to bring back a safe, in-person element for the 27th annual awards. We weren’t ready to commit to an indoor event due to continuing variables brought on by the ongoing pandemic. Yet we still managed to celebrate in appropriate style at Jackson Field in downtown Lansing with this year’s honorees in attendance. Those who came enjoyed fantastic food and beverages, entertainment from Grant Hendrickson of the East Lansing-based Entertain You Productions, swag bags, and complimentary subscriptions to 517 Magazine.

The awards show, displayed on the big screen at the stadium, was also broadcast on WILX.

The Sparrow Advantage

As usual, the event simply would not have been possible without support from our sponsors, including Michigan State University Federal Credit Union and Physicians Health Plan, which were once again our platinum and gold sponsors, respectively.

The event also received strong support from local businesses including Triterra, The Meridian Co., Cinnaire, Great Lakes State Agency/Auto-Owners Insurance, IBEW, Granger Waste Services, Chrysalis Enrichment Center, High Caliber Karting and Entertainment, Rehmann, Lansing Community College, PNC, Transworld Business Advisors, BRD Printing, Maner Costerisan and the George F. Eyde Family.

Our judges, featured in the September issue of 517 Magazine, had the arduous task of poring through well over 250 pages of documentation from the nominee finalists to choose the winners. Make no mistake, the judges took their jobs very seriously. The end result was a pool of winners with diverse backgrounds and stories, which you’ll read about in this section. The common denominator among them was their tenacity, their entrepreneurial fortitude and their willingness to take risks.

It is those attributes that have helped some of them on their roads to success and will allow others to forge through even the hardest of times. We congratulate them and wish them the very best in the years to come.

Follow 517 Magazine on Facebook and stay tuned to our Facebook page @517mag for the next round of nominations for the 2022 awards.

 

2021 Entrepreneur of the Year: Megan Doherty

President and CEO of F.D. Hayes Electric Co.

Whoever came up with the idiom that you shouldn’t change horses midstream never met Megan Doherty.

The Lansing native left Michigan State University in 2007 with a degree in animal science and agri-business management to successfully pursue a career as an Indianapolis-based professional equestrian. However, Doherty’s career path took an odd detour off the trail in 2014, when she returned to the family business at F.D. Hayes Electric Co.

She assumed the role of president and CEO after she her husband purchased the business from Doherty’s father in 2016 — and she’s been riding tall in the saddle ever since, growing the company and bringing its reputation and recognition to new heights. It’s why Doherty was selected as the Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2021 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards.

“When I bought the company in 2016, I felt the enormity of the legacy left behind by the outgoing president of 35 years — my dad, Patrick Hayes,” Doherty said. “I quickly realized that in order for us to succeed, our future vision was as important as our legacy. I also knew I couldn’t do any of this alone. I’ve got a tremendously talented and dedicated team that uses their drive to carry out this vision every day. This award is a credit to our collective ability to develop a vision and then bring it to life.”

Based in Lansing, F.D. Hayes Electric Co. is one of Michigan’s leading electrical contractors. The construction and facility services business provides electrical and telecommunication design and construction services to commercial, industrial and institutional facilities throughout the state. F.D. Hayes has been family owned and operated since its inception in 1923. Doherty is the fourth generation of the Hayes family to take the reins of the company.

Doherty grew up with the business, serving in a number of roles before being named as controller upon her return in 2014. In the time since she became president and CEO two years later, Doherty established two primary goals for the business. The first was to solidify F.D. Hayes’ position as a trusted community partner and elite construction partner with staying power for the next generation. The second was to become established in niche and developing markets that would complement F.D. Hayes’ existing line of business and propel future growth.

In line with those goals, F.D. Hayes strategically acquired three construction companies in mid-Michigan since 2018. The acquisitions and outlined targets for continued success has pushed F.D. Hayes back into a growth-success stage of business. Doherty also implemented the Entrepreneurial Operating System as the company’s management system and strategic planning tool in 2018, which has helped focus the business on its values, mission and vision.

Doherty has cemented the excellent reputation and longstanding community relationships established at F.D. Hayes by her father and developed a vision for further growth and success. Since taking ownership, the company has grown from 40 to 80 full-time employees and received recognition from within the industry for safety and standards. Building and maintaining strong relationships with both employees and clients has been a key to the continued success of the organization.

“Our customers value that they can call one provider to fulfill many of their facilities’ needs, and that we can save our customers time and money by being able streamline the delivery of our products and services,” Doherty wrote in her nomination form. “Most of our major customers today have a relationship over 20 years long with F.D. Hayes. Some of our longest-standing relationships go back over 50 years.”

