Rewarding the Risk-Takers

Entrepreneur Council of Frederick County Names Top Business Owners for 2014

By Sara Gavin | Posted on 07.28.14 – Lifestyles

A case of rheumatic fever and a book titled How to Draw Horses served as two unlikely catalysts that would propel Frederick entrepreneur Jean Petersen down a path toward professional success and personal fulfillment.

“I loved drawing and was totally smitten,” Peterson recalls about her 12-year-old self. While bedridden for three months, Peterson’s father bought her books on drawing horses to help keep her busy. That passion ignited in a sick bed never left, leading to a lifelong love of sketching, a bachelor’s degree in art from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a career in graphic design that spans nearly four decades.

Now owner and founder of a firm that bears her name— Jean Peterson Design in Frederick—Peterson recently added another accolade to her repertoire: Master Entrepreneur, the highest honor awarded each year by the Entrepreneur Council of Frederick County.

“We look for someone who has been through the ringer and back out numerous times and has experience and longevity through the years that can show their business has continually grown,” says David Arthur, president of the Entrepreneur Council, a not-for profit organization that annually recognizes the county’s top business owners. “We also look for someone who has an outstanding reputation. You never hear anyone say anything bad about Jean.”

“WE LOOK FOR SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN THROUGH THE RINGER AND BACK OUT NUMEROUS TIMES AND HAS EXPERIENCE AND LONGEVITY THROUGH THE YEARS.”                —David Arthur, president of the Entrepreneur Council

A Baltimore native, Peterson opened her firm in Frederick in 1996, but before then she worked for nearly 20 years on someone else’s payroll. The decision to step out on her own was one she weighed heavily: “I was 40, and our children were 16 and 14, so in my mind, if I wanted to start my own shop, it was do or die time,” says Peterson. “Never would I have guessed my business would be such a success in the first year. It was a whirlwind—I didn’t even have time to interview for help.”

Now 18 years later, Jean Peterson Design has grown from a small print studio to a full-service advertising agency with seven “creatives” on staff and a client list that includes local, regional and national organizations.

NO PAIN, NO GAIN

Recognizing the risks associated with starting a business is one of the main reasons the Entrepreneur Council of Frederick County bestows awards each year. In addition to naming a Master Entrepreneur—a business owner operating for 15 years or more with a demonstrated commitment to community involvement—the council accepts nominations in a variety of categories in order to spotlight businesses of all types and sizes. Dan Ryan Builders, for example, received the award for a Large Established Business—one that has been around for more than five years. Wormald Homes was also named a finalist in the category. “It’s exciting because I think it’s showing that that part of the economy is turning around,” says Arthur. “[In the five years] since I’ve been on the board, construction has definitely been suffering.”

Meanwhile, the masterminds behind Soldierfit were chosen as standouts in the Small Established Business category. Founded by friends and workout enthusiasts David Posin and Danny Farrar, Soldierfit is a unique military inspired fitness program that combines boot camp classes, mixed martial arts and personal training. At Soldierfit, there are no members, only “troops” who wear uniforms to workouts.

The first Soldierfit facility opened in Frederick in February of 2013, but the concept is one Posin and Farrar have been developing for years. “People would literally laugh at us and tell us it would never work,” says Posin. “We always believed in what we had, we believed in each other and we believed in what we were capable of.”

It didn’t take long for residents of Frederick County and neighboring areas to buy into the Soldierfit mentality. Posin and Farrar had to expand their location on Gas House Pike within six months of opening and added a second facility in Gaithersburg.

“WE ALWAYS BELIEVED IN WHAT WE HAD, WE BELIEVED IN EACH OTHER AND WE BELIEVED IN WHAT WE WERE CAPABLE OF.” —David Posin, co-founder of Soldierfit

The duo now has plans to franchise their program at sites throughout Maryland and Virginia and is creating a line of supplements to complement the Soldierfit brand. Despite the rapid growth in recent years, Posin says Soldierfit is far from an overnight success. “We’ve failed plenty of times,” he says. “We’ve made a ton of mistakes but I think the mistakes are what make people successful. You have to fail in order to succeed.”

TESTING THE WATERS

Fostering a strong business community for Frederick’s future is one of the main goals of the county’s Entrepreneur Council, which is why it strives to support and commend entrepreneurs who are just starting to get their feet wet. For example, 17-year-old Priya Shah, a rising senior at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School, took home honors this year in the Youth Entrepreneur category. Shah has been honing her skills in henna artistry since middle school and now charges for applying intricate tattoo designs at various events such as traditional Indian wedding ceremonies.

“A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE JOBS THAT THEY DO JUST FOR THE SAKE OF INCOME. I FEEL LUCKY TO BE GETTING PAID FOR A HOBBY THAT I DEARLY ENJOY.”
—Priya Shah, senior at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School

Graduates of Frederick High School, are working on a way to make a profit by paying tribute to their home state. Recognized by the council in the Start Up category, the duo formed a unique business venture called Free State Clothing. The Internet and social media-based business offers a line of apparel and novelty items centered on the theme of “Maryland Pride.” Braswell and McDermott launched their business in 2012 aiming to capitalize on a strong twitter following through their page @MarylandProbz which now boasts more than 49,000 followers.

THE BUSINESS OF GIVING BACK

The 2014 class of Frederick County Entrepreneur Award winners represents diverse interests and business models. Yet each shares a passion not only for his or her chosen line of work, but also for giving back to the community they serve. “I love Frederick. My community has been so good to me,” says Peterson, who donates services or provides them inkind and at reduced rates to numerous county organizations. “It has been very important to me to give back—sometimes to the point that Jean Peterson Design could have been a nonprofit.”

Arthur believes a giving nature simply goes hand-in-hand with an entrepreneurial spirit. “If your desire is to help the community, I think the financial side will work itself out from there,” says Arthur. “That doesn’t mean don’t study business or learn how to deal with the red tape and other mind-boggling things … but I think as long as you have that desire to help other people, your desire as an entrepreneur is only going to expand and grow.”