- Associated Press - Saturday, March 1, 2014

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) - It started out as a class assignment: Come up with a business plan.

“It was just a small, little weekly project that we did,” said Tyler Heinz, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

But that modest plan has proven to have some legs.

Heinz, at age 23, is set in March to open Grand Bluff Running, a specialty store in downtown La Crosse.

It’s a business that will meld his longtime passion for running and his desire to be his own boss.

Though he doesn’t look the part of a rebel, Heinz said he once had trouble dealing with authority.

“I realized fairly young I wanted to go my own route,” he told the La Crosse Tribune (http://bit.ly/1juc59C ). “I had my own way of doing things and didn’t like anyone telling me what to do.”

Maybe that’s why running, an individual sport, so appealed to him. He credits it with keeping him from perhaps sliding into more serious problems in late middle school - he refocused, he said, when told he risked being held out of a track meet due to behavior.

“Running’s always been the one dependable, trustworthy thing in my life,” Heinz said.

His dad, Todd, had instilled that desire to run from a young age, as part of the Indianhead Track Club while growing up in Eau Claire, where they moved when Heinz was 5.

Heinz was strong enough in track at Eau Claire Memorial - he set school records in the 800, 1,600 and cross country - to earn a partial scholarship to Montana State University in Bozeman in 2009, but family matters, along with the expense to attend an out-of-state college even with the scholarship, drew him back.

“It was great out in Montana,” Heinz said. “But you don’t really realize the cost of education until you have that hanging over your head.”

But he took note at the time that Bozeman had a running specialty store, something Eau Claire and La Crosse lacked. Anyone out here who wants that level of equipment had to turn to the Internet or make the drive to the Twin Cities or Madison, he said.

He kept that thought while majoring in marketing and Spanish at UW-L. Then came the assignment in late 2010 that “didn’t start off as all that serious,” he said.

His instructors encouraged him to continue running with the plan. He credits Terri Urbanek and Anne Hlavacka of the UW-L Small Business Development Center with helping him further develop and refine the concept, along with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization.

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