It took Katie Skinner only about five minutes to trust Tom Lecy, a then-19-year-old college kid pitching an idea to clean up the water off the dock of her lakeside home in Excelsior.
Skinner has three young boys who jump off the dock nearly every summer day, and for nine years she had been hiring companies to pump weed-clearing chemicals into the water, with only mixed results. So when Lecy came to her house pitching a chemical-free method for removing the growth, she was intrigued.
“I was really certain that this kid was going somewhere, and this is definitely someone I could trust,” Skinner says. One conversation with Lecy and you’ll realize that five minutes is about right. It might even be a little on the long side to recognize that Lecy isn’t your average college student with a summer lawn mowing business.
Lecy and his childhood friend Nick Baumgard started planning their weed-clearing business, Lakescape LLC, in the summer of 2012, fresh out of high school. Childhood friends, they spent countless hours on Lake Minnetonka and worked together at the Lake Minnetonka Sailing School. They noticed a need for an eco-friendly method of cleaning up weeds in the lake and began exploring the idea of scuba diving to hand-pull the weeds.
“Our viewpoint is that since chemicals aren’t originally in the lake, they probably shouldn’t be there,” Lecy says. “It’s a tedious task because when you’re down there it’s very mucky and hard to see. You basically grab by the roots and pull them out.”
The duo quickly found a demand for their unique services from area residents like Skinner, and Lecy and Baumgard launched their business in 2013 with 15 clients. They teamed up with Specialized Environmental Technologies Inc., which operates the Mulch Store in Eden Prairie and Minnetrista, to use the weeds as compost, making the entire operation environmentally sustainable. “We’ve found that the milfoil, one of the most common lake weeds, has a very high moisture content, and we can mix it with our materials that are drier to create compost filled with nutrients,” says Kevin Tritz, owner of Specialized Environmental Technologies.
Beyond the environmental impact, hand-pulling the weeds is the most effective method of removal. Skinner says Lecy and Baumgard’s work is by far the best she’s seen out of all the companies she’s hired over the years.
Rave reviews and the partnership with Specialized Environmental Technologies pushed Lecy and Baumgard’s work from a side project to a full-on business. They divided up the tasks: Lecy, who is now an entrepreneur major at the University of St. Thomas, runs the business side and Baumgard, an experienced scuba diver and University of Minnesota student, runs the operations side.
“It’s a whole different world down there,” Baumgard says of diving, one of his biggest passions. Neither he nor Lecy take for granted how special it is to have created a business doing something they love, especially at their age.
“It’s addicting running a business,” Lecy says. “This is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s not something people my age usually do, and with Minnesota being the land of 10,000 lakes, there is endless opportunity for us.”
For lake-area residents like Skinner, the peace of mind knowing the lake is free of weeds and chemicals is priceless. As for young entrepreneurs Lecy and Baumgard, they see a limitless future. In 2014, their client list more than doubled, enabling them to hire four more employees. And they feel like they’re just getting started.