This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. By Tom Ross.
Steamboat Springs — Seemingly every office in the new academic center at Colorado Mountain College has a great view of Steamboat Ski Area, and the Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center is no exception.
The message scrawled there on a dry-erase board in one of eight new gleaming offices Wednesday read: “Stop looking at the mountain and get some work done!”
The message was intended to amuse guests at an open house for the new facility. The expectation is that new tenants of the offices will find it to be an ideal environment in which to work hard toward the mission of sprouting and nurturing a new business.
Manager Randy Rudasics said the history of the Entrepreneurship Center has been to give its tenants a mixture of structure and freedom. Some would say the center offers a little dose of tough love. Tenants, who pay a modest rent of $250 for an 80-square-foot office, are required to sit down with a mentor on a quarterly basis during their first year in the center and twice annually in the second year. Soon after the second year, they are apt to move out and fly on their own.
“I don’t think we’re here to nurse people; we’re here to assist them,” Rudasics said. We want them to sit down with a mentor who can make sure they are growing.”
Logan Banning, 17 and a senior at The Lowell Whiteman School, already is a serial entrepreneur and has launched his latest business, Parka, in the Entrepreneurship Center. He has two sewing machines and a colorful pile of hooded sweatshirts in his office.
Banning reimagines the solid-colored hoodies he buys wholesale by using a seam ripper to deconstruct them and then sewing multicolored pieces of different sweatshirts back together. He applies the Parka logo to deliver a hip, young product and is pursuing accounts with local stores.
“I received a $5,000 micro grant from the city of Steamboat Springs,” Banning said, but in order to claim it, he needed to lease an office at the Entrepreneurship Center. “My parents’ house is two doors outside the city. So this is my home base away from home.”
For their rent, tenants get a bright new office with a glass front wall and sliding glass door, metal walls that accommodate the use of magnets for hanging documents, and a built-in dry-erase board. A desk is provided, but they must provide their office chairs. Best of all, they get free Internet access from Zirkel Wireless. And of course, there’s a view.
The center is flexible about how the spaces are used, Rudasics said. Business owners can rent as many as three spaces or share a single space.
The one thing he is inflexible about? Pets aren’t allowed, Rudasics said.
The mentors for the entrepreneurs are often members of SCORE, counselors to America’s small business. Most bring lengthy resumes and distinguished business careers of their own and will go as far as scrutinizing the profit-and-loss statements of the fledgling businesses they advise.
SCORE has its own office in the center.
For the past 15 years, including a prior existence as the Small Business Resource Center in Bogue Hall, the program has helped 65 businesses and nonprofits get off the ground with an 85 percent success rate, Rudasics added.
Bob Larson, who engages startups in his role as the manager of the Sundance at Fish Creek shopping center in Steamboat Springs, called the center “a great asset for the community” and one that helps his own business by helping new entrepreneurs begin on solid footing.
“It’s in our best interest for people to get mentoring,” Larson said. “They’re less likely to fail on a lease. If I do a five-year deal and it falls apart after one year,” it’s not good for his commercial center.
Rudasics was quick to point out that the center does more than provide an incubator for new businesses. He consults on almost a daily basis with people preparing to launch businesses or those who already are engaged in a new business.
On Friday, he was scheduled for his third 90-minute meeting with a South Routt man who is running a firewood business.
The Entrepreneurship Center is starting fresh with seven open offices after its last tenant graduated from the old Bogue Hall location.
To inquire about opportunities at the center, call 970-870-4491. To inquire about an office space, call Kathie Rudasics in the CMC facilities office at 970 870-4444.