ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Thursday night is billed as the biggest night in business as Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia names two entrepreneurs of the year and inducts two more people into the Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame.
Jim Wade, former CEO of Advance Auto Parts, and Bruce Farrell, owner of Berglund Management Group, will be the Hall of Fame laureates.
The Entrepreneurs of the Year are David Poteet of New City and Jonathan Hagmaier of Interactive Achievement.
(Click here for the profile on David Poteet)
Interactive Achievement almost didn't happen. You'd never know it, walking through the innovative offices on Campbell Avenue in Roanoke – but Jonathan Hagmaier will tell you this project was almost a swing and a miss.
A former teacher and assistant principal Hagmaier quit his job to see if his educational background and a friend's computer savvy might combine to create a special educational tool. But it was a leap of faith.
"We had zero. We had an idea -- my wife and I mortgaged everything we had -- God bless my wife. I trusted my best friend. He quit his job and we pretty much lived on zero," said Hagmaier.
Today the company – which provides software that helps school systems evaluate student performance – as well as the effectiveness of teaching techniques – employs about 100 people. But in 2007 Hagmaier says, he still hadn't made a sale.
"In ‘07 I couldn't sell it anywhere … and we actually talked about closing shop and taking our losses, which was a massive amount. And my wife looked at my best friend and I and just said, ‘Do you believe?' And we said we did. We had $46,000 left. And over the next couple years we went from 100,000, to 800,000 to 1,600,000 in sales and I would say only felt like we really had something probably is about the third year."
Today the software is in school systems in 13 states and the United Kingdom. Schools love it – because it helps teachers make adjustments along the way.
"When I was teaching I just asked myself if I knew exactly where to help a child after I taught them, I don't think I would have a child fail. That's what was in my mind," he explained.
It seems hard to understand – but the innovative software is a breakthrough for teachers that works before students can fall behind.
"I can go into our program the minute the student is done and I can see exactly where that student is doing well and what they didn't understand. Because a child scored a 67 on the test doesn't mean they did bad-- they may not know the second step to the long division process that's it. That's all they didn't know. I don't have to reteach the whole thing just that and the teacher can see that immediately."
Interactive Achievement is adding jobs quickly – believing it's more important to take care of customers the company already has than it is to grow. From their offices in Roanoke, the company handles everything from sales to customer support as well as design and research & development.
The key to success he says is hiring the right people.
"We have a great product, but the key I would tell you is -- in the end -- over eight years, how we treated people. And if I could give advice to anybody, that's what it would come down to. It's not a matter of if -- it's a matter of when something goes wrong it always just does. But in the end when you we talk about being honorable, unselfish and generous. And that in the end is who we been with our clients."
WSLS-10 is the media sponsor of the Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia Business Hall of Fame. News Anchor John Carlin will host the event in 2015 for the 25th year.