In addition to clients, F.D. Hayes has continued its mission to play an active role in the community where its employees live and work by giving back and supporting such projects and initiatives as Women in Skilled Trades, The Davies Project, Mid-Michigan Recovery Services, Lansing Promise and other investments.

As for the future, Doherty said F.D. Hayes will continue to adapt innovative approaches to its work as times, attitudes and needs continue to evolve.

“Construction is an exciting place to be right now,” Doherty said. “With such a focus placed on clean energy right now, we are poised and ready to help our customers with all of their power needs: energy-efficient upgrades or new builds; low-voltage, structured cabling; AV needs; back-up generator power; and EV charging.”

2021 Greater Lansing Business of the Year: DBI

In the business of workplace solutions

The combination of form, function and comfort are the three steps to transform any office into a productive one — and that has been the mission and purpose of DBI for nearly four decades.

From pens and paper to space planning and moveable walls, the Lansing-based DBI has prided itself on being the one source/one solution option for any and all workplace needs since 1984. If the traits of a successful entrepreneurial enterprise are passion, confidence and determination, the leadership at DBI has exemplified those characteristics tenfold over the years. It’s why the organization received the honor of Greater Lansing Business of the Year in the 2021 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards.

“We feel honored and appreciate all that nominated DBI,” said George Snyder, president and owner of DBI. “We have been successful because of our great members who solve customer opportunities daily and truly deliver a value-added solution to all DBI customers.”

Snyder established his credibility and credentials from the beginning of his career. Starting at DBI in the warehouse and achieving success in every department from purchasing to accounting and sales, he worked his way up the ranks to ownership and CEO. Snyder and partners Steve Klaver and Doug Smith purchased the Doubleday Brothers Inc. furniture company two months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Shortly after, their dealer affiliate, U.S. Office Products, filed for bankruptcy. With Snyder’s leadership, DBI was able to pull through its uncertain first year in business and continued to prevail, even amid a global pandemic.

Combining open-environment collaborative areas with moveable walls, sound masking and state-of-the-art meeting areas, DBI’s showroom aligns work environments with work styles, allowing clients to experience firsthand furniture and environment options based on their individual criteria. The DBI showroom experience heightens customer relationships and creates an atmosphere for conversation that guides the strategy in providing the right space, furniture and equipment to optimize each customer’s workplace performance.

That attention to detail has paid off.

In 2019, DBI was recognized as one of “Michigan’s 50 Companies to Watch,” an awards program presented by Michigan Celebrates Small Business. Haworth, a world-class manufacturer of office environments, honored DBI’s culture of excellence with the 2021 designation of Best in Class for the 10th consecutive year.

Yet the company leadership knows that it can’t rest its reputation on past recognitions and understands that the future of sales is transitioning along with customer expectations.

“The landscape for the office has totally changed,” said Snyder. “We must be strategic in navigating the post-pandemic working environment.”

Snyder has long recognized the importance of brand communication. He envisions DBI’s brand as the total customer experience — from logo and print ads to the website, digital exposure, social media experiences and even the way customers experience staff. The company foresees a seismic shift coming in how customers buy and the services they are going to value. Understanding the market and the customer, defining ownership’s future vision, and communicating that vision to every DBI member is a critical component to DBI’s future success.

“We will continue to try to navigate this new business landscape that we all have been exposed to and continue to give back to our local economy as good business stewards,” Snyder said.

2021 Nonprofit of the Year: Footprints of Michigan

One small step turned into one giant leap

In his own way, Geronimo Lerma III helps those in need regain their footing.

The founder and executive director of Footprints of Michigan started the nonprofit in 2014 after witnessing how a gesture as small and simple as giving someone a better pair of shoes can significantly alter an outlook and attitude. Lerma left his job of 12 years in 2018 to devote himself full time to Footprints of Michigan, which distributes new and gently used footwear to Greater Lansing’s population in need of assistance.

More than a charitable act, Lerma’s endeavor provides comfort and decency to residents facing some of the worst struggles and hardships in life. He does it all without drawing a salary, relying on volunteers, fundraisers, and likeminded community members with open hearts and open minds to make it happen.

Knowing a man of such compassion walks among us made it easy to name Footprints of Michigan as the Nonprofit of the Year in the 2021 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards.

“Winning this award is such a great honor — what started out as a dream in the attic of my parents’ house has become reality and is growing each day,” Lerma said. “There is no better feeling in this world than to know you have made a lasting footprint in someone’s life. The countless hours our volunteers give to prepare the footwear or setting up at an event is a blessing. This just shows that when you work hard for something and you have a vision, don’t let anything stop you. Your work speaks for itself. Any of us can make a ‘soleful’ footprint in the lives of others, so do your part and let’s make this world just a little bit better.”

