Startup Showcase: They Left Corporate America to Carve Their Niche
Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press. Recently we connected with presenters Garrett Faust and Harrison Blankenship. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on July 14, 2018.
In a world where trade wars are taking focus artisans can offer a unique view of successful localized manufacturing. According to Brookings Institute’s 2017 report “Five ways the Maker Movement can help catalyze a manufacturing renaissance,” artisans may catapult the next “industrial revival:” “By embracing the do-it-yourself ethos of the maker movement, communities across the country can renew a sense of local community and help rebuild American manufacturing from the ground up.”
Garrett Faust and Harrison Blankenship of Uptown Woodworks are a perfect example of that very ideal. After discovering their need for personal creativity, they made a successful departure from corporate America to create customized wood art with a local flare. Their fusion of talent, skill and curiosity define the future of the “maker-nation” and is truly an example of entrepreneurial success.
Names: Garrett Faust, Harrison Blankenship
Ages: Garrett: 27; Harrison: 27
City you live in: Garrett: St. Louis Park; Harrison: Minneapolis (North Loop)
College attended: Garrett: University of St. Thomas; Harrison: Gustavus Adolphus College
Name of company: Uptown Woodworks
Business Start Date: March 4, 2016
Number of Employees: 2
Number of Customers: as of June 4: 738
Q. What led to this point?
A. Garrett: I spent most of my childhood playing sports and doing things outdoors. I was always curious about how things were built and worked, which is probably what led me to get an engineering degree from the University of St. Thomas. During my senior year at St. Thomas, I took some entrepreneurial electives and fell in love with it. Once I graduated, I felt compelled to at least give engineering a shot since I had just spent four years earning the degree. It was when I was working for Rockwell Automation in 2015-16 that I felt the need for a creative outlet, which led me to find Nordeast Makers, the maker space that is now home to Uptown Woodworks.
Harrison: I grew up in the Lake Minnetonka area and have always been obsessed with lake life and the outdoors. My father was what I like to call a renaissance man. He was an entrepreneur, pro race car driver, private pilot, lifelong maker, hunter, world traveler, etc. He and my mother really inspired me to have a lot of interests growing up, some of which include DIY projects, being outdoors, playing the drums and a lot of drawing/designing. For the last five years, I have been doing paid social strategy and more recently doing the strategy for major brands. Once I saw what Garrett was working on, that creative side of me re-awakened. My marketing and social media experience complimented Garrett’s expertise perfectly. Two years later, we’re still having fun.
Q. What is your business?
A. Uptown Woodworks creates custom and personalized wooden wall art for both consumers and businesses. We take requests for custom wooden wall art and work with customers to design their vision. After a proof is finalized, we create the wooden wall art out of our shop in Northeast Minneapolis using laser cutters, a CNC router, as well as other typical woodworking equipment.
Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. Over the past couple years we have developed a network of individuals and local businesses we can reach out to when we need advice. We think the most important thing is to get involved in the community. Attending events like 1 Million Cups, and other Meetups around town are a great way to make connections. It’s amazing how this small business community wants to help one another by sharing knowledge, resources, connections and opportunities.
Q. What is the origin of the business?
A. Around Christmas 2015, Garrett was looking for creative outlets outside of his day job and found Nordeast Makers in Northeast Minneapolis. With just a monthly fee, the maker’s space gave him access to heavy duty equipment including laser cutter/engravers, CNC routers, 3D printers, and other tools. With a mechanical engineering background, Garrett quickly learned how to use the equipment. Around the same time, he and Harrison moved into a new apartment in Uptown. One of the first things Garrett created at the maker space was a four-foot Minneapolis skyline. When he brought it home, Harrison was blown away by it. This was a light bulb moment. Harrison immediately wanted to get involved in what Garrett had found/started. They saw the State Hockey Tournament was approaching so they impulsively purchased a booth and created different variations of two hockey/tournament related designs. As they created pieces and shared them on their social channels, people began to take interest and ask for custom pieces for themselves. This started to snowball and has since turned into a sustainable business….READ FULL ARTICLE
You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.