S&L Computer Services Inc. began as a one-man operation in 1993, when company founder Leo Worner decided to become his own boss. Now the company is owned by three partners, has a dozen employees and in 1999 graduated from the Regional Small Business Center (RSBC), where it began, into a new 7,000 square foot facility S&L owns in a growing area of south Fargo.
Worner became interested in computers in high school and eventually earned a master's degree in computer engineering. He started his business doing scanning and drawing conversion for architects and engineers, but soon found that computer sales was what the customer base wanted. He has since sold the document-imaging portion of the business. The company's sales have grown by more than 45 percent annually since it began.
’We were really excited’ about the award, RSBC operations manager Lynne Singelmann says. ’S&L has worked extremely hard to get where they are. We feel they're a perfect example of an incubator tenant, making use of all the services and everything the incubator has to offer.’
Worner found the incubator through a bank referral, when he was trying to get funds to start the company. ’There's no way I could have been successful out of the chute,’ Worner says. ’I had signed my life away.’
The company used incubator financing opportunities to expand and reach new customers. For example, on Worner's first large sale, the incubator referred S&L to the microloan program operated by Lake Agassiz Regional Development Corp., owner of the incubator. He got a loan and paid it back in two weeks.
Worner says the RSBC also gave him freedom. ’I didn't have to worry about being in the office answering phones. I could go out and do what I do best — make contacts and sell computers.’
Over time, S&L moved from an office of 150 square feet into offices totaling 2,150 square feet in the incubator. The company has added two partners, Scott Schafer and Sam Groff, and has a staff of a dozen.
’I happened to grab the right market at the right time,’ Worner says. That market is businesses from five to 15 people. ’You can get on a personal level with them,’ he says.
To meet the growing needs of its customers, the company set up a Software Training Center, which offers customized training. It also added an Internet service provider company, NB Internet LLC, which uses wireless technology and has captured at least a 20 percent market share in the Fargo-Moorhead area in less than two years.
The business also is giving back to the incubator. ’We have been able to put in high-speed Internet access throughout our building at a very reasonable rate,’ Singelmann says. That has been an attraction as spaces open up in the incubator. She also hopes to use S&L as a mentor to new clients.
’Anything I can do for the incubator and [its] tenants, I'll do in a heartbeat,’ Worner says.
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