Celebrate the Winners – Entrepreneurial Awards
2019 Entrepreneur of the Year: The Ticket Machine
From college kid to dream gig – how CEO Brian Posey reimagined the ticket-buying experience
By Adam Lansdell
At the heart of it all, entrepreneurs are driven by their passion. They live for the opportunity to live out their dreams on their terms or break free from the chains of a career that’s kept their desires at bay. However, there’s always the off chance that an entrepreneur’s journey might begin without much intention or expectations. Sometimes your dream role can catch you by surprise. As a Michigan State University student, Brian Posey found his calling and created his dream job …even though he never intended to.
Unintentionally Creating a Dream Job
Brian Posey, owner and CEO of The Ticket Machine Inc. admitted that he’s always been a sports and entertainment fanatic, but at the dawn of the ‘90s he decided to apply his passion, as a hobby, to make ends meet. His experience with venues, their seating charts, how to obtain tickets to premier shows and score the best deals allowed him to create a side hustle selling tickets to fellow Michigan State University students and others in the area.
Primarily focused on concerts, things snowballed quickly, and Posey realized that opportunities within the admissions segment of the overarching entertainment industry were vast. He quickly realized that many others simply didn’t have knowledge of how the industry worked, what the best seats in specific venues were or what was a reasonable price point. He looked to not just provide them with a home for ticketing but provide his customers with experience-based expertise. Yet, like any innovative business, there is risk involved.
“It started with a few buddies of mine and a concert, but with my knowledge about sports I quickly found an advantage. I knew what sports teams to buy tickets for and who had up-and-coming teams being developed. Because once a team takes off, it’s difficult to get involved,” explained Posey. “It started out as a way to pay bills and get along but quickly turned into something where you realize you could do this infinitely and hopefully do while you’re always taking huge risks. I mean, it’s not like you’re buying tires, where you can sell the same tire a year from now; tickets go away as soon as the event’s done. And so, there is pressure to sell seats.”
It wasn’t long before he brought his concepts and visionary market knowledge together to create what is know today as The Ticket Machine Inc. The company officially took shape in 1993 and has been growing ever since.
An Industry of Evolution
At its core, The Ticket Machine is – and has always stood as – a trusted source for fans of sports and entertainment to obtain all their ticketing needs. For the past 26 years the Okemos entertainment purveyor has connected passionate fans with the best seats in the house with a 200-percent satisfaction guarantee. Through its easy-to-use site, customers can seek out tickets to events around the country and Canada to access hard-to-find tickets, often at more affordable prices than competitors.
However, when Posey got started, the concept of using the internet for e-ticketing was in its infancy. Buying a ticket to an event you wanted to see meant you needed to be on top of your game, having your ear to the ground to get the latest information about on-sale times at the box office, scouring posters in shop windows or seeking out ads in newspapers. Today, things are much different.
“I started this before the internet came around. Back then it was hard to get tickets, let alone know when they went on sale. And when online sales came around things started changing drastically, it really opened up the market for us to connect with more potential customers. It enabled us to sell beyond the region and Detroit area where we focused initially. So, really, drastically is an understatement. It’s something you don’t consider on a daily basis, but over time you start to realize how things have changed.”
According to a study conducted by Grand View Research, the online event ticketing market size was valued at $46.59 billion in 2017 – and as the ever-so-lucrative entertainment industry has continued to evolve, so has The Ticket Machine. The industry is only expected to grow in the years to come, but so might the difficulty grow for fans to find tickets in the face of online scalpers, ticketing bots and intricate digital purchasing queues. These digital hurdles are common complaints from eventgoers today and prevent true fans from connecting to their teams and artists. The Ticket Machine recognizes those hinderances and is adamant about making the process of attending a show and finding a great seat simpler.
Connecting as Fans First
One may question how The Ticket Machine has managed to not just survive but thrive in such a highly competitive industry. Giants like Live Nation, Ticketmaster and AXS have dominated the entertainment industry in recent years, obtaining exclusive contracts with touring artists and professional teams in attempts to obtain the throne. Yet The Ticket Machine offers something these brands simply can’t: a personal connection.
When walking into the organization’s Okemos offices, it’s immediately obvious that the team is comprised of fans who get it. With memorabilia scattered literally from floor to ceiling – you’d be insane to not notice the original Breslin Center hardwood that takes up roughly half of the main office space – there is no doubt that the organization lives and breathes regional teams from Michigan State, the Detroit Lions and Red Wings. As such, employees cherish the thrill of conversing with customers and community members about their mutual passion for sports and entertainment.
