Published: Aug. 2, 2023 By

University of Colorado teams up with the Southern Ute Tribe to help business ideas come to life

Participants and faculty from last year's Demystifying Entrepreneurship Workshop

Southwest Colorado Demystifying Entrepreneurship workshop. Erick Mueller/Courtesy photo

One day in 2017, Yuma resident Tanya Flemister was distracted at a workout class by a woman in front of her who had, she estimated, 50 bobby pins holding her hair back.

That day, Flemister also had bobby pins that kept her bangs in place during the session, but not as many as the woman near her. On her way home, she thought about easier ways to keep hair out of people’s faces. At home, she pulled out her sewing machine and with the help of Google, made a headband prototype with six clips that secured the hair. That prototype still hangs in her shop as her business, SWAY, continues to grow.

In collaboration with the CU Leeds Business School and the Southern Ute Tribe, an intensive entrepreneurial workshop, will take place on August 11 and 12. Geared toward rural communities, Southwest Colorado Demystifying Entrepreneurship StartUp to ScaleUp supports people who want to start or continue growing their businesses.

Flemister took part in a workshop this spring about pitching a company in northeast Colorado. On top of gaining valuable pitching skills, she received accolades from the knowledge she obtained.

“I went home and totally reworked my whole pitch and ended up winning [the Colorado Pitch Competition in Yuma]. The judges commented and said I totally paid attention to the rubric. So that was nice,” Flemister said. “Erick [and Hunter] were absolutely amazing. They brought energy to it and totally kind of revitalized my life for my company, because you can get bogged down in the day-to-day things of it. I wish I would have found them earlier in my entrepreneurial journey.”

In its third year working with the Southern Ute Tribe, the two-day workshop covers necessary steps to aid businesses, with the guidance of award winning business leaders from the University of Colorado Leeds School, the Southern Ute Economic Development and local entrepreneurs.

Erick Mueller, facilitator of the Rural Colorado Workshop Series and executive director and adjunct professor of the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at CU Boulder, has been teaching this workshop for nine years. He said it leads to economic vitality, job creation and a better quality of life in rural communities. Together, he’ll work with Eric Bruno, who is an adjunct professor and a chief marketing officer with many creative awards in the advertising field.

Mueller is thrilled to have been working with the tribe for the past three years. The program commits to each community they work with for five years in Colorado, and with much care and communication they are in their third year with the Southern Ute Tribe. The core of the program is to build bridges and grow ventures among local communities.

“Our Native communities are a bigger community that we really want to continue to focus on and help any way we can. We believe that they haven't had as much access to some of these workshops as we would like them to, and so we’re happy to contribute our part,” Mueller said.

Anyone is welcome to join at whatever stage their business idea may be in, even if they never attended a previous workshop. Mueller also said that community members who reside within a 100-mile radius from Ignacio are welcome to attend.

About the course

The three key folks who would find value in the workshop include current entrepreneurs who are looking for a refresh, aspiring entrepreneurs who want to learn how to act on their ideas; local leaders, such as city council members, mayors and local economic development offices.

The workshop goes over three separate levels for business development and growth within the five years it's held in each community. The first level is called Demystifying Entrepreneurship, a 101 course that teaches about value propositions, marketing and how to fund your business.

The second stage is called StartUp to ScaleUp, which focuses on growth. A common mistake Mueller found is that people grow on very shaky foundations, so they teach tools to evaluate if a business is ready to grow.

Last, ShoreUp educates on how to pitch business ideas, meaning how to present the organization in a compelling way that could help bring support.

Why rural communities?

Mueller realized how important the workshop is to rural communities when a Chaffee County economic development officer invited him to bring one of his executive courses to Buena Vista. They thought a dozen people would attend, but they found 66 community members standing in a small room waiting for that first workshop to begin. It became a success and since then Mueller has taught rural communities over the past nine years, bringing what is more accessible to the Front Range into rural life.

As with SWAY Headbands, another recent example was with a workshop held in Northwest Colorado in the Yampa Valley. Derek Martin attended the workshop last October and soon after pitched the wine bar he now owns with his wife at a pitching event. They won and were awarded $10,000 to bring the business into fruition. Mueller said the workshop was one piece of the journey where Martin brought the tools to action and Alpenglow at the Granary opened this summer in Hayden, Colorado.

“It kind of changed my mindset on how to approach business as an entrepreneur,” Martin said. “More often than not entrepreneurs end up working in their businesses rather than on their business.”

Olivia Pedersen attended two workshops based out of Norwood while she worked on her graduate degree. With the help of the workshops and networking, she launched Sustaio, a free sustainability app that measures the carbon footprint in people’s homes – natural gas, electricity and water.

“I thought it was really cool that it supports people who live in rural Colorado and brings entrepreneurship to the community. But entrepreneurship is everywhere. It’s like everybody’s relying on their neighbor to provide a service or product like the local butcher and our local florist,” Pedersen said. “I would definitely recommend the workshop or any workshop like it for people who are considering starting a business. It’s a low-risk way to have some outside input, which is super-important."

Challenges to rural entrepreneurship

Mueller said that challenges exist with rural communities when it comes to entrepreneurship. For one, access to talent is difficult to obtain. It’s hard to find people to relocate to rural areas, such as coders, in Pedersen’s case.

Another challenge is access to capital. Mueller said that although capital is key, it’s not always the answer. Creativity and thinking outside the box is crucial.

Last, logistics, such as shipping and supply chains, are more difficult to come by. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible, it’s just more strenuous as compared with cities.

Overall, he found that bringing talent to rural communities is the most challenging.

“The more people that learn the way of innovative thinking, the stronger our rural communities and the state and the world would be,” Mueller said.

Over the nine years that the Rural Colorado Workshop Series has been in progress, they helped over 700 entrepreneurs and local leaders throughout rural Colorado.

Their goal is to help at least 1,000 entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses in rural communities.

To register, go to and search for SW Colorado Demystifying Entrepreneurship. Scholarship opportunities are available.


Article originally published in The Journal on Friday, July 28, 2023. See the original article here.