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The Denver Metro Small Business Development Center
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Pikes Peak SBDC

Sky Blue Builders

When Mowa Haile set out to build a business with a couple of friends, they agreed on one fundamental principle: customer service.

“The opportunity to be customer focused is what motivates us and differentiates us,” said Mowa, President of minority-owned Sky Blue Builders, LLC. “As consumers, we see the mistakes that big companies make – and we want to change that. Everything we do, we consider it from the perspective of the customer. If it doesn’t bring value or positively impact the customer, it’s a waste of time.”

Founded in 2007, SBB is a general contractor and construction management firm specializing in commercial renovation, land development and infrastructure, and general repair and maintenance for commercial and government entities. SBB services run the gamut – from erosion control and concrete asphalt paving to removal and demolition.

“We operate from a team approach,” explained Mowa, who ascribes to the Six Sigma and Lean business methodologies, as well as the Kaizen philosophy of continuous process improvement. “When we offer a customer our commitment to quality, pricing and a schedule, we stick to it. We don’t provide an estimate and then charge a lot more – we make sure our pricing is accurate up front.”

In 2009, SBB booked $175K. Remarkably, in the first quarter of 2010, the firm grew to five full-time employees and grossed $750K.

Sky Blue Builders now has about 50 employees and produced over $15 million in revenue for 2015. They continue to be a leader in the industry – committed to performing with integrity, quality and commitment.

Since Mowa started working with the SBDC, he has seen steady growth of SBB, continues to give back to the community and sits on the DMCC board of directors.

Ristole

“Moving to Denver set me on a trajectory that changed the course of my life.” For Ristole CEO Jackie Adams, a woman whose life has already taken many turns, that’s saying something.

Starting her career in computer programming, she quickly found the hours behind a computer screen tedious. She then applied for and was accepted to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tanzania, where she taught high school math in Swahili. After returning to the U.S., she began working as a corporate technical trainer.

At one international medical equipment manufacturer, she was the first woman to be hired for that position in their 100-plus year history and taught a department with 800 men and four women. It was during that time that Adams realized there is something wrong with the way employees are trained – specifically engineers and technicians.

“Employee training sucks,” Adams deadpans. “Everyone dreads falling victim to ‘Death by PowerPoint.'”

Frustrated by the limited change she could enact within a corporate structure, Adams quit her job and embarked on a one-year sabbatical. During this time, she helped co-found and launch a scholarship program at her alma mater, Case Western Reserve University, which awards students who give TED-style talks on the experience of minority groups in STEM fields.

At the completion of her sabbatical, Adams moved to Denver where she started her own technical training company.

“I knew I was an inexperienced business owner who had a lot to learn, so I just went to everything!” Adams said. She began regularly attending the consulting sessions offered by the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

“Through the SBDC, I’ve met with consultants in various realms of expertise. They’ve helped me create a business plan, develop content for my website and marketing my company,” says Adams. “I can honestly say my business wouldn’t be where it is today without the SBDC’s assistance.”

She has also joined the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce to take advantage of networking opportunities.

Her company, Ristole, was accepted into prestigious local programs including the Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s “Leading Edge for International Opportunities” and Rockies Venture Club’s Hyper-Accelerate. During this time, Adams “was named among the Denver Business Journal’s Outstanding Women in Business” and received the Institute of Electrical and Electronic’s (IEEE’s) Outstanding Engineering Educator Award.

At the end of September, Ristole celebrated its one-year anniversary. Adams expressed the debt she owes to the supportive entrepreneur community in the Denver metro area for her company’s success: “This city has given me the opportunity to empower myself as an entrepreneur. I’m grateful to all the organizations and resources this city has made available to people like me, as well as the countless small business owners and industry leaders who have gone out of their way to take me underwing during this past year.”

Paleo Meals To Go

A few years ago, Ty Soukup went on his first multi-day backpacking trip around the Maroon Bells 14ers in Colorado. But, his biggest challenge wasn’t the terrain – it was figuring out what to eat.

He couldn’t find any backpacking meal options that would fit with his Paleo diet. “I thought to myself, why isn’t someone making a backpacker meal that appeals to folks on alternative diets?” Soukup recalled. “It was in that moment that I pledged to do something about this for all others like me.”

A few months later, and after some market research, he launched Paleo Meals To Go with his mom, Dawn Anderson.

Soukup and Anderson began engaging in the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce in 2014 to get their business going. Then, just three years later sold Paleo Meals To Go in December to Wild Zora Foods.

Their business got the jump start it needed after winning both the Peoples’ and Judges’ Choice awards at the Trout Tank Food Frenzy: Pitch Event.