“I love talking to people about Michigan State or a specific concert or venue or even where to sit. But we want to create relationships first and foremost,” said Posey. “You know, if we see that they would be better off purchasing from StubHub or another competitor, we will let them know. It doesn’t matter if they come in and buy from us, because we still get to offer advice and hopefully that means they’ll come back or tell their friends about us. If we lose a sale or two, it doesn’t matter.”
With that enthusiasm comes superiority in customer service. They’ve been to the venues, they know the layouts, they know where to park, they know what side of the stage your favorite artist tends to favor – they know how to make the best of the experience to ensure that guests don’t feel underwhelmed by their purchase. These are aspects of the business that create a customized approach to ticket purchasing that goes beyond a seat in the building – creating a level of service customers simple can’t find anywhere else.
“If I’ve been there, it allows me to make suggestions. For example, explaining to a customer that they might want to consider sitting in a specific section because the performer sits on that side of the stage,” explained Posey. “Or saying, ‘I see that you’re 6-foot-6, can we get you an aisle seat so you’re more comfortable?’ Things they might not otherwise have ever considered or had the opportunity to.”
It’s All About Family
According to Posey, the success of The Ticket Machine Inc. is in no way solely his. Impressively, the average tenure of its current workforce is 10 years or more. Posey has fostered a workplace culture that turns coworkers into family. Posey exemplifies what it means to be a leader through his generosity and an unwavering commitment to both his team members and the community.
“Brian has really created a family environment here and has sort of involved all of us in the intricacies of the business,” said Cara McSurely, The Ticket Machine’s director of financial services. “He’s helped all of us to be successful in our own ways. Even though it’s his business, he gives us a sense that we have a stake in all of it. It’s what motivates me.”
The staff at The Ticket Machine appreciates how the company has managed to make an impact in the lives of community members as a beacon for regional sports and music fanatics. The company’s history is deeply rooted in East Lansing where it all began. As such, Posey is adamant about hiring fellow Michigan State University alumni to fill roles. It’s a way to not only give back to the university and celebrate the organization’s origins but maintain that connection to the area and keep its ears to the ground.
“We love having the opportunity to sell fun for a living, especially in this area. We’re driven by our chance to make an impact and support local teams – really be a part of the fabric of this community,” said Maggi Zwiernik, The Ticket Machine’s director of sales and marketing.
The Winning Formula
It comes as no surprise that the organization’s innovative model and continued success have led The Ticket Machine to become the recipient of the Greater Lansing Business Monthly’s 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year. Yet, it was in fact a surprise to Posey.
“It came out of nowhere – I guess I didn’t even know we’d been nominated. But it feels really great to receive that recognition, and it all just culminated into this awesome event with tons of terrific businesses and community members that represent the Lansing area,” said Posey. “The judges and people we were nominated with are extraordinary, so our inclusion was humbling. It’s staggering how many people have reached out since the ceremony to congratulate us and introduce themselves. You always hope that there are big opportunities out there, but this is one that I’ve never even thought or dreamed about, so it’s been really cool.”
You can learn more about The Ticket Machine by visiting theticketmachine.com.
Giving Great Jobs to Great People Michigan Creative
By Adam Lansdell
Many entrepreneurs believe they have the next big idea. The one that will fill that market gap. The one that will catapult into multimillion-dollar success. But for one area business, it’s not about the money, recognition or the fame – it’s simply about creating an opportunity for others to live their best life.
“Just as I said when I took the stage to receive the award, we’ve been proud to provide great jobs for great people,” said Michigan Creative founder and CEO Brian Town. “My main goal when starting the company, from day one, was to create a culture where people’s lives were improved, and a place they could come to and actually enjoy.”
Michigan Creative, a marketing, design and multimedia agency in Lansing, doesn’t follow a traditional mindset – where financial gains define success. That very same people-and-culture-first focus of Michigan Creative is just one of the reasons the organization was selected as the 2019 Entrepreneurial Spirit Award recipient. So how does one measure success when not fueled solely by financial success?
“The biggest accomplishment of the business, I think, was finding the people that we found. It just seems like we’ve really, without much purpose, been able to stumble into these great relationships with the people that work for us,” said Town. “We look for other entrepreneurs. Obviously, we also look for creative people, but not everyone here is a designer. We seek out creative thinkers that feel every problem has a solution.”
