An innovative Millennial’s experience in creating businesses to help others
He always knew he wanted to be in business, and 20 year old Grant Hensel has already made headway in achieving that ambition.
From the classic childhood lemonade stand to a functioning thrift store in Hyde Park, Chicago, Grant has taken the initiative to actuate the numerous business ideas that flow naturally from his thought.
The Defining Moment
Grant was born in Wheaton, Illinois where he lived until he was four years old. At that time in his life, his family moved to the Chicago South Loop to be part of a church plant associated with College Church in Wheaton, IL. The family then moved to Hyde Park, Chicago to be nearer to Grant’s school and the newly established church.
This early childhood experience combined with the example of his father in the business field shaped Grant’s vision for his life.
“Business and faith had always been big things,” Grant said. “So these two things were always talked about a fair amount, and I’d known ever since I was 12 or 13 that I wanted to be a business person and start companies.”
For Grant, the defining moment of his nascent business career was establishing a thrift shop named “Encore” in Hyde Park.
Grant had been tinkering with different online websites and businesses when his father told him he was “fed up” with the online work. He instead encouraged Grant to start something real: a thrift shop.
“And, by the grace of God, we actually did, and it worked,” Grant said. “The store is in Hyde Park now, and selling clothes, and is profitable and generating funds for ministry.”
The process wasn’t so simple though.
Partnering with Hope for Chicago, it took over a year of board meetings and planning to get the thrift store started up.
“It was a very agonizing process,” Grant said. “It took forever, and I thought we could do it in a couple of months.”
At one point, Grant remembers driving in Chicago with his dad. Grant’s father told him did not need to continue if he thought the store would fall through.
But Grant decided to press on.
“And that was one of the best or most meaningful decisions I’ve ever made,” Grant said. “Because people have jobs now, and have been exposed to the Gospel because of that decision not to quit.”
Seeing the store itself actually come into being had a strong impact on Grant. “God can do pretty impressive things even through someone who has no idea what they are doing,” Grant said. “That was like my defining moment.”
Hear Grant explain the story behind his defining moment:
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Grant originally thought he wanted to become CEO of a company, but he realized it was actually the conceptualization and birthing of new projects that he enjoys the most.
I asked Grant if he was still involved with Encore. He said he volunteers over breaks and keeps up with prayer requests, but was never an employee.
“So you were just the idea behind it?” I asked.
“Yeah, like the spark,” he replied.
As the spark, Grant constantly has ideas going off like firecrackers in his head.
“I’m just eternally curious, if there is nothing going on, I’m like what next…”
“Basically, I sort have ideas all the time, especially if there is nothing going on,” Grant said. “I’m just eternally curious, if there is nothing going on, I’m like what next, what next, what next.”
The trigger for his most recent vision came after a chapel service at Wheaton College, where Grant is a current sophomore student and double major in business and computer science.
The chapel was about abortion, and related stories from women who had undergone abortions. Grant was intrigued by the power of stories, and thought, why not make a place where many stories on one topic could be gathered in one place?
What interests Grant most are ideas that meet two criteria: they are able to be on a large scale, and they impact people deeply. “So the brain is spitting out ideas randomly on things that meet those criteria,” he said.
Besides Encore, Grant has engaged in several other business endeavors.
He recalled his experience as a child with the lemonade stand as “so funny.” An afternoon of labor resulted in $11.20 in profits, minus $9 for the cost of materials. Graciously, Grant’s father let him keep the complete sum.
At 13, Grant and his friend came up with an idea for YouTunes, or a music version of YouTube.
“That was very original,” Grant said, although it, “never left the idea stage.”
During high school, Grant started up two more projects.
One was a website named eTestNotes.com that sold AP study guides Grant had written.
The second was Viibrant.com. Grant is the founder and CEO of the site with the slogan, “a website dedicated to helping you accomplish anything.”
The idea was to create digital courses that would allow people to complete tasks and accomplish goals rather than merely learning. For example, Grant explained, during a course a student would make their first website. If they didn’t succeed, they would be refunded their money.The project hit a road block though, in finding a way to develop content. “It was like a chicken-egg problem,” Grant said. “You can’t get content until there is an audience, and there is no audience until there is content.”
After reaching out to numerous people, none had the available time to create content for the site.
“So I stopped doing that as of just before winter break this year which was very said,” Grant said. “I’d like to come back to that actually. Their logo is still the background on my phone.”
Currently, Grant has three projects in the works: first, the website that would aggregate stories on a topic; second, an educational website that a fellow student approached him about; and third, preparation for an internship at a start-up this summer.
How a project receives the green light
Grant’s faith plays a key role in his business ventures. When I asked him about it, he had an immediate response.
“Business is the tool, faith is the reason the tool should be applied.”
“Business is the tool, faith is the reason the tool should be applied,” Grant said.
That means that when an idea comes, “it better be doing good.”
Grant explained, “the business should be bringing the kingdom of God in some way, so bringing restoration to other people or good things to people’s lives.”
Now and later
Now, as a college student, Grant is Wheaton College’s College Union business manager and is taking a full course load. He is also working on his three projects. “It’s sort of busy, but I don’t mind. I like being busy,” Grant said. “I think God has a way of multiplying time when it needs to be multiplied.”
Looking forward, Grant said he would love to run a social internet business.
Grant explained, “Something that does stuff at a massive scale, but for a good reason, but does it with the efficiency and rigor of a business and generates its own profits so it doesn’t need to rely on donations.”
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” – Alan Kay
Grant’s favorite quote is from Alan Kay, a pioneer in the computer science field. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” Kay said.
It seems to make sense why Grant would find that slogan so attractive. Bruce Howard, professor of business at Wheaton College, described Grant as “bright, energetic, seems to always be thinking about better ways to do things. He has that entrepreneurial spirit.”
Howard said from his interactions with Grant in class and outside of the classroom discussing Grant’s ideas, that Grant, “likes ideas and draws energy from thinking about new ways to do things.”
Grant’s motivation is “something that emanates from within, for sure,” Howard said.
Cover photo courtest Encore Resale Store Facebook