“Winning Trout Tank gave our company a lot of good exposure to investors and boosted our confidence as a company,” Anderson said. “It also helped us establish the content for subsequent pitches we needed to make.”

Quickly following Trout Tank, Anderson enrolled in Leading Edge for Entrepreneurs. She won the class business plan competition and moved onto a state competition hosted by the statewide SBDC network. Along with building a strong business plan, Anderson developed relationships with entrepreneurs in the course.

“I enjoyed the camaraderie of visiting with other business owners who had the same struggles and who could offer helpful suggestions,” Anderson said.

While learning the technical concepts about running a business – from supply chain to cash flow statements – she also gained value through the “soft” information the facilitator provided. Anderson learned about balancing work and home life, how to de-stress, take care of herself and keep things in perspective: “Owning a business is a tough job and it can be very rewarding. But there must be a balance so we can continue to live, grow, love and share our lives with our families and friends.”

Since the sale, Anderson is working with them to ensure a smooth transition, learning about mergers and acquisitions, transitioning and all that comes with the process. “That’s what it’s all about – continuing to learn and grow,” Anderson advises.

Trout Tank and Leading Edge programs are both run three times a year at the Chamber and Denver Metro SBDC. Check out our calendar for upcoming programs!

Open Road Snacks

In January of 2007, Karen and Tim Bradley were looking for an opportunity to combine Tim’s expertise in consumer packaged goods, finance and operations with Karen’s background in graphic design, marketing and sales. That’s when they acquired Rocky Mountain Popcorn Company.

“We work really well together and we wanted to use both sides of our collective brain,” Karen said. “With our experience in brand management, we recognized that, while Rocky Mountain Popcorn was proven in the market, we could brand it as ours.”

The entrepreneurial duo researched trends and found that Americans craved healthy snack options. Indeed, there’s no corn syrup or anything partially hydrogenated in the company’s whole grain popcorn that comes in a variety of sizes and natural flavors that include white cheddar, caramel, jalapeño, red chili, butter and ‘naked.’

The Centennial-based company distributes nationally to grocery stores and convenience stores like King Soopers, City Market, Loaf ‘N Jug, Circle K and Conoco.

“To be successful, you have to think strategically and be persistent,” said Karen. “In part, that means knowing where to turn for guidance, to fill the gaps that fall outside your area of expertise.”

“The Denver Metro Small Business Development Center counseled me and provided me all the tools I needed to develop a business plan – something I’d never done before. About once a month for a year, she helped me get it right the first time,” said Karen.

The Bradleys’ unwavering focus and strategic thinking is paying off. Today, Rocky Mountain Popcorn is a brand of Open Road Snacks™, a respected company known for creating good-for-you, high-quality, naturally delicious snacks. From Rocky Mountain Popcorn® to Poplets® and Diego’s Chips™, Open Road Snacks™ strives to make the snack world a happier place.

My Identity Doctor

What was the inspiration behind starting your business?

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.

What has been the biggest challenge in running My Identity Doctor™ so far?

  1. Obtaining agreements with big box companies to offer our medical jewelry in store.
  2. Online product management fluency across online platforms.
  3. Product development for new designs, items and suppliers for custom manufacturing and in-store product display.

What major successes has My Identity Doctor™ had since working with the SBDC?

My Identity Doctor™ has had tremendous success working with the SBDC and is has been a vital part of our success and would recommend it to every business owner new and old. Since we started working with the SBDC, our annual gross sales have increased 288%.

We have expanded beyond the U.S.A. to exporting our medical jewelry to the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, France and Germany. Working with the SBDC helped us strategically plan for this kind of growth to avoid hurdles and pitfalls.

How did the SBDC help shape your businesses’ pathway to success?

Utilizing the SBDC business planning program (Leading Edge for Entrepreneurs) will greatly increase an entrepreneur’s chance for success. I started My Identity Doctor™ without knowing a proper format for a business plan. This caused lost time, effort and various stumbling blocks that could have been avoided. You would never plan a road trip without a map, and a business road map is exactly what Leading Edge will give you.

Once getting started in the programs, you can network with their consultants. Counseling with the SBDC is unbelievable. Each consultant has an extensive amount of experience, is friendly and very knowledgeable. Jim Olp is one of the smartest business consultants that I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I make it a goal to discuss various matters with him frequently throughout the year.

What advice would you give to other small business clients?

Grab a note pad, and never stop making notes every day. Be a proactive business owner for anything you might anticipate. Take researched and educated risks, and be willing to accept change – just go with it.

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