Many of the people who receive support from Footprints of Michigan make it a priority to give back, often reciprocating  by volunteering countless hours in the nonprofit’s warehouse cleaning, sorting and even delivering shoes to shelters or events. The nonprofit regularly collaborates with numerous organizations in its efforts, such as Homeless Angels, Two Men and a Truck, Boy Scouts of America, Men Making a Difference, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6132, Playmakers and the Ingham County Sheriff’s Department.

Lerma said he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

“We will continue to assist those in need in the state of Michigan,” Lerma said. “We would like to obtain some larger grants to sustain operational costs along with a possible building fund so that we may have our own building with enough space to store the items we need. We are also working on a 2022 tour, Footprints Across America, where we will go across the country and give footwear to those in need in different states and bring awareness to communities hardest hit in small towns — showing what the power of giving one pair of shoes can do to a person.”

2021 Socially Responsible Entrepreneur: Junk in the Trunk

Finding new life in old things

If anyone in Greater Lansing has what can be considered a green thumb, it may be Audra Ellis.

Yet instead of reaping what she sows, she recycles what you sow as the founder and owner of the Grand Ledge-based Junk in the Trunk. Combining her passions for making positive contributions toward community change and positive repurposing, Ellis started Junk in the Trunk in 2015 as an eco-friendly estate liquidation and clean-out service that not only recycles but also breathes new life into discarded treasures through reasonable resale and donations to community causes.

In essence, before you chuck it out, Ellis wants to check it out.

That salvage sensibility helped Ellis and Junk in the Trunk secure the Socially Responsible Award in the 2021 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards.

“This award means everything to me. It’s not just an award, it’s an opportunity to not only grow my small business but also make positive change to our community,” Ellis said. “I’m someone who believes in leaving this world better than when I found it. My hope is that this award will give me the key to open doors that were once locked. It also means the saying ‘You can do anything you set your mind to’ is still very true. Our hard work is finally paying off.”

Run with the assistance of Ellis’ fiancé, Aaron Winegar, Junk in the Trunk is more than a business. It’s also a community resource. With free recycling drop-off available by appointment, Junk in the Trunk provides a location for residents to unburden themselves of cardboard, plastic bottles, paper and metal as well as nontraditional recycling items such as jeans, shoes, pens and Rubbermaid food containers. Junk in the Trunk partners with a number of regional businesses to help almost any item stay out of a landfill.

“Anyone can contact us about recycling oddball items,” Ellis wrote in her nomination. “If we know how to recycle it, we will provide information on how to do so. If we can recycle said item, they can set up an appointment to drop off to us.”

However, it’s the clean-out work that may be most intriguing. Ellis noted that at times Junk in the Trunk liquidates three to four homes a week, working up to 18 hours a day. While some of that effort is geared toward recycling and resale, a significant portion is dedicated toward providing assistance to a variety of local causes and projects. The unfortunate fact is that there will always be an overabundance of items being discarded, which is why Ellis hopes to continue to network and build relationships so Junk in the Trunk can expand its environmentally friendly efforts and achievements into the future.

“We plan to grow our recycling efforts by offering and advertising the free recycling drop-off option as a program,” Ellis said. “We will continue to research new ways to recycle unusual items, hopefully find ways to turn the recycling we collect into a profit by selling it. We plan to expand our business by offering recycling consulting and connecting compatible resources and organizations. We want to get more involved in clearing out abandoned properties and similar situations to keep recyclables and reusable materials out of landfills. We hope to form many new relationships with local businesses and nonprofits to help us find new ways to sell and donate items quicker. Eventually, we plan to open an actual storefront and just use our warehouse as storage.”

2021 Entrepreneurial Spirit: Andy Hedburg

The Production Department Inc. and Trailer Consignments LLC

The dulcet tones of Andy Hedberg helped craft a recipe for success.

Hedberg began a professional voice-over career while still attending Lansing Community College. His ability to deliver a line, plus a $10,000 loan from Old Kent Bank, led the aspiring entrepreneur to found The Production Department Inc.  in 1993 — and later the neighboring Trailer Consignments LLC in Lansing.

The Production Department was formed to support a small group of mid-Michigan business owners who required recurring audio productions for the message-on-hold and overhead-messaging industries. That business model proved to be a ripe seed for growth, and The Production Department now supports over 50 message-on-hold and audio marketing firms across the nation and abroad, including key partnerships in the U.K. and Canada.

