President and CEO Bio-Techne Corp., Minneapolis
EY elevator pitch: With a number of industry-leading brands, this company provides the reagents, instruments, custom manufacturing, and testing needed in the life sciences and clinical diagnostics space. Bio-Techne currently is multiplying faster than cells in a petri dish, with 250 percent organic growth over the past six years and 300 percent growth in employee headcount. In the wake of 14 acquisitions, their valuation moved from $2.25 billion to more than $8 billion.
Revenue: $643 million for FY19 (ended June 30)
Business: Biotechnology and clinical diagnostics (five divisions)
Interview with Kummeth:
How has innovation been the fuel for the Bio-Techne engine?
We like to say we have a culture of innovation that intersects science. Six years ago, we were shrinking. We had zero patents. Today we have more than 400, which is an incredible achievement. We are now a five-division company with a growth strategy that exceeds over 10 percent organic growth.
You’ve achieved a significant amount in a relatively short
period of time. What goals are you setting now?
Crossing $1 billion in revenue and setting up this wonderful company for the future, which means for the next generation of leaders.
How are you attracting the best talent?
We have a strong emphasis on diversity. Over half the company is female. More than 25 percent are Chinese-American. We have more than 100 Ph.D.s in Minneapolis and 225 worldwide. We have positive employee survey ratings of more than 80 percent. Over 10 percent of the workforce and half of the leadership have been through professional leadership development training.
You’ve been described as someone who rises early, works out regularly, and is a dedicated family man. How early, what’s the workout, and can you tell us about the family?
I’m up at 5:20 every morning. My workouts rotate among yoga, running, and weights, six days a week for about an hour. My wife, Angie, and I have been married 11 years, and we have four children between us. We have three in college and one who will be a senior in high school.
Struan Robertson, your vice president of human resources, said, “If there is one thing to say about Chuck, it’s that he can see what others don’t see.” How does that inform your leadership style?
I was a B student, so I do more listening in meetings than speaking, especially with the many scientific geniuses in our company. I’ve always been able to get more out of individuals and employees. Direct coaching, tough love, accountability, and rewarding excellence are the keys.
President and CEO Inspire Medical Systems Inc., Golden Valley
EY elevator pitch:When a major corporation encounters a great idea, the need for short-term quarterly results can hinder the ability to invest for a long-term payoff. That was the case when Medtronic considered a new device to treat sleep apnea. Tim Herbert believed in the concept so much that he started this spin-off company to conduct the necessary research, clear regulatory hurdles, and ramp up production. Just a little over a year ago, the company went public, marking the latest—and highly successful—chapter in its “little engine that could” story.
Revenue: $50.6 million
Business: Neurostimulator device for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
Interview with Herbert:
It’s hard to read anything about Inspire without coming across the phrase “every patient counts.” Can you tell us how that phrase plays out across the company?
It’s the key to our culture, because changing lives and improving patient outcomes is why we do what we do. That’s what’s helped us focus on a whole new solution to treating OSA, by continuously monitoring patient breathing patterns and delivering mild stimulation to the hypoglossal nerve to maintain an open airway during sleep.
Can you talk about the changes you expect as a public company?
Going public brought us a whole new investment group that’s energized by what we’re doing. It’s giving us new life and new proceeds to continue to expand in the U.S. with our distribution team, do more with R&D, and develop a fifth-generation version of the device. We’re also planning an expansion into Japan.
You’ve approached marketing this solution in a way that’s unusual for a med-tech device company. How have you built a market?
We use a direct-to-consumer model to reach our patients, using Facebook, Google, and radio ads to let people know there’s a new way to treat this disease. We’re educating people that CPAP only has a 50 percent compliance rate, and we estimate that 20 million or more people in the U.S. can’t be effectively treated with it. In contrast, our solution has a 94 percent patient satisfaction rate.
There’s a famous children’s story that plays a big role in your company. Can you tell us about that?
Back when the company was based in my basement, I had the children’s book The Little Engine That Could on my desk. It’s still on my desk today. All new employees receive a copy of the book, along with a train pin to signify our “never give up” approach. There are framed prints of the book and model trains in our offices, and our conference rooms are named after railroads.
