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Southwest Leading Edge students in top 10 at state competition

Three southwest students of the Colorado Leading Edge Program received recognition for their business plans at the State Leading Edge Graduation and Business Plan Awards Ceremony on May 5 in Denver.

Sponsored by Left Hand Brewing and Great Divide Brewing, the event took place at the Governor’s Mansion.

Kelly Von Stroh of Solbright Systems placed third out of 50 plans judged statewide; Katie Holgate of Myco Logic Design won seventh; and Darlene Gonzales of Elkwood Manor Bed and Breakfast in Pagosa Springs won 10th.

Although Von Stroh has not yet officially launched Solbright Systems with husband Gerald, they are set to go with a plan that is “well-written and organized, with good marketing and financial information,” according to judges’ comments.

The concept for Solbright Systems is a service provider for utility and commercial scale photovoltaic solar systems, including operations and maintenance of systems. “The business will help owners maximize the power production of their PV systems,” explained Von Stroh, an 8th grade English teacher.

“Writing the business plan was so inspiring, insightful and eye-opening on just the amount of work and risk that’s involved in starting any small business,” added Von Stroh. “I gained an incredible amount of respect and inspiration from the other small business owners in the class who help make our country go.”

The class was a “huge learning curve” for Von Stroh, who had no business background and limited knowledge of PV systems (Gerald’s area of expertise).

Offered through the SBDC Network, the Leading Edge class provides comprehensive entrepreneurial training and management insight for existing and start-up businesses. Participants receive an in-depth overview of owning and operating a business and learn from experienced guest teachers specializing in different areas of the business plan (finance, marketing, legal, accounting, human resources, etc.).

Durango-based Myco Logic is a mushroom-cultivation consulting business that sells indoor or outdoor mushroom kits so people can grow their own at home. “The long-term goal is to develop mushroom products used for landscapes, like mushroom logs or mushroom patches in yards, used to filter and clean water,” explained owner Katie Holgate. “Mycelium (the vegetative part of a fungus) eats bacteria.”

Environmental mushroom products can be used on the edges of development to filter storm-water runoff, according to Holgate, whose mushroom kits can be purchased through Durango Compost Company or at Native Roots. The kits produce batches of gourmet varieties such as oyster and shitake.

With no former business background, Holgate was encouraged by the recognition of her plan. “This is a very unique business, so it’s scary, but the feedback I get from people just keeps me going, and I think the timing is right for it.”

The Leading Edge class helped Holgate articulate her business concept and figure out how to reach her target market with her current resources. “The best part was doing the financials, because once I did the financials, I had to change different parts of my plan — it helped me put the reality into it.”

Gonzales, owner of Elkwood Manor Luxury Bed and Breakfast in Pagosa Springs, also gained a better understanding of analyzing financials after taking the class. Gonzales has been operating the Elkwood B&B for five and half years with her husband, yet wrote the plan based on expanding the business to include a banquet facility.

“It’s a lot of work putting a business plan together — and when you get it on paper it changes,” said Gonzales. “That’s why after looking at the banquet facility, we thought, maybe we should buy a fifth wheel and travel instead.

“Even if you’ve been in business a while, you learn a lot about what you can do better,” she added.

For more information on the Leading Edge Training courses, visit: www.coloradosbdc.org/DocumentMaster.aspx?doc=38.

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