Alumni Entrepreneurs

CARVING THEIR OWN PATH

C of I alumni bring creative business ideas to life Careers seldom go as planned, but The College of Idaho strives to prepare students who thrive no matter where professional life takes them. Alumni Liz Wallace ’90, Matt Blazek ’00 and Beth Brigham ’86 are among those who embody this entrepreneurial spirit. Through creativity, hard work and a few unlikely twists and turns, these entrepreneurs have established themselves as successful business owners. They are living proof that when life gives you lemons, you can always open a lemonade stand.

LIZ WALLACE ’90 Swept Away Professional Chimney Sweeps, Sun Valley

Like many College of Idaho students, Liz Wallace ’90 explored a wide variety of subjects, majoring in English literature and earning minors in biology and French.

Wallace did not take a single class on chimney sweeping. But as it turns out, cleaning people’s fireplaces is good business, and two decades later, Wallace has carved out a successful niche as co-owner of Swept Away Professional Chimney Sweeps in Sun Valley.

“I always thought I would go to graduate school, but I never quite made it there,” Wallace said. “Chimney sweeping wasn’t on my radar – I don’t think it’s on anybody’s – but it’s a good business. There are a lot of fireplaces up here.”

Wallace, a Caldwell native, moved to Sun Valley after graduation and began working for Swept Away founder Byron Goheen. She honed her craft for 13 years, and when Goheen passed away in 2003, Wallace and business partner Kimberly Rogers took the reins.

Even as a business owner, Wallace enjoys getting her hands dirty. A typical day consists of cleaning five to eight residential chimneys, although Wallace can clean as many as 30 per day in condo complexes. With the abundance of vacation homes in the Sun Valley area, there is plenty of sweeping to do. 

“I enjoy the work,” Wallace said. “I like doing something that keeps me outside and keeps me moving. I don’t fly onto roofs and I don’t do much singing and dancing either, but I really appreciate the freedom and flexibility of owning my own business.”

That flexibility allows Wallace to moonlight as a snowboard instructor at Sun Valley Resort during the slower winter months. Overall, life as a chimney sweep is enjoyable – though not as adventurous as one might think. Wallace’s brooms have yet to find anything scarier than a bird or stranger than a golf ball.

“I fear the day I find a raccoon,” Wallace said with a laugh. “It’s funny how things work out. I loved my time at the College. I certainly didn’t learn anything about chimney sweeping, but a liberal arts education really teaches you how to think. I definitely have no regrets.”

MATT BLAZEK ’00 The Beer Guys, Eagle

After being drafted to play professional soccer out of college, owning a business was the last thing on C of I alumnus Matt Blazek’s mind.

“I had always dreamed of starting up my own business,” said Blazek, who still holds C of I records for goals (69) and points (173). “But at the time I really just wanted to play soccer. It wasn’t until after I left the draft and got married that I realized I didn’t want to work for the man.”

It took a few years before Blazek decided to dive into building a business, but he used those years to shape his inspiration and motivation. Finally, the time to act on his dream came when he was laid off from his job at FedEx.

“It was motivation over time,” he said. “As FedEx warned us that we were going to be laid off, I really started to pursue the business. I was let go in September of 2011 and by January 2012 I had started The Beer Guys.”

Locally operated out of Blazek’s home in Eagle, The Beer Guys is a delivery company that serves the entire Treasure Valley. From kegs to six packs, The Beer Guys deliver customers’ preferred beverages straight to their doorsteps. With help from his family, Blazek is able to serve Boise, Nampa, Caldwell and the surrounding areas from 2 p.m. until 2 a.m. 

“The day usually starts with keg orders for the weekend,” Blazek said. “Then we take phone orders, charge to a credit card from the house, and then make the delivery.”

Structured on a simple and efficient model, The Beer Guys has become a booming business, and Blazek hopes someday to franchise out to other states. And he credits his experience at The College of Idaho as pivotal to his entrepreneurship in more ways than one – his inspiration for The Beer Guys began during parties at the College, and he acknowledges his C of I professors as always being supportive of his academic career and future aspirations.

“When I first started I maybe had ten cases of beer on the garage floor,” Blazek said. “Now I have a huge walk-in cooler full of beer, a trailer and an off-premise license that allows me to cater at different events such as Eagle Fun Days.”

BETH BRIGHAM ’86 and JULIE MOORE Cross Town Movers, Boise

As an undergraduate studying education at The College of Idaho, Beth Brigham never imagined she would run her own business. Even after she earned her MBA, owning a company seemed farfetched.

“I never thought I would have my own business,” Brigham said. “But it’s been such a great experience. When you are responsible for every little detail of running a company, you definitely learn a lot.”

Brigham’s opportunity came in 2004, when she and her husband, C of I alumnus Doug Brigham ’87, purchased Cross Town Movers with business partners Alan Moore ’74 and his wife, Julie. The couples are full partners, but Cross Town has been Beth and Julie’s project from the start.

“The moving business is pretty male-dominated,” Brigham said. “I think, as women, Julie and I look at things a different way. We’ve really focused on building relationships with our staff and our customers. When we help people move, we want to treat their stuff like it’s our own.”  

Based in Boise, Cross Town Movers deals exclusively with Treasure Valley customers. The company has grown to include ten 26-foot trucks, one van and 34 full-time employees who do an average of 120 jobs per week for families, businesses, apartment complexes, retirement homes and storage facilities.

“We are the largest local moving company in the Valley,” Julie Moore said.  “We are most proud of the fact that we are dependable.  There is always a back-up plan to complete our jobs in a timely manner, thanks to our exceptional managers and crew.”

Cross Town originally was founded in 1985, but is has grown considerably under Brigham and Moore. The partners have leaned on each other for support while striving toward their shared goals of cultivating a strong team of employees and building good rapport in the community.

It has been an adventure, but both women agree the rewards have far outweighed the challenges.

“When we first started out, there was definitely a steep learning curve,” Brigham said. “We lost a lot of sleep over it, but after eight years, it just runs so smoothly. Like any business, we have our ups and downs, but every day is a new day at Cross Town Movers.”