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Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow With Julie Worley

Interview conducted on October 16, 2019

Over the past four years, Ms. Julie Worley has coordinated five Youth Entrepreneurship Fairs (E-fairs), which have been hosted in Southeast Colorado. On November 6, Lamar had its second annual Youth E-fair, encouraging young business-minded people in 5th-12th grade to present their business plans for the chance at monetary investments, all fully funded by local businesses, including us here at the Southeast Colorado SBDC. Not including Lamar’s most recent E-fair, over 150 business ideas presented by over 250 students from 22 school in Southeast Colorado (as well as private and home schooled students) have been showcased by the Youth E-fair, with over $12,00 in cash prizes awarded. Here with me to discuss this is Ms. Julie Worley.

Q: “I wanted to start by asking; What do you call this whole youth entrepreneurship initiative you have going on?”

Worley: “So we tried several variations, we tried after school four nights a week, and that was sort of successful. We tried a Friday-Saturday, kind of successful. But what turned out to be most successful was a one-day camp. We’d go into the class, we’d start when the bell rang, and by afternoon, by evening, those kids will have come up with a business idea and committed it to a tri-fold board. And then we’d have kind of a parent, community showcase where they can come in and the kids could talk to them about their business plans. So we’ve kind of adopted the one-day, go into the classroom template as what works. And of course, whenever you get kids out of a class they’re tickled pink, y’know, and they want to do whatever you ask them to do. So it’s been very successful, and we’ve done several of those since 2015.”

“So we did the E-camps across… the 6 counties in Southeast [Colorado], Baca, Bent Crowley, Kiowa, Otero, and Prowers. There are 22 schools in the 6 counties, lots of homeschool kids, and we tried to get out and expose, or touch, or tell them about entrepreneurship.”

“The first E-fair was in May 2017 here at OJC, and… since then we’ve hosted ’17, ’18, and ’19 in May here at OJC, November of ’18 was our first one in Lamar, and we’re actually hosting the second one in Lamar in November of ’19. So I brought this to you, this is the successes that we’ve had. We’ve engaged between 250 and 300 young people in 5th-12th grade in the [22 schools in the 6] counties in southeast Colorado, as well as homeschool students and private school students (Pioneer Christian and GOAL Academy). We’ve showcased over 150 youth business ideas, …and we’ve awarded, as of …May 2019, over $12,000 in cash prizes. That has all been -and this is an important aspect- locally raised money. That’s been no grant money, really no big corporate money or anything like that. Just a little here, a little there from community people that believe in the Youth Entrepreneurship program. So now I’m working on getting the funding for the Lamar E-fair, and it’s the same way. When you tell them what you’ve done and the youth that you’ve touched, most business people are very eager to help with it and take a part in it.”

“We’ve also supported the …6 youth businesses now operating in Southeast Colorado. Some of them are pretty limited or on a seasonal basis, but there are two young men in Rocky Ford that I believe operate their [welding and fabrication business] full time.”

“So, that’s how it all got started. We’re continuing to grow the program. When we branched out and went over to Lamar in ’18 with the E-fair, we attracted a lot of the same kids, but a lot of different kids from the Holly [and] Grenada schools, and I’m getting more response this year from those schools too. It’s a pretty new concept for them. We have not done any E-camps over on that side of the six-county area. We’ve done E-camps in Baca county, of course we’ve done a lot in Otero county, up in Crowley county. So that will be our focus this year. “

“Our grant funding with the Daniel’s fund …was a five-year funding program, and it ran out in August, and we had to submit a final report of what we’d done. And they were impressed with our numbers. They like our program and they’re inviting us to apply again. But there’s this gap period in here when there’s nothing going on, and there’s no funding coming in. So that’s a little bit of a crunch, but it’ll work out.”

“So what we’re doing now is we’re continuing to work with the youth entrepreneurship, and …Manzanola is going to be the first school to have an e-club, an entrepreneurship club… I think it can be a really effective tool in schools. Down in Campo, …they do some really creative, innovative things with entrepreneurship. If you recall, the two E-fairs you were at there were always a lot of Campo kids that came, and a lot of Campo kids that won. That’s because they’re a smaller school and they take time out of the school day to do entrepreneurship. But we envision that if we can get …E-clubs started in the schools, the entrepreneurship endeavor will carry on. Because you only get grant funding for so long to do a project, and we don’t want it to fall through the cracks. We would love to get some schools involved with an entrepreneurship curriculum. There’s lots of them out there… We’ve connected with My Tech High, it’s an online entrepreneurship program out of Utah. It’ a school year curriculum… It’s a neat program, age appropriate for whatever grade you’re in, and it’s just like buying a textbook. So that could be an option for schools that want a curriculum.”

