Andrew Dayish is 20 years old and he can already claim the title of chief executive officer emeritus. Now a college student at Utah State University, Dayish helped start Lickity Split Chocolate, a company created, owned and managed by youths in Blanding Utah. The 7-year-old chocolate-making business now has 15 youth employees and was voted Utahs Best Indigenous Businesses in 2008.
Though many years their junior, Dayish effortlessly joined more than 72 presenters at the Colorado Entrepreneurship Marketplace in Pagosa Springs on Friday and Saturday. The event was designed to help new and seasoned entrepreneurs improve their business and included a special track for young entrepreneurs.
Now in its fourth year, this is the first time the marketplace has been held in Southwest Colorado, said Michelle Alcott, the business manager for the Colorado Rural Development Council, which puts on the event.
This years marketplace drew more than 250 participants to Pagosa Springs High School. Students and teachers were given an in-service day to accommodate the event.
The young entrepreneurs track was an important way to get young people involved in business, which is vital for economic development in the community, said Mary Jo Coulehan, the executive director of the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce.
For a community to grow it always needs new ideas, and youth are part of that, Coulehan said.
Encouraging young people to get involved in business development also secures a future for small, rural communities that struggle to retain teenagers after they graduate from high school, Dayish said.
If you teach children and teens about business and commerce, they will have the skills to become successful business owners in their community and help the community grow, he said.
For every kid Lickity Split helps, wed like to think were contributing to the success of San Juan County (Utah), he said. The business is also a way to engage young people and generate revenue within the county, which is one of the poorest in the nation, he said.
Besides the young entrepreneurship track, other focuses of the conference were technology, finance and marketing. The Pagosa Springs committee in charge of planning the event also tried to focus presentations on topics of local interest such as business opportunities around organic and sustainable agriculture and renewable energy, Coulehan said.
Another presentation addressed how businesses can make donations without sacrificing their bottom line.
That issue is especially pressing for businesses in small communities, said Kathy Keyes, co-owner of Pagosa Baking Co.
When youre embedded in a small community, everyone feels connected to you in some way or another, Keyes said, and that raises the expectation for the business owner to say yes to everyone asking for a donation.
The three panelists encouraged business owners to set causes and budget parameters for their giving, as well as make a form for donation requests. Giving away products or services at big events also can be an opportunity for strategic marketing, they said.
In between the panels and presentations, Coulehan said she hoped the event was giving people from around the state an opportunity to network. In rural Colorado, chances to make those face-to-face connections dont happen often, she said.