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Meet Green Entrepreneurs

Curious to see how others have done it?

Watch the video below to hear real green entrepreneurs in Minnesota talk about how they got started.

Learn about more of Minnesota's diverse entrepreneurs in the profiles below. 

A Laundry Room : Ely, Minnesota

Learn about how Rebecca Spengler came up with a creative and green way to reduce her company's biggest expense.

Rebecca Spengler, an artist with a background in business, founded her laundry business in 2007 and quickly realized that energy was her largest, and ever increasing, cost. She installed a solar hot water heater to help reduce the cost of heating laundry water. Spengler was able to obtain financing for the $21,000 system by providing estimates of payback time — five years or a 20 percent return on investment. She also received a grant covering about 10 percent of the costs from Northeast CERTS.


Meet ArtStart, a green nonprofit that blends environmentalism with the arts.

ArtStart is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire artistic creativity and illuminate the connections among people, ideas, and the environment by engaging the community in quality arts education experiences. ArtStart's innovation can be seen in its programs that serve youth and adults in the Twin Cities:

  • ArtStart's ArtScraps, a Creative Materials Resource Center;
  • The ScrapMobile, a portable arts programming focusing on reuse through a cultural lens;
  • River EcoJourneys School Residencies, involving professional artists using traditional and creative art materials in projects that inform watershed stewardship;
  • ArtGallery, where artists exhibit their art work.

Each day is filled with the energy of possibility—whether in a donation, a workshop with children, or the work of an artist.

ArtStart's Advice for Green Entrepreneurs

MnGreenCareers: Say a little bit about why ArtStart / ArtScraps was formed—the inspiration or motivation behind it.

ArtStart: ArtStart was founded in 1988 as an arts education organization. Through working with artists who had both a passion for the arts and environmental stewardship, the organization embraced the concept of ecoarts as a dynamic and important way to educate and inspire the next generation of stewards for our earth. In 1993, ArtStart opened ArtScraps, a materials reuse store, a concept brought to the organization by one of its artists. For 18 years ArtScraps has accepted manufacturers, business, and individual donations of scraps, discards, and leftovers and has distributed them to the general public for a low-cost fee of 5 cents to $1 or in large bulk bags of $5. ArtScraps keeps over 50,000 pounds of trash out or the waste stream per year.

MnGreenCareers: What has been the biggest challenge you've faced in opening or running a green non-profit? How did you/how are you overcoming it?

ArtStart: The biggest challenge to running a non-profit is resources—time, money, and human currency. ArtStart has many facets to its programming, each of which could be its own entity. The organization has held fast to the concept that to create synergy among and between these different programs brings strength and authenticity to our mission.

MnGreenCareers: What three specific resources would you recommend for someone wanting starting their own green/sustainable/environmentally friendly non-profit organization?

ArtStart: We would recommend that anyone who is interested in developing a nonprofit work with Springboard for the Arts, which provides a wealth of information, resources, and staff expertise in initiating your own nonprofit.

Laverme's Worms : Duluth, Minnesota

Meet Laverme's Worms, a company devoted to turning kitchen scraps into worm food (and fertilizer).

Ellen Sandbeck founded her Laverme's Worms with the environment in mind. She and her husband started an organic landscaping business in San Francisco and, after moving to Duluth, began to market the vermicomposting system they developed as part of their business. Vermicomposting is a system that uses worms to turn kitchen scraps into fertilizer. Sandbeck sells everything from small indoor systems for homes to large institutional-size systems like the one at the Lake Superior Zoo. She has recently become a Federal Contractor, training inmates to operate a worm farm at Federal Prison Camp, Duluth, where her job description is "Worm Farm Specialist." The entire Federal Prison system is pushing to become more environmentally friendly. Because of this, officials from several other prisons in the region have recently contacted her.

Orfield Design & Construction, Inc.

Meet Orfield Design & Construction, Inc., a design and remodeling company using sustainable design techniques.

Orfield Design & Construction, Inc. (MN License BC002562) was incorporated in 1978 and is a local woman-run, second generation family-owned residential design and construction company. Rather than suddenly calling themselves "green," Orfield has used sustainable design principles all along. Over the years, the company has used the best functional design and conservative construction practices. They have used time-tested philosophies while constantly adapting to new education and research, changes to code, building practices, design trends, new materials and resources, and appliance inventions.

Orfield's commitment to green building practices includes:

  • Investing in continuing education for its employees. One of Orfield's designers and project managers recently obtained a LEED® Green Associate certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

  • Reworking and repurposing the existing home layout rather than adding on new whenever possible.

