Youth business gets lift

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Summer program: Record number of grants awarded this year

By Arin McKenna

Few opportunities are available for young people to explore a career in business. The Los Alamos Commerce and Development Corporation has taken steps to recognize young entrepreneurs and lend a hand in getting an early start through its Youth Business Grant Program (YBGP).

Since 1985, the program has awarded more than 240 grants to students in the age range of 13 - 19 hoping to launch summer businesses.

“There are not a lot of other ways that young people here get exposed to a whole other realm of possibility that they have, which is being their own boss. So that’s one of the things I really love about this,” LACDC Executive Director Kevin Holsapple said. “I think what’s so neat is that there are some young people who find out if small business and entrepreneurship could be their calling or interest, and some of those have really taken off.”

Several participants have gone on to build successful businesses as adults. Los Alamos Landscaping owner Craig Wehner got his start with a youth business grant, and Holsapple recently learned of another recipient who has gone on to build a successful real estate business in Lake Tahoe.

This year, the LACDC received a record number of applications. The development center sees an average of 10 to 12 applications a year, as many as 15 in a good year. This year, 25 potential entrepreneurs applied. Eighteen successful applicants received up to $400 in seed money to buy equipment and supplies to launch their businesses.

The increased interest is in large part due to the outreach efforts of Business Advisor Katie Stavert. Stavert visited schools in Los Alamos, Española, Pojoaque and Jemez and did a variety of other outreach. The result was 14 applicants from Los Alamos, nine from Española and two from Pojoaque. Several of the Española applications were submitted with the help of a teacher in Española, who was already helping her students develop business plans when Stavert addressed her class.

Hopefuls start by filling out a mini-business plan application, which asked the same questions a bank might ask when considering financing for a small business. Young entrepreneurs must make a case for their business idea, discuss their customer and market base and create a budget.

“We’re looking for a coachable young person who really has a desire to learn about running a business,” Holsapple said. “Sometimes you might find that their parents have more passion for them running a summer business than they do.”

“We’re looking mainly for passion and excitement and the willingness to start and run a business. Have they thought about their market? Who’s their customer going to be? Have they thought about how much in sales they’re going to be able to get in the summer?” Stavert said.

Local business panelists then spent four days interviewing applicants.

“The mentors and the panelists were not just grilling them about what they know but were providing feedback: things that they could think about doing, the ways that they can help improve their businesses, the ways that they can market their business,” Stavert said. “And that, I think, is really what this is all about, is helping them learn to start and run a business from one of their passions, from one of their hobbies, and to grow the community of youth.”

Stavert was impressed by the creativity of the proposals, which include house and child sitting; yard work, window washing, raising and selling organic produce and selling used sporting goods equipment. One young woman is marketing hand woven shawls and wraps.

Sam Newell is continuing in the footsteps of his older brothers, Garrett and Clay, who started Los Alamos Quality Lawn Care through the YBGP.

Alex Guzman is hoping to improve relationships among his peers through a line of screen print t-shirts. “I go to school and I see a lot of problems, like everyone’s socially divided. There are a lot of conflicts and a lot of judgments,” Guzman said. “I want to bring people together through my art on the t-shirts.”

In addition to donating money to fund the grants, local business people help in a variety of ways. Some serve as mentors to the students.

“The mentors are people who’ve agreed to be available so a young business person, if they’re stuck on something or want to clarify something or get some advice, they have a lifeline, someone they can call and talk that over with on an ad hoc basis,” Holsapple said.

The Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce Assets in Action program also promotes the businesses through radio interviews and newspaper articles.

The program has attracted the attention of people outside the Northern New Mexico community. “People have been calling me and asking, ‘Do you know anything closer to our region.’ And, as far as I know, this is the only program like this in the state,” Stavert said.

Holsapple said the only comparable program is junior achievement, which is more geared toward creating an industrial company than an entrepreneurial business.

Fundraising efforts continue year-round for the program. Support has come largely from local businesses, but Holsapple would like to see more individual contributions. “A little bit of help goes a long way for this sort of thing. We really do need to get a head start on next year,” Holsapple said.

At the end of the summer, the recipients submit a final report detailing their experience. And, if the past is any indicator, some of those young entrepreneurs will be applying again next year in hopes of taking their small business to the next level.

2012 YBGP Recipients

Adan’s Paracool Creations, Adan Casados, Paracord Bracelets (Española), 505-929-0345.
Annie’s Sitting Services, Annie Romero, House, Pet & Baby Sitting Services (Los Alamos), 695-5025.
Betts Lawn Business, Rosalina Betts, Yard Work (Los Alamos), 662-5830.
Blueprint Wraps, Elise Koskelo, Woven Shawls & Wraps (Los Alamos), 661-4048.
Children of the Universe, Alex Guzman, Screen Print T-Shirts (Española), 505-901-7332.
Cobweb’s Crafting, Shaune Hite, Origami Jewelry (Los Alamos), 412-5585.
David’s Yard Maintenance, David Bustos, Yard Work (Española), 505-927-9421.
D’ View, Derek Selvage, Postcards & Photography Photos (Los Alamos), 412-1715.
Fashionable Hair by Kylie, Kylie Martinez, Hair Styling (Española), 505-819-1324.
Georges Organic Produce, George Steinkamp, Home-Grown Produce (Los Alamos), 663-1717
Great Ideas, Jonah Boudreau, Smart Phone Apps (Española), 505-351-1452.
I Am Here For You, Esperanza Tapia, House, Pet & Baby Sitting Service (Los Alamos), 603-9430.
In-Vision Window Washing, Joseph Harris, Window Washer (Los Alamos/ White Rock), 695-4173.
Los Alamos Quality Lawn Care, Sam Newell, Yard Work (Los Alamos/ White Rock), 662-9846.
Lulu’s Fashion, Lucero Dominguez, Fashionable Clothes, Shoes & Accessories (Española), 505-614-7220.
Mack’s Lawn & Yard Service, Macklin Cunico, Yard Work (Los Alamos), 661-6937.
Musch Crafts, Leia Roach, Japanese Style Plushies (Los Alamos) 412-5691.
OT Sports Equipment, Cory Schramm, Used Sports Equipment (Los Alamos/ White Rock), 500-5110.

2012 Panelists: Jessica Haynie, David Jolly, Katie Stavert, Kim Selvage, Heather Campbell, Connie Proulx and Claire Roybal.

2012 Mentors: Jessica Haynie, David Jolly, Ken Nebel, Bernadette Lauritzen and Katie Stavert.

2012 Supporters: Laboratory Retiree Program, Plateau Property Management, Neptune and Company, Inc., Rotary Club of Los Alamos, TRK Management, Los Alamos Monitor, and Assets In Action.

Past Supporters: New Mexico Community Foundation, LANB, Washington Group International, Inc., SG Western Construction Inc., Kiwanis Club of Los Alamos, Los Alamos Retiree Group, Plateau Property Management, Zia Credit Union, TRK  Management, Lorraine Hartway, The Coffee Booth, Neptune And Company, The Decadent Table, REMAX of Los Alamos, Jemez Agency, LANS, SMPC Architects, SMSI.