Entrepreneurial Dough: Just What Stagnant Wisconsin Kneads to Rise up

by | Nov 28, 2023 | Opinion

By Patrick McIlheran

Don’t forget to be thankful for the risk-takers

Did you enjoy home-baked bread at Thanksgiving and think to yourself that you’d have it more often if only baking weren’t so involved?

A La Crosse man, Chris Wysong, is hoping to hit it big on such wishes.

Thanksgiving is followed, of course, by “black Friday,” retailers’ day to get out of the red. How about keeping the Thanksgiving gratitude going another day, spending a moment Friday to realize that in our land of liberty, there are entrepreneurs trying to get ahead by thinking up new ways to please us, a thing to celebrate in a state that’s only middle-of-the-pack in entrepreneurship.

Take Wysong, for example.

The Iowa native, 51, settled in Wisconsin after retiring from an Army career. He was doing this and that when, he said, he had a middle-of-the-night dream about making a living from bread. He’d enjoyed baking since childhood — always the guy tapped to make bread for fundraisers. During a deployment to Iraq, the Iraqi army bakers on his base taught him flatbread and, “Next thing you know I’m having lunch with them.”

So he wrote down his 3 a.m. dream idea and, when it still made sense the next day, he started Bucket of Bread, his company. He sells flour (certified organic) and all other necessary dry ingredients for bread, premeasured in a bucket (recyclable plastic). You add the specified amount of lukewarm water, stir, leave it for two to three hours, and you have four pounds of dough ready to become bread, rolls, pizza crust, what have you. There’s white, wheat, seven-grain, and no oils, preservatives, dairy or kneading.

And, for now, there’s just him — founder, bookkeeper, flour-measurer, sales guy. “I’m a solo entrepreneur who wants to be America’s next favorite brand,” he said.

Maybe he will be. Flour in a bucket sounds humble, but so does mailing books to people who order online, and that turned out big. You never know if you want two weeks of ready-to-bake dough in the fridge until someone like Wysong bets a lot of time and effort on offering it. Good for him.

Good for Wisconsin, too. We could use more such spirit.

We’re number 34

Andrew Hanson, a Badger Institute visiting fellow who took the measure of our state’s economy for our “Mandate for Madison” in 2022, observed that Wisconsin was “squarely in the middle” among neighboring states when ranked by business starts. Using the respected Kauffman Foundation’s early-state entrepreneurship indicators to measure us against all states, Wisconsin ranks 34th, a little below average, a couple of notches behind Iowa, but at least not as supine as Minnesota. Meh.

If you’d prefer growth to stagnancy, said Hanson, you’d like to see the number of new businesses started by Wisconsinites to be high. The fact is that a lot of them fail — not every new idea’s a winner — but if there are more start-ups, there are more chances that one will be big. “If you’re going to be Babe Ruth, a home run hitter,” said Hanson, “you’re going to strike out a lot.” You need a lot of at-bats.

On the margins, state policy can help to encourage middle-of-the-night dreams. It’s a matter, said Hanson, of lowering barriers to expansion or increasing gains from it. It can be hard for a politician to persuade you of the value of clearing regulatory impediments that hinder the guy who could eventually put your employer out of business. But, said Hanson, “the role of the state is to do that very thing.” Success means more happiness for all the new hires and satisfied customers.

Wysong says he’s found lots of encouragement since he started selling in May 2021. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse offers advice to entrepreneurs. A program for veterans who start businesses offered advice, as did some other programs. His quarters are in a nonprofit incubator. While his $44,000 in sales so far (no profits yet) have come mostly from online, some are from the gift shop of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison. He’s planning to start knocking on grocers’ doors, though the tradeoff is that growth will bring new licensing complications.

Please, please us

Notice that if Wysong really does become America’s next favorite brand, it will be because he pleased lots of Americans. It’s common to describe capitalism as “dog-eat-dog,” but entrepreneurs don’t win by taking or by fighting but by being more appealing to others, serving them better. That surely is something we all can celebrate, especially during the ramen-for-dinner pre-profit stage, when entrepreneurs could use some encouragement.

Wysong said that when he went full-time into dough, his boss at the gig he was quitting, upon hearing the plan, told him, “You’d be leaving for all the right reasons.”

That’s the spirit.

Patrick McIlheran is the Director of Policy at the Badger Institute. Permission to reprint is granted as long as the author and Badger Institute are properly cited.

NEXT: Voters Want Age and Term Limits for Elected Officials

AMP America

Get Amp’d in your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to get videos, articles, and more sent right to your inbox daily. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This