Beyond the goals of creating a satisfying opportunity for area creatives to unify as an agency, Michigan Creative hopes to enable organizations around the state of Michigan to reach their goals through innovative and inspiring marketing solutions. From graphic design services to website production, Michigan Creative helps brands and organizations build their foundation and solidify their identity to stand out amongst the rest.
“We want to help people be more creative in their business. And it gives us the sense that we’re making Michigan a better place,” said Town. “I think we have people here that see the greater good in what we do. They know that if they do what they can for the success of our company and those we work with, it’s going to come back around to them.”
Located in REO Town, the organization has already helped make the region a better place to work and do business, thanks to a mantra and ethos that goes above and beyond to do things on behalf of the greater good. The spirit is an inspiration to others aiming to do great things for those around them, something all business owners and entrepreneurs should not soon forget in their own pursuit of success.
The Plant Professionals
Spreading green throughout the Capital City
By Rich Adams
When Kathy Valentine joined, the still-germinating, The Plant Professionals (then known as the The Plant Therapist of Lansing) in 1980 as a newly hired plant care technician, the firm was just beginning to sprout out from the original one-person operation selling tropical indoor plants.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Michigan State University, Valentine helped sow the seeds for growth that would turn The Plant Professionals into a mid-Michigan powerhouse that manages displays at locations such as Jackson National Life Insurance Co., the Lansing Mall and various state office buildings.
Valentine’s emerging role, first as a junior partner and then as sole owner of the company in 1990, came full blossom recently as she was named Socially Responsible Entrepreneur at the 2019 Greater Lansing Business Monthly Entrepreneurial Awards banquet at Eagle Eye Golf Club in Bath Township.
“Kathy Valentine of The Plant Professionals puts the community and the environment at the forefront of decision-making, and her business has earned the right to be viewed as a beacon of inspiration for others in the area,” said Tiffany Dowling, president and CEO of M3 Group, which publishes the magazine and hosts the awards banquet. “By placing an emphasis on going green, this is definitely a business that is pushing boundaries for a better tomorrow for all.”
Valentine, who has been instrumental in the rapid growth of The Plant Professionals, said she has always been socially responsible with a mindset toward maintaining an ecological balance.
“I have always been mindful of sustainability, both in the environment and the community,” Valentine said. “I grew up on a farm, and learned pretty quickly that on a small cash-crop farm nothing is wasted. All life is interrelated.” She entered the horticulture field never realizing it would lead to ownership of an award-winning venture.
“No, I was afraid to talk to people,” Valentine said when asked if she ever envisioned being recognized as a top entrepreneur. “I was in the plant business because plants don’t talk back, you don’t have to converse with plants.”
Valentine conquered that reluctance for conversation and has been instrumental in The Plant Professionals branching out around the Greater Lansing region since becoming sole owner. She came about management in a manner – and is following suit by passing on management skills – that sounds like the successive iterations of Dread Pirate Roberts from “The Princess Bride.”
“I started out on the very bottom rung and then became a junior partner,” Valentine explained. “Debbie Dortch began working at The Plant Therapist of Flint and became a junior partner, then founded The Plant Therapist of Lansing, which became The Plant Professionals.
“She realized early on that I wanted to learn everything about the business and got some advice from her dad and brought me on as a junior partner,” Valentine continued. “I took a lot of pride that she wanted me to be a business partner.”
Now Valentine has a junior partner of her own, sharing her knowledge and skills for when Valentine decides to hang up her gardening gloves.
When The Plant Professionals was announced the winner in the Socially Responsible Business category, Valentine was very surprised.
“I was shocked at first, but then just took great pride in my team,” she said. “They are wonderful and talented people.”
You can learn more about The Plant Professionals at theplantprofessionals.com.
Missey Trudell: Standing tall in the face of adversity
By Christopher Nagy
There are two types of leaders: Those who demand respect and those who command respect.
Missey Trudell falls firmly into the latter camp, knowing that true respect doesn’t simply come with a job title. It is something to be earned through actions and resolve, as well as the faith and support in and from the surrounding team. The co-owner of Paper Image, 1900 Cedar St. in Holt, has helped nimbly navigate her company through the choppy seas of early adversity and obstacles with the full-throated backing of her staff and community, earning Trudell the Leadership Award at the 2019 Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards.
