Casey Clark, a Logan Square resident, runs Cultivate Advisors, one of Chicago’s fastest-growing business success stories. The company was just recently listed at No. 280 on the Inc list of 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S.
The road to Cultivate Advisors was not the most straightforward, however.
Clark got one of his first tastes of business from his grandfather, who owned a successful vacuum store and repair business.
“That instilled in me this value of being your own boss,” Clark said.
He also learned his work ethic from his father. Growing up, his father worked multiple jobs, including a paper route where a 7-year old Clark would help deliver newspapers on his dad’s route.
Even in college, Clark’s route to entrepreneurship wasn’t traditional. He went to the University of Illinois-Chicago on a theater scholarship.
“I did a lot of theater in high school and at the time it was a way for me to pay the bills for college,” he said.
Seeing his passion for business develop while at UIC, Clark quickly dropped his major to pursue entrepreneurship. He got his first crash course in running a business where he ran College Pro Painters. While Clark received some success initially, there were moments where he was down to his last $10.
“I ended up attending a training event that paired College Pro entrepreneurs together,” he said.
That’s where he met Cultivate Advisors co-founder Dan Gramann, and the two were paired for a particular reason.
“I was paired with Casey, and they said it was because at the time, I was one of the best-performing franchisees, and he was actually one of the worst-performing franchisees,” Gramann said in a video interview. “Clark was one of the most energetic, and annoying, franchisees I had ever met.”
Clark remembers those early days when their business relationship was just starting to bud. It wasn’t easy sailing, at first.
“Those early days with Gramann…I could tell he really didn’t like me,” he said.
This initial meeting turned into a competitive friendship and then a partnership. The two ran a business in advertising, but quickly realized they held no passion for what they were currently doing.
After a bit of soul-searching, they founded Cultivate Advisors in 2013.
“We realized that we were really good at teaching entrepreneurs how to create, run, and scale a business,” Clark said. “Our favorite moments in our previous advertising business were working with small business owners and talking about where they wanted their business to grow, and those people were some of our first clients.”
At Cultivate, Gramann, Clark, and the rest of the team work with entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses in a scalable way. They recently held 2019’s Catapult, a weekend-long conference hosted by Cultivate for small business owners.
The conference allowed owners to learn from hands-on workshops, guest lectures, and peer-to-peer idea brainstorms. The end of the session also allowed to hear about clients success stories, and a moment to celebrate the owners themselves.
“Small business owners are constantly celebrating the successes of their teams or employees, but very rarely does anyone celebrate them,” Clark said.
The success stories of their clients are backed up by numbers. In addition to its recent ranking from Inc., the company grew from a few hundred thousand to over $3.6 million in revenue in just three years. Cultivate has also expanded to host consultants across the country and in Canada, and plan to hire more over the coming years.
Clark recently moved to Logan Square after living in bustling West Loop. The biggest difference?
“I love the neighborhoods here,” he said. “Coming from the concrete jungle of West Loop, I love walking down the side streets with my dog.”