Trout Tank Participants Week 3

Thursday, March 24, 2016

DirtTRI, Flipside Pillow and Luv Byrd are three of the businesses participating in Trout Tank Spring 2016. Read more about the companies themselves, and why they were started here.


My Identity Doctor™

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"I was inspired to start My Identity Doctor™ not to become rich, but because I believe if you truly care about customers, the quality of your product and believe in yourself, the money will come naturally in conjunction with the right business plan.  No other company that employs me can pay me enough for the self-gratification of putting in a hard days’ work and at the end of the day say it is mine and to make it a success." 

Click here to read the full blog

Trout Tank Participants: Week 1

Monday, March 07, 2016

Backyard Soda Co, Kushi-riki and EverLeash are three of the businesses participating in Trout Tank Spring 2016. Read more about the companies themselves, and why they were started here

Businesses Build Strategy, Students Gain Experience

Friday, March 04, 2016

Blue Grimes, founder and president of Out of the Blue Screen Printing, loves hearing new ideas for how to improve his business. And he has received them from business students for over five years through the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) Strategic Business Analysis.

Grimes is in the process of executing new marketing strategies in social media and on the company’s website that he hopes will ultimately boost sales and drive new business. Many of the changes he is preparing to implement are in response to the feedback he received from the students at Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver), which provides the student-driven manpower of the SBDC’s Strategic Business Analysis.

*Click here to read the full article.


Spinelli's Sauce Co. cooks up King Soopers deal

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Spinelli's Sauce Co., known for its pasta sauce, recently expanded into salad dressings. Photos by Burl Rolett.

Spinelli’s Sauce Co., known for its pasta sauce, recently expanded into salad dressings. Photos by Burl Rolett.

A local spaghetti sauce maker is pushing into the supermarket refrigerator section.

Spinelli’s Sauce Co., which sells pasta sauces in about 300 western grocery stores, is working a deal to put a line of salad dressings in 145 Rocky Mountain King Soopers and City Markets. It’s a big step up from the 15 or so specialty grocery stores where Spinelli’s dressings are currently for sale.

“We have a pretty proven growth pattern with the sauces, so you would think to just put money toward continuing to grow those,” Spinelli’s owner Chris Rogers said. “But Kroger asked us about the dressings – I guess they saw them in Whole Foods – and approached us. And I thought, why aren’t we pushing our dressings as well?”

Chris Rogers makes a pitch to potential investors.

Chris Rogers makes a pitch to potential investors.

Rogers said she hopes to have the dressings in King Soopers fridges by the end of the summer, about eight years after her sauce company first launched out of Spinelli’s Market in Park Hill. Rogers worked as a chef at Spinelli’s Market when it began bottling pasta sauces in 2007. She is now the majority owner of Spinelli’s Sauce Co., but does not own the market itself.

Spinelli’s began bottling three salad dressings a year ago, Rogers said. Since then, she’s put the brand’s Caesar, gorgonzola and balsamic flavors in 11 Whole Foods and two Marcyzk’s Fine Foods locations.

As Spinelli’s ramps up its dressing business to about 160 total stores, Rogers is looking for outside investment to help fuel the company’s growth. She recently pitched to 30 potential investors at a Denver Metro Small Business Development Center event, Trout Tank, looking for $150,000 in exchange for a stake in the company.

The sauce company got started at Spinelli's Market at 4621 E. 23rd Ave.

The sauce company got started at Spinelli’s Market at 4621 E. 23rd Ave.

It’s cash she plans to use for in-store demonstrations, product development and working capital.

“At this point, it’s just been me running the company, and I have some contract labor I hire for demos and things like that,” Rogers said. “So I’m kind of at capacity trying to maintain the everyday operations being in the stores we’re in.”

Spinelli’s Sauce Co. currently makes the dressings itself at a commercial kitchen.

A Littleton-based co-packer makes the pasta sauce, and Rogers said she’ll need to find a similar outfit to churn out enough dressings to stock 145 King Soopers stores.

Stocking stores with dressings is tougher than keeping pasta sauce on the shelves, Rogers said. Spinelli’s is still handling deliveries to stores itself. And because the dressings have to stay refrigerated, Rogers can’t expand to stores too far from the Denver area.

With the King Soopers deal, Spinelli’s will drop off its dressings at a distribution center, and the grocer will take them from there.

King Soopers currently sells Spinelli's sauce for about $6 or $7.

King Soopers currently sells Spinelli’s sauce for about $6 or $7.

