Month: February 2019

Bookcliff Vinyards

“We like drinking wine!” was the simple and honest reason that Ulla Merz and her husband John Garlich decided to open a winery and vineyard. “We started collecting wine in the 1970’s and grew grapes in our backyard. In 1994 we took grape growing and wine making classes and bought a vineyard in an area of Palisade called the Vinelands. That’s where we planted our first grapes in 1996. Bookcliff Vineyards was launched in 1999 in Boulder.

For almost ten years, Ulla and John built the business in four separate locations – the vineyard in Palisade, and in Boulder — the actual wine making process, a separate taste testing space for customers as well as a storage room. They have since consolidated the latter three into one area on the north edge of Boulder. In 2011, Ulla knew it was time to quit her full time job and give the winery her full attention.

In the beginning stages Ulla, sought the help of the SBDC where she took the Leading Edge Entrepreneurship Series, along with various financial and marketing workshops. Coming from the mindset of an engineer the wine making was the easy part, according to Ulla. It was the marketing the she couldn’t wrap her brain around. Ulla says the best part about working with the Boulder SBDC is that “Boulder business owners are very open and supportive and the Boulder SBDC really fosters that. I will use their resources again and again. They are either free or inexpensive; the classes are a good use of time and money.”

What’s success? “We get pride from the quality of our wine. We received a gold medal in the Los Angeles International wine competition with a score of 92/100 on the $30 and under wines (the $30 and over wine gold medalist scored 90/100.) This is what motivates us. We do large dinners here at the winery where a Boulder restaurant chef comes in and cooks a beautiful meal and it’s served with our wine. I know I’ve made a small difference in each person’s life who has attended.”

According to Ulla, “We are a good example that anyone can do it. If an engineer can create wine, you can do anything. Follow your dreams.”

Black Swift Technologies

Boulder-based company Black Swift Technologies was founded by three PhD students from the University of Colorado. The three men were inspired to start the company from their work in the field during their studies. At CU, they learned how to chase storms and collect data using old military equipment, which is relatively complicated to use. They set out to simplify the process with unmanned aircraft systems and Black Swift Technologies was born.

Although they are a relatively new company, their team, now consisting of seven engineers, represents over 30 years of experience in complex unmanned aircraft systems. The company takes pride in their modular aircraft system that has been approved and used by NASA.

The Boulder Small Business Development Center had the pleasure of working with President and CEO, Jack Elston, in their Technology Ventures Series in 2016.

“We were a bunch of engineers who started a company, so there was a lot to be learned on the business side,” explained Elston. “We got an idea of what we should be looking at, what we weren’t looking at, and what we missed to get a better understanding of the business aspect. We also got a good network of people we could talk to.”

He found abundant value in the experience and relatability of the consultants and presenters who were brought into the program. “We immediately started chatting about the work we’d done and our frustrations of trying to find money to span the gap between the technology development and getting it to market, and we’ve had a pretty good relationship ever since,” remarked Elston.

The cohort aspect even brought him a valuable business partnership. Another company participating in the program was able to use Black Swift Technologies as a beta tester for one of their projects. Furthermore, Elston was also able to build a strong network of similar companies in the same startup space in the Boulder area.

Since the end of the program, Boulder SBDC has continued the relationship with Black Swift Technologies and has been able to provide consulting on additional business needs that have arisen since the conclusion of the program. Elston’s company is working on bettering their marketing plan based on client research they collected while working with the SBDC and consultants. They are also focusing more on business planning and working on allocating more money towards other areas. “We saw that there was a lot more value for us with focusing on retail. It’s a little too early to tell if that’s the right direction, but we’re excited about the potential,” concluded Elston.

The Boulder Small Business Development Center will be continuing their Technology Ventures Series in the future because of the success of companies like Black Swift Technologies.

Art Parts Creative Reuse Center

The nonprofit world can be difficult to enter, so when Denise Perreault was in the beginning stages of starting her own nonprofit, Art Parts, she looked to the Boulder Small Business Development Center for guidance. The SBDC helped Denise and her co-founders figure out the most crucial aspects of their new business.

“In our four-year founding and planning phase, the most daunting task was setting a realistic budget, as we had no experience there. The free coaching sessions with experienced accountants helped us create and fine-tune our business plan, and shared names of local professionals and nonprofit entities who we could interview for their experience and advice,” said Denise.

Consulting and workshops make up the skeleton of the SBDC’s system, and Denise and her co-founders made sure to utilize the system to its full potential. Consulting offered them one-on-one time with experienced professionals, while the workshops provided a valuable group experience.

