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Spring 2019

Illustration by Matt Chinworth

Think, Understand, and Believe

Denison alumni entrepreneurs on big ideas, the acceptance of risk, the possibility of failure, and the joy of success

Interviews by Alice Duncanson
Illustrations by Matt Chinworth

The entrepreneurial spirit has been in Denison’s DNA since the college’s inception, starting with our founders who saw this spot on the Hill and launched an educational mission. But in recent years, Denison has been solidifying the entrepreneurial spirit through ReMix, the college’s new entrepreneurship summit that brings alumni, students, and others together to share start-up stories, discuss strategies, and collaborate to grow and evolve their businesses and ideas. The problem-solving spirit is also at work through the Red Frame Lab on campus, a spot that exposes students to innovation, entrepreneurship, and design-thinking to tackle complicated issues at home, on campus, and in the business world—building skills that will assist students in life and in their careers, whether they become entrepreneurs themselves or choose a more traditional career path. But the groundwork for ReMix and Red Frame started long ago in the ways faculty approached the teaching experience at Denison and in the ways former students approached their own careers after Denison. As the college launches and strengthens these flag-planting programs in entrepreneurship and innovation, we take a look at the Denison alumni entrepreneurs who paved the way.

Headshot of David Lucchino

David Lucchino ’91

CEO and CoFounder
Frequency Therapeutics, Inc.

What they do:
The tech is called Progenitor Cell Activation, and Frequency Therapeutics is exploring its application to treat areas such as hearing loss, skin disorders, and muscle regeneration. But its lead program, FX-322, activates the regrowth of sensory cells in the inner ear to treat chronic noise-induced hearing loss.

How it works:
“We deliver small molecules to ‘talk’ to hibernating stem cells,” says Lucchino. “Think about it  this way:  Certain  stem cells were used only once to create our hearing system—they then went dormant. These stem cells remain in our cochlea, though we have no cue to turn them back on—until now.”

A religion major goes Biotech:
Lucchino’s work comes down to big concepts, critical thinking, and analysis. “This all started because I took Walter Eisenbeis’ ‘Think, Understand, and Believe’ at Denison.

Headshot of Heather Stouffer

Heather Stouffer ’96

Founder & CEO
Mom Made Foods, LLC

Filling a need in the market:
As a busy working mother in 2005, Stouffer saw a huge need for healthy, convenient food options for kids that weren’t loaded with sugar, preservatives, and artificial ingredients. “Mom Made Foods was created from my belief that convenient meals do not need to sacrifice quality or nutrition,” says Stouffer, “and that kids should be able to eat delicious foods without added junk.”

Proud Mama:
“Each and every time I see our product in the freezer aisle of a grocery store, or I hear from a happy customer, it warms my
soul that our work is not only making children healthy, it’s  also making a parent’s day a little easier.”

Nightmare averted:
“As I contemplated starting my business, I feared I could end up with my worst nightmare: a divorce and children who I didn’t have time to mother. A wise advisor told me, ‘Heather, you will adapt to make time in your life for what’s most important to you.’ She was right.”

Stouffer’s advice to budding entrepreneurs:
“Jump in and keep your personal priorities in check throughout your journey.”

Headshot of Susan Peterson

Susan Peterson ’67

Founder & Chair

Founding The Communication Center:
After 10 years of working for CBS and NBC News, Susan Peterson began to think, What’s next? “I realized I could start my own business by leveraging the skills I learned in television to help clients with media interviews and speeches,” she says.

DU rescue:
“When I first started in business, Denison came to my rescue by sending me an intern for the summer. That was my first employee.” Since then, The Communication Center has hosted one or two Denison interns every year. “In fact, one—Alaina Goldense ’08—started 12 years ago and is now our chief operating officer.”

The cash-flow challenge:
“As a woman with no business track record, I knew I couldn’t go to a bank for funding. When I became an entrepreneur, I lived off my savings for two years so that every cent I made in my business went right back into it. It was a self-financing plan that paid off.”

A crash course in multitasking:
“When I was at Denison, I had three jobs—ringing the chapel bells, working in the student union, and being a music teacher’s assistant—all at the same time and while reporting for The Denisonian. Looking back, it was great preparation for multitasking in running
my own business.”