Rogers estimated Spinelli’s would sell about 132,000 bottles of sauces and dressings in 2015. The company did about $335,000 in total revenue last year, Rogers said at last week’s SBDC pitch.

The company makes about 20 percent profit margins on dressings, she said, compared to about 15 percent on pasta sauces.

Right now the pasta sauce line includes Spinelli’s Classic Marinara, Creamy Tomato Vodka, Roasted Garlic Fra Diavolo and Puttanesca di Napoli sauces. Spinelli’s sauces are in more than 300 stores stretching from Wyoming to Texas and Kansas to Nevada.

In the coming years, Rogers said she hopes to double sales at the stores she stocks currently, open in new regions and begin selling the sauces and dressings to restaurants. A chef by trade, Rogers is also working on getting new recipes to market.

“I have a great alfredo and a really great pizza sauce and some new flavors of dressing,” Rogers said. “Again, I need to sort of be able to put my energy there to get those products out.”

Burl Rolett is a BusinessDen reporter who covers commercial real estate and the business of sports. He is a graduate of Washington and Lee University. Email him at

Original article from Business Den: 

Your Summer Reader: 7 Books for Better Business

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Over nearly five years I’ve had the opportunity to consult and teach 100s of entrepreneurs and small business owners. In that time I’ve discovered two things. First, most of us (including me) were taught to be employees, not small business owners or entrepreneurs. And second, successful entrepreneurs and small business owners realize “they don’t know” and begin a continuous learning journey.

Incorporating new learning into our daily busy lives is difficult. One way to do it is to learn from others through books. The learning process needs to challenge you, take you out of your comfort zone and enhance your discovery process.

Here are some books to consider to add to your entrepreneurial library:


Choose Yourself by James Altucher

This is not your standard business book. This book is packed with the advice and inspiration every entrepreneur needs to build themselves and their core practices to face the challenges of the entrepreneurial lifestyle.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

This books has withstood the “sands of time.” Although it was first published in 1936, it remains a best-seller today. Carnegie’s main premise is that “the person who has the technical knowledge plus to ability to express ideas, to assume leadership and to arouse enthusiasm among people—that person is headed for higher earning power.”


Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur

This book reimagines how we think about business design. It provides a new framework (the “Business Model Canvas”) about how businesses create and capture value by integrating the components of a business structure, such as customers, distribution channels, partners, revenue streams, costs, key resources and the business’s core value proposition.


Influence by Robert B. Cialdini

This book explains the psychology of marketing and persuasion, which you can learn for using yourself or for defending yourself against.


The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

the journey. Horowitz’ book is filled with practical wisdom from the author, including the near failure of his own company.


True North by Bill George with Peter Sims

Finding your True North is critical in both our personal and professional life. This book helps you discover your personal leadership vision, values and motivations. The authors interviewed 125 men and women on what they believe has made them authentic leaders. There is also a personal leadership development portfolio handbook that accompanies the book, which is a personal guide to help you develop your own authentic leadership.


Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand In the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

This book is written by the President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. This book is designed to look into what creates, drives and sustains an innovative culture.


Is your list of summer reads growing? Share with us your business reading essentials.

Nancy Barnett is the CEO and co-founder of eL3, LLC and a business consultant for the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center.

[Photo by Josué Goge]

Taking the Lead: Tips On Making Your Business Take Off

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In business, the sky is the limit for Big Sky Aerial Technology—literally. This start-up company captures high-resolution aerial images for use in precision agriculture, allowing farmers to analyze the health of their crops.
Big Sky Aerial Technology founders Ron Lester and Jerred Lane.

Big Sky Aerial Technology founders Ron Lester and Jerred Lane.

Founded this year by Ron Lester and Jerred Lane, the idea to launch Big Sky Aerial Technology was inspired by the years Lester and Lane spent working with land and air-based remote sensing technologies in the Middle East.

“With some of the most amazing technologies being implemented for war, we wanted to take some of what we learned and work with it here at home,” Lester said.

But as the two started working on the business, they quickly realized that while they had plenty of experience on the technical side, they would need some help on the business side. That’s when they turned to Chamber affiliate the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center, where they enrolled in its LEADING EDGE business planning course.

We asked Lester and Lane what they’ve taken away from the course to start their business:

1. Moving from dream to reality is not an easy task.
Most entrepreneurs discover that the journey is not straight and sure; it’s more like a roller
coaster ride. “We can honestly say that in starting a business, we were lost in all the business formalities,” Lester said. While Lane and Lester have over 35 years of combined experience in aviation and engineering, when it came to actually starting the business and writing a business plan Lane says, “We had a long ways to go.”

