Mentor Match entrepreneurs share their business startup experiences

By Observer staff May 22, 2013 09:51 am

Graduates of the Mentor Match entrepreneur program are the proud owners of seven new businesses in Wallowa County.

Ten teens presented “successes and lessons learned” at a potluck May 8 at Toma’s Conference Center in Enterprise. 

The winner of the Top Producer award for highest gross revenues went to Tall & Small Labor Co., run by Damon Greenshields and David Ribich, who grossed $635. 

“I learned a lot about advertising, following up with interested clients and managing a business,” said Greenshields, the “tall” partner in Tall & Small. 

 “Our first client said he’d pay us $9 per hour, but Damon said no, our fee is $25 for both of us per hour,” said Ribich. “We kept our prices, but then we just tried to work really hard so our clients were happy.”

One team of entrepreneurs, Joseph Harshman, Cody Duquette and Blu Risseeuw, set a new standard by launching not one, but two separate and successful businesses through the program. Their first venture, The Tree Amigos, involved cutting down fresh trees for Christmas and selling them for the holiday season. They earned about $550. When the season was over, they decided to launch a second business, Scrapping Bros.

Scrapping Bros. collected small amounts of scrap metal and filled a bin provided by Wurdinger Recycling in
La Grande. The boys ran into some challenges trying to find a location for the bin, after they learned their first arrangement would come with a fee of $150 per month for the space. 

 “We realized we couldn’t afford that,” said Harshman. 

Instead of giving up, Duquette utilized his connections, and approached Terminal Gravity, where his father is part owner, to see if they could place the bin there. Dean Duquette agreed, and the Scrapping Bros. were in business. 

They are waiting to receive their check, but they anticipate it to be in the $500 range. 

For his efforts in helping launch two successful businesses and for taking the lead on the group’s first fundraiser, Joseph Harshman earned “Most Valuable Entrepreneur.”

“I learned that I enjoy running my own business, and I am looking forward to pursuing a career in business,” said Harshman.

Duquette agreed. “I learned that running your own business is fun.” Risseeuw echoed their comments. “I could see myself as an entrepreneur.”

Winning “Most Promising Entrepreneur” for her furniture and home accessories business was Natalie Zeigler, a home-schooled senior from Joseph. 

Her business, which she named Laddie’s, took inexpensive wood items like candlesticks, picture frames and small tables that she purchased at second hand stores for pennies, and gave them new life with whimsical, bright paint involving shoe polish mixed in for a unique finish. 

“Natalie was the first to launch her business, selling at the Holiday Bazaar in Joseph,” said Green, in presenting the award.

“I learned so much that I could not have learned in a classroom,” said Zeigler, who was working on establishing an site as the program came to a close.

Elsa Steen, a second year participant who served as president of the club, received the President’s Award for her contributions. 

“She was flawless in her follow up, and always one step ahead of me,” said adviser Stacy Green. “I never had to say anything twice, and I appreciated that very much.”

“I love this program,” said Steen, who earned compliments from Green for negotiating a complex order for a client who wanted a variety of flavors and sizes from Steen’s custom cupcake business, Little Indulgences. 

Kyle Roepke shared his lessons learned in his first effort, a business he called Survive, selling survival kits for people to keep in their cars or take on hunting trips. 

However, the business did not make it.

“The death of Survive happened because I didn’t realize how expensive it was going to be to ship everything,” said Roepke. He did not give up a dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur, and launched K & D Co., which became a competitor to Tall & Small, offering help with chores. The biggest lesson Roepke learned was how to bid jobs. 

“Our first job was to take out a concrete clothesline and move it to the next door neighbors’ home,” said Roepke. “We did, like, a two minute drive by, and said ‘that looks easy’ and quoted an hour and a half to do the job. Well, 22 hours and a jack hammer rental later, we finally finished.”

Hayley Riggs and McKenna Miller presented their experiences launching Baking for Blondes, layered cookie jars with the slogan, “So simple, even a blonde can do it!” Green gave them credit for taking a generic item like layered cookie jars and “putting a great, unique spin on it that made it special and memorable.” 

In addition to launching their own businesses, the group fundraised for their upcoming Leadership and Innovation Tour to Seattle, June 6-9.  The tour will include visits to some of the most successful American companies in history including Nordstrom, Starbucks and Microsoft.

The entrepreneur program is part of the Building Healthy Families Mentor Match program, which includes three programs that provide tutoring and mentoring to Wallowa County kids in grades K-12. The program is funded through a grant from Oregon Community Foundation.