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7/24/2003

Making the big time

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

BROOMFIELD — Luck and learning on someone else’s nickel were among the advice offered by a three-member panel at the 11th annual Regional Business Expo Monday.

The topic, “Making it in Boulder,” suited the panelists hand-picked for the day-long event at the Omni Interlocken Resort.

Paul Turley, owner of Turley’s restaurant, emphasized getting off to a good start by picking a niche close to the heart.

“Be passionate,” he said. “You have to really want to go out and do better than anyone else on the street.”

While searching for that sweet spot, Michael Weatherwax, owner and founder of Weatherwax & Associates CPA, recommended staying open.

For instance, he did not dream of his now 20-year success story in Boulder during his early college days as an electrical engineering student at the University of Michigan.

When he flunked out, he took business classes only to get his grades up for re-applying to the program. That’s when he realized he had stumbled on his life’s work.

“But learn as much about your business before you take that step into the real world,” said Weatherwax, who sharpened his skills at a big firm before making his break.

For her part, Special Transit executive director Lenna Kottke emphasized sticking to core values and being completely frank.

One time, she confessed, a co-worker wanted to edit a brochure on the eve of the printing process. Instead of either accommodating the request or flat-out refusing it, Kottke hedged — against her better judgment. She told him it was too late to make the changes, that the project was gone.

Shortly thereafter, the co-worker ran across the unprocessed printing order and called her on it.

“It took a long time for me to rebuild my credibility,” she said. “If it’s not true, don’t say it.”

Approximately 35 people attended the hour-long panel session, including green entrepreneurs such as Carla Owsley.

After working 17 years at a high-tech purchasing agency, she decided to formulate botanical products and launched Lakeshore Herbals in Boulder six months ago.

The cold-calling and rejection associated with the sales side of the business initially intimidated her, said Owsley, 53. But the panelists motivated her to keep knocking on doors, to keep building relationships.

“I learned that (sales) is not a one-shot deal,” she explained.

Louisville resident Shawna Estrella, 30, started Event Works — an event-planning company — 18 months ago with a partner in Denver.

Estrella attended the panel discussion, she said, to further master the learning curve between her former life in social services and her new entrepreneurial venture.

Giving back to the community, both for good will and good exposure, was one nugget she took home.

“Most businesses I respect are giving back to the community, not just sitting around stuffing paper,” she said.

In figuring out how best to progress, the trio emphasized that persistence pays.

“Headaches come with being a sole proprietor,” Weatherwax explained. “But there’s an awful lot of joy.”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.