An example of the infrared images taken by Big Sky Aerial Technology to determine the health of crops.

An example of the infrared images taken by Big Sky Aerial Technology to determine the health of crops.

2. It’s more than just having a great product.

“You have to have a solid product that you understand and is in demand within your market range,” Lane said. LEADING EDGE Instructor Nancy Barnett, who also owns small business training firm eL3, adds, “It is necessary to identify what is happening in your market and understand how it is influencing both your customer and your offer.” For Big Sky Aerial Technology, Lester and Lane are confident
there is a demand for their product—which will both save the farmer money and reduce the amount of unnecessary chemicals sprayed onto soils. Currently only 5 percent of farmers use this type of technology, and interest in precision farming is continuing to build among the agriculture community. “Our customer base is out there,” Lane said. “[They’re] just waiting to have a system like ours that delivers a worldclass product.”

3. A solid business plan is a must.
Some businesses are able to bootstrap, while others require outside funding. “Either way, it’s important to have a well-thought-out strategy to execute,” Barnett says. Lane and Lester are in the process of laying out a well-defined business approach so they can “build a longterm sustainable business with a successful future,” Lester said. “While we are still encountering challenges along the way, with the help of the Denver SBDC we are able to overcome unexpected obstacles and continue on towards our goal of Big Sky Aerial Technology being a leader in the remote sensing industry.”

4. Just because you have a great idea, don’t expect banks to just give you money.
When you apply for a loan, lenders asses your credit risk based on the “5 Cs”—credit history, capacity, collateral, capital and conditions. Now that their business plan is complete, Lane and Lester are gearing up to talk to lenders, pitch at the Denver Metro SBDC’s Trout Tank, a triannual pitch event (the next is June 9), and get funded. “Once that happens, the sky is the limit,” Lester said.

5. Be ready to pivot. More than once.
“Just because you think you may have it down, start with an open mind and be dynamic, ready to tackle roadblocks that are sure to arise,” Lane said. Barnett adds, “Instead of changing your vision, which is more risky, you can pivot each component of your business model based on learning about your customers, the technology or the environment.” Eventually Lester and Lane hope to expand their company’s offerings to providing more imagery and sensor data with a fleet of aircraft.

While taking the 11-week course, they purchased their first aircraft, fine-tuned their brand and market position and continued working on sensor design and software processing. They plan to start doing business this summer.

“The next few years are going to be very promising for us,” Lane said. “Precision farming is the way of the future and we intend to help it get there.”

Alea Kilgore is the assistant director of the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center.

Capital Concern for Businesses Large and Small

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
At Denver Metro SBDC's Trout Tank, Colorado entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to a panel of lenders.

By Sara Crocker, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce

With record new business filings and consistent rankings as one of the top five most innovative and entrepreneurial states in the country, all eyes are on Colorado as a hub for start-ups.

“We’ve created, I think, the deserved reputation for being a great place for the creative class—entrepreneurial, innovation-oriented, well-qualified individual—to go out and have a life,” says
JB Holston, the executive director of the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network. “Not just a career but a life.”

And while that designation is driving a true migration to the Front Range, what’s less discussed is where the money to launch these new ideas comes from. While Silicon Valley’s venture capitalists and the East Coast’s long-endowed family funds carry near-legendary status, Coloradans are taking matters into their own hands.

Getting Started

For most entrepreneurs, the dollars and cents can be the most challenging part of getting a business off the ground.

Kata tents from Under the Sky Event Rental

Kata tents from Under the Sky Event Rental

The idea to launch Under the Sky Event Rental came to Rebecca Anderson when she told her seatmate on a flight to Denver about her wedding. She and husband Patrick had their intimate wedding under katas—Nordic tents that resemble Native American tepees. But, she had only seen them rented in her native United Kingdom.

“That planted the seed,” she said.

Back in the U.K., there are roughly 30 kata rental companies, up from just seven in 2007. When she inquired about distributing, she found out her company would be the first in the U.S.

“They’re just perfect for Colorado,” Anderson said. “They match the outdoor beauty.”

The Andersons decided they’d need help getting started. And, they’d be on a tight timeline in order to start renting the tents at the start of this year’s wedding season. They turned to theDenver Metro Small Business Development Center (Denver SBDC), an affiliate of the Chamber.

“I thought if we were going to look into it we should write a business plan and see whether it was viable and give ourselves an instructor and some support,” Anderson said.

