February 8, 2013

Competition shows diverse entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in northeast Colorado

By Barbara Baker
NJC Director of Marketing

The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, even thriving in northeastern Colorado. This was very evident as 15 fairly young, start-up or proposed businesses competed for $25,000 in prize winnings as part of the Northeastern Junior College’s Business To College (B2C) program. Now in its second year and funded by a grant from the El Pomar Foundation, the B2C program is open to businesses from throughout a 10 county area in this corner of the state. Businesses applied to be part of the 2012-2013 program last May.  The final competition, following eleven months of training and six credits of college classroom work, was held in late January.

The 15 participating entrepreneurs used what they learned in the program to create and present a business plan to a panel of judges for either an existing, albeit young business, or a planned start-up business. It was the judges’ job award the prize money, however they saw fit. One outstanding business could win it all, or it could be split out among several. Cyndi Vandenbark, the Distance Learning Coordinator at Northeastern, who has also taught small business management classes for years, took the B2C participants through some intense training during 2012. The training she provided covered all facets of operating a business and represented all the same areas the businesses would eventually be judged on as they competed for the prize money.

It was a difficult competition to judge. The scoring of the written business plans and presentations was based on a grading rubric provided by the small business management program at Northeastern, used by Vandenbark.  Laurie Jones, a well-known entrepreneur who is also an adjunct instructor at Northeastern, coordinated the judging portion of the competition, and made certain that all scoring criteria was followed consistently.

Vandenbark explained that the judges used the same criteria regardless whether it was an existing, new business or a start-up. Data from the judges scoring sheets was entered into a master spreadsheet to record the scores and include detailed feedback. It was important to have an independent check on the scoring to ensure fairness and completeness of scoring for each presenter. In the end, a final deliberation among the judges brought forth the top winners.  According to Vandenbark and Jones, this year the deliberations took much longer due to the number of participants  and the need to comprehensively discuss the summary scoring for each presenter.

It was Holy Kurtzer of Haxtun, who has a company called Blue Spruce Painting, who took home the top prize of $10,000. Barbara Lieurance of Wray, who has a new business venture called Colorado Caring Consultants won $6,500; Katie Stone of Fleming, who has been quite successful with a mobile pet grooming business, Pretty Paws Mobile Grooming, was awarded $3,500. Karrie Byam of Julesburg who has developed a booming business out of offering Western tack and other cowboy gear through an internet based consulting/sales platform, took home a $2,500 check and Krissandra Taylor, who opened Gidget’s, a salon in Fleming, also received $2,500.  The judges had a total of $25,000 that they could award, however they felt was appropriate. The winning businesses must put the dollars received back into their business operation as a way to fund something new, or expand something existing.

The judges were provided a hard copy of the entrant’s business plan and then sat through an actual presentation. Among the attributes that the judges were looking for  included the contents of an executive summary, business description and vision for business including a mission state, short term and long term goals, products and services to be offered/planned by the business, including pricing competition. They also wanted information on the organization of the business including such specifics as legal structure and an organization chart. Participants were asked to define their target market and their customer profile and to evaluate their own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threat factors and to even look at the product, price, promotion and place characteristics that would help them define their marketing mix and best strategies. Last but not least, the B2C participants were to discuss their financial management including projections and any existing or historical finance statements, complete with a cash flow projection.

The oral presentations were scored on the use of graphics, charts, creativity, and an   ability for the presenter to provide a thorough, yet concise pitch asking for the grant money while giving enough detail for the judges to understand the business and add to the written business plan.

The competition coordinators  noted that the criteria used by the judges to make the decisions on winners included all of this mentioned criteria plus El Pomar's requirement for community impact.  “This information was all provided in advance to participants,”  Jones points out. “El Pomar gave total discretion to the judges to determine the amount of winners and funding.”  

In addition to the winners in this year’s competition, other participating entrepreneurs this year included: Ashley Severson, Divalicious Workout Studio, Sterling; Heather Cloward, Git R Done Glitters, Merino; James Vallejos, Sterling Digital Service, Sterling; Krystal Fabian, Sterling Pet Palace, Sterling; Sarah Matthews, M & M Custom RC Toys, Sterling; Janelle Lambrecht, Blue Note Music, Sterling; Monica Hunt, J & H Auto, Akron; Lynnsey Lambrecht, Blue Note Music, Sterling; Karrie Lambert, Simple Inspirations, Brush; and Sally Lahm, Red Barn Diesel, Siebert.

All the judges agreed that each presenter was truly unique and collectively, our area economy has great entrepreneurs dedicated to learning new tools and techniques to keep moving their business forward. 
This El Pomar funded competition is expected to continue with a new group of entrepreneurs selected in May of 2013. Anyone wanting more information about applying to be in the B2C program this year may contact Vandenbark at 970-521-6763.

