Rick Terrien is always starting something.
The lifelong entrepreneur and Middleton resident started two businesses that found success and he's trying to help others do the same.
Terrien is executive director of the Iowa County Area Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit organization that started in 2008. One of the biggest pieces of economic development in the county right now is the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen that opened in Mineral Point last summer.
It's a kitchen that can help startup businesses as well as local farmers. Foods that farmers bring in can be processed by a professional staff, and with processes such as commercial dehydration, the products can have a life beyond a fresh market.
Food and farm is a new step for Terrien. While still in college, he started Banner Graphics, which had national clients for the large banners the company made. After selling that company in 1998, Terrien co-invented the technology to recycle industrial fluids and founded Universal Separators. He sold that company in 2007, and was teaching entrepreneurship when the Iowa County job became available.
Q: How are things going with the Innovation Kitchen?
A: I can't go to sleep at night, I'm so excited about this. The first three months that place was open, we sold out the first shift. With what's coming at the facility right now, my food service director, Annette Pierce, said, "We should look at not taking in any more for the second shift, or be very careful about it for the next growing season."
Farmers can come and bring their product and have it come out branded under them. You walk around the farmers' market and see them selling fresh produce, but many of them have bags or jars of something and if you look close, it says, "Processed at the Wisconsin Innovation Kitchen." It's something they can sell year-round and it's something they might not have been able to sell before.
Last year, we opened at the later part of the growing season and we processed 25,000 pounds of local food in the first three months. This is stuff that either hadn't been purchased before or came off the back of a truck from California and it's now coming from Iowa County.
Q: Are you noticing an effect of the Innovation Kitchen?
A: We're starting new businesses every week. It's not necessarily people in the kitchen. There's a woman who does graphic work who is set up to do labels for entrepreneurs coming into the kitchen. Another person is doing just the logos. Another guy wants to start a trucking company to run in and out of Madison and possibly Milwaukee.
That field on ag and food is wide open. I've got restaurant owners from Dane County coming out. They want us to bottle their specific salsas or their restaurant sauce.
Q: Have any chefs done that yet?
A: They're just starting. Our big success story is RP's Pasta. Peter Robertson is a pasta guy, they want to make pasta and he's got these tortellinis that they want to fill with good local food. It was disruptive to their business to stop in the middle of harvest season and take in pallets and pallets of pumpkins and squash and prepare them and puree them and store them.
He came out and trained Annette and the staff and went through all the confidentiality agreements. He got the flavor profile he wanted and said, "OK, we're good to go." I think they processed 10,000 or 12,000 pounds of produce for Peter.
So that pumpkin tortellini that (Madison) Mayor Dave (Cieslewicz) just took to the White House Super Bowl party was made in that kitchen. Well, the pumpkin part.
Q: What's the biggest difference in being an entrepreneur and promoting entrepreneurship?
A: I'm treating it as a social entrepreneurship. It helps me run my entrepreneur clubs and stand up in front of people and tell them what I've screwed up in my life. Because you have to say, "It's fine. You'll live through it. You need to make those mistakes. The idea is to make them as quickly and inexpensively as possible."
People really need that, they need permission to try something on their own. The business of startups has gotten so formalized, so academic. So the idea of inspiring entrepreneurs, that's the fun part.
Q: Have you been launching businesses your whole life?
A: I have been. My dad's an entrepreneur. He's 90 this year and still writing business plans.
The first one I started of any consequence was when I was in college and it lasted 25 years, our graphics company. It was a really great run. But by the end of the '90s, computers came in and companies could buy bigger and better computers than I ever could.
I do the kind of business nobody else wants to do. That's when I went into the recycling business, I saw another broken opportunity, something no one wanted to do. It was messy, ugly, dirty, dangerous - just perfect.
Q: What is the climate for entrepreneurship right now?
A: I'm a glass-half-full guy. I've never seen more opportunities in my entire life, and not just in food. Entrepreneurs fix things that are broken and if you can't see things that are broken, you're not looking. The problem comes when you promise people they can be Donald Trump and that they can do it quickly.
My job is to slow them down, but start them. Because it's going to take longer doesn't mean don't start. It means start now. Put a toe in. Make a few mistakes. And it's pretty unlikely you're going to become Donald Trump. On the other hand, you can create a business that will support your family and your community.
I think it's a thrilling time to be an entrepreneur.