by Marlis Schmidt
Inside an old General Mills research complex in Minneapolis, you won’t find Betty Crocker, but you will find Betty Green Risser, a quiet, unassuming woman sitting at her computer, most likely also on the phone. In front of her is a large panoramic photograph taken by her friend Stuart Klipper, whose work hangs in museums around the world. This one is relatively simple, yet provocative: a gravel road with farmland on each side going towards an infinite horizon. Betty says it’s the road that takes you away from the farm she grew up on.
A photo of flat Minnesota farmland is not the first image you would expect to see at a company that celebrates the world’s highest mountain peaks. But that’s exactly what Betty Risser’s business, Geographic Locations International, is doing. Her most popular line, SummitMark, replicates geographic markers placed by surveyors on many of America’s popular peaks. Mountain climbers and hikers enjoy getting the replicas as souvenirs of peaks they’ve visited.
While the Midwest doesn’t boast mountains, it does boast a strong independent work ethic, which served Betty well as she took a circuitous route to her current career. Even as a young girl (the only girl of six siblings), ideas were dancing around in her head while she was being swung around the dance floor.
Growing up to be an inventor was not something a young Midwestern woman would even consider in the late 1950s and early ’60s. When she graduated from college in 1965 with a BA in education, career choices for women were still relatively narrow and conventional, and generally deemed as not even necessary. So, like many women of her time, Betty became a Mrs., taught for two years, then quit to raise a family. Not like everyone else, however, she eventually became a divorced, single mom who needed a job.
Focusing her energy on her own children instead of on a classroom of kids, she became a seamstress at Dayton’s, a local department store that would later found Target. In her 25 years at Dayton’s, Betty rose to become the haute couture alterations fitter—and kept accumulating innovative ideas.
A turning point came in 1992 on a road trip to go Cajun dancing in Louisiana. Betty Risser started to share her inventive musings with her friend Sara Smith. When Sara took her ideas seriously, Betty decided to do the same and began to research how to protect her creations, apply for patents, and take the other steps necessary to start a business. Coincidentally, she also happened to be dating a geodetic engineer, who told her about all the applications of GPS technology that would someday be part of our lives.
READ FULL STORY ON CACHINGNOW.COM.