Starting something new

Rob and Sue Frey pictured in front of their business.Rob and Sue Frey are owners of Guthrie & Frey Water Conditioning LLC., with locations in Hartland and Mequon. Both 1992 UWL grads, Rob majored in biology; Sue, in marketing. They grew their business from the ground up and are now supporting UWL students interested in taking an idea to the market.

Alumni couple support up-and-coming entrepreneurs — like they once were

Sue Frey has a big, glass window in the corner her company office looking over Hartland, Wisconsin. It’s a stark contrast to the her first office — a storage closet.

Alums Rob and Sue Frey have worked hard to grow their company for 20 years. Since they opened, Guthrie & Frey Water Conditioning LLC has added more than 30 employees, expanded from one location to three, and grown sales by a factor of 10.

Now the Freys are investing in UWL students with a similar fervor for entrepreneurship.

“What we are looking to do is contribute and help people willing to put hard work into starting something new — knowing results don’t happen over night,” says Sue.

The Freys donated $25,000 to start an endowment that will support entrepreneurship in the sciences. Students in the College of Science and Health will receive awards to explore the marketability of their research through the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, including the new Innovation Generation programs, which, at the collegiate level, help students refine and test their ideas to form viable business plans.

Rob began thinking about giving back after an interview for a trade magazine. The reporter asked about community involvement. Rob felt he was lacking in the area. Minutes later, UWL Foundation Development Officer Jay Scott walked into his office. “The timing was brilliant,” says Rob.

Giving back to education was particularly exciting to Rob and Sue because of the results. Unlike giving to some charities, giving to UWL students — in a way that could influence their future —felt more tangible. And they could target students in a specific way though the fund.

Rob and Sue came to entrepreneurship in a round about way. After graduating from UWL, they both initially went into retail.

Rob recalls the first moment he considered entrepreneurship. He was “happily selling microscopes” when his dad asked if he was interested in going into the family well business. Rob gave it try, but notes his father is still in charge of the business today. However, that brush with running his own business had Rob intrigued enough to start his own company with Sue. They combined their skillsets and learned how to build a water-conditioning company.

Rob says his UWL background taught him how to compete. He remembers not initially doing well academically his freshman year. He quickly realized the high-caliber students working alongside him. “I dug in the rest of my college career,” he says. “It became about learning time management, persistence and social skills ….”

Sue found similar challenges, learning balance in college while maintaining part-time work for 20 hours or more a week.

College was challenging, but they had a good experience. Professors were accessible and willing to help, and class sizes were small. Now, their son, Scott, who will be a junior marketing major in the fall, is having a similar positive experience.

“We wanted to get involved in something, and we love La Crosse,” says Sue. “Our willingness to contribute there was a natural fit.”

Scholarship targets science, business

The scholarship goes to full-time undergraduate students majoring in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, computer science, microbiology, health professions, or physics — with a preference to a student with a College of Business Administration double major or minor.

This story appeared in the summer 2017 Lantern alumni magazine. Read the issue.