Member Profile: Braveworks Dares to Take Great Leaps to Grow and Lift Up Their Community
January 24, 2024
Jen and Jon Julien, co-owners of Braveworks, are an inspiring set of young entrepreneurs—but don’t let their age fool you. At just 34 years old, they already have over a decade of small business ownership under their belts, and their list of accomplishments is vast and continues to grow. The best thing about them though is their humbleness and un- wavering investment they put into their 145-member team, always giving ample credit to the “good people” they surround themselves with.
From a construction business and Michigan Tech student housing projects to hotels, cocktail lounges and a hair salon, the Julien’s are deeply embedded in and committed to Houghton and the surrounding communities. With a growing list of awards, including the Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice 2023 Awards Top 15 Hotels in Midwest for The Vault Hotel, they’re sure to continue their success into the far future.
Jen was kind enough to give us some entrepreneurial strategies to live by, as well as offering insight into how it all began and how she and Jon stay organized, inspired and motivated:
Focus: You and your husband, Jon, own and operate many businesses under the Braveworks brand. How did it all get started?
Julien: Jon started his first construction business at 18 years old to build a housing project for students near Michigan Tech. In the beginning, he also did various other jobs, like plowing snow, to keep everything going. When we met in our early twenties, I was in my PhD studies at Michigan Tech and took a job simultaneously with a local engineering firm. I ended up leaving it all to join forces with him after we married in 2015, as we decided the best way to spend our time and talents was together.
We built up the construction company—which is now a local leader in commercial and industrial construction—and continued to build and own many more housing projects. Additionally, together we opened a hair salon (2016), converted a historic building into The Vault Hotel (2019), opened The Counting Room cocktail bar (2021), converted a tired seven-story hotel into a 111-room Hampton Inn & Suites (2021) and recently opened The Observatory Lounge (2023).
We’re also partners in a manufacturing business and a fulfillment business in California. We had our two children in the middle of all this and they’re just now old enough to understand what we do. Right now, we’re working on expanding The Vault Hotel brand into a historic building in another community, as well as building a new student housing development. We also have a few other real estate projects in progress.
Braveworks is co-owned by myself and Jon, and was founded as the brand that represents all our companies. We have a strong team of people that support the mission of bettering the communities we work in and we’re excited to see what happens next. I often feel like it’s still the beginning—or I hope it is.
Focus: What do you do to keep your businesses organized and running efficiently?
Julien: When I read and continue to learn about how others are organizing and striving for efficiency in business—from Fortune 500’s to small businesses—I’m aware that this is an ever-evolving process for any company. Every time we feel “in order” we start the next big project and entropy sets in again. I believe there’s one common theme to accomplishing some degree of this: good people. We put a lot of trust and time in our management team and we give them the tools to fulfill the missions of each company. It’s a learning curve for everyone as progress often happens quickly around here, but we’re right there alongside them to make sure everyone involved is supported. We feel really blessed to have team members that are onboard with the challenges of opening new businesses and bringing new concepts to our communities, and we make sure to continue to invest in them in a way that we can all succeed.
Focus: What’s your favorite part about being a serial entrepreneur?
Julien: Serial entrepreneur is a funny term to me. By this I think of Elon Musk and a few others who are constantly buying and selling and taking high risks with investments. But when I look back over the past 10 years, I realize that we’re doing that at a certain level too. We could coin the term serial entrepreneur, but at the end of the day we’re also owner-operators and my favorite part of that is being invested in our community and being a part of its growth so intimately. We get to know our employees and their families, our clients and customers and what’s important to them, our neighboring business owners and our local officials and community leaders. It’s a continuous process of lifting others up and being lifted up.
Focus: How do you stay inspired and motivated to keep pushing your business forward?
Julien: To stay inspired: We explore. We take the time to travel and we intentionally seek out other businesses that we feel we align with or we strive to be like. We take in the experiences first- hand, and it helps guide us to curate unique experiences in our own businesses.
To stay motivated: We cut out criticism. We were very young when we started all this, and we learned early on there are people who don’t want to see change and envy when others succeed, and criticism evolves even when you think you’re doing it with all the absolute best intentions. We make sure not to dwell or add fuel to anything that’s said on the Internet by keyboard warriors, and we stay focused on the positive outcomes. But it’s hard, especially since we’ve had children! Meanwhile, we make sure any investment we make is done with intention and purpose, and we stick to that. We take the time to set clear goals and if something doesn’t align with them, we won’t do it.
Focus: What business strategies do you live/work by that every entrepreneur should consider?
Julien: Be intentional with your time and your talents. If you’re not excited about it at the start, you’re giving yourself false hope that you might eventually be. If there’s something you’re doing that feels too time or energy consuming, contract it to someone else who does it better. There are certain aspects of our operations that we held closely, mainly because we felt we had to as we grew, but the best decisions we made were to take them off our plate and find someone who could do them better and more efficiently. That way we can use our time where it’s best spent in our companies. Most importantly, that frees up more time to spend with our family and growing children, which feels like the true gift in all of this.
Focus: In what ways has SBAM’s support and advocacy helped your businesses?
Julien: Becoming a member of SBAM has filled a hole for our businesses that we weren’t sure when or how we would have been able to fill before discovering the membership. Being in the U.P. we’re often out of reach from actions in Lansing, but SBAM is cued in and connected to the legislature and able to provide quick advocacy and responses to issues that affect our businesses from afar. We’re excited to have SBAM’s support and advocacy moving forward as their team truly lives and breathes supporting small businesses in Michigan—where else can you find that kind of unwavering support and commitment especially when you feel “small?” Their leadership excels at steering a team of small business champions, and we’re honored to be a part of that.
By Bona Van Dis; originally published in SBAM’s January/February 2024 issue of FOCUS magazine