Over the past 22 years, BusinessWest has had a number of intriguing recipients of its Top Entrepreneur award.
Many would fall in the category of ‘traditional’ when it comes to entrepreneurs, including last year’s honoree, Paul Kozub, creator and president of V-One Vodka, and the 2015 recipients, the second and third generations of the D’Amour family, owners of Big Y supermarkets.
But some honorees would definitely be considered non-traditional, or outside the box (there’s an entrepreneurial term). These would include former Springfield Technical Community College President Andrew Scibelli, who, among other things, created the Technology Park across from the main campus at the start of this century. That term ‘non-traditional’ would also describe former Cooley Dickinson Hospital President Craig Melin, who not only led that institution back from the financial brink, but spearheaded the creation of a number of cutting-edge programs.
At first blush, it might seem fair to label this year’s honoree — the owners and managers of the Springfield Thunderbirds — to be a non-traditional selection, or at least a combination of both. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine the Red Sox being named Top Entrepreneurs, or the Alabama Crimson Tide, for that matter.
But this team’s owners and managers exemplify all the basic tenets of entrepreneurship — from risk taking to meeting a recognized need within the market; from introducing a new product to thinking outside the box (there’s that phrase again).
Wait, introducing a new product? Hockey isn’t a new product. Yes, and that’s a point we’ll come back to in a minute.
First, the risk-taking part. It was a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless. After all, when the owners of the Springfield Falcons decided to move the team to Arizona, there were many in this region saying that Greater Springfield was not a hockey town and could not support a professional sports team.
They put their faith in Springfield native Nate Costa, a veteran administrator with the American Hockey League who had previously gained significant experience in group sales and other aspects of team management and promotion with the league’s franchise in San Antonio.”
But a group of owners, led by Paul Picknelly, owner of Monarch Place, decided that Springfield not only needed a hockey team at this critical time in its history — with MGM already building its casino and several other forms of progress in evidence — but that it would support one as well.
They put their faith in Springfield native Nate Costa, a veteran administrator with the American Hockey League who had previously gained significant experience in group sales and other aspects of team management and promotion with the league’s franchise in San Antonio.
He came to Springfield with a game plan, and it called for bringing a lot more than hockey to the residents of this region.
Indeed, he and his front-office team have delivered experiences, rather than three periods of hockey. These experiences have included live music, special promotions (a Star Wars-themed night, wrestling greats in attendance, and bring your dog to the game, for example), and tributes to some of the sport’s greats (like Willie Oree) and the legacy of hockey in Springfield.
This is thinking outside the box, and it culminated with bringing Red Sox legend David Ortiz to the MassMutual Center in November for a night they’ll be talking about for years.
As for those owners, they didn’t just buy the team and hand the keys to Costa. They’ve invested time, energy, and imagination to the task of bringing people to the MassMutual Center — and bringing them back repeatedly — and building the brand they’ve created.
Call it teamwork, another one of those fundamentals of entrepreneurship.
All of them are on display with the Thunderbirds, a team that has captured the region’s attention and held onto it by doing what all good entrepreneurs do — finding ways to continuously improve and deliver what the customer wants and needs.
An outside-the-box choice for Top Entrepreneur? Maybe, but not really. This is just a good business success story. v