When he couldn’t find a job, the Depression forced Lewis Harris to become an entrepreneur. In 1933, he opened his own research, development, and testing lab with only his new degree in pharmaceutical chemistry from the University of Nebraska and $100 he had intended to use for his honeymoon. (The wedding was postponed for two years, until business was steady.) Last month, Harris Technology Group was named Nebraska’s Small Business of the Year, one of the few science-minded companies among the awardees from 50 states. (The national accolade went to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfleld, the Vermont ice cream moguls.) The company has swelled to 400 employees (155 scientists and technicians) and counts major pharmaceutical and agricultural companies among its clients. Although Harris’s sons, Robert and Ronald, now sit at the head of the company, Harris continues to go to work each morning.

One measure of startup success is the...

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