Group aims to spark small Vail Valley businesses
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado – Like a lot of Vail Valley business owners, Hollis Dempsey and Becky Sobek took a fresh, hard look at their business plan this year. What they discovered was an idea to help other business people in the valley.Dempsey and Sobek are the owners of Human Resources Plus in Eagle, a local human resources outsourcing company. But this year, the partners, and a small team of other local business people, have already put a lot of hours into a new project, Strive & Thrive. The group is officially launching this week with a contest that will award a “business makeover” worth as much as $50,000 to the winner.That big idea started from some small roots.”We’ve always wanted to give back something to the community,” Dempsey said. “We thought we’d do some seminars for free.”The partners started calling around, seeing what kind of education business owners might be interested in. What they heard was a lot of worry about just keeping the doors open. So the initial idea of some free seminars led to a bigger thought: “What if we brought together business people in IT, human resources, banking and finance, accounting and Web development,” Dempsey said. “It really ignited a spark, and now we think it has the potential to reach beyond Eagle County.”Dempsey and Sobek started talking about the idea with friends, colleagues, and, in Dempsey’s case, her husband, David, who owns a computer consulting company. Through the late winter, spring and summer, team members have met several hours a week, working on a Web site, deciding what kinds of resources to put on it, and, to launch with a splash, the makeover contest.The team is finally ready to launch, and will start accepting contest entries this week. The contest was David Dempsey’s idea, Hollis Dempsey said, as a way to get people talking about Strive & Thrive.
The contest is open to just about every business in Eagle County, because the company size is capped at 500 people, the official federal definition of a small business. By that definition, only a few businesses miss the cut for the contest.And that’s fine with team member Kevin Armitage of Colorado Business Bank.For one thing, national statistics indicate that 80 percent or more of all new jobs are created by small and medium-sized business. That number is almost sure to be higher in the Vail Valley, since virtually all locally-owned businesses are, technically, “small.”And even businesses with more people than just an owner and a few employees could probably use some fine-tuning, Armitage said.”Even for mid-sized businesses, they may have folks in various disciplines, but maybe they aren’t humming at the same pace,” he said. “This (makeover) would be a way to get back on track.”And whoever wins the makeover will get more than a bottle of wine and some nicely-wrapped boxes.”This will require a big commitment for whoever wins,” Hollis Dempsey said. “We’ll need to sit down with the business owner and really needs to be done. We want to give the winner a true picture of what needs to be done.”The winner will receive consulting services from all the team members, from human resources to technology to accounting practices. The winner will also receive products from Microsoft and other companies.”It was almost easy to line up sponsors,” said Jill Anderson, owner of a local marketing company. “It was just a matter of getting to the right people who wanted to contribute or raise awareness of their own businesses.”The winner will receive a lot of information, and will be expected to share a lot of it on the Strive & Thrive Web site.But, Dempsey said, no one needs to worry about a makeover along the lines of, say, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” in which a house gets leveled and replaced.”We’re not going to turn everything upside-down,” Hollis Dempsey said. “If we see areas that are working well, we’re going to leave them alone.”
The contest, though, is just the start of what Strive & Thrive wants to accomplish. And that’s creating a Web site that can provide a wealth of handy, free information to people.”The site can be a lot more robust than it is now,” Anderson said. “And we’ll need to keep it robust to keep people coming to it.”That source of advice could be invaluable for very small businesses. “Every business focuses on what they know and do best,” Armitage said. It’s likely that a plumber won’t understand the pros and cons of whether or not to incorporate, and a small business owner often doesn’t have time to put the kind of attention into accounting or a Web site that he or she should.While the team is looking for a lot of participation and ideas on the Strive & Thrive Web site, members also expect to use the advice their peers are giving, too.”We can’t really give advice if we’re not following it ourselves,” Anderson said. “In this economy, you need to be more buttoned down with your business practices, and this is a way to do that.”Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or email@example.com.