“Our focus too, now, is to kind of segway into adult entrepreneurship. I don’t like to call it an adult E-fair, but that’s what it’ll be. You may not be aware, but Pueblo hosted adult E-fair[s], Canyon city up in Fremont county had one, so they’re becoming more… common? In fact I’ve talked to Mickie [Lewis-Gemici] about how we could get an adult entrepreneurship fair started here. Because I have people [come to the youth e-fair and] say ‘Hey, why don’t you do this for the adults?’ So it would be a little bit different in that, y’know if they won money, you gotta know that it’s going to their business. The 5th-8th graders, if they want to take their winnings and go buy pizza for their class, they can do that. We encourage high school kids to put your money back into your businesses, but there’s nothing that says you have to either. But with the adult one there’d have to be some guidelines. So we’re working on that, and getting some weekend workshops [and] accelerators to talk to the adults, because adults are no different than kids. They have the ideas, but they don’t know how to put the business piece together. So that’s what we want to help them with.”

“I just recently [connected] with a gentleman …from around Durango who is a venture capitalist, and they only want to invest in businesses in the rural areas…. We’ve begun communicating back and forth on how that could help get it started too. With a venture capitalist fund, they have lots of people that have money that, maybe they’d like to help you start your business, and so they come together and make a big pot of money. Plus, he has access to some other funding for that, so that’s a great resource. Hopefully through that and working with Mickie because she’s wanting to do it, we can maybe get an adult entrepreneurship program started too. “
“I just saw… someplace they just started, and I’m inclined to think it was in Chicago or one of those bigger cities, they just started an adult entrepreneurship class, and gosh they were giving $40,000 away, and I’m thinking ‘oh my sakes, what that wouldn’t do for a business.’ So, there is opportunity. I think entrepreneurship has come miles since we started promoting it back in 2015. Y’know you’d go in and you’d do the camp, and the kids would come to camp and [you would say] ‘Well do you know what entrepreneurship means?’ and they’d have the deer in the headlights look, and by the end of the day they knew what it meant. It’s becoming such a buzz word now. I love entrepreneurship, I’ve been involved in it ever since I was a kid. When you can work with your love, then you get very passionate about it, you would know that.”

“I want to keep it going because I think we’ve always said that entrepreneurship is about the only thing that’s going to keep our rural communities afloat. We’re not going to attract any businesses with 100 jobs, we’re going to attract those small little 10, 12, maybe only a mom and pop company that want to live here, have been raised here, and like it here. You’re not going to get the big companies here; we’re not close enough too an airport or a Starbucks. So that’s probably more information than you really needed, but that’s the information.”

Q: “So, what can one expect to find at an E-fair?”

Worley: “It’s a whole lot like a science fair, where the kids bring their ideas laid out on a tri-fold board, they can bring props if they want to, and they have to be ready to pitch their business to the judges. So it’s a room full of kids with these ideas, talking to the judges. Did you make it over to the one last year, here on campus?”

“No, I did not.”

Worley: “It was, contagious. I mean the energy, the excitement in the air, because, I believe it was Rocky Ford brought all of their 6th and 7th graders just to observe. They didn’t bring projects; they just came to see what was going on. I mean there were kids all over. There were parents all over. And it was just a real exciting, fun atmosphere. Then we had the keynote speaker, we had the panel of all the entrepreneurs that had graduated local schools y’know, and maybe started their businesses, and of course we had lunch, and then announced the winners. It was a full day, and people hung around.”

“That’s great!”

Worley: “The parents and everybody. It was just such an exciting atmosphere; it was like ‘this is what I always envisioned it would be.’ Y’know before, remember the first few years, parents would come and then they’d leave and then there were kind of lull times?”

“Yeah.”

Worley: “There was none of that this year.”

“That’s great.”

Worley: “Yeah. So, it’s growing. So, that’s kind of what you can expect if you come to an E-fair.”

“Well, thank you so much, Julie.”

Worley: “Yeah, thank you.”

“I’m so glad we had this time to talk.”

I encourage you to come out to the E-Fairs in 2020 and see the infectious excitement these kids have for entrepreneurship. These creative young people are the future of our rural communities.

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