They got on track with Leading Edge, where they wrote their plan, and Loan Request Preview—a companion program led by Denver SBDC consultant Dale Clack that introduces a business and its owners to a large number of lenders. To date, the program has led to $2.1 million in loans awarded.

“I wasn’t positive we were going to get lending,” Anderson admitted. “I felt like it was kind of a longshot.”

They were floored when they heard back from four lenders right away. Now, their tents are en route to Colorado, which will be their first market. They hope to expand to other areas in the next two to three years. Anderson says they wouldn’t be where they are today without the Denver SBDC.

“It made us accountable,” she said. “The consultants are a resource that I think every small business should know about.”

Scaling Up

It’s not just start-ups that need a hand.

Gazelles, those companies that are on pace to grow by at least 20 percent over four years or more, are also getting support to ensure they become the region’s next big employers.

“In Colorado there’s a terrific innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem, including a lot of support for early-stage start-ups. But, there’s a lot less support and focus on scaling up some of these companies that have gotten to the point where they’ve got really big, interesting prospects,” said Holston, whose Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network (BEN) helps Colorado’s gazelle companies grow.

BEN is focused on aerospace, energy, health, natural foods and products and technology companies—areas where Colorado has perennially been competitive.

While Holston loves the entrepreneurial spirit here, he cautions that “if we don’t have some of these (companies) become really big employers down the line, we’re going to have a real imbalance in the ecosystem, particularly with the influx of Millennials and a general influx of highly talented, highly qualified folks looking to build their careers here on the Front Range.”

Once a company is selected to join the network, they focus on creating connections to help the company move past any barriers to growth.

While capital can be part of the conversation, “in most cases capital is not the constraint,” Holston said.

But, by creating a peer network, they’re building local resources. Recently, Zayo Group—a Boulder-based telecom company that went public in October—offered a master class with its CFO Ken desGarennes on preparing and launching an initial public offering.

Colorado ranks fourth in the nation for IPOs, based on the number and value of IPOs as a share of total worker earnings, and it’s helping these companies grow.

“We now have a local CFO who can say, ‘I’ve been there, I’ve done it, let me show you what it is that you need to know,’” Holston said.

Be Pitch Perfect

At Denver Metro SBDC's Trout Tank, Colorado entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to a panel of lenders.

At Denver Metro SBDC’s Trout Tank, Colorado entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to a panel of lenders.

What’s key for any business looking to raise capital is to have a well-balanced pitch, said Rockies Venture Club Executive Director Peter Adams.

“There is no template really,” he said. “You’re telling a story and every pitch should be unique.”

The most common pitfall he’s seen in the angel and venture capital world is too much of a focus on the what, not the why: “They talk about their product the entire time and they forget they’re selling equity in their company.”

While Rockies Venture Club has connected entrepreneurs with investors since 1985—it’s the longest-running angel investment group in the country—Adams says there’s more that can be done to invigorate investment here. He notes that while there are some 16,000 angel investors along the Front Range, only about 1,000 are actively investing.

“We need a better way to motivate the inactive angels,” he said.

With more focus on education for investors and events to make more connections, he thinks they’ll see more interest.

When it comes to funding, those connections often prove invaluable, from start-up to scale-up to going public.

Creating that strong network of business leaders and creating a tie to the community is important, Holston said: “The more companies are embraced in the community, the more likely they are to grow here because they’re just that much more connected.”

Kick-Start Raising Capital

Denver Capital Matrix – As a small business or entrepreneur, use Denver’s resource directory of funding sources.

Loan Request Preview – This Denver Metro SBDCs program facilitates the process of finding a loan
by connecting business owners with lenders.

Pulse – This free online financial management tool, powered by BodeTree, connects business owners to
financing resources.

Funding Options Panel – The Denver Metro SBDC’s triannual workshop panel introduces business
owners to different types of funding options. Join them for the next panel on March 19.

Trout Tank – The Denver Metro SBDC’s triannual event gives business owners the opportunity to pitch to the lending community. Share your next big idea June 9.

Colorado Crowdfunding – In this Meetup group members can learn more about types of crowdfunding and how to successfully launch campaigns.

Sara Crocker is the communications manager for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Generation Entrepreneur: Does Your Birthday Impact Your Business?

Wednesday, February 04, 2015
Generation Entrepreneur

What drives entrepreneurs? More importantly, does that drive change if you’re a Baby Boomer, a Gen Xer or a Millennial?

