Here’s the one question you might want to avoid asking Robbie Harrell when you see one of his sculptures at an event: “Is that real ice?” The CEO of Minnesota Ice Sculptures says his com - pany’s sculptures are so clear and precisely carved that they prompt that question at every event they’re displayed. “Once people realize it really, truly is carved from ice, they’re excited about it,” he says. “There are always lots of selfies with the ice sculpture.”
The journey to ice entrepreneurship began when Harrell was still attending the University of St. Thomas. He and fellow student Stu Lombardo began to see the business potential of ice sculptures after working delivery jobs for a local ice carver. Inspired to bring technology to an industry that relied on hand carving, the two young men pooled their summer job savings and built a computer numerically controlled (CNC) ice-carving machine.
“We really bootstrapped it,” Harrell says. “We were buying irons and hot plates at Goodwill, and other equipment from Axman, the surplus store.” The small-scale operation soon began to see big-time results. “We got our first order right after we opened our doors in December 2013, and we never looked back.”
Lombardo left the business for a full-time career in chemical engineering after gradu - ation, but Harrell dropped out of college and devoted himself to the business, which is now the largest manufacturer of ice sculptures in Minnesota.
“Meeting and event planners love work - ing with us because we can give them an exact replication of their client’s logo with accurate colors,” Harrell says. “They’re able to see and approve full 3-D renderings of exactly what they’re going to get, and they can share a PDF of the design with clients.” Past sculptures have included a life-size VTX Malibu towboat for the Minneapolis Boat Show and a 10-foot Minnesota Viking Norseman for Appreciation Day at TCF Bank Stadium.