Round table with Springfield's top entrepreneurs

Round table with Springfield's top entrepreneurs

We asked four Springfield entrepreneurs, from different industries, about launching their own businesses and what it takes to succeed. 

Brian Frieze Sangamon Reclaimed Springfield Illinois

Brian Frieze, founder, and owner of Sangamon Reclaimed is celebrating five years in business in 2018. He took an idea to dismantle 100-year-old brands across the state and use the wood to build beautiful hand-crafted furniture for residential and commercial use. Sangamon Reclaimed is an award-winning business located in the heart of Springfield. 

How do you overcome challenges in your business?

Challenges in any business are never-ending, overcoming them is what will make or break you as a business owner. 

Why is it important to innovate?

Without innovation, the market becomes saturated with so many things that are the same. Innovation is what sets you apart and brings value to your business. Finding ways to give added value to your customers is a continuous, but important process. 

What has been your biggest lesson as an entrepreneur?

You can't do it alone, your team is the most valuable asset you have. Surround yourself with like-minded individuals who are great at what they do and have a passion for getting better. 

What is your number one tip for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Find someone with experience that is willing to lend an ear. Take the opportunity to learn from those who have been there before and learn from their successes and mistakes. 

Brent Schwoerer Engrained Brewery & Restaurant Springfield Illinois

Owner and brewmaster, Brent Schwoerer opened Engrained Brewery & Restaurant in August 2013 with his wife Melissa and their young family. The locally owned and operated restaurant and brewery is situated near Scheels on MacArthur Boulevard and is known for its craft beer, brewed onsite, and farm to table food, which is sourced from local farms in the area. 

How do you overcome challenges in your business?

My first step is always to consult my team. Having a talented team with various perspectives is key input I require in making decisions about how to push forward. My second step is to allow a little time for reflection. I don’t make important decisions on the spot before I can collect more information and allow a little time for things to sink in. And last, there is no time like the present. Don’t procrastinate or wait for the challenge to disappear, get to work.

Why is it important to innovate? 

My business, like most, revolves around a guest (or customer) with needs that are always evolving and changing. We are fortunate to live in a time where technology and consumerism evolve quickly. That means my business has to change as my consumer does.

What has been your biggest lesson as an entrepreneur? 

At some point, you can’t do everything yourself. To be happy on a personal level you have to figure out what you love, where you shine and focus your efforts on that area. Find other people whose spotlight is in the other areas, let them have ownership over that piece and get ready to watch your business grow and evolve.  There still has to be oversight, so I like the notion of ownership with oversight. Learning how to empower the right team has been my biggest lesson.

What is your number one tip for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

Do your homework. Entrepreneurship is rewarding, but extremely hard work. If you don’t enter into it prepared, you are setting yourself up for unnecessary challenges, setbacks or even failure. Resist the urge to dive right in and get going because it is exciting. Plan, plan, and plan some more. Seek out advice from others. When you think you have your homework done, you are probably half way.

Rasha Said Sensible Innovations Springfield Illinois

Rasha Said is the woman behind the award-winning wayfinding app for people who are visually impaired, Aware. Her company, Sensible Innovations, received the CES award in the smart cities category this year for the Aware app, which is changing the lives of America’s 21 million visually impaired. 

To answer your first couple questions about overcoming challenges and reasons to innovate, challenges are expected. They are part of life. Challenges motivate and stimulate thinking and digging for solutions. It’s a good thing. Makes the journey worth it.

But I don’t think in terms of challenges. I set a goal and figure out ways to get there. So I’m constantly learning and trying to find my way. I see two isolated worlds of mainstream versus disability or blindness in my case. One leaping to the future and the other is simply trying to catch-up. But the gap will keep getting wider if we don’t do anything about it. I’m trying to blend those two worlds and make them see each other so we all rise together with no one left behind. I see innovations in technology as the key to achieving this goal and closing the gap.   

Last, about the biggest lesson?

I don’t know about a lesson. It could be: it’s ok to be afraid, if it’s the right thing to do, just do it anyway. Even for free. 

Also, people are so kind and helpful and love to support a good cause. So share and ask for help and support those who help you, because you cannot do it alone. It’s always about help from others joining in. Aware would have stayed an idea in my head otherwise. I cannot express my gratitude to everyone helping me in this journey. I am still at the beginning and have a long road ahead of me, but I truly feel blessed.  

Kate Spencer is responsible for the stunning photography hanging on the walls and lovingly placed on the mantles of so many homes in and around Springfield. This young and energetic photographer – Kate Spencer Photography – has a special place in the Eighteen21 heart … and she’s done it all on her own. 

How do you overcome challenges in your business?

One step at a time. As a business owner, I am constantly challenged with how to make time, how to keep clients coming back and when is the right time to say yes or no. I try to assess each situation as it comes to me and make decisions based on what is best for my business and my clients.

Why is it important to innovate?

The business world is constantly changing. Technology is making it easier for anyone to start a business but is also holding people much more accountable for running those businesses honestly and whole-heartedly. I believe keeping myself educated on marketing and presenting myself correctly through social media is so important. People are more interested in personal connection than sales and I believe if my brand reflects me and they connect with that, they are much more apt to want to do business with me.

What has been your biggest lesson as an entrepreneur?

Never give up. I have worked tirelessly to build my brand and service my clients in a way I would expect to be serviced. There have been days I have thought, can I do this? Should I throw in the towel? And I never give up because something positive is always around the corner for me. I am lucky that with photography I am able to capture some of the biggest moments in people's lives in a very positive way. I have so many who count on me, so giving up will never be an option.

What is your number one tip for aspiring entrepreneurs?

To always push forward and don't listen to those who doubt you. You will never convince everyone to get on board with your idea, but if you believe in it and you move forward with your plan, others will believe in it too. In my business, it is all about finding my ideal client and even though a lot of people don't see the value in what I do, the ones who do see it, show up and support me.