Alumni Entrepreneurs

It’s no surprise that a growing number of our College of Liberal Arts graduates have gone on to start their own companies or create their own products and services: A liberal arts education at the University of Minnesota encourages and nurtures the kind of imaginative thinking and flexibility that characterize the entrepreneur.

In 2013 CLA assembled a group of successful alumni entrepreneurs to discuss the liberal arts and learn more about their life journey. This is what we learned.

Portrait: Cristina Banks, University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts alumna

A Winding Road

The paths that drew Cristina Banks (PhD '79, psychology) away and then led her back here—to Berkeley and a successful career as an entrepreneur in industrial psychology—were crooked and more difficult than her privileged early childhood would have predicted. Now she has two companies whose mission is to understand human behavior so they can help executives meet their business goals.
Edward Bergmark

The Promise of Galileo

When Edward Bergmark (PhD '88, psychology) first started his company, it didn’t actually look like much in the beginning. “It was an office with nothing in it,” says Bergmark. Now his company provides one-stop service for health-related questions and currenly covers more than 24 million people.
Portrait: Don Brownstein, University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts alumnus

The Logic Behind the Formulas

Earning his doctorate in philosophy, finding a job as a tenured faculty member, and cultivating side interests in evolutionary biology and economics is how Don Brownstein (PhD '69, philosophy) became an investment-firm CEO. Now he has an investment advising company that earned a spot as one of the country's best-performing hedge funds.
Kit Dahl

Live Your Dream

When Christopher Dahl (BA '65, history and English) graduated from CLA, he already knew that he wanted to run his own company. “I’m just not cut out to work for somebody else,” he laughs. His first company provided children's programming on the radio that covered 40% of the U.S and became the most listened-to station in the Twin Cities. Currently, he manages a real estate investments company.
Pam Edstrom

Tag-teaming for Success

Upon graduating from CLA, Pam Edstrom (BA '71, sociology) didn't think about any specific job at all, but in 1982, she started her job at Microsoft. When CEO Steve Ballmer asked what she would like for a title, she said, ‘director of public relations,’” and that's what she became. Two years later Edstrom cofounded a public relations firm whose mission is to implement communication strategies that will help innovative, creative companies move forward. Thirty years later, her company is one of the world's most successful public relations firms.
Robert Eichinger

Creating the Liberal Arts Professional

After taking an individual differences course, Bob Eichinger (BA '62, psychology; PhD '75, industrial and organizational psychology) says that his entire life has been built around this single course. After earning his PhD as a Dunette advisee, and working several corporate and consulting jobs, he launched a leadership and talent management business in 1991 that focused on leadership development and training. His company produced more than 60 products, employed 150 staff, and counted Fortune 500 companies as clients.
Portrait: Stephen Eick, University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts alumnus

Serial Adventurer

CEO of VisTracks, Inc.Steve Eick (PhD '85, statistics) says that to start your own business, as he has done, "You basically have to do everything yourself. You need a pretty broad set of skills.” And that’s where his broad-based liberal arts education came in handy.
John Eliason

Designing the Life You Want

Selling lemonade at just the tender age of seven was how John Eliason (BA '88, psychology) began his career in sales. Now he is the CEO of his company that provides credit card processing for businesses, banks, affiliates, and nonprofits. In addition, he’s in the process of writing a series of inspirational how-to business guides and launching a software company. He says, "You have to take your experiences and make them work for you, never give up."
Portrait: Peter Fox, University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts alumna

Making a Move to Make a Move

Early in his career, it wasn't predictable that Peter Fox (BA '73, sociology) would start a company since he had been a marginal student who “majored in skiing” at the University of Utah and then graduating from the University of Minnesota. Fox had a company that provides heavyweight cargo air transportation services. When he sold it in 2007 it was one of the largest providers of heavyweight domestic airfreight in the country. He says. “We all have fears, we all have problems. You have two choices: Get up and go solve them, or run."
Karin Frost

Making a Difference Child by Child

While pregnant with her son, Karin Frost (BA '84, French and Danish) read a book by Jean Leidloff, who had lived with the Yequana people of southern Venezuela and witnessed their contented babies, happily straddled to their mothers 24 hours a day. She wanted to "wear" her baby too, but couldn't find a baby carrier that worked for her. She made her own, and by 2007, her company was selling 10,000 to 12,000 carriers a month in more than 20 countries. “It’s not just that I came up with a product that really works, but that we’re making a difference child by child,” says Frost.
Bill Hansen

