At StartUp Hutch, we believe in connecting a community of entrepreneurs. Sharing our stories is one of the best ways to create collisions, share ideas, and make the most of our skills, talents, and resources in Reno County
Homegrown Internet Freedom Fighters
The year was 1999. Music sharing service Napster was just released. Y2K fears loomed on the horizon. A new millennium was dawning, and the potential of the internet was blossoming. That’s when four high school friends in the small town of Buhler, Kansas, decided that instead of following along with the rapid changes of technology, they would lead the way. IdeaTek was born.
Daniel Friesen, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at IdeaTek, recalls teachers at the high school asking him to set up their computers and solve technical problems. 22 years later and IdeaTek has grown exponentially—and Daniel is still solving technical problems. Fast, efficient, reliable fiber internet has replaced the loud dial up of their beginnings, and they have no plans of slowing down.
“2018 was when things really started to take off for us. We were awarded $6 Million by the FCC to install fiber in Harvey, Reno and Sedgwick counties. Then in 2021, another $13.7 from CARES funding helped us expand to central and Southwest Kansas. We now provide internet service to more than 50 communities,” said Friesen. “This has always been the dream. We saw the freedom and potential that internet access could bring, and want to give rural Kansas a fighting chance to not only survive, but thrive.”
Not only has IdeaTek expanded their internet coverage area, they’ve also expanded their workforce—growing from 33 employees in 2018 to more than 118 currently.
This workforce is primed to grow yet again, with even more expansion on the horizon. IdeaTek is partnering with KDOT and KanREN, the Kansas Research and Education Network, to expand broadband infrastructure and improve safety and connectivity along primary and secondary travel and freight routes.
“We’re thrilled with the progress that’s been made thus far, but most people don’t realize how much of Kansas is still underserved,” said Friesen. “We’re committed to fighting for internet freedom, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. We’re dedicated to growth—not only of our company and broadband infrastructure, but ultimately our Kansas economy.”
"This has always been the dream. We saw the freedom and
potential that internet access can bring, and want to give rural Kansas a fighting chance to not only survive, but thrive.'
Doubling Up on Success
New in 2022, StartUp Hutch launched the “Double Dare Challenge,” a recognition program for Reno County businesses. This recognition honored any Reno County business who doubled in number of employees from January 1, 2019 through Dec 31, 2021.
“We want to recognize job growth in all shapes and sizes,” said Jackson Swearer, StartUp Hutch Entrepreneur Navigator and Program Director. “We honored companies who grew anywhere from one to two employees, all the way to those who now have 100. Each of these jobs are fuel for our local economy, and from the perspective of a startup – making the leap from 1 to 2 employees or 2 to 4 is an enormous leap in volume that deserves attention.”
15 companies were recognized at the Hutchinson Chamber Awards Night on March 3rd-- these companies creating 160 new jobs in Reno County: Anna Crable Agency Farmers Insurance, BowerComm, Elite Real Estate Group, IdeaTek Telcom, J.P. Crop Consulting, JW Machine, Lark Design Group, Leu+Co Properties, MBC Flooring and Design, Preferred Real Estate, Reflections Salon & Day Spa, Ridge Carbide Tool, Sugartime Confections, The Toy Depot, and the Traveling Bowl.
Congratulations to these Double Dare Challenge recipients and thank you for your commitment to making Reno County a great place to do business!
"Each of these jobs are fuel for our local economy, and from the perspective of a startup – making the leap from 1 to 2 employees or 2 to 4 is an enormous leap in volume that deserves attention.'
The Etc. Shop
The Etc. Shop is all about service. Founded on Main Street in 1978 as a thrift store to support the development and relief work of 18 Mennonite churches of the area, the not-for-profit community goods shop reuses, recycles, and retails gently used items and provides work experience for people who need a second chance. Since 2011 they’ve added Builder’s Bargains, the We Care Center, and opened a second Etc. Shop in Yoder for a few years.
According to long-time manager Jane Wagler, while people may think otherwise, the goal of traditional businesses and not-for-profit businesses are the same: to make money. The difference is, in a not-for-profit, it’s the service that drives the business, and that’s what determines how the income is used. Traditional businesses may pay shareholders or owners with profits, while not-for-profit businesses give profits away. The Etc. Shop donates income to local and supporting sister organizations, but they also invest in people.
“We made a conscious decision in our hiring practices to employ the people that don't get chances elsewhere, using our income where it makes a difference in people’s lives,” Wagler said. “I like to think of us as the trampoline or stepping stone for people to get back on the track to work.” And they do get back on track. So far, the success rate has been more than 90% with the help and support of about 280 volunteers who act as mentors.
Wagler notes that one of the joys of running a not-for-profit and providing a service is building a stronger community. “You know that at the end of the day that you are making a difference where you live,” she said. “That is the best part.”
