“The beauty of entrepreneurship is you get to meet all sorts of really cool people,” Alan Bignall ’85 said Thursday night as he accepted his award for “Entrepreneur Alumnus of the Year.” Bignall, representing ReconRobotics, Inc., was the recipient of one of three awards presented at the University of St. Thomas’ 22nd Annual Entrepreneur Awards Ceremony.

Other honorees included Jim and Mary Anne Kowalski of Kowalski’s Markets, which was honored as Family Business of the Year, and Pat Ryan ’75 and Jim Ryan (posthumously) of Ryan Companies, who received the prestigious John F. Cade Award, which is given to individuals epitomizing an entrepreneurial and giving spirit.

While the night was about celebration, it was also about sharing ideas of what being an entrepreneur means in today’s marketplace.

“I always go back to what’s good for the customers, what’s good for the employees in the group (and) what’s good for the shareholders,” Bignall said.


Jim Kowalski said that in the highly competitive grocery industry, it is important to differentiate their stores from the competition. “We have to stay ahead of the curve.”


Pat Ryan ’75, representing Ryan Companies, said he approaches business with the goal of taking care of the customer.

“Our mission is to build lasting relationships,” he said.

As a student in the MBA program, I noticed one underlying theme throughout the evening: the desire to give back.

“What drives me is making a difference,” Bignall said.

From donating food to fostering a sense of civic pride to promoting educational endeavors, each recipient wanted to use their time, talent and treasures to ultimately improve the world – a great message for life and business.