Through another of Hedberg enterprises, Pdept Properties LLC, he purchased property along Grand River Avenue in Lansing to establish the headquarters of The Production Department. A number of years later, Hedberg used the neighboring vacant parcel to establish Trailer Consignments LLC, a trailer rental and sales business that has grown to a rental pool of more than 25 trailers, a newly renovated shop and a retail office.

That tenacity and drive earned Hedberg the distinction of the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award in the 2021 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards.

“Understanding how long the Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards have been around and the many great businesses that have won the award in the past give me a sincere feeling of pride,” Hedberg said. “It’s the kind of recognition a business owner rarely gets from its local business leaders. Starting, running and maintaining a successful business is hard work, involves risk and takes dedication. I feel extremely humbled and honored for this recognition.”

The Production Department’s a la carte style of audio production and creative services allows dealer customers to pick and choose what level of services are required of the company to meet their businesses goals and their clients’ marketing objectives. Around 2000, the business had more than nine employees under one roof, including writers, audio engineers, voice talents, clerical, customer service and a shipping department. However, due to a telephone technology shift to web-based business phone systems, the team transitioned to a more virtual system of supporting customers’ needs.

The future is bright for both operations. Trailer Consignments’ business expansion plans include a dealership package that incorporates a small inventory of popular trailers as well as networking of key territories across the nation to include a trailer “sharing” concept among territory owners to take advantage of the one-way needs of consumers.

As far as The Production Department’s future, the voice audio marketing industry is not going away, but it continues to evolve with new telephone-on-hold, auto-attendant and point-of-purchase marketing opportunities. And Hedberg plans to transition to accommodate the growing demand as it arises.

“The foundation is laid. The growth plan is in motion,” Hedberg said. “Moving forward with the long-term plan for expansion might involve an acquisition or two of my vendors in the business. New data management tools are on top of the list of must haves to ensure continued success. Lastly, a fine tuning of the business plan that addresses the emerging opportunities I see on the horizon.”

2021 517 Magazine Publisher’s Award: High Caliber Karting and Entertainment

Bringing an adrenaline rush to the region

Sometimes an entrepreneurial enterprise starts off with bubble gum and soda pop.

Jordan Munsters was only 8 years old when he was purchasing those items from a local store to resell; however, that determination and ingenuity were only a sign of things to come later in life. Since 2018, Munsters has been giving residents of the region a much-needed rush of adrenaline and excitement as the president and CEO of High Caliber Karting and Entertainment. Located in the Meridian Mall, High Caliber offers everything under the sun needed to “punch boredom in the face,” from two indoor go-kart tracks, racing simulators and a full arcade to ax throwing, archery tag, and a bar and bistro.

Providing residents with an immersive entertainment experience is why High Caliber is the recipient of the 517 Magazine Publisher’s Award in the 2021 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards.

“Last year, I was lying in a hospital bed about a month after shutdown. I had shattered my hip socket and broken four vertebrae and three ribs,” Munsters said. “After 11 hours of surgery, I woke up to the surgeon telling me that there was a possibility I would not be able to walk again. In that moment I remember vividly thinking, ‘Screw you; I will run, and I will do it faster than I ever have before.’

“This award is a symbol of that single thought. The thought that anyone can have facing any adversity,” he continued. “While that accident and recovery had nothing to do with business, it happened during one of the most challenging times for businesses I will likely ever experience. It showed me that even when I am not capable to continue, the right mindset and being surrounded by the right people will make everything still run and survive even through the toughest times.”

High Caliber Karting started with an event hosted annually at Munsters’ home called “Day of Man.” The event grew each year and spawned the idea of an entertainment venue for adults. He and his wife cashed out their retirement funds as well as sold properties, vehicles and major assets while also refinancing their home to fund the project.

“The day we opened for business, we had $5 total in the bank and all credit cards maxed out. It was tight, but we made it work,” Munsters said.

In addition to High Caliber, Munsters also founded Combat Karting LCC, a software tech company that develops immersive entertainment offerings. Together with his team of “experience creators,” the staff at High Caliber and Combat Karting constantly push one another to improve and provide guests with a positive and joyful experience.

The dedication has paid off. A recent 25,000-square-foot expansion brought the total footprint of High Caliber to 105,000 square feet of fun. The expansion was a focus of the business throughout the pandemic shutdown, and it isn’t the last idea for forward momentum that Munsters has on his mind.

“Beyond that, my other company, Combat Karting, will be doing installations in two very popular entertainment centers in other states,” he said. “We will revolutionize karting and finally give people that desire to experience real-like ‘Mario Kart’ the opportunity to do it. That will likely fill the next year or so. After that, we have some additional ideas.”

Game on!

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