Local startups bring fresh ideas, strong plans to business plan competition

Mark Berkley, along with his partner Alex King, are already finding success with their business, Innovate Ag Colorado, which grows mushrooms and micro greens on Berkley’s Steamboat Springs farm. The business is expanding its operation to Innovative Regeneration, a business that will turn food waste into fertilizer and energy. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Two local startups companies got a little boost this week when they were chosen from a list of six finalists as the winners of the 2018 Community Business Plan Competition.

“The turnout was pretty good for the competition,” said Randy Rudasics, manager of the Yampa Valley Entrepreneur Center at Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs. “There are several of these businesses I’m confident will become successful small businesses regardless of winning or not winning this competition. There are some good ideas that will be coming to the marketplace soon.”

Topping the list is a new start up called hearOclub, which is a subscription-based hearing aid battery delivery service. The business supplies batteries to a segment of the population that finds it challenging to get to the store to buy the batteries when needed.

“It feels great being named the winner,” said Ben Norman, one of the company’s founders. “It gives us a lot to be thankful for going into the holidays. It’s great knowing that the Steamboat community is by our side in our mission to eliminate hearing emergencies. We are really happy about it and excited to see where we can go from here.”

The small company, which is based in Steamboat Springs, is owned and operated by RJ Pole, his father Bob Pole and Norman. The company plans to use the $6,000 prize to make a sizable donation to the Routt County Council on Aging and to increase the company’s marketing efforts.

“We are partnering with the Routt County Council on Aging, and we are a big fan of their organization,” RJ Pole said. “We kind of have the same mission, and that’s helping homebound individuals that live in Routt County. We both serve people who are elderly and can’t get out to the store.”

“It kind of validated what we are doing,” Pole added. “It was nice to have some other people weigh in and really think that our plan is as thought through as we think it is. It made us assess where we are now and makes us feel good moving forward.”

Bob Pole, right, and his son RJ Pole, recently started hearOclub with Ben Norman, not shown. The hearing aid subscription battery delivery service was named the winner of this year’s Community Business Plan Competition.

Joining hearOclub in the winner’s circle was Innovative Regeneration, a spin-off of Innovative Ag Colorado, which owner Mark Berkley started in November 2015. Innovative Regeneration placed second in the judging and earned a $4,000 prize for its business plan.

“I just feel great about it,” Berkley said. “From an outsider’s point of view, it gives us some credibility and some affirmation on our concept before we really move forward.”

Berkley and his business partner Alex King have plans to expand on their first venture, Innovative Ag Colorado, which grows mushrooms, micro-greens and edible flowers for many local restaurants.

Berkley said Innovative Regeneration will turn food waste into fertilizer and energy. In January, they will start a pilot program that will collect food waste and process it through a combination composter and generator to create energy and compost fertilizer. If the pilot is successful, Berkley hopes to expand the business.

“We are going farm to table and then back from table to farm,” Berkley said. “Then we can convert that food waste with Innovative Regeneration to generate methane, which can run our side of the first pilot project to supply all of our own methane for heating and running generators for electricity at our sight.”

Other business plan finalists included: Lita & Sons, a company that deals in imported artisan clothing; Pedalors and Pits Stop, aqua therapy for pets; Deep Creek Auto, automotive services; and Story Music, custom music for promotional campaigns.

“The top three or four were really close,” longtime judge Roger Good said. “What’s more important than the idea is the people who can see the opportunity and turn it into a viable business idea. The plus for the community is the whole entrepreneurial spirit and a group of people who can see opportunity and turn it into business.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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