Representatives of six companies took the stage at the FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny Sept. 10 to accept various Small Business Awards from Des Moines Area Community College. (The Business Record was one of the sponsors). Their comments were illuminating, and at times funny.

Here’s a sampling:

Megan McKay, founder, Peace Tree Brewing, Knoxville and Des Moines, Most Innovative Company winner: 

“A few years ago, I had some pretty big decisions to make about whether to stay in my family’s insurance business, or to go out and get a real job, or to continue with the brewery. So I chose the brewery. [Crowd laughter.] And it wasn’t necessarily the easy route. It wasn’t the get-rich-quick scheme. But it was a great chance to kind of continue what we started, it was a way to drive economic growth, it was a way to pursue a creative process in a small town [Knoxville]. It was a great way to create jobs, create tourism, and really just enhance the quality of life. [She later opened a place in Des Moines’ East Village, too.]

“It’s a little cliche to say that running a small business is hard. To my fellow business owners and to the future entrepreneurs that are out in the crowd, I see you, I feel you. It’s tough. The days are long. It can be very lonely. You know you have your best friends at work, and you have your home life, and there’s not time for much beyond that.”

But, McKay said, small businesses — the biggest employers in the American economy — hold a special place in the nation. “The big corporations do have their value. But I think it’s really important to remember that they don’t add to the very fabric of our communities like a small business does.”

Lesley Rish Triplett, owner, Dumpling Darling, Des Moines and Iowa City, Young Entrepreneur of the Year (tie):

“I started as a stand at the farmers market. I often tell this story. It was a few months in, and I had just quit my job. I was like, OK, I’m doing this. I was 26 years old and working really, really hard. And I was fed up with what I was doing at the farmers market and this man comes to my booth and he goes, ‘Oh, this is really cute. Do you just do this to get out of the house?’ And I kind of had a little flashback to the 24 hours leading up to the farmers market. I stayed up all night making thousands of dumplings by myself. I couldn’t get the kimchi and soy sauce stench out of my hair. I had gotten to the farmers market at 5 a.m. that morning after driving the crappiest car you’ve ever seen with steamers full of dumplings on my lap. It took everything I had in me not to leap across the table and spit my homemade hot sauce in this man’s eye. But he wasn’t worth how good the hot sauce was.

“I wish that was the last time someone doubted my ability to do something because I’m young or because I’m a woman. It was not the last time. But it’s moments like that that lead me to say to myself, ‘I’ll show him.’ And I think I have. … In the restaurant industry, it’s an old boys’ club. We’re going to change that because, guys, we’re getting out of the house!” 

Ryan Downs, owner, Next Level Extreme Fitness, Urbandale, Young Entrepreneur of the Year (tie): 

“We all know the struggles, the battles and the adversity it takes to get through being a successful small business. At the same time, we can all appreciate the gratification that comes from being a small business owner. About 10 years ago, when I started the business, I was 20 years old. And I remember I got a $40,000 loan out of the bank somehow. And the first thing I did was I bought a truck because I thought I needed a truck. [Laughs] About a year into my business, a family member told me, ‘Your business is going to fail.’ And I was, like, ‘Why?’ His reasoning was because of a statistic says that 8 out of 10 businesses fail within three years. Nothing makes me more angry than when people lump someone into a statistic. It’s not about the 80% like I was a roll of the dice with an 8 out of 10 chance of failing. It’s about the people who are involved in your business. It’s about the process. It’s about the product and service you’re giving.” 

Jason McArtor, founder and CEO, Farmboy, Des Moines, Dennis Albaugh Award:

“What does it mean to be a small business owner? For me it means not being afraid of making mistakes. It’s better if you can find someone to help you find the answers. DMACC helps a lot of people find the answers. And even if you have to Google something or check YouTube, has there ever been a time when it’s easier to learn something or figure something out? You have to have faith to work through challenges, and occasional prayers don’t hurt, either. Figure out when to listen to your head and when to listen to your gut. The most important thing for me as a small business is to have fun. You’re going to have struggles, but focus on the big picture. You will have wins and you’ll have losses. But it’s a long season.”

Lane Mesenbrink, president and CEO,  Lane Trailer Manufacturing Co., Boone,  Top Growth Company:

“Being a small business owner is one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done, and one of the most stressful things. For example, delivering products to customers and seeing the reaction to the quality and design is very rewarding in my industry. Getting up in front of 300 people [at this event] and giving these comments is very stressful. [Laughter] I love building our dealer network across the U.S. and Canada.”

Lana Pol, president, G.I. Warehouse, Pella, Small Business of the Year: 

“We appreciate that DMACC acknowledges the sacrifices and the accomplishments of small businesses. It is a hard road. I’ve been in business longer than anybody else here, and to listen to what you are going through, ... know that you can succeed and you can stand for longevity. ... I want to thank my father. With a sixth grade education, he would teach me so much about life and businesses, and it’s the reason we’ve succeeded today. He taught me the work ethic. He taught me values. He taught me integrity. He taught me to treat employees as I want to be treated. And he taught me to give businesses that we deal with the best value and the best services that we can and not to be greedy about it.”