“I was always impressed by the passion, commitment, and expertise of the presenters, who broke down big tasks into manageable bites and removed many question marks from our minds. The workshops were often free or at minimal cost, so we felt able to attend before revenue was coming in. Sometimes, just hearing words of sincere encouragement from other female entrepreneurs at these workshops was the impetus we needed to keep plugging away,” remarked Denise.

Art Parts is an art supply shop in Boulder that features recycled industrial and manufacturing materials, like bike gears and fabric scraps. The unique vibe of the store is certainly beneficial for a niche market, which can sometimes make it hard for a business to be successful, but Art Parts thrived with the help of the SBDC.

Denise concluded, “Boulder entrepreneurs are fortunate to have the considerable resources of the SBDC at their disposal. We are so appreciative of the SBDC for helping make Art Parts Creative Reuse Center the popular nonprofit we are today, and we’ll be proud to celebrate our second successful year serving Boulder County’s teachers, students, artists, makers, and the public in May 2017. From the bottom of our arty hearts, thank you so much for everything you do to encourage the success of new Boulder County businesses like us!”

AOW Handmade

Annie Oakley Waterman is an entrepreneur and owner of AOW Handmade. AOW Handmade, founded in 2015, is a unique business that connects artisan enterprisers from all over the developing world to buyers in the United States. Whether it is textiles, silver, brass, paper maché or other materials, Annie seeks out socially responsible producers and helps them to sell their products to the western world. Annie’s favorite places to find her goods are in Mexico and Nepal, but she has loved every place she has been. Annie’s primary focus is sourcing ethically made products.

Like many entrepreneurs, in order to establish her business, Annie found a small niche and worked off of a need. Annie recognized the growing demand for artisan made products, and also that there was no real platform to connect them. There are a lot of companies that work with wholesalers, but Annie saw none working with small-scale producers on a one on one basis. Thus, she decided to seek out unique artisans, and expedite the sourcing process.

Starting AOW was certainly not easy. According to Annie, “I’ve created something that no one has really done before, which is difficult and scary because there is no real business model for it.” Annie first reached out to the Boulder SBDC in April of 2015. She signed up for the Boulder SBDC’s Business Bootcamp workshop, then accessed SBDC consultants. At the time she was struggling with pricing, as she had to cater to the needs of the clients, and thus create unique proposals for each one. According to Annie in regards to the workshop and consulting, “it really helped me with the breakdown of pricing, and how to manage my case by case situation. The consultant was great at offering different ideas, and reminding me that I need different avenues and streams of income. Having a bouncing board to process my ideas with was vital.”

Annie’s biggest challenge has been finding her target market. Annie explained to us, “large retail chains cannot fit me into their business, and it is tricky to find right priced products. My target is medium sized wholesalers.” Although her job is tough, Annie remains ambitious. She explained, “My goal is to get at least one or two retainer clients for stability, but the smaller ones are adding up.”

Annie is currently meeting her goals in regard to capital inflow. She understands that the nature of her business is volatile, as demand is constantly fluctuating, but is taking her challenges in stride. Annie explained, “You never quite know what the projects will be but that’s what keeps them exciting.” It is this inspiring spirit that has helped spur her success.

Annie has also just achieved a consulting position with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for an artisan project helping refugees to gain market access. Annie, and AOW Handmade have a promising future, and the Boulder SBDC is happy to be part of her journey.

Altitude Spirits

In 2004, Matthew Baris and his father conceived of an idea: to start an organic distillery here in Colorado. Colorado is renowned for its variety of large and small local breweries, so they knew they would see some success with a unique idea like theirs. However, neither family member came from an extensive background in business, so they looked to the Boulder Small Business Development Center to help get their idea off the ground.

Matt and his father started working with the SBDC when the concept for their company, Altitude Spirits, was just an idea. “The SBDC helped us to focus on what we needed to put together a business plan that we could reasonably execute,” said Matt.

Matt started his journey at the SBDC with an event geared towards creating successful business plans. He and his father then worked with consultants to gather more knowledge of the industry, come up with marketing strategies, and sort out distribution plans.

“There were so many aspects of starting a business we hadn’t fully considered prior to working with the SBDC, and it was incredibly helpful to gain a comprehensive understanding of the multitude of aspects that must be dealt with and planned for in order to get a new business up and running,” reflected Matt.

The pair continued to attend SBDC events and consulting meetings in the years after the conception of their business. The SBDC not only helped them to start off on the right foot, but continued to help them expand and fine-tune their strategies well after their brick and mortar business was up and running.

Altitude Spirits has since expanded their business dramatically. They continue to thrive in Boulder and distribute nationally and internationally. The SBDC was instrumental for the father and son duo to get their business started and to learn the tools they needed to be successful business owners.

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