Headshot of David Howitt

David Howitt ’90

Founder & CEO
Meriwether Group

On serving modern-day heroes (entrepreneurs):
“Meriwether Group was built with the idea of serving the entrepreneur—who we believe is a modern-day hero,” says Howitt. “For the right company, we can help them define and execute on growth, fund some of that growth, and then help them unlock that value through a differentiated investment banking process.”

The power to change the world:
“We believe entrepreneurs have the ability (we would say responsibility) to change the world. Entrepreneurs birth newness into the world. They help to answer misses in the market, and they can do that in a way that heals communities, helps families, and brings better choices to the consumer.”   

Heeding your call:
“My job is to help these visionaries, disrupters, and change-makers on their journey. My book, Heed Your Call, is an anthem to hopefully inspire people to take their journey and follow their dharma.”

On being creative and analytic:
“We can embrace process, systems, operations, logic, supply chain, and analysis and embrace beauty, story, brand, artistry, purpose, meaning, and values—and that is where the magic happens!”

Headshot of Terry Jones

Terry Jones ’70

Travelocity and Kayak (founding chairman)

The founder:
Travelocity grew out of a project that had been going on at American Airlines for eight years. “I left Travelocity when it was taken private, began working for a VC firm, and looked at many travel ideas. At a dinner with former executives from Expedia and Orbitz, we discussed the fact that so many of our customers used our sites to find pricing and then booked directly with suppliers. We wondered, ‘Why isn’t there a site that does just that?’ Eight years later we sold Kayak.com for $1.8 billion.”  

Never stop learning:
“I keep up by reading voraciously. From popular business books to arcane technical journals,” says Jones. “I try to read as broadly as I can about technological trends. I get to visit dozens of conventions each year and always go to the trade shows where you can see the latest thing.”

Retirement? No thanks.
“American business has been defined by ingenuity and invention, but the pressures of the worldwide economy mean we can never stop innovating. If I can share what I’ve learned from being on 15 boards and leading five start-ups to help companies in their journey, that’s a lot more fun than being retired.”

Headshot of Rick Kienzle

Rick Kienzle ’85

Globus Medical, Inc.

What they do:
Globus Medical is a musculoskeletal implant manufacturer. In short, it makes human spines for implant and enables surgeons to promote healing in patients with musculoskeletal disorders.

It helps to have someone believe in you:
“One night my wife Cindy and I were discussing the pros and cons of starting my own business, and she turned and said, ‘We are 40 years old. Let’s not look back at 50 or older and wonder if it was possible and whether we could have succeeded. We have to do this.’ It was music to my ears and all I needed to jump in. In the end, we preferred to try and fail than to have never tried. I could not have done it without her.”

On Globus Medical’s “secret sauce”:
“The short answer? Preparing, listening, understanding, and building the entire company around a simple and powerful concept: Each person and department must execute at a three-times rate to the market and our competition. Simple in concept, hard in practice.”

An entrepreneur must-have:
“The desire to lead. Steadfast conviction and drive. A willingness to burn the boats. Stamina. An innate comfort with risk. A grounded but positive outlook. The ability and confidence to act decisively while knowing you are going to make mistakes and will learn, adapt, overcome, and succeed.”

Headshot of LaForce Baker

LaForce Baker ’10

Founder & CEO
Moon Meals

Fed up:
“I was inspired to start Moon Meals after helping large food companies launch new products across the country,” says Baker. “I got fed up with launching heavily processed foods that helped contribute to me growing up overweight in a food desert on the South Side of Chicago.” Moon Meals started as a healthy late-night meal delivery alternative. It evolved into catering. Later  the company began wholesaling its best seller, the Fiesta Wrap, which is now carried in Albertsons Jewel-Osco and will soon be in Whole Foods Market in almost 200 stores across three states.

On almost being homeless:
“Once I came up with the idea for Moon Meals, I did it on the side for six months before taking the full leap into entrepreneurship. I did consulting on the side to pay the bills. It was still tough. In the seven years since I started the company, I almost went homeless three times.”

Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know:
“There have been a lot of times over the past few years of me being a CEO where I did not have enough information to make an informed decision. I’ve discovered that being patient and gathering the information saves our company a lot of resources because we don’t have to backtrack. As an entrepreneur, that can be hard because you’re constantly focused on moving the company forward. One question that I ask myself now is, ‘Will I regret my decision tomorrow?’”

Headshot of Simms Jenkins

Simms Jenkins ’96


The hustle:
BrightWave, an email marketing agency, was the result of a bad economy and some lucky breaks. “My former employer shut down our business unit where I ran email and CRM, and the job market was really tough,” says Jenkins. “As a newly married guy with a mortgage, I knew I had to hustle, and I knew my knowledge and expertise around email would be valuable in some way.” Jenkins started doing some consulting, and then BrightWave was born and grew as companies sought a lower-cost marketing medium with high, measurable returns during the down economy.

On the value of writing books:
The initial impetus of his first book, The Truth About Email Marketing, was to correct the general misconception about email marketing. “I focused on

its power and potential as a permission marketing channel and highlighted the critical business impact it offers to brands that intelligently leverage it.” The book was well received, and it helped position Jenkins as a subject-matter expert, raised BrightWave’s industry profile, and opened a lot of doors to new clients. The second book, The New Inbox, was geared toward reinforcing email as the most important marketing channel once social and mobile marketing began to emerge. “I love sharing much of what I have learned with anyone who will listen.”  

If you’re thinking about becoming an entrepreneur:
“Do it instead of regretting not doing it, understand your market and your risks/reward, and go all in once you make the leap.”

Headshot of Andrew Dewitt

Andrew Dewitt ’93

Founder and CEO
Dewey’s Pizza

Growing 25 stores, organically:
“Dewey’s growth has been cautious; it was really an expansion-out-of-success model. We opened the first store wondering, ‘Will this even work?’ Then about three years later, we opened a second, and it was like, ‘Geez, the second one worked; let’s consider another.’ We never raised capital beyond the first store, so it truly has been organic growth.”

People over pizza:
“As a joke, I often tell people that Dewey’s isn’t a pizza company, but an organizational development company that happens to sell pizza. And in so many ways, that isn’t far from the truth.”

On risk-taking:
“My personal story is a perfect example of taking a risk without a crystal clear vision of the future. I’ve seen friends really analyze situations and never take the step to entrepreneurism, and that’s a situation I would not have wanted to be in. I’m a big believer in taking the risk.”

What business classes?
“I didn’t take any classes that had anything to do with my business, so it’s hard to quantify how my Denison education had a direct influence on my career. But in some ways, my liberal arts education shaped everything. And I met my wife there, and she encouraged me to open a business. I’m a big believer in the liberal arts.”

Headshot of Heidi Ackley

Heidi Ackley ’91

Owner and Designer
Pearly Vine LLC

On getting started in the fashion business:
“My career in fashion did not start in New York or Hong Kong, but in my basement in Columbus, Ohio. I had four-year-old twins, a black cardigan, and nothing exciting to wear under it. That is when I had the idea to take a plain white woven shirt and pair it with some exciting fabric. I added French cuffs to my basic shirt, and it created the perfect pop of color. I wore that shirt to complete my outfit and received more compliments than I could understand. A business had begun. Today we sell in 280 boutiques across the country and do private shows in 12 states. We also do private-label manufacture from the heart of Ohio.”

The not-so-basic white shirt:
“The basic white shirt is where this company started. Every woman has one in her closet, and when it is time to dress it up, she can wear pearls under it or a great sweater over it. I have dressed up that basic white shirt, and it can go from the office with a pencil skirt, out to dinner with slacks, and then out to party with jeans.”

A punch of color:
“From that shirt, I have gone on to expand with a punch of color. I love the idea of getting dressed—going to the closet on my way out the door, grabbing a scarf or a wrap, and—pow!— my entire outfit has changed. No matter how many chocolates I have eaten that day, how my hair is behaving, or what my kids brought home from school, I know that punch of color will not let me down. I believe a pop of color can change anyone’s outlook on the day, and I hope when a woman puts on one of my shirts, jackets, ponchos, or silk wraps she feel’s comfortable, classic, and is ready to have fun.”