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8 Dane County small businesses doing big things

The 2017 Dane County Small Business Awards winners all share a common theme of giving back to the community, while taking advantage of homegrown talent to flourish.

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When William Shakespeare wrote of Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Though she be but little, she is fierce,” he could just as easily have been referring to local small businesses right here in Dane County and Wisconsin.

Think that’s a stretch? According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Wisconsin has more than 445,000 small businesses (defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees). Those businesses represent 99.4% of all employers in the Badger State and with 1.2 million employees account for 50.2% of the private sector workforce. Small businesses also account for 40,468 of the minority-owned business in the state.

That’s a lot of economic power for a bunch of very small businesses. In fact, nearly 87% of all Wisconsin exports in 2014 came from small businesses, and they generated more than 28% of Wisconsin’s $21.4 billion in total known exports. In short, small businesses make the Wisconsin economy go.

Eight area businesses were honored for their distinctive achievements on June 27 at the 35th annual Dane County Small Business Awards. Each year, these prestigious awards recognize successful small Dane County businesses that have rewarding workplace environments and contribute to their community.

Contributions to the community were a particular hallmark of each of this year’s honorees.

“You continually go above and beyond the products and services you produce,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi noted of the award winners during the event, “to give back in a most impressive way.”

Matt Howard, EatStreet CEO and cofounder, was the morning’s keynote presenter and he recognized each of the small business award winners for cultivating work environments that capitalize on Greater Madison’s quality of life.

“People have asked why we’ve stayed in Madison,” Howard commented about EatStreet’s decision not to leave the city where it started. “It’s talent — we have the best homegrown talent right here, and we can recruit people from elsewhere. If we get them to Madison, they realize how great of a city it is. The thing all of the winners here today have in common is that the success of our companies is dependent on the people we hire, and Madison has great people.”

This year’s award winners come from a wide variety of industries, with differing challenges and goals, but all have strived to foster a positive sense of community both in and out of the office to become leaders in their fields.

designCraft LLC — Madison

Yvette Jones, President

designCraft is a full-service, woman-owned advertising agency focused on local businesses and nonprofits. Since its inception 32 years ago designCraft has provided “advertising with a conscience” and helped local businesses and nonprofits increase brand awareness via logo and brand development, marketing plans, websites, graphic design, copywriting, print ads, digital ads, social media management, website analytics, billboards, vehicle graphics, and videos. A hallmark of designCraft is its building, which has no cubicles or individual offices, just one large room where staff can exchange ideas quickly and openly. President Yvette Jones sits in the same room as everyone else and actively participates in almost every project. This year, Madison Community Foundation chose designCraft as its agency of record for its 75th anniversary Year of Giving campaign, which includes the announcement of a new major grant project each month for a year, and requires working in concert with a wide range of nonprofits to plan and create the marketing and materials for multiple public events.

Tip for small biz success: Create a democratic workplace. Involve every staff member in key conversations, decisions, goals, and results.

Enterprise Solutions Technology Group Inc. — Madison

BJ Pfeiffer, President/CEO

Enterprise Solutions Technology Group is a woman-owned information technology consulting firm that provides services in project management, business analysis, application/web development, and cyber security. When President/CEO BJ Pfeiffer started the company 21 years ago, she made a commitment to creating a pipeline of homegrown IT talent by developing an intern program in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin. The company helped design an accelerated six-month curriculum and set up internships that allowed students to attend classes for eight hours and then work on site at a selected company for four hours each day. Upon graduation, that company had first right of hire. While many similar companies in the IT consulting field didn’t survive the Great Recession, Enterprise Solutions was able to navigate the economic downturn on Pfeiffer’s philosophy of paying herself last and continuing to provide educational benefits to employees so that they could stay current. It’s resulted in an average term of employment for the company’s 15 full-time employees of 16 years.

Tip for small biz success: Work with people you like and trust — you might make less money by choosing not to do business with particular clients, but you’ll never have to compromise your integrity.

Gorilla Movers of Wisconsin Inc. — Sun Prairie

Dustin Olson, Owner

Gorilla Movers of Wisconsin may only be two years old but the company is already doing big things. The full-service moving company provides full packing services, loading, and unloading for commercial and residential clients, including larger hard-to-move items such as gun safes, pianos, hot tubs, and more. Family owned and operated Gorilla Movers started in April 2015 with nothing more than one truck, two partners, and a strong desire to create a moving experience for clients that’s second to none. In February 2016 the operation moved to Sun Prairie and its first employee was hired. By the end of 2016 Gorilla Movers had added two full-size moving trucks and about 25 employees, along with more than $600,000 in gross revenue. Projected revenue for 2017 is double that at $1.2 million and the company plans to add another two moving trucks to its fleet. Gorilla’s movers all receive a full uniform, including high-end performance footwear, at no charge to the employee. Employees also receive free snacks and a variety of refreshments, a birthday bonus, and participate in quarterly team outings, among other workplace perks.

Tip for small biz success: Treating your employees exceptionally well creates a culture of positive attitudes and extraordinary customer service.

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