About the winners

Holly Kurtzer of Haxtun officially started Blue Spruce Painting in March of 2012.  Providing an array of services including interior repainting, decorative murals, and modern wall stenciling, Kurtzer provides clients help in updating their homes with a fresh coat throughout or just simply painting an accent wall. Seeing the need for an exterior painter in her area, she plans to expand her company to also offer  this service. Kurtzer plans on using her $10,000 winnings to help purchase a company van to better transport her equipment.

Barbara Lieurance’s  Colorado Caring Consultants, LLC, headquartered in Wray, now in its first year,  was born over a cup of coffee shared by three registered nurses with extensive experience working with the elderly and disabled.  Having seen first -hand the gaps in healthcare coverage and services for this large and fast growing population, this company is providing registered nurse case management for medication management, chronic illness management, assist with physician appointments and implementing the new orders, preventive  and other education and basic head to toe assessment and coordination with physicians.  This start-up company also provides companions and certified nursing assistants to provide the personal care the clients need at an affordable cost.  The service is available throughout Eastern Colorado and far Western Nebraska.  Lieurance won $6,500.

Katie Stone of Fleming started Pretty Paws Mobile Grooming knowing that when  the groomer comes to the pet it allows owners to go about their daily routine, saving time and alleviating stress.  For a pet, a trip to an unfamiliar place and kenneling during the grooming process is stressful.  A personal visit makes grooming more of a positive experience for the pet and owner. Stone has been a licensed groomer for the past seven years, but only opened her own business recently. Stone received $3,500.

Karrie Byam of Julesburg started a company, DallyUp.com in 2010, first as an Internet based business which brought the home town tack and Western store to your door—or computer screen. Offering a good array of inventory, she first started selling to friends and colleagues who are horse enthusiasts just like she is. Eventually friends started inquiring about also helping sell the products and she opened a “consultant” opportunity whereby these friends may also earn money, receiving a commission when they sell the Dally Up products, in person or online. The company has grown so rapidly, that Byam has now put in a bricks and mortar business that houses the popular inventory here in northeastern Colorado, making it possible to fill the orders sold by the “consultants”, many now located all over the country.  Byam received $2,500 in prize money.

Krissandra Taylor, owner of Gidget’s Salon in Fleming, has been in business for a while now, but has recently revamps some of her business strategy and focus. She currently offers product lines from shampoos, hair sprays and make-up which are gluten and sulfate free, has an all organic baby line of products manufactured locally, as well as a line of products for cancer and thyroid patients.  These are in addition to her styling, coloring, make-overs, waxing and tanning offered at her salon.  She will be adding massage therapy to her salon soon and also recently partnered with Misara Photography in Fleming to offer styling make-overs and enhancements for photo- shoots specializing in family, wedding party and boudoir photos. Taylor received $2,500 in prize money.

About this year’s judges

While the business development training provided by the Business to College (B2C) program is delivered over an 11 month period by Northeastern’s seasoned small business instructor Cyndi Vandenbark, in the end it is ultimately a panel of qualified judges who decide the top winners. Judging this year’s B2C competition was a panel of six judges from this area, all bringing to the table some specific qualifications and general knowledge related to business start-up planning. The judging panel consisted of these individuals.

Justin Coughlin, a program associated with El Pomar Foundation, a native of Yuma and 2013 graduate of the University of Denver with a bachelor’s degree in finance.

Loretta K. Davidson, an experienced  banking and finance professional, currently the market president and commercial lender  for a major finance institution here in northeastern Colorado. She holds a master’s degree in information system and a bachelor’s in business administration from regis University. She also attended the Colorado Graduate School of Banking.

Maggie Hanna, also a program associate with the El Pomar Foundation, attended Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas and graduated in May with a bachelor of art degree in history and urban studies: urban environment. She studied abroad in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Jessica McArthur of Sterling had a depth and breadth of financial expertise to offer this area of Colorado.  A native Coloradan she was an honors graduate from the University of Denver, majoring in finance with additional focus on marketing.  Her career opened with a pair of firms that specialized in consulting with institutional money managers handling the sales and marketing strategies utilized in their financial management operations.  Following marriage to an executive at a local farm implement company, she added agricultural tax accounting experience to her portfolio while living in nearby Burlington. McArthur currently oversees accounting management for two, large family farm businesses.

Erin Waitley is a lifelong resident of Northeast Colorado and is the manager of the CSU Northeast Regional Engagement Center.  Prior to working at the Center, she taught GED, computer information systems and developed the Small Business Management program that is offered to inmates at the Sterling Correctional Facility.  She also worked as a financial aid advisor at Northeastern Junior College as well as being a multi-line insurance agent for American National Insurance specializing in commercial and agricultural insurance.  

Denise Schaefer is the co-owner of Schaefer’s Precision Body & Frame, Inc. in Sterling. She has  experience in business planning, marketing, management, and finance. Day to day operations involve accounting practices and procedures, insurance and customer relations, and the handling of personnel issues. She holds a bachelor’s of art in psychology, an master’s of science in human services with a specialization in professional counseling, and is a private registered psychotherapist in the state of Colorado. Denise is able to successfully merge work experience with education to serve in numerous roles within Fleming, Haxtun, and Sterling communities, schools, and organizations.