"We're a business doing a mission, and a mission doing a business'
Machine Design Services
Mark and Kristy Kidd are problem solvers.
When the Kidds noticed that more and more manufacturing jobs were moving overseas, they took matters into their own hands. With the purchase of Machine Design Services in 2018, the Kidds leveraged their extensive background in manufacturing and began growing the company, keeping work local rather than going overseas.
This is no small feat. While Mark is a seasoned machinist, finding others who are trained to do a project from conception to completion was difficult. “Machining in general is a lost art,” Kristy Kidd said. “There aren’t a lot of qualified machinists that can do a job from start to finish because generally it isn’t taught that way now. People learn how to put the part in the machine, and they push a button, but someone else is doing the programming. We think it's important to know the whole process.”
To ensure their team would have the proper training, the Kidds started an apprenticeship program in partnership with Hutchinson Community College. They have one apprentice machinist in the program now. “We are so proud of the commitment that he has made to work hard both in the class and on the job,” said Kristy.
“As we grow in the future, we hope this partnering can be a resource for qualified employees for us and provide HCC a place to offer their students an internship in the machine shop.” This apprenticeship “provides a quality education at an affordable rate” while “keeping things as local as possible.”
The result of this program: Machine Design Services can do things that other machinists can’t, and it’s often faster and less expensive than producing the parts overseas. “We know how to do what needs to be done to make sure that a project happens within very tight tolerances. People can come to us with an idea, uncertain it can be done, and we have the skills to figure it out,” said Kristy.
The Kidds also know that part of having a good team is having good business support partners to help them solve problems as they arise.
"When we went to purchase this business, we were told we needed a great banker, a great account, and a great attorney,' Kristy Kidd said. 'It took us a while to find those three key people, but those connections are very important.'
Jay and Connie Schrock always believed in the concept of “keeping it local.”
In 1973, Woodwork Manufacturing was sold to new owners, and by 1982, after 22 years as an employee, Jay found himself frustrated and ready for a new career. Instead of moving on, the Schrocks seized a chance to purchase the company, which today continues its nationwide operations out of Hutchinson.
“Jay was always more concerned about it being local,” Connie said.
It was the local community that helped guide them through the early years of Woodwork Manufacturing, offering sound advice to the young business owners. And it was the local community that had faith in the Schrocks and helped them grow the company, even through economic struggles that forced others to leave town or close.
Just as other business leaders helped them through lean time, the Schrocks have seen how local business ownership ripples out to others. “Over the years, a lot of big companies tried to buy us out,” Jay said. “There used to be a lot of mom-and-pop operations, and as they retired, they sold to corporations. The first thing that happens, it takes away from the city. Local banking, insurance – that all goes elsewhere. Small business is the heart of a town.”
Now as another generation takes over the operation, the Schrocks find satisfaction in the promise of Hutchinson’s future as well as the company and family legacy, which was from seeds of local commitment sown many years ago.
“We made a promise then that if we got through this, we’d do what we could to help people.”
When Bob Updegraff started working for Phillip Harley at Harley’s Bicycles in high school in 1964, it’s likely that he wasn’t thinking long term. But 56 years later, he’s still out on the floor talking to customers.
As Updegraff sees it, the people are the best part of owning a business. “I'm a hands-on owner,” he says. "My ‘core technology’ is helping customers. I think people really enjoy seeing the owner, and I know I enjoy seeing them!”
Updegraff says strong employees make it possible. Being an employee himself and working with Harley for 31 years also smoothed the transition when he purchased the business. Twenty-five years later, he’s still running the shop with the same philosophy that Harley did.
“What we have been doing has worked well for over 50 years,” Updegraff said. "If it's not broken, don’t fix it!”
While the name and the philosophy may have come with the shop, Updegraff is always watching for new trends or ways to improve. “I’ve been in this industry for almost 60 years,” he said.
“You’d think I’d have it down. But sometimes you get a nugget, or something pops up that makes you say, ‘Wait a second...that’s a great idea!’ so we try it.”
The process works. Mixing a tried-and-true philosophy with new ideas and technology, Harley’s continues to be a solid business and has grown significantly under Updegraff’s ownership. In addition to a sales increase, the shop is regularly named as one of the top 200 bike shops in the United States – 18 times so far, including 2020.
“I’m a hands-on owner. I think people really enjoy seeing the owner, and I know I enjoy seeing them!”
Eric Spurgeon is a serial entrepreneur.
"I've always had the inclination to own a business,” Spurgeon said. “From the time I was 12, raising chickens and selling eggs to teachers at school, I have enjoyed being my own boss.” Spurgeon currently runs two businesses; one is established and growing, and the other is an early start up. Tarhun 3D is an engineering design firm that works with smaller startups and companies to help them move their products through the design process from prototype to market. Iron Hedge is a startup with a new take on barbed wire fences.
