In March 2019, Henry Bromelkamp, a Minneapolis technologist and longtime small-business owner, sustained a traumatic brain injury in an electric-scooter accident on his way to lunch at a Denver museum.
Bromelkamp, 63, was not wearing a helmet, to the chagrin of friends and family. Generally a cautious athlete who wore a helmet bicycling or cross-country skiing, he was likely running late and rented an electric scooter without the helmet to save time.
Henry’s spouse, Jeff Nelson, and older brother, Mike Bromelkamp, have been unable to piece together an accident that Henry doesn’t recall.
And we almost lost a passionate force for small business and philanthropy.
After several weeks in intensive care, Henry returned to the Twin Cities for rehabilitation therapy at an assisted-living facility.
Mike, a 67-year-old retired CPA who stepped in for Henry; brother Dave, a Minneapolis investment manager, and Nelson met with Rick Brimacomb, a small-business adviser, about future leadership of Bromelkamp Co.
Henry, according to Brimacomb, is a big-hearted guy and also “a bit of a benevolent dictator,” a strong-willed, hands-on leader at the company, which makes software for foundations.
“First, we had to make payroll,” recalled Mike Bromelkamp, who went to court to get control of Henry’s affairs with Nelson. “Jeff and I were appointed co-conservators. I took care of the financial stuff and court stuff and Jeff took care of Henry. Henry is going to be OK. He saved some money. He was very philanthropic. And he didn’t always take direction from me, the big-brother CPA.
“And it’s a privilege for me to extend Henry’s reach. He didn’t want the company shut down.”
Brimacomb recruited John Long to succeed Henry as CEO last fall. Long, 51, is a veteran tech entrepreneur who stepped away in late 2018 as CEO of Avionté, the staffing-software firm of which he was a founder and which was acquired several years ago by a private-equity buyer.
“Henry and the story of his company in amplifying the work of foundations was inspiring,” Long said. “I’m the all-in type. And I was attracted to this.”
“The product was good but needed seasoning,” Long said. “Revenues were eroding. More importantly the customer base was eroding … without new sales and improved customer service. We were on a downward slope.”
“Henry’s departure created a huge void,” Long said. “Without the leader, it’s tough. The top half of sales … the prospecting, the early connections, had disappeared.”
Sales, which slid under $1.6 million in 2019, should rise to nearly $2 million this year. Thanks to a tweak in the business model, strengthened relationships and a few new clients, the company this year has increased employment from 17 to 24.
“If we hadn’t gotten our stuff together we would not have survived 2020. Our software implementations used to take a year,” Long said. “Now they take two months. We shifted the model from one-time revenue to software as a service, recurring revenue. That’s up 50% from 2019. We won’t be positive cash flow this year. We should be in 2021.
“We leverage and customize the Microsoft Dynamics platform. We have integrations and features our competition doesn’t have. We think we will be a force. I haven’t met Henry yet. When I meet him. I hope to get a thumbs-up from the guy. I want to wait until we get our stuff really cooking.”
Board Chairman Mike Bromelkamp said the outlook has gone from calamitous to hopeful for Henry and his company.
In 2006, Henry founded Africa Classroom Connection, building 108 primary schools with local rural community partners in South Africa and Malawi, part of an even larger international effort.
Recently, Henry’s Minneapolis Rotary Club honored him with its highest award for decades of philanthropic work with Books for Africa, Africa Classroom Connection, St. Stephen’s Human Services and other organizations.
Henry was able to appreciate the ceremony by watching on Zoom.