Pursuing Life's Passions

Racing has always been Bill Hansen's (BA '73, psychology) passion since high school, even after graduating from University of Minnesota and getting a degree from William Mitchell College of Law he continued to race for years. Now he has two companies: one that manages real estate and another that was founded after his passion for car racing. Hansen says "I don't really consider myself an entrepreneur. I just make stuff happen."
Jonathan Hoistad

Working from the Bottom Up

After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Jonathan Hoistad (BA '70, psychology), worked on hospital staffs and opened his own practice in 1980. Now he is a clinical psychologist and an owner of a company that has more than 30 staff members, numerous clients and services, and partnerships with the multiple hospitals and care centers where Hoistad is a staff member or consultant. Hoistad says that the success of his company was due to his principle of "When you work from the bottom up, people find you."
Jon Liss

All in the Family

Jon Liss (BA '68, history) is a successful entrepreneur who never took a business course. Liss guided his company with the help of his built-in mentor, his father. His father taught him everything he needed to know about fair trade and service and how to think outside the box.
Portrait: Scoytt Litman

Crossing the Chasm

Scott Litman (BA '91, history) is a managing partner of the Twin Cities metro area’s fastest-growing business. He argues history is a great background for business leaders to pair with an enthusiasm for new ideas, an uncanny ability to see what's coming next, and the sheer will to jump in.
Tim & Diane Madden

Partnering for Change

Diane Madden (PhD '90, education administration) and Tim Madden (BA '74, speech communication, JD '77) employ 3,000 people and serve more than 2,000 residents nationwide, providing residential housing for persons with disabilities. When the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in 1974 that people with mental disabilities were entitled to live in residential group homes, they started their service from scratch.
Steffen Magnell

No Boundaries

Steffen Magnell (BA '68, economics) believes a successful entrepreneur needs people skills even more than business skills. His curiosity and passion for engagement help him organize people together to develop new ideas.
Portrait: Dawn Montez

Carrying Her Own Freight

Dawn Montez (BA '91, psychology) attributes her entrepreneurial success to creative, idiosyncratic resourcefulness. At first, Montez didn’t know the first thing about freight management—she acquired MBA skills on the job to build her own freight brokerage firm.
Stephanie Odegard

Business Meets Values

Stephanie Odegard (BA '69, humanities) combined her entrepreneurial career with her deeply held commitment to socially conscious sustainability. Using only sustainable materials and nothing made with child labor, she built her market for authentic arts and crafts of native people.
Portrait: James Romano

We Are All Entrepreneurs

Alumnus James Romano finds “...an inextricable connection between a strategic view of the world and a liberal arts education.... The best strategic thinkers are those who come from broad liberal arts backgrounds. The liberal arts experience enables someone sitting in a corporate room to think about ways to communicate with far-reaching customers.”
Charlie Rounds

The Time to Give is Now

Charlie Rounds (BA '77, linguistics) combined his passions of travel and social change to lead companies and foundations that create funds for LGBT communities. He hopes that 100 years from now special funding for gay rights won’t be needed, and that's why his ventures are designed for impact, not longevity.
Portrait: Ken Talle

Career As Kaleidoscope

It doesn’t seem at all unusual to Ken Talle (BA '66, history) that a successful entrepreneur can be someone whose intellectual focus is the liberal arts, where, as he says, “You are exposed to different disciplines and challenged in intellectual ways that are with you forever. In a sense it frees up the mind.”
Asher Waldfogel

The Risk of 'Sitting Still'

Asher Waldfogel (BA '75, philosophy) combined his passions for the humanities and his interest in technology to eventually run several high-tech companies. Waldfogel was born with a passion for innovation and risk, and learned the key to success is understanding trends and timing when everything happens quickly and nothing is permanent.
Steve Walker

Mixing it Up

Steve Walker (BA '88, communication studies) refused a lucrative job offer to begin his entrepreneurial career. He successfully launched a series of objectives, spanning industries as varied as life insurance and gourmet beverages.