As the SBDC and Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce gear up for State of Small Business: Generation Entrepreneur on Feb. 18, we begin to consider what dr ives entrepreneurs across different generations. With the help of Millennial and Love Grown Foods founder Maddy D’Amato, Gen Xer, CTO and NIMBL co-founder Michael Pytel and Boomer and Dazbog Coffee President and COO Leo Yuffa, we’re bound to hear about generational differences and find some common ground in how each entrepreneur approaches launching and running a business.

Before we hear their stories at State of Small Business, here’s a primer on each generation and how they work.


Millennials: Generation Entrepreneur?

Who they are: Born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, this generation is famous
for social startups like Facebook. Millennial entrepreneurs describe themselves as creative, confident and positive.

Why they stand out: Being tech savvy and coming of age in a global economy makes them highly mobile and interested in flexible work hours. They also value working for fulfillment and purpose over pay.

How they’ll change our economy: Twenty-five percent of millennials currently earn at least a part of their income from a business they own or have stake in. This generation has the greatest interest in entrepreneurialism, with 46 percent interested in starting a small business, compared to 34 percent of Gen Xers and 17 percent of Baby Boomers. By 2025, they’ll make up as much as 75 percent of the global workforce. They also tend to be more optimistic about the economy and anticipate
economic growth within the next year, but they are worried about how economic issues will impact their business.

Generation X: An Independent Streak

Who they are: Born from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, this independent generation has
been saving up for the opportunity to break away from corporate America to start their own businesses.

Why they stand out: This group views themselves as hardworking, dedicated, independent and creative. That independence, coupled by distrust in big business after two recessions, motivates their entrepreneurialism. They have solid work experience and have taken time to learn a trade or industry. Most think through their business plan prior to executing and use their own capital from savings.

How they’ll change our economy: Thirty-four percent of Gen Xers are interested in starting and running a small business, according to Independent Community Bankers of America. They’re also most likely to target new industries and customers in the next year.

Baby Boomers: The Face of Small Business?

Who they are: Born between 1946 and 1964, this dedicated and hardworking generation values and rewards loyalty.

Why they stand out: Boomers make up the largest percentage of business owners in the U.S.—nearly 51 percent. With the “longevity bonus,” they’re living longer, more active lives and they are interested in continuing to work. They also are able to leverage their expertise, broad networks and savings to start a business.

How they’ll change our economy: The share of business owners in this generation has been increasing over the last few years. Today people over 55 are almost twice as likely to create successful start-ups as those ages 20 to 34. However, fewer existing business owners in this generation have plans for growth.

Optimistic Millennials, independent Gen-Xers and hard-working Baby Boomers may operate and think differently, but these entrepreneurs are all working toward a common goal: creating jobs and wealth. Hear more about how each generation is shaping entrepreneurialism at State of Small Business on Feb. 18.

Alea Kilgore is the manager for the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center.

Introducing Pulse, Powered by BodeTree

Sunday, September 14, 2014

BodeTree, an online service that helps small business owners better understand their finances, has partnered with the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to provide an online platform specifically built for greater small business success. The platform, named “Pulse,” is built to further grow and support consulting and development efforts already in place with the Small Business Development Center to ensure that Colorado continues to remain a top state for small business growth. With the platform coming online, more than 16,000 Colorado small businesses can now utilize Pulse to help drive greater business success.

“The creation of Pulse is allowing us to continue down the path of enhanced technology offerings for small business owners. This tool is meant for the busy entrepreneur who doesn’t have time to sit down every week with one of our consultants, but does have intentions on making decisions based on fact, not on hope,” said Abram Sloss, executive director for the Denver Metro SBDC. “There are SBDCs across the country offering services to small businesses today. We feel with Pulse we’re at the forefront of technology and bringing a truly innovative approach to providing greater services and capabilities to Colorado small businesses.”

“The launch of the Pulse platform in Colorado really builds upon our mission at BodeTree to empower small business owners with a big picture understanding of their financials and help them make the right decisions for growth and success,” said JT Archer, chief operating officer at BodeTree. “We’re big believers that coupling the capabilities of the SBDC with a platform built for success will ensure Colorado remains at the top of the nation for small business growth and success.”

“RTL Networks has found that Pulse is an excellent tool for our company, but we never would have found it, were it not for the Denver Metro SBDC,” said CEO Richard Lewis. “We at RTL appreciate the assistance the SBDC provides to so many small businesses and the connections to wonderful technology applications like Pulse.”

To learn more about Pulse, visit

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