Bamboo ski pole company, agriculture tech entrepreneur take top prizes in business plan competition
Steamboat Springs — A growing bamboo ski pole company and a local entrepreneur trying to create the equivalent of a Fitbit for cattle now have some more money to expand their businesses, thanks to their victories in a local business plan competition.
In a contest that featured seven diverse business ideas, it was Grass Sticks, the ski pole company, and Innovative Ag that wowed the judges with their visions for the future.
Grass Sticks has come a long way since ski bum Andrew Beckler founded the company in his garage in 2014.
On Thursday, he and his two business partners were busy making poles to ship to Meier Skis in Glenwood Springs.
Beckler estimated he now has sold or delivered 600 pairs of his locally-made bamboo ski poles.
He plans to spend the $10,000 he got as the top prize in the competition on more marketing.
“Doing this competition really helped us get more of a concrete idea of what this business could turn into,” Beckler said. “It was reassuring and great to hear (from the judges) that this could work and this could go somewhere.”
Grass Sticks ski poles are currently sold in Steamboat Springs at Black Tie Skis in Gondola Square and Ski Haus.
The poles are made in a garage just north of Steamboat.
The second-place prize went to David Poussard, an entrepreneur who is in the process of creating a device that monitors the health of beef cows.
Poussard said the device clips onto the ear of a cow and monitors its vital signs and activity.
When stress or illness is detected, an alert goes out to a computer or a smartphone.
He said the device can detect illness in a cow before a human could, increasing the chances of saving the life of an animal that he said typically sells for $1,800 to $2,200 when it has reached full weight.
“There are between 150,000 to half a million of these animals that die each year because of illness and disease,” Poussard said. “This could help reduce that rate.”
Poussard plans to test his device here in the Yampa Valley. He’s also currently looking for investors.
The annual business plan competition is hosted by Colorado Mountain College and Yampa Valley SCORE.
A panel of seasoned business professionals quizzed the business owners about their plans and graded the plans on their viability.
The contestants learned valuable skills about how to grow their business and also end up reducing their risk.
“To me, the amazing thing that comes out of this is just how many cool ideas there are right here in this fairly small town,” judge Steve Sehnert said. “The thing that stuck out about Grass Sticks was the enthusiasm of the presenters about how strongly they felt about their project and how strongly they felt about the potential market for these bamboo ski poles. It’s pretty exciting stuff.”
In addition to CMC and Yampa Valley SCORE, the sponsors for the business plan competition included the city of Steamboat Springs, Alpine Bank and the Yampa Valley Entrepreneurship Center.
Randy Rudasics, manager of the Entrepreneurship Center, said overseeing the business plan competition is one of his favorite parts of his job.
“The creativity, passion and initiative these folks bring to this is really neat,” he said. “We recognize that giving money out isn’t going to make or break an entrepreneur, but the advice and the incentive to write a great plan will speed up the process and reduce their risk a little.”
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