Spurgeon owned and operated a barbed wire fence company when he was in high school. While working in the engineering industry after
college, he noticed that his expertise as a previous business owner brought a unique viewpoint to his engineering projects that made things run more smoothly. In 2017, he decided to combine those skills, and he started Tarhun 3D.
Mentors have been a great resource for Spurgeon. “A mentor told me that people often negate their natural strengths,” he said. “We live with ourselves everyday so we don't think about what we are really good at.” His mentor suggested looking at what he was good at and finding two skills that may not seem to match up. Then consider how those two skills combined could be more valuable than a single skill applied. Spurgeon realized that there aren’t that many people who have his experience building barbed wire fences who also have expertise in engineering - and they enjoy both processes.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, Spurgeon leveraged what he already knew from Tarhun 3D about helping clients create products when he started Iron Hedge. Now he’s working through the design process he created at one company to take the other to market.
“It was especially helpful to get involved and meet people when I was new to the community. You never know what meaningful relationship you will stumble into.”
It was while Zac Kitson was still working as a high school employee that Barbara Didlo casually mentioned selling the business to him.
“I didn’t feel I was in a place to purchase the business as a high school student, but as the conversation went on my parents walked into the shop. Now we operate this as our family business, my parents and my wife and I.”
Metropolitan Coffee is now one of the premier stops for coffee, tea, espresso, and baked goods in Hutchinson. Beyond the food and beverages – Metro is known as a place for connections. Not only is it great for meetings, hang outs and study groups, but the business displays pieces from local artists, hosts special events such as Swing Dancing night, and is a great place to catch local music.
After the success of their 17th and Lorraine location, The Kitson’s expanded into Downtown Hutchinson’s Wiley District in 2016.
“The grace we’ve offered to our customers has been reciprocated and they’ve been loyal supporters,” said Kitson. “We couldn’t do what we do without the people of Hutchinson.”
'We couldn't do what we do without the people of Hutchinson.'
Holly's Sweet Treats
Holly Thomas has been baking for as long as she can remember. Yet her first attempt to elevate her hobby - by decorating a cake for her cousin's wedding shower - was "awful."
"I wrote on it three times," Thomas laughed. "It was all smeared. But it tasted good."
A guest at the shower asked Thomas to make her wedding cake. She started making cakes and treats for family and friends hosting parties and special events. After a while, Thomas found her career in the nonprofit sector making way for a new side business for her longtime hobby, which pushed her to broaden her skills, upgrade her equipment, and perfect her craft.
Now, that side gig has taken up residence in one of downtown Hutchinson's anchor storefronts - the corner of Avenue B and Main Street. There, Holly's Sweet Treats has increased its capacity to serve the needs of the community, from custom cakes to unique, handcrafted treats, to lunch and take-home meals, and gifts that can't be found anyplace else.
"I call what I do feeding people joy," Holly said. My hope is that people come in, hang out, watch me decorate and feel like this is a place they want to be."
The Wool Market
& DIY School
The sign above The Wool Market & DIY School only partly describes what's inside.
While owners Andrea Springer and Steve Snook offer wool and all the supplies one would need to take up knitting, the space at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street in Hutchinson is also a gathering space where you can watch a bad sci-fi movie one night, hear a New York Time best-selling author on another, and hone your skills the next day at a knitting class or group.
"It's amazing to get people together who would otherwise never meet around the table," Springer said. "The retail part always felt like a secondary goal. We wanted to create a welcoming space for meeting people - but how does that look in a business plan?"
The couple transitioned from established nonprofit and medical careers to create new pathways for their futures and to invest in downtown Hutchinson. In the process, they've found new friends and new creativity, sparked by the connections that have been made.
"There's something about the energy when something is created," Andrea said. "It lets them imagine what else might be possible."
Anne Dowell is a one-woman powerhouse with a penchant for Downtown who is no stranger to adapting to change.
Dowell relocated Apron Strings to Downtown Hutch in 2014. “I was looking for someplace unique with character, and Downtown has the boutique vibe I wanted,” Dowell said. “It’s my neighborhood.”
Dowell is always looking for opportunities to do something different, most recently, an expansion in Salina. Dowell is driven by the belief that adapting to a changing environment and economy is the nature of retail. “In retail, you have to keep trying different things. Just because something doesn’t seem to work out, you didn’t fail. If you keep throwing darts at a dartboard, eventually one of them will stick and be good. Yes, sometimes you are going to miss the board, but you’re also going to get some bullseyes.”
Dowell encourages anyone who thinks “I’d love to do something like this, but I’m too scared” to reach out to people in the Downtown neighborhood and ask about mentoring and funding support. “I’m scared every day,” she says, “but I keep throwing those darts anyway!”