A baby and childrens food producer. A building materials developer. A lecturer and researcher into the inner workings of entrepreneurship.
These business people are the finalists in Innovator of the Year category in the seventh annual Idaho Innovation Awards. They represent a broad range of people in Idaho looking for new ways of doing things, said Jay Larsen, president of the Idaho Technology Council, one of three organizations presenting the awards in early October.
Innovation is percolating and doing a lot of things in Idaho, Larsen said.
LES CULLEN, PRESIDENT, INSULSTONE
Since he started his first business at age 24 building wood stove inserts for fireplaces, Cullen brought new ideas to the marketplace.
I could never color within the line very good, Cullen said.
He developed a pellet-burning stove that didnt require a blower to fan the fuel, so the pellets would burn even if the power went out. He created a stove that burned smoke, reducing the plume that would go into the air.
In the 2007, he embarked on his latest product: concrete molded to look like stone and backed with a high-density material for inner and exterior walls. It almost doubles the insulation value, he said.
InsulStone emerged from Cullens interest in insulation products. He found an insulating foam that was already being made in Caldwell. He bought a majority ownership of that company and began looking for ways to use the foam. He and his partner hit on the insulation-backed building products.
But they started just as the economy faltered and construction went into the tank.
We timed it pretty good, he said.
While the U.S. market was weak, Cullen took InsulStone to western Canada, where it sold briskly.
Now it is making headway in the United States as the economy improves. Hes licensed a company to make and sell the product in Colorado in June and hopes to expand licensing elsewhere.
And hes come up with other products. One is a stone-looking material made out of crushed glass.
He wont say how much the InsulStone company makes in annual sales, but he says InsulStone sales have been up 50 to 100 percent a year. The company is based at 100 S. Adkins Way in Meridian.
JESSICA ROLPH, PARTNER, HAPPY FAMILY
On Mothers Day 2006, Rolph, who had a degree in anthropology from Cornell University, and her business partner Shazi Visram launched Happy Family with six organic frozen baby-food products. The plan: Put high-nutrition organic baby foods on the market.
Six years later, Happy Family products, which now number 100, are in 14,000 stores including Albertsons, the Boise Co-op, Fred Meyer and Target. Happy Family is also in 25 countries.
We are trying to create better alternatives for a lot of the processed foods that are out there, Rolph said.
Rolph credits Visram with developing the idea for the products before she signed on as a partner. Visram, who lives in New York, handles the companys marketing. Rolph, who oversees operations, brought her part of the business to Idaho in 2008 when her husband took a job here. The business is at 509 W. Hays St. in Boise.
The company had only a couple of employees in New York initially. Rolphs end of the business now has 20 employees and expects to hire five more by years end.
Happy Family has expanded beyond baby foods to lines of snack foods for children and is just launching on a line for the entire family.
One of their niches: Getting kids to eat foods they tend to not enjoy, but are really super healthy foods, Rolph said. They found a way to blend kale, apple and mango into a food children might not otherwise be interested in, she said.
The companys sales were $35 million last year. Rolph expect to double that this year.
NORRIS KRUEGER, FOUNDER, ENTREPRENEURSHIP NORTHWEST
Entrepreneurs arent risk-takers, Norris Krueger says. They are people who embrace uncertainty.
There a difference. Risk-takers know what the odds are. Uncertainty is when you dont even know what the odds are, he said.
Thats part of the message Krueger imparts with self-acknowledged evangelical fervor as he goes across the country and around the world helping nurture entrepreneurship through research, establishing training programs and lecturing.
You handle risk by hedging, Krueger said. You handle uncertainty by information. I dont have a clue and I dont know whats going on here. But I know I can figure it out.
Krueger, who was a Boise State University professor in entrepreneurship until 2006, started his consulting business in 2002. It is based at 1632 S. Riverstone Lane, Suite 304, Boise.
He spends a lot of time overseas: Japan, Belgium and the Netherlands, for example, spreading his gospel that entrepreneurship is vital to a communitys resilience.
Every community needs a supply of new economic activity, Krueger said. That means you need people to identify opportunities and act on them.
He believes everyone has an inner entrepreneur, and that entrepreneurs are not born, they learn.
Entrepreneurship is about creating value and learning how to negotiate uncertainty. Isnt that a lot more fun that taking action by running away from a threat? he said.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts