Becoming The Boss Max Nelson  | November 9, 2018

One Entrepreneur’s 22,000-Mile Road to the Small Business Starting Line

Former U.S. Navy Division Officer Dan Hurst felt stuck. It was 1999, and Hurst was feeling claustrophobic with his nine-to-five job. He knew his talent could be served better elsewhere, but with no clue of what to do or where to go, Hurst and his family took some money from their savings, bought an RV and traveled around the country to figure out where to live and what to do next.

Six months, 35 states, and 22,000 miles later, Hurst felt compelled to create a business that “would treat employees and customers the way we want to be treated.” The result is Strata-G, a thriving professional services firm with nearly 200 employees. Based in Knoxville, Tennessee, Strata-G provides technical, business, and management support for its federal, state, academic, and public utility clients.

We spoke with Hurst at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Summit, where his company took home the 2018 Dream Big Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award. During our conversation, he discussed challenges he’s faced as an entrepreneur, his proudest moments and more. What follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did you finance your company in the beginning? 

My wife and I bootstrapped the initial startup expenses with retirement savings and then structured a collaborative startup arrangement with a friends’ business that was synergistic for them and me, and gave me the autonomy to stand alone at the right time.

What was one of the hardest challenges you have overcome?

Perhaps the greatest challenges I have faced in building our company have been the rare business downturns over the last 16 years, which have occasionally required the furlough or layoff of employees. These challenges were overcome with transparency in communication, persistence, and grit while we worked through the valleys.

Which lessons have you’ve learned that you wish you had known when you were starting out?

Like many things in life; if I’d been too aware of all the challenges, I might not have taken that first step – which is a doozy!   That said, I wish that I’d started sooner.

What’s the best thing about being a small business owner?

The opportunity to place a priority on enjoying the journey by building a team committed to a few core values and then watching the culture emerge over  16 years that is making a difference for employees, clients, and our community – and having fun doing it!

For me, being the boss means accepting the responsibility to walk the talk of our core values (integrity, service, and quality); and to be a servant leader for everyone on our team so that we are able to deliver excellence for our clients and provide opportunities for work and career growth for each person in our company.

How do you use your business to serve your community?

From our inception, we have branded ourselves as a significant company; which, by our definition is a company that hires and cares for great people, earns their customers’ respect, AND makes a difference in the communities where we live and work.  This vision of community impact has driven us to execute an outreach plan that provides food, shelter, and education to the folks in our community in greatest need, and invests our time, talent, and treasure towards the stewardship of our regional environmental resources for future generations.

What does it mean to you to be a winner in this year’s program?

It’s a great honor for our team, and validation for their commitment to our core values of integrity, service, and quality.

I am motivated each day by the opportunity to work with the great people on our team, serve them well, earn our clients’ respect and make a difference in conserving our environment and in the lives of folks who are in great need in our community.

What’s next for your company? 

We hope to double over the next 5 years primarily through organic growth, expanding and leveraging the IP created by our talented staff, and identifying potential corporate partners with similar core values and cultures.

We are so blessed in this country, and the East Tennessee region where we live.  We have incredible freedom, resources of all kinds, great people and opportunities.  Nothing is holding us back!

About the Dream Big Awards Program

The Dream Big Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award recognizes a veteran-owned, small business that has attained outstanding business achievement and exemplifies the significant contributions made by veteran-owned businesses in the country.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce awarded Strata-G from Knoxville, Tennessee as the 2018 winner of the annual Dream Big Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award, presented by MetLife. The annual award celebrates the achievements of small businesses and honors their contributions to America’s economic growth.

Strata-G was one of twenty-one finalists selected by a panel of judges from a record number of applicants. All winners can be viewed here. For more information on the program, click here.