Success Stories

Excel Foundry

Excel Foundry specializes in the manufacture and supply of premium crusher parts and mining equipment parts. As a 1999 recipient of the Illinois Governor’s Export Award – and with 3,000 customers in over 30 countries – the company has a long tradition of exporting success. Its leaders know the international marketplace can present both opportunities and challenges.

Since laws and regulations change over time, sometimes even a business as well-established and successful as Excel needs help. And that’s when Excel’s leaders seek the assistance of the NAFTA Opportunity Center at Bradley University. Recently, Excel launched a new product line into Mexico, and sought advice in attaining NAFTA compliance.

“To be price-competitive, we knew we needed to have our products enter Mexico duty-free,” said Excel Foundry CEO Doug Parsons. “Our analysis of the NAFTA agreement indicated the new products would qualify, but we wanted to double check our research. So we turned to Bradley’s NAFTA Opportunity Center.”

The NAFTA Center routinely reviews NAFTA Certificates of Origin to confirm product classifications, origination rules, and accurate completion of documents.  Using its superior knowledge of NAFTA regulations, the center not only confirmed Excel’s prior work, but also provided additional details the company could use for other products.

Excel has since shipped significant volume of the new product line duty-free into Mexico.

“Bradley’s assistance was terrific,” Parsons said. “Without their help, we would not have attained the same levels of sales. The NAFTA Opportunity Center at Bradley University has been an invaluable resource to help us push through barriers, use marketing information to expand internationally, and be more competitive."


The Turner Center for Entrepreneurship leads a collaborative effort.

Administering medication requires great care and excellent information. With its flagship product, pac2TM, a local company called InformMed can supply nurses with the tools they need to treat their patients with confidence, linking hospital drug data with nurses at the bedside to ensure correct dosages. However, while the company's founders had developed a valuable technology, they still needed help making it available.

“We knew we had a great idea. It’s really exciting to create a product that can help save lives,” said Katharine Francis, founder of InformMed. “But we needed advice about how to start a business from the very first step.”

Katharine sought the help of the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network (IEN) and ended up working with almost every division at Bradley University. Ken Klotz at the Small Business Development Center taught her how to protect the company’s intellectual property, then incorporate and establish the business. Jim Foley of the International Business Center helped InformMed plan for international markets and raise initial funds. Nancy Wright of the Heartland Illinois Technology Enterprise Center (HITEC) helped with business planning, presentation coaching and introductions to potential partners, venture capital sources and angel fund access.

Through it all, Roger Luman of the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship has been InformMed’s regular contact, helping the company network and identify critical funding sources.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” Roger said. “They’ve been at it for close to six years. And we anticipate being part of their growth well into the future.”

 Because of its great promise, Roger and a special review board made InformMed the first recipient of Bradley’s IEN Entrepreneurship Award, and later awarded them a second time, too. The award is given to companies with high growth potential for help in developing the next stage of their business. Because there appears to be great demand in the medical industry for InformMed’s technology, IEN has gone out of its way to boost the company’s ability to meet its potential.

“The people behind the Illinois Entrepreneurship Network are part of the InformMed family,” Katharine said. “I know we can count on them to be there during every stage of InformMed’s growth.” 

Maui Jim Inc.

Sometimes even successful businesses need help learning the universal language of sales.

Having begun as a sunglass kiosk on a beach in Hawaii, Maui Jim, Inc. is no stranger to growth. By 1998, Maui Jim, Inc. had grown from its small beachside beginnings to a nationwide distributor and manufacturer of high-quality eyewear. With offices in Hawaii, Canada and mainland U.S.A., Maui Jim was a successful business by anybody’s standards. But the people behind Maui Jim had their eyes on making even bigger waves in the international market.

The question was how to get there. While those running the company knew a lot about domestic markets and business in general, no one could claim expertise in the realm of international trade.

For the knowledge and advice they needed, Maui Jim, Inc. turned to Bradley University’s Turner Center for Entrepreneurship (TCE). Maui Jim Logistics Manager Chris Bessert began by attending a TCE seminar on foreign exchange. Chris found it to be so helpful, he decided to give TCE a call.

The Turner Center for Entrepreneurship directed the management team of Maui Jim to the International Trade Center (ITC) and its director Jim Foley. Jim began by meeting with the company’s principals and listening to their questions about duties and international regulations. He answered what he could, then researched solutions to their other questions.

“Jim was willing to be our sounding board,” Chris said. “He was open to any and all questions, and if he didn’t have the answer at hand, he knew how to point us in the right direction for the in-depth knowledge we needed.”

Before long, Maui Jim’s move paid off. The International Trade Center helped Maui Jim, Inc. work through its challenges and establish international sales. Since working with the ITC, international sales now represents a significant percentage of Maui Jim, Inc.’s total sales and the company boasts eight offices in foreign countries.

“It’s great to see a company commit to international growth and stick to it. It’s so exciting to see such success and the commitment to growing,” said Jim.

As Maui Jim continues to globalize, different challenges present themselves regularly. The ITC and TCE continue to advise the company on subjects such as planning and analysis of markets, tariffs, product classification, international documentation, and competitive analysis.

“We look at the International Trade Center as a business partner,” Chris said. “They’ve been an incredible resource."

Sofi's Stitches

When your hobby starts to look like a promising career, sometimes you have more questions than confidence.

Once upon a time, Valerie Lilley was a successful journalist. To earn extra money in her spare time, she sewed medieval clothing and sold it at renaissance fairs. Her meticulous renderings of the styles of the period earned her great renown in the anachronistic community, and she enjoyed a growing success.

In 1999, Valerie suddenly found herself on the brink of a new career. By September of that year she had created her 300th gown, with no end in sight. Demand for her work had grown beyond her abilities to meet it, but her next step was unclear. She could tell that her hobby had potential as a full-time business, but with a career in journalism already established, Valerie was hesitant to take the next step.

"I wanted to make sure I wasn't about to do something stupid with my life," Valerie said.

That's when Valerie turned to Bradley University's Turner Center for Entrepreneurship (TCE) for the help Valerie needed in making her transition.  TCE, specifically Ken Klotz, Director of the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), discussed with Valerie, the viability of her hobby as a full-time pursuit.

Ken and the SBDC were able to help Valerie take her hobby to the next level. Together, Ken and Valerie developed a business plan that helped land the bank loan Valerie needed to give her company its initial boost. Later, they worked together to organize the company's sales figures, costs and cash flow. They also discussed lines of credit, streamlined logistics and developed the advanced sales forecasts that secured even greater bank support.

"What I like about her as a business owner is, she's never afraid to ask questions or ask for advice," Ken said. "Not a lot of business owners are quite that open, but she credits that as part of her success."

And as her business grows, Valerie continues to seek advice from the Turner Center for Entrepreneurship. From the delicate tasks of hiring and firing to the nuts and bolts of international trade, TCE is there to guide Valerie through many of her greatest challenges as a business owner.