As a business mentor, author and speaker, Mark Burwell has helped hundreds of people start and grow their companies throughout Wisconsin. Some may know him from his role as CEO and president of Putzer’s Menswear, which he grew to 10 locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota in the 1980s and ’90s. He sat down with Editor Margaret LeBrun to discuss his passion to help entrepreneurs.
My role is dedicated to the many entrepreneurs and their journeys. I do this by empowering the ecosystem — who are all the stakeholders within the community who support them, thus creating an equal playing field. This support needs to be embraced by educational, government and business leaders, as well as volunteers and most of all evolutionary entrepreneurs. Building this entrepreneurship model is a part of building strong communities.
I currently lead Urban Hope Entrepreneur Center, now known as E-HUB, as the retired executive director, continuing on as volunteer national director. I also serve as adjunct entrepreneur mentor-in- residence for Fox Valley Technical College’s Venture Center and UW-Stout’s executive-in-residence. As president and owner of Evolutions Business Group, I have to do book signings and speaking engagements, write business columns — all to help build “evolutionary entrepreneurial small giants.”
I’m fortunate to have been able to give back, helping to build innovative programs in the New North region, such as “Stepping Up to New Opportunities, Entrepreneurial Advantage,” business architecting and modeling and peer-to-peer leader groups. I am excited to announce the launch this fall of weHub, a women’s enterprise center at E-Hub’s Loft in Green Bay.
We have really needed a platform for entrepreneurs to present and receive feedback and support from investors, service providers, peers and the community. The “1 Million Cups” program offered by the Kaufman Foundation has been that answer, with the help of Amy Pietsch and Jill Seidl at the Venture Center, Copper Rock Coffee and other supporters. This weekly gathering has helped the Appleton area become a leader along with 88 other national entrepreneur cities that do the same thing every week. It is held every Wednesday at 9 a.m. at FVTC and is open to the community.
I began my career as an HC Prange operations executive, then worked with the Putzer family, who gave me a chance to serve as president and CEO of Putzer’s Menswear Corporation from 1984 through 2001. I helped the company grow from a one-store menswear operation in Milwaukee to several other stores statewide, as well as the Minneapolis area. The catalog division was nationally recognized.
Another successful endeavor I owned and launched with my wife, Kathi (who passed away in March 2015) was Not Just Coffee, a successful gourmet coffee, food and gift store on Oneida Street in the mid-1980s. which was light years ahead of its time.
Growing small businesses, hands-on, has helped me mentor other mentors as well as help entrepreneurs scale their businesses.
To become a micro-enterprise, you need to pursue an opportunity even with limited resources. Your resources to start may be only the vision, concepts and an opportunity in the marketplace. But as we know, old ideas and business models fade away. The innovators and fresh services will fill the vacuum and value demanded by the marketplace. To evolve into new frontiers, you need to take some detours along your journey. But you must always be evolving and have your boat ready, because the waves get high at times. Believe in hope, not fear. Do what you love. Reinvent yourself or your business.
The word retirement doesn’t exist in my dictionary. I want to continue to leave a footprint for entrepreneurs and communities to support them.