Summit County businesses participate in rebuild program


DILLON — Amid widespread business shutdowns, several local businesses turned to the Summit Biz Rebuild program for help in keeping their business afloat and successful. The program was run through the Summit Prosperity Initiative, a project of the Summit Chamber of Commerce.

The program utilized the CO.STARTERS curriculum, which uses a community-based approach to economic development. It combined business learning material with weekly meetings among the cohort of 17, where local entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders could check in and share ideas.

The first cohort celebrated their graduation on Aug. 5 after a 10-session program. The cohort was comprised of professionals in businesses across several industries, including dining, media, wellness and retail. Amy Kemp with the Summit Prosperity Initiative said that while the program was planned to launch in March before the COVID-19 shutdown, it was adapted to fit the current needs of businesses and instead launched in May as the Rebuild program. 

“What we were finding was that business owners were completely overwhelmed, they were uncertain, oftentimes they just didn’t know where to turn to,” Kemp said. “There were other resources out there but what we felt was missing was this opportunity to just step back, hit reset, look at their business model, get some education, get some advice, get some support.”

Kemp said the programming provided professionals with the tools to dig into every aspect of their businesses — financials, marketing, positioning, distribution models — and get back to basics in order to move forward. Kemp said that finding new ways to connect with customers and meeting their different needs amid the changes brought on by COVID-19 was a major theme of the program. The learning curriculum included a workbook with exercises as well as an online component, which was supplemented by the virtual meetings among entrepreneurs and business owners. 

While the cost of the program is typically $300 or more, grants and organizations allowed the program to be offered to the first cohort for $25 each. Kemp said plans for a second cohort are in the works for mid-September, although it hasn’t been determined if the core curriculum or the Rebuild curriculum will be offered. 

Red Buffalo Coffee & Tea owner Erin Young said that when COVID-19 hit, she developed the mantra of “just say yes.” As regulations changed quickly with the onset of restrictions, Young said the uncertainty inspired this mindset as she thought, “what’s the worst thing that could happen?”

Young said that the program was, in a way, like going back to college with online classes as she was given assignments and exercises, but the difference was that the video chat platform the group used made things more personal than the chat rooms Young remembers from college. She said that while some chapters were more relevant to her business than others, no information was bad information and she was able to brush up on several business skills.

“If you look at the group’s representation, there is a lot of diversity in who’s represented and what sort of businesses were in, but we’re all able to bounce ideas off of one another and I think that is such a key to helping local and independent businesses thrive in our community,” Young said. 

Young said that the brainstorming of the group helped the cohort come up with new ideas. She recalled group members joked about how the best ideas and solutions people had for certain businesses came from the owner of a different business, where someone on the outside could look at a business with fresh eyes and without preconceived notions about issues that could come out of a new idea. 

“The important thing right now during stressful business times or even personal finance times is just say yes, just try it. When you think of all the ways it’s not going to work that’s when you get self defeated and you start to move backwards. So if there’s an opportunity to take a CO.STARTERS class even if you’re an established business or you’re a brand new business, you can never have too much support,” Young said.

Brooke Comai, owner of Climax Jerky, said the program helped her move her business forward after she had to close her retail locations. Comai said she has been able to bring new ideas to her business through marketing and reaching customers in the absence of retail locations, such as through social media and newsletters. 

“It really helped me to concentrate on my internet business, which I had already been doing, but I was able to get some new ideas on marketing and then new ways to approach my retail locations,” Comai.

For example, Comai said she usually offers samples of her product at the farmer’s market, but had to change her approach. Instead, she focused on marketing why her product has been successful over the years.

She said a major takeaway for her was learning to make the most out of every customer. She added that it was encouraging to be part of a community of local businesses who are all trying to navigate the current challenges for businesses.

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