COO and CFO
Co-founder and co-chief creative officer
Co-founder and co-chief creative officer
CEO Da Bomb LLC, Minneapolis
EY elevator pitch:The bath products industry, long the bastion of old-school products like Mr. Bubble and Calgon, has received a major shake-up with the arrival of bath bombs—hard-packed orbs that, in the industry parlance, “effervesce” when tossed in a tub. “Sisterpreneurs” Caroline and Isabel Bercaw, who started Da Bomb when they were ages 10 and 11, have brought durable packaging, clever marketing, and national distribution to a product that was once a handcrafted novelty. As they expand warehouse space (and one of them heads off to college), they’re considering new products to broaden their reach.
Revenue: Not released
Employees: 240 in high season, 150 rest of year
Business: Fizzing bath bombs with a surprise inside
Interview with the Bercaws:
How have you managed your rapid growth?
Kimberly: Because we manufacture all products ourselves, we can be nimble, make changes, and scale very quickly. We’ve grown from a business in the basement to 40,000 square feet.
Ben: Actually, it’s 50,000.
Kimberly: [Laughs] It’s hard to keep up!
How has it been to parent two co-founders?
Ben: It’s been surprisingly natural. We try to let the girls be girls and have time to hang out with friends. We recognize their responsibilities, but we’re also here to step in if things get overwhelming. It’s tough enough to balance work and life for adults, but imagine going to high school and doing this.
How are you positioning yourself to address changing trends?
Caroline (age 17): Our target market is ages 12 through 55, so Isabel and I are definitely in that demographic. We’re constantly looking at trends. We’ve published one book, Fizz Boom Bath!, and we’ve just written a second about DIY makeup, which will be published in the spring.
What’s next for you?
Isabel (age 18): We’re exploring adding makeup to the product line and we’re looking at expanding internationally. Oh, and I’m starting college in the fall at University of St. Thomas. I wanted the college experience, but close enough to be able to check on the business, too.
Any thoughts to share as a recent high school grad, Isabel?
You can do anything at any age, no matter how young or old you are. The time to follow your dreams is right now.
CEO Proozy, Eagan
EY elevator pitch: Jeremy Segal, a quintessential entrepreneur, has been his own boss since he began selling wholesale golf equipment in high school. He kept the company going through college and law school, transforming it into a wholesale B2B company for active lifestyle products. When he saw the e-commerce wave coming, he pivoted to online discount sales of brands like Nike and Adidas. Always looking for the next big thing, Segal is rolling out a private-label fitness line this holiday season and promises that the first product will be “your new favorite hoodie.”
Revenue: $27 million
Business: Daily deals website specializing in activewear
Interview with Segal:
What’s your current business model?
I describe us as being like a T.J. Maxx for the active lifestyle. We’ve broken down the barrier of how to sell to people under 25. We have an unusual model in that 85 percent of our business is from the website. Brands we work with don’t want to see their products marketed on eBay or Amazon, so they work with us instead. We’ve evolved so much, and now brands come to us because we’re the solution to their excess inventory.
How are you managing with rapid growth?
We have grown incredibly fast, and I’ve managed that by giving my team autonomy and ownership of what they’re doing. We have great people who want to go out there and get after it.
How are you maintaining a strong culture?
My wife, Rachel, has been a huge influence. We built this ship together. Her title is chief heart officer. She helps with people, culture, and high-end recruiting. When we met, the business was 20 people, and most of them were my friends. She told me, “You have an opportunity, and you need to go out and hire the right people and get processes in place,” and then she did that.
You grew up wanting to be a pro golfer, and you run a site that sells fitness wear. How does a fitness credo play out in the company’s operation?
One of my other passions is CrossFit, so we built a gym at our headquarters in Eagan. Employees and their families can use it for free, and we charge a minimal fee for community members to join. We’re working now on a training program for community police and firefighters.
Quick final question—what’s the name about?
I wanted something with double “o’s”—like Google—and this name was available.