“I am in no way, as you probably can tell, someone who is usually speechless, but I was speechless,” Trudell said. “It really is a privilege and it really validates everything that we worked so hard for, who have we have made it with and who we have made it for – our clients.”
Serving the area since 1975, Paper Image is a full-service design, print and mail company as well as a marketing firm for small business. Initially a long-time employee, Trudell now owns Paper Image with fellow long-time employee Todd Wallis. Together, the pair helped bring the business back from the brink of closure in 2014.
Trudell and Wallis had long discussed one day purchasing Paper Image, so it came as a shock to them both when, four-and-a-half years ago, the company’s founder said she was shuttering the doors. Mortgage payments had not been made, taxes had not been paid, and closing Paper Image permanently appeared to be the only option because keeping it up and running was a seemingly insurmountable task. Trudell and Wallis, however, weren’t having it.
“This wasn’t just something that affected me and my family,” Trudell said. “It was something that would be affecting Todd and his family and 10 other families.”
Spending several weeks’ worth of late nights around Trudell’s dining room table, she and Wallis chiseled out a business plan to keep Paper Image afloat. Trudell described it as getting back to basics with “Marketing 101: Start in your own backyard and expand out. We started doing all the things that I had been helping other companies do.”
Once a plan was crafted, Trudell, Wallis and their attorney met with six bankers to state their case. A bank wound up giving Paper Image six months to implement the tactics outlined in the turnaround plan. Six months later, Paper Image received another six-month reprieve. After the initial year, the bank was so impressed with the efforts and progress made by Paper Image, as well as the company’s reputation in the community, that long-term agreements were drawn up. While hard choices were made and hard work was rewarded, Trudell also credited the representatives at the Mason-headquartered Dart Bank, which Paper Image has had a working relationship with for more than a quarter-century. She said the endeavor reaffirmed her commitment to local businesses supporting each other toward a greater community good.
“What I wish I had said from that stage tonight is that they taught us how important it is to work with local companies,” Trudell wrote in a Facebook post hours after the Entrepreneurial Awards. “If it had been another big-name bank, we just would have been a number. No relationship. This became so important to us that I now sit on the board of Local First Mid Michigan. That bank is Dart Bank.”
Yet while she feels Dart Bank played a large role of support in the turnaround of Paper Image, Trudell also is quick to sing praise to the Paper Image staff and community.
“I say on a regular basis that I have been so blessed to be surrounded by people who help me shine,” Trudell said. “I love hiring somebody who not only will bring strengths and skill sets to improve our company but to be able to share with them skills for their own growth. At Paper Image it does not matter if you have been here for 33 years or for the past three months, everyone has a voice. … We care about our community – and that starts with our own staff.”
Niowave Sharpens the Cutting Edge of Nuclear Medicine
BY RICH ADAMS
Dr. Terry Grimm has won many awards as president and senior scientist of Niowave Inc.
The Lansing-based firm – operating out of a former elementary school that was built during the decade when the Model T and electric toaster were considered high technology – is a worldwide leader in research, development and manufacturing of the radioactive isotopes used to treat cancer.
In 2010, Niowave won the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Entrepreneurship Award in Applied Superconductivity. That same year, the U.S. Department of Energy named it as Small Business of the Year. And in 2017, Grimm accepted the Tibbetts Award from the U.S. Small Business Association in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House.
In March, he added to that list of awards, with Niowave being named Innovative Company during the Greater Lansing Entrepreneurial Awards ceremony at Eagle Eye Golf Course in Bath Township.
“We are really thrilled to win this award,” said Grimm “We are honored, very much so. This is such a big deal – it’s been a long time getting to this point.”
The “this point” Grimm is referring to is the actual commercial application of the product he and his company have worked years to create. Through the use of, in layman’s terms, a particle accelerator sending electron beams near the speed of light that are then split, medical isotopes are created that are used to attack cancer cells without damage to healthy cells.
Through his work on the Michigan State University’s cyclotron and on the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, Grimm realized there are real-world applications for less-rare isotopes to treat cancer. In the ramp-up to the point where commercial applications for the isotopes were achieved, Niowave served as a parts supplier to the MSU programs and other national labs.
“We make the isotopes, then we get with the nuclear medicine groups that attach the isotopes to the pharmaceuticals,” Grimm said. “That drug takes the isotope to the tumor, and once it is in the tumor, the isotope does damage – and that’s a good thing – killing the tumor.”