Trout Tank Participants: Week 5

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

mcSquaresEasy Floatand Still Company are three of the businesses participating in Trout Tank Spring 2016. Read more about the companies themselves, and why they were started here.

Trout Tank Participants Week 4

Wednesday, March 30, 2016
Union Stitch & Design, My Kids Lunchand Colorado Caliber are three of the businesses participating in Trout Tank Spring 2016. Read more about the companies themselves, and why they were started here.

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.


CopperTops Paperie

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Owner: Jessica Burke and Katie Flanagan

When considering starting her own business, Jessica Burke was given the advice, “do something you completely love, even in the tiny details.” The only thing she felt absolutely certain she loved – tiny details and all – was paper products.

Click here to read the full blog

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

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.

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.

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