A childhood illness that forced Bobby Mason to spend almost a year and a half at the Mayo Clinic inspired him to create a non-profit that helps children with life-threatening illness. He funds the non-profit (in part) with some of the proceeds of his landscaping business.
As an entrepreneur, Chanhassen native Bobby Mason keeps his eyes wide open for new opportunity. A recent graduate of University of St. Thomas, studying entrepreneurship, Mason was a student of business well before college, starting his first business as a freshman in high school.
With a “do more than school,” attitude, Mason is a big proponent of learning through experience outside of the classroom. He has been involved in starting several ventures in the last four years, but there are two he is most passionate about: Three Timbers, a landscaping and lakeshore restoration business and Holding Hope, a nonprofit to help kids fighting pediatric cancer at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
Mason and a friend started Three Timbers when they were high school freshmen. The first clients were Mason’s Chanhassen neighbors. Over the years, the landscaping and lakeshore restoration company has grown into a staff of 20 employees, all hard-working high school and college students. Last summer, Mason brought on his younger brother, Michael Mason, as an official business partner.
Three Timbers has three main focuses: commercial mowing and landscaping; residential landscaping and lawn care; and lakeshore restoration. The goal of lakeshore restoration is to transform a beach. To accomplish this, the crews will do everything from scuba diving under 15–20 feet of water and pulling lake weeds, to installing and leasing a weed removal unit called HydroSweep, to sand restoration.
Being outside working with people rather than sitting at a desk is more suitable to Mason, who is service oriented. He enjoys learning from his clients, many of whom have started and grown their own businesses. “You’ll go and give someone a quote and end up talking with them for another two hours about everything,” Mason says. “You learn so much in that moment, so much more than cutting grass.”
Bobby Mason handles most of the client interactions while Michael, a finance major and sophomore at University of St. Thomas, handles the financial aspects of the business. Both brothers also work with the crews during the day. “It makes sense for us,” Michael Mason says on working with his brother. The two plan to work in business together indefinitely. “It’s a good learning experience for both of us,” Michael continues. “Our actual business relationship can grow.”
Three Timbers’ business model includes donating 20 percent of company profits to Holding Hope. Originally created by Bobby Mason alongside a few classmates in a college sophomore entrepreneur class, the idea behind Holding Hope was to provide backpacks to kids fighting life-threatening illnesses.
These bags could be used to conceal their EKGs and heart monitors while holding other belongings. They started by selling the backpacks as a one-for-one exchange. Each time a bag was purchased, Holding Hope would donate and personally deliver a bag filled with toys to a sick child at Mayo Clinic.
What started as a school project quickly transformed into something more personal to Mason, who has had his own experience with a serious illness. Mason became very ill during his junior year of high school, missing the last part of the year and all of his senior year. He spent much of the next year and a half at Mayo Clinic.
Mason can relate to the emotional toll on both patients and families experiencing long hospital stays. Through his experience, he quickly learned that there were not enough outlets for patients and that moments of hope were invaluable.
He experienced some of the lowest moments at Mayo, but also, surprisingly, some of the highest ones, too: “Just the smallest things became the most amazing, memorable moments because it was the most trying time in your life,” he says.
Knowing that the littlest things can make a huge impact, Mason continually studies ways in which Holding Hope can make a bigger impact. The nonprofit continues to sell backpacks, filling them with toys for kids at Mayo. However, it now incorporates two new focuses: presenting monthly special events and creating family nights out.
For the monthly special events, Holding Hope partners with local performers such as magicians and a cappella groups to put on a show for the kids and their families. “We learned that with those monthly events, not only was it good for the kids, but it forced the parents to come out and interact with other parents,” Mason says. “That’s the best support group you can find.”
Holding Hope does not want to forget about the parents. Mason has interviewed 50 to 60 parents of ill children and has consulted with a group in the United Kingdom that studies the effects on families with children with pediatric cancer. He has learned of the importance of families finding ways to keep themselves healthy, thus increasing their ability to support their ill child.
That’s where the family fun nights come in. These nights aim to offer support and relief to the families. Holding Hope works with restaurants, bowling alleys, laser tag venues and spas to create fully planned and paid-for nights away from the hospital for the parents and siblings. Families can also opt to receive the night inside the hospital if they want to spend it with the whole family.
Holding Hope has rebranded with new products, new logos and even a new model, but in all of this, the heart behind it remains the same. All of the donations and proceeds sold from Holding Hope’s inspirational apparel and bags go towards helping the kids and their families.
Whether it is delivering a smile to a child’s face through a magic show or offering a night of relief to a family, Holding Hope’s mission is simply to provide hope. “Never give up,” Bobby Mason says. “Keep on pushing through because life’s too short.”