An entrepreneur with roots in Columbus detailed his journey from wanting to be a millionaire to achieving it by age 32.
Steve Booher, who is preparing to debut a new product internationally in October, was the keynote speaker for the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce Venture Awards on Tuesday.
Booher’s company, Smart Path Systems, is planning to sign a distribution agreement with a top original equipment manufacturer this fall. Smart Path Systems has developed a precision-guided solution for commercial mowing, spraying and snow removal, Booher said.
The system, after identifying the area to be covered, calculates the most efficient way for the operator to accomplish the mowing, spraying or snow removal and monitors the performance while at the same time increasing safety, he said.
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Booher, 52, showed a short video at the awards explaining how the product works.
Booher said the startup for this company has been one of the most challenging he has attempted because of extremely complicated technology involved.
Growing up in Columbus, Booher said the idea of being an entrepreneur creating a company like Smart Path Systems was only a dream — and something he and his brother Jeff, who works for Cummins Inc., used to talk about. “We wanted to be millionaires,” he said of those talks with his brother.
The Venture Awards celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit of local residents, and Booher talked about his journey as an entrepreneur, from companies he created, bought and sold to what he learned along the way.
He talked about learning by reading a lot of books and looking to many heroes for inspiration.
And becoming an entrepreneur involved thinking about business almost every minute of the day, he said.
Booher gave a few tips to the entrepreneurs in the audience, including advising to stay hands on with the company, reviewing checks and purchase orders personally and keeping tabs on cash flow.
“Cash is king,” he told the audience. “If you run out, you’re out of business.”
He advised to always have a buy-sell agreement if going into business with a partner and to be prepared to deliver what you sell — and have systems in place to monitor that you are delivering.
Networking is crucial, he said, saying he had more than 3,000 contacts in his database. And having a mentor is important, Booher said.
Booher drew a biggest laugh when he offhandedly said that running a business is easy — “if it wasn’t for the employees and the customers.”
“Try not to work 20 years in 10,” he said, acknowledging that in his career, there were times he was working 30 years in 10.
“Keep your priorities straight and have fun,” he said. “Love what you do.”
Booher earned an associate’s degree in design at Vincennes University and a bachelor’s degree in business from Indiana Wesleyan. He has launched and sold several ventures in his 25-year career, including Productive Resources, Auburn Clutch, NetPage USA and CAD Design Inc.
He received the prestigious Growth 100 award from the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, part of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, 11 times for four different companies.
Cindy Frey, chamber president, thanked Booher for reminding the entrepreneurs in the audience of the value of seeking wisdom from mentors, and that the struggle for success is about not giving up.
Quoting from Booher’s speech, Frey said, “When you have to succeed, you can.”
Loan program available
To help those who are hoping to open or expand a small business in Columbus, the chamber invited Mary Ferdon, Columbus’ executive director of administration and community development to announce a new loan program.
The Columbus Small Business Loan Program is providing loans and technical assistance to small and emerging businesses in the city limits that are creating jobs within the community, Ferdon said. Loans may be used for working capital or equipment.
Funding for the program is provided through collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture — Rural Development, about $100,000 left from federal funding the city received after the 2008 catastrophic flooding.
Applicants are required to complete an application and provide a business plan, with loan amounts at a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $20,000. Interest on the loan will be between 1 and 4 percent with monthly repayment.
Eligible private businesses must employ 50 or fewer employees and have less than $1 million in projected gross revenues.
Applications for the program are available through the Community Development Department at Columbus City Hall. For more information, call 812-376-2520 or email email@example.com.
Entrepreneur of the Year
Simmons Winery/450N Brewing, founded in 2000, was the winner. David and Brenda Simmons accepted the award and thanked their family, 43 employees and customers for their continuing success. From an initial idea to grow grapes on their farm, diversification led the family into the wine business. And that led to the creation of a banquet center, pizza restaurant and a brewing company. Simmons’ wine, beer and hard ciders are now sold in 400 retail outlets, and the company is preparing to expand by opening a brewpub in Shelbyville.
Other finalists: Burt’s Termite and Pest Control Inc. and Natural Choices for Healthful Living
New and Emerging Award
YoMaMa Frozen Yogurt & More, established in 2011, was the winner. Owner Beth Miller was lauded for strong branding and a sense of place for the colorful and playful shop. She was also honored for coaching her employees, many who are young and in their first jobs, to deliver great customer service. Miller said she and her company strive to do everything with integrity and to impact every person’s life in a positive way.
Other finalists: Garb2Art Cosmetics and Pomp & Bloom.
Small Business Advocate
SCORE, a national organization affiliated with the U.S. Small Business Administration, received the award. Fred Nerz accepted the award for the Southeast Indiana chapter, which was established in 1977 to help small businesses start and grow in Columbus, Nashville, Greensburg and North Vernon. The organization, with about 20 counselor volunteers, has mentored about 160 future business owners in the past couple years. SCORE volunteers work out of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce offices in downtown Columbus offering counseling and educational products free and confidentially to fledgling business owners.