Half of new businesses in America fail within their first five years, according to U.S. Small Business Administration.

Two Rivers Coffee opened five years ago in downtown Portage and is not among them because husband and wife owners Nate and Jerusha Smith have learned from others and from their own mistakes.

“You need to be willing to run the business yourself and grow into staffing it,” Nate Smith read from the top of his list of advice for other startups, much of which will be shared April 25 at the next Innovation Champions panel discussion in Portage.

He served customers in between his answers about the success of Two Rivers on March 1, getting some help from their 14-year-old daughter, Anna. Together they roasted coffee that’s also enjoyed as far north as the Twin Cities, as far west as Colorado and as far south as Tampa, Florida.

They’ve experienced 50 percent sales growth in every year, thanks in large part to successful wholesaling efforts the Smiths launched under the name Life Beans Coffee 2 1/2 years ago, Smith said.

Innovation Champions formed about three years ago because Smith wanted entrepreneurs in the area to help each other succeed.

“It just made sense,” he said of the idea.

Stacy Jax of Baraboo presents at the same meeting. Her business, Trinity Gunshot Alarm System, made the top 20 out of more than 200 entries in last year’s Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. The success helped her to find an investor, and she’s now on track to start producing her alarms later this year, she said. Read the full story here.