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Colorado Entrepreneurship MarketPlace:
Interviews begin today with local businesses, groups

Michelle Alcott, the Colorado Rural Development Council Business Manager, together with Scott Aker, CRDC Chair of Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, will be in the area today, interviewing businesses and groups that participated in a proposal leading to the award of Pagosa Springs as this year’s host for the 4th Annual Colorado Entrepreneurship MarketPlace (CEMP).

Earlier this week, the CRDC officially announced that this year’s CEMP had been awarded to the Town of Pagosa Springs and Archuleta County.

Late last month, The SUN reported that the area had been “unofficially” selected by the CRDC to host the 2011 CEMP due to a “proposal (that) provided more collaboration between different entities within the state, as well as a strong commitment to the event,” according to a letter sent to the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation in December.

Alcott and Aker, aside from meeting local business owners and government officials, will also meet with CDC members to propose a general outline of events and features for the one-day, state-wide program scheduled for Oct. 7.

On that day, an estimated 500 entrepreneurs and prospective business owners will meet in Pagosa Springs, attending workshops and seminars, hearing speakers, and meeting with other like-minded individuals with an opportunity to network, share ideas, and perhaps find reason to collaborate.

“The purpose of Pagosa Springs hosting this event is to benefit local entrepreneurs by services, education and resources. Many local start-up businesses are seeking guidance, but do not have the time, capital nor capability to go outside the community to pursue help,” said J.R. Ford, local Pagosa Springs biomass company owner (Renewable Forest Energy, LLC) and president of the Pagosa Cattle Company, Inc., and added that he is planning to attend the October event.

The CDC sees this as an opportunity for any entrepreneur contemplating a new business to receive expert guidance or any small-business owner desiring to learn of resources that are available to take their business to the next level.

There will be a very reasonable fee for CEMP participation. The event includes information tracks: diversification in agriculture; business/retail development; financing; technology; marketing; community development and a youth track.

The event will also include keynote speakers, over 40 exhibitors with attending resources, concurrent sessions for novice and advanced tracks throughout the day, a catered lunch and significant training materials provided to attendees.

Young entrepreneurs from the high school and middle school will also be offered this opportunity to participate. Details on participation and program details will be made clear in the coming months through the efforts of both the CRDC and the CDC.

Networking is encouraged with access to these key resources. Prior survey evaluation indicated that 84 percent of participants would be likely to attend a future CEMP events and over 94 percent would recommend attending the MarketPlace to a colleague or friend.

The program also encourages volunteers to assist with the on-site program, as well as pre-event program support.

“The CDC thinks this event complements significantly to the Entrepreneur Program recommended by the University of Mississippi, per Dr. Brent Hales, Ph.D. during his recent visit here,” said CDC Executive Director Steve Vassallo.

Hales, Associate Professor and Director of the Center For Economic and Entrepreneurship Education for the University of Southern Mississippi, was in town recently, meeting with local officials and CDC board members to present a business and entrepreneurship program to be implemented concurrently for Archuleta School District 50 Joint and the Archuleta County Education Center.

As such, the CDC is sponsoring 30 scholarships with a “draw” process for CEMP participation.

According to Alcott, networking, public relations and marketing support were key elements in the area getting this award. Additionally, the selected hosting community must heavily participate in marketing the event.

However, the area benefits as a hosting community, as CEMP provides increased visibility and exposure to Pagosa Springs, the MarketPlace venue, local entrepreneurs, economic development groups and attendees.

The hosting venue and community benefit due to the amount of attendees that travel across Colorado to attend. The hosting community will be posted on the CRDC website, with a link to the community’s governmental offices, economic development office and local Chamber of Commerce.

Publicizing starts with the award and continues throughout the year. Mentorship opportunities, as well as resources, will be available for local entrepreneurs. Pagosa Springs, as hosting community, will receive a “reintroduction” of the new and existing businesses.

The CDC and Archuleta County have been given a unique opportunity to interact with as many as 500 entrepreneurs in an attempt to convince them to bring their businesses and families here. Exposure with this event also expands our network of allies.

Of course, local lodging has an opportunity to house these 500 incoming entrepreneurs. Likewise, local restaurants are welcome to bid for catering a lunch for 500 on the day of the event.

Until then, Alcott and Aker will spend today touring the area, meeting with some of the people who helped make this happen.

While the CRDC is already convinced that Pagosa Springs was the correct choice for the 2011 CEMP, an extra dose of world-renowned Pagosa friendliness today wouldn’t hurt a thing.

The local CEMP contact is Mary Tighe, Community Grant Coordinator, available at 946-1211 or through e-mail at marytighe0613@gmail.com.

More program details will be forthcoming in the next few months. All local resources and entrepreneurs wishing to partake and support this event are encouraged to contact Tighe or the CDC.

The MarketPlace has been a success for all of rural Colorado the past three years, especially in the previous host communities of Grand Junction, La Junta and Limon. More than that, the MarketPlace grows with each passing year, potentially making this a real boon for Pagosa Springs.

SUN staff writer Jim McQuiggin contributed to this article.