At the end of what appeared to be a successful appearance on Dragon’s Den by Winnipeg couple Giovanna Minenna and Scott Russell earlier this year, one of the Dragons was heard to utter, "What a great couple," as they walked off the set.
The on-air agreement was for a $400,000 investment for 20 per cent of Brows by G, their successful microblading and permanent cosmetics studio. But in negotiations over the ensuing months the Winnipeg husband and wife team was not able to come to an agreement with Dragon/venture capitalist, Arlene Dickinson.
And then instead of opening more locations — the Dragons were debating over whether they should franchise or go with corporate stores — the couple decided to concentrate on its training and product development arms and one other thing the Dragons knew nothing about... Russell was going off to start his own business called Solar Skyrise in an entirely different space with a whole different team of partners.
It seems that couples that start businesses together, stay together.
Russell, 32, and Minenna, 29, (who goes by "G" professionally) have built Brows by G into a very popular high-end studio with two locations in Winnipeg and 25 employees that includes a national microblading training operation and a growing product division. It is already generating close to $2 million in annual revenue only five years in.
After putting in countless hours and facing down the accompanying risk of launching a sophisticated service business that’s not cheap for its customers — $400 for brow microblading, $550 for micro-pigmentation — you might think the couple had a solid head start on lucrative, stable careers owning their own business.
But not long after their star turn on Dragon’s Den, Russell, who had recently left Manitoba Hydro International after 10 years to go full time with Brows by G, had the opportunity to team up with some former colleagues to launch a tech startup called Solar Skyrise inserting the high energy couple into the throes of startup chaos once again.
And Minenna is 100 per cent behind her former/current partner/husband.
"When I was starting my business Scott was definitely there for me and supported me through the start up," she said. "Now it’s almost like it’s his turn. It’s his time."
Solar Skyrise is a technology company that provides cost analysis on the potential for buildings’ to generate solar power, factoring in ever-changing photovoltaic technology and the increasing amount of open source data on just about every building on earth.
Less than a year after officially incorporating, Solar Skyrise won a coveted spot on the Canadian Technology Accelerator’s cleantech program (one of only 13 Canadian companies selected in total) and the Cleantech Open accelerator (one of only five Canadian companies in the 60-company international program) that puts them in front of Silicon Valley mentors and investors.
"I’m still involved in Brows by G but at an advisory level now," said Russell. "It is getting crazy with all the things going on. Between what she is doing personally (Minenna has a growing following as a personal business coach and Instagram influencer), Solar Skyrise, Brows by G and Browluxe (the high end eyebrow pencil and product development company) we’ve got four things on the go. It’s a lot."
But it seems clear that both of them as individuals, and as a couple, thrive on that sort of pace.
"We both really enjoy being busy," Minenna said. "It comes down to understanding when work is work and then when it is time to set aside time to spend together. We have been really good at that."
Russell has been travelling back and forth to California (Solar Skyrise is opening an office in Los Angeles) and Minenna was in Calgary recently and continues to travel to help manage Brows by G’s training operation so their schedules are pretty complicated.
"It’s not to the point where we have to go through our assistants to schedule time with each other but we do talk about setting time aside," said Russell. "Otherwise everything just takes over. There is a constant stream of things that could be done and that need to be done. It doesn’t sound overly romantic but we talk about making time so that we don’t just end up working 24 hours every day."
Minenna’s ability to handle the hectic pace and grueling hours that are necessary to start a business with demanding quality controls partly came from watching her father who had his own tile and masonry business.
"He was constantly working long hours. He really showed me about hard work and how to succeed," she said. "I have had mentors my entire life that I can look to and have conversation with and help guide me on my journey. That has really helped me along the way."
Which is to say she was basically bred to be an entrepreneur. Even with success at a relatively young age, she said she sees herself moving on and probably building other businesses.
"I just see opportunities in areas that other people don’t often see," she said. "And I like to take on a challenge and a risk. That’s what kind of sets me on fire."
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.
Updated on Friday, June 28, 2019 at 10:57 PM CDT: Fixes typo