  • Reducing waste with proper planning up front, efficient layout, and building conservatively to reduce a home's carbon footprint to avoid redundancy of rooms.

  • Building high-quality, structurally sound projects to current code and recommended tested practices, with long-term, low-maintenance use in mind.

  • Where new items are required, specifying and installing energy-efficient materials with low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emission, proper ventilation systems, insulation, windows, doors, appliances, lighting, plumbing fixtures, and HVAC systems for a healthy environment both in and outside the home.

  • Reusing existing materials and repurposing others. Salvaging, refurbishing and reusing any remnants of architectural products wherever possible. Orfield also donates any reusable items to non-profit organizations, and suggests re-using cabinetry, doors, and hardware in other areas of the home instead of throwing away and buying new.

  • Encouraging homeowners to make selections that support local companies and renewable resources.

  • Saving existing natural landscape, earth, trees, and shrubbery, by working around and/or replanting where necessary.

  • Abating any existing hazardous materials and conditions such as lead and mold as well as other potentially harmful compounds. Using proper recycling or waste disposal of these and other items after construction.

Product changes and availability, subcontractor and trade partner knowledge, technology, continuing education, and public awareness have all increasingly led Orfield to be even more mindful of how to work with clients and their home projects to reduce negative environmental effects. They also work to stay current with local and national programs which focus on cost-saving opportunities for their clients.

tenKsolar: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Meet tenKsolar, a solar panel manufacturing company.

Founded in 2008, Dr. Dallas Meyer and his team developed solutions to long-standing problems with solar technology by increasing efficiency and ease of installation for solar arrays. By applying technology, engineering, and design solutions, tenKsolar has been able to increase efficiency over typical solar installations by 66 percent. They also provide a safe, light-weight, weather-resistant, and easy-to-install array for flat roofs. The company benefits from two incentive programs, Xcel's Solar*Rewards and Made In Minnesota. With incentives to Minnesota businesses of up to $5/Watt, tenKsolar has had early success in jump-starting their business.

Uproot Farm, LLC., Princeton, Minnesota

Meet Uproot Farm, a vegetable farm that uses sustainable, environmentally-friendly growing methods.

Sarah Woutat started Uproot Farm, LLC., a small vegetable farm, in February 2011 after having spent three years apprenticing on organic vegetable farms. The farm is in transition to organic because the land she purchased was previously in conventional production.

Sarah grows for a small community supported agriculture (CSA), one farmer's market, and one small wholesale account on about three acres, with the remainder of her land in cover crops. With funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), she planted a native prairie grass border around the farm to serve as a buffer between her vegetables and the neighboring farmers that spray pesticides, as well as to create habitat for wildlife. Additionally, she received funding from the NRCS to build a hoophouse to help extend the growing season.

Sarah and one full-time employee work the farm.

Sarah's Advice for Green Entrepreneurs

MNGreenCareers: Many green entrepreneurs start a business because they see a need, because they have a passion for the environment, or a combination of the two. Say a little about why you decided to start Uproot Farm.

SW: Having always eaten locally and sustainably raised foods, I tried out farming as an apprentice and loved it. From there it was my goal to have my own farm for a number of reasons. The first is that working/interning on organic farms would not provide me with the long-term income I desired. To achieve that as a farmer, I would have to own my own business. The second is that being your own boss allows for so much flexibility, and at the same time more responsibility than I had ever had before. But the responsibility is yours and you see, very directly, the benefits of your work.

MNGreenCareers: What has been the biggest challenge you've faced so far? How did you/how are you overcoming it?

SW: Managing my own and my employee's time effectively. As a business owner, and farmer, you have to create your own structure, which is something I've always valued in a work environment. But when there's no one else leading the way, it's left up to you.

I'm working on overcoming it by sitting down every Sunday and planning out the week, all the tasks that have to be completed, and the days of the week I hope to get them done. But with farming you have to be extremely flexible because the weather is out of your control. You have to be ready at any moment to completely change the plan, and be okay with it. That being said, it's one of the things I love about farming; you always have to be on your toes and no day is ever the same.

MNGreenCareers: What three resources would you recommend for someone wanting starting their own local/organic farm?

SW: Land Stewardship Project is a great resource and they have a Farm Beginnings Program to help train new farmers.

Midwest Organic Sustainable and Education Service (MOSES) is another resource and they have a large organic farming conference every February in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) Sustainable Agriculture Project has a lot of information about sustainable farming.