The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is interviewing the four finalists for the honor of Distinguished Entrepreneur for 2015.  Learn more about each finalist, and get some entrepreneurial advice and inspiration, by reading the two posts dedicated to each before the big awards day on May 19, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Estero.  You can register for the event by clicking here.

Entrepreneur:  Mark Loren

Business:  Mark Loren Designs, Fort Myers Florida; creates custom-designed jewelry; Year founded: 1982. Number of employees: 16

What inspired you to become a custom jewelry designer?  “It all started in art class in high school where I enjoyed metalsmithing a lot.  I wanted to be an eye surgeon, too, and I had the grades to support that…but I didn’t want to be in school for 10 more years.  I’m an instant gratification person, and [creating] jewelry appeases my need for this. When I created jewelry, I would get a ‘wow’ from people, and parents and friends.”

With his father’s guidance, he attended Gem City College in Quincy, Illinois, five miles south from where they lived. “I knew within the first week [that I was supposed to do this]; I loved working with my hands eight hours a day.  I’m very hands-on.”

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it? “The internal disconnect between being an artist and being a business person that has to get reconciled.  For me, the context behind the gallery is artistic expression.  We have emotional, sentimental and intimate conversations with our clients.”  He explains that this is a different mindset from the way a business is usually run, which tends to be more fact- and bottom-line driven.

He reconciles this artistic-business gap by surrounding himself with really great people in their respective skill sets. “I could not do what I’m doing alone; this is a successful, collaborative effort — my name just happens to be on the door.”

What one thing would you say was instrumental to your success over the years? “The [positive] reaction I would get from my parents when I would bring a jewelry project home from art class.”  As a middle child with three siblings all jostling for their parents’ attention, the enthusiasm he received when he created jewelry made him feel special and unique, he says.

Profile written by Jacqueline Aaron, The Wordsmith Company

*Profile post have been randomly selected based on the date received.  Stay-tuned to read more about the other final four finalist and their stories.