Barsness says business is 'best learned by doing'
Sam Barsness is only 23, yet he has already established himself as an up-and-coming entrepreneur in Rochester’s booming commercial real estate market, all after having dropped out of college three years ago.
Barsness says he harbors no regrets for leaving one of the state’s top business schools, Saint Thomas University in Saint Paul, after his sophomore year. Actually, one of his favorite professors advised him that he would gain more from field experience than by sitting in a classroom. Barsness claims that business is “best learned by doing.” He feels he was also extremely fortunate to have his parents’ support and blessing.
Barsness started a residential painting company at age 19. The company was a valuable teaching experience and, along with his crew of 7, helped established Barsness’s reputation as a professional dedicated to customer service. As the company matured, Barsness took a specific interest in the marketing and advertising aspects of the business.
Two years ago, on a vacation night with his friends, they came up with the name, logo, domain, and business plan for his next startup. Like many of his generation he was exposed to various video games and this would actually come in handy in a broad-based company that uses drones. They do FAA-licensed aerial inspections and photography of wind and solar energy sites, agricultural farms, and multifamily, retail, and office developments during construction. This company has been responsible for coverage of many recent development projects in downtown Rochester.
Barsness’s latest venture, SkyWorks, is a web-based transaction management software that applies artificial intelligence to commercial real estate brokerages to help structure safer and more profitable deals for their clients. This business represents a unique niche that is gaining both local and national attention.
Barsness sheepishly smiles when he remembers SkyWorks won the Iowa State University Startup Factory Network prize last January. This program is designed to connect startup companies with mentors and venture capitalists. Barsness is proud to share the prize and connections with his business partners and long-time friends, AJ Hawkins and Ahmed Makkawy.
Excited about the new INCubatoredu entrepreneurial program set to launch this fall by Rochester Public Schools, Barsness recounts that “I left school because I felt that I could learn more about what interested me elsewhere.” Even though he did well with grades, he was not using his talents in a way that was fulfilling to him. Barsness is a firm believer that college is not for everyone and hopes that young people will take pride going into different trades or pursue alternative studies. He is working with the school board on mentoring those that follow non-traditional routes to success.
Barsness is passionate about “building things that matter and improve quality of life,” he told me. He emphasizes it is critical to know yourself.
“Recognize what you are good at and what you are not,” he said. “Then work with people with complementary skills and treat them well.”
Barsness also believes in self-empowerment. “There are always going to be naysayers, but it is important to trust yourself,” he said. “The more you try, the more you will fail, but more importantly, the more you will learn. Approaching things from a different angle can be scary, but also very rewarding, profitable, and personally fulfilling.”
Maka Boeve moved to Rochester from South Florida during the 1991 Halloween blizzard and has never quite thawed out. She has Communications and Education degrees from the University of Florida and University of Minnesota. To support her travel junkie habits, she has been a high school substitute teacher for 19 years, but has secretly always desired to go back to her journalist roots.
Cover photo: Sam Barsness / Submitted