President and CEO Sleep Number, Minneapolis
EY elevator pitch:Forget the outdated notion that Sleep Number sells mattresses. With a move from the suburbs to downtown Minneapolis two years ago, Sleep Number further established itself as a next-gen tech company that focuses on the science of sleep. During this period of transformation, CEO Shelly Ibach made some tough decisions, such as in 2009, when, with the company close to bankruptcy, she pulled out of agreements with third-party mattress stores and switched to direct-to-consumer product distribution. These days, they’re looking ahead to a time when the data collected through smart beds will help customers stay healthier, and even detect diseases.
Revenue: $1.5 billion
Business: Sleep and technology
Interview with Ibach:
You’ve been redefining yourself as a tech company. Can you tell us how that happened?
We disrupted the $20 billion hyper-commoditized mattress industry by developing a sleep tech category with our revolutionary 360 smart beds. It started six years ago, when we saw the ability to add meaningful value through connected technology and biometric tracking. We like to say that great sleep leads to big dreams, and we’re doing that by delivering an unparalleled sleep experience.
How does tech play a role in sleep?
Our 360 smart beds detect movement, sleep disturbances, and biometric changes, and then use that information to automatically adjust the bed’s firmness for each sleeper. In the future, SleepIQ technology will likely enable customers to use their smart bed to better manage their health and wellness. For example, our smart bed may be able to detect the early onset of medical conditions, share biometrics with your doctor, and monitor recovery.
Have customers responded?
We created a relevant intersection of retail, technology, and health care, and consumers have resonated with our purpose-driven brand. Nearly 50 percent of our business is generated through referral and repeat, and we rank No. 1 in the annual J.D. Power mattress satisfaction report.
Would you say you’re a “born entrepreneur”?
Absolutely! I was born and raised in retail. I started an imaginary store in my bedroom when I was 7. I learned a lot from my parent’s sporting goods store in Albert Lea, Minn. My father treated his customers like gold. People loved him, and their relationships were lifelong. In high school, my brother, Jay, and I opened a cycling shop adjacent to my dad’s store, selling and servicing Raleigh bicycles. I fell in love with the art of retail.
Founder and CEO
co-founder Woodchuck USA, Minneapolis
EY elevator pitch: Woodchuck notebooks have become the must-have business accessory every place from penthouse boardrooms to startup yurts. With its “plant one tree for every product sold” commitment, the company has established its mission-driven bona fides in a way that other companies often imitate, but rarely achieve. As founder Benjamin VandenWymelenberg steps back to bring in new leaders, Woodchuck USA is now focused on efforts in custom interiors, corporate gifts, and boutique retail.
Revenue: Est. $10 million for 2019
Business: Technology-driven wood products manufacturer specializing in customization
Interview with VandenWymelenberg:
How do mission and community commitment align in your company?
Our mission is to put nature back into people’s lives. With every product sold, we plant a tree. I think the most important thing about us is the number of trees we’ve planted worldwide.
As the founder, how have you managed to find balance in your role?
There was a shift for me this last year, personally, as we brought in a CFO and a president. This year, I hit my stride with the ability to lead in a different type of way. Instead of getting my hands dirty and leading by example, I’m bringing on the right people, then helping to remove obstacles and barriers for the team. I’m helping others fail fast and find ways they can grow and learn.
You’ve literally written the book on entrepreneurship, right?
The World Needs Your F*cking Ideas: How to Start a Business That Will Save Our Universe was published earlier this year. It’s already been on nine different Amazon bestseller lists, and I’m going on a speaking tour to promote it. I was a broke farm boy from Wisconsin with no business and no money, so I’m a testament to why people can make their idea happen. And because of the way I’ve transformed my CEO role, I’ve got more energy and freedom now to do other entrepreneurial things, like this book. The book is about releasing your inner entrepreneur. If companies can help their employees do that, they will be successful in retaining their best people and in growing their bottom line. I’ve traveled to seven continents and I’ve met incredible thinkers. If we could implement all those ideas from all those thinkers, we could solve all the world’s problems, from hunger to deforestation to water treatment.