What’s the secret formula successful entrepreneurs use to scale their companies to a national or even international level from nothing?

Many of the honored entrepreneurs you see featured in the above picture accomplished this goal even though some had never even run a business before. Well, stay tuned as an answer to their magic formula is on the way.

On Nov. 8, David Lubar, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee chancellor Mark Mone and I announced to the world that this region’s first Entrepreneur Hall of Fame will be housed at the new UWM Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship that will commence construction in 2017.

Its purpose will be:

» To honor entrepreneurs who have achieved greatness in launching their companies and creating jobs for their fellow citizens.
» To educate, encourage and inspire generations of our citizens to follow in their footsteps.
» To create a destination point for citizens from all segments of our community so they can learn about how the great entrepreneurs of our region were responsible for the very existence of Milwaukee and its growth.

What you will learn is there are multiple ways to scale the business. Some of the strategies they pursued could very well be relevant to your business.

First, some were able to identify a problem or opportunity in the marketplace in underutilized assets where no one saw opportunity.

For example, Gary Grunau looked at the dilapidated buildings that formed what was formerly the No. 1 brewery in the world, Schlitz Brewery. He took the plunge and bought the whole thing with his partner, Scott Sampson – a decision which would make other men run in terror. Today, Schlitz Park employs more people than the brewery did at its height in the 1950s. Second, some perceived weakness in the distribution chain of a given industry and therefore, created a new distribution platform. Bob Hillis, chief executive officer of Direct Supply Inc., went seven years without a paycheck as he developed a catalog to serve senior living facilities across the country. There was no easy way to access products and services, so he disrupted that market. He now is sought after by Wall Street for interviews as his company controls a significant portion

Third, look for an underserved market which could prove to be an opportunity for your business. Ken Szallai, then-director of the port for the City of Milwaukee, used market studies to discover there were potential consumers who wanted to avoid the drive around Chicago and northern Indiana to get to Michigan. He teamed up with David Lubar and together, they did something that had never been done before: launched the first high-speed car ferry service between Wisconsin and Michigan.

Fourth, everybody screams about the need for early-stage investment capital. Roy Reiman, founder of Reiman Publications, found a way to get around that barrier. He started targeted magazines aimed at audiences he felt weren’t being served, and attracted so many subscribers he was able to support the publications solely with subscriptions and zero advertising. This was unheard of in the industry and it led to the creation of 14 national magazines with more than 16 million subscribers. At its height, every eighth home in America received one of his magazines. And he bootstrapped it every inch of the way without significant early-stage angel capital from outsiders.

Fifth, another opportunity is to target an old-line established business market and disrupt it with a new approach to purchasing. Jalem Getz and Jeff Rusinow exploited a traditional market in retail costumes by creating an online opportunity called BuySeasons Inc. They changed the purchasing process for thousands of consumers who wanted an easy way to buy costumes.

Sixth, take an existing model and improve upon it by getting better results for customers. Both Ted Kellner, who founded Fiduciary Management Inc., and Bill Nasgovitz, who founded Heartland Advisors, decided they could ascertain value in the marketplace by stock picking what the crowd on Wall Street missed. The growth of both their mutual funds and advisory services has been nothing short of spectacular. Mind you, the financial services industry is completely cutthroat. To gather assets into the billions proved their ability to deliver better returns to customers than the competition.

There is no one secret formula for entrepreneurs to innovate, but many secret formulas, and any one of these approaches might work in your industry.