Class of 2008
Russ Windahl was 26 when he started Minco Technology Center in his basement, and that was his primary business when he was named to the Class of 2008.
What are you doing now?
Owner of Windahl Technology LLC based in Sartell. We are the information technology department for many local businesses. I oversee the daily operation of sales and service.
How did the 5 Under 40 award affect your life?
It was an honor to be a recipient of this award.
Other big changes since you received the award?
I had spent 20-plus years working up to seven days per week, so my biggest change has been to slow down. I've been taking weekends off to spend with my 10-year-old son and wife.
What will make the St. Cloud area greater in coming years?
Support the small businesses who employ local families who live in our area, who send their children to school here. We have a wonderful talent pool right here in Central Minnesota, and we need to support them.
Originally ran: January 1, 2009
Russ Windahl is what you might call an ultimate entrepreneur. He was 26 when he decided to start Minco Technology Center out of his basement. He had just $500 on a credit card — a bank would not give him a loan. The banker told him to come back when he grew up. He's come a long way since then.
He now employs more than 20 people, sells more than $3 million in technology hardware and service each year, and has diversified.
Windahl's business space has expanded from 1,500 square feet to 6,500 square feet in a little more than 10 years.
What makes Minco different from other businesses isn't necessarily its services. It's the combination of offerings and its way of conducting business. The company fixes what's broken and sells what's new when it comes to technology. It will repair broken printers, computers and VCRs. It sells hard drives and accessories, among other items.
Since 2006 the business has also been doing what's called managed services. In this service Minco is basically an IT department for other businesses.
Windahl emphasizes education. He has received certifications from Microsoft, Apple, Toshiba, Hewlett-Packard and a host of others through Web-based and classroom-based training. He sets an example for employees, who are required to be certified in several technology programs.
In other words, they are required to become nerds. He's a self-proclaimed nerd. He even copyrighted the business' slogan, "Nerds rule."
Windahl started Minco at his St. Cloud home in 1994. He had a baby and a mortgage, and needed extra dollars for diapers.
So he began installing low-voltage wiring, mostly for businesses. At the end of the day, people would always ask him if he built computers. Windahl first said no, but it wasn't long before he said yes.
He works mostly with other businesses, but also with cities, counties, law enforcement and others. Ten percent of his business consists of new companies.
Windahl had worked with his hands since he was young. He had been building computers since he was 13. His dad is an entrepreneur, too — he has 40 acres in northern Minnesota that houses his cabinet-making business, complete with lumber and a kiln, where Windahl worked growing up. The business stands between Grand Rapids and Bemidji.
Another family member also instilled in him the entrepreneurial spirit: His grandmother. In the 1930s and 1940s she owned a cafe in Viking, in northwestern Minnesota.
He's learned from his family over the years. He's also learned on the fly. He knows how important it is to have the right people in the right jobs. "You can't be a master of everything," he said. His wife has the financial reins at the company, and his two teenage daughters help with administrative duties.
Last year he diversified his business by using his existing space to sell beer- and wine-making kits, as well as hobby materials such as rockets. This fall he started selling coffee beans, too.
His staff thought he was crazy for starting that section of the store. Now they think he's a genius, he said.
That's the entrepreneurial spirit.
Job: Owner, Minco Technology Center.
Family: Wife, Kala, and three children, Olivia, 17; Chloe, 15; and Evan, 3.
Hometown: Deer River.
Education: Degree in heavy truck and diesel mechanics from St. Cloud Technical College.
Community involvement: Donates time and money to several local charities, including Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity, United Cerebral Palsy, Red Cross and Functional Industries, among others.
What he does for fun: Work is his fun. Some days he can go from one end of the store, working with computers, to another end where he can think about beer-making or wine-making. He also spends time with his family, fishes, hunts and rides his Harley.
Fact: He is a member of the Cloudy Town Brewers, a home beer-brewing club in St. Cloud.
What's in his pockets: Keys, a nail clipper and a beer-bottle opener to use when customers have questions.