Experts tell Lassen County entrepreneurs how to start a business
A member of NoRTEC, the Northern Rural Training Employment Consortium, which helped fund the conference, Theobald was one of seven speakers at the workshop. NoRTEC also runs LCN and nine other one-stop employment and training centers in Northern California.
The workshop attracted more than 60 people and was sponsored by the Lassen County Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Workforce Development.
“Research findings from a number of national foundations say the key to economic growth, the key to economic well being in rural areas, is starting and growing your own businesses,” said John Larrivee, of the chamber of commerce. “Most businesses do not change their location from where they started. That’s why it’s called economic gardening.”
Larrivee said organizers hoped out of the 60 who attended “at least one of you will plant a seed and we will have a new business in Lassen County in the next 12 months.”
Larrivee introduced Eaton Dunkleberger, who started and sold a cell phone-based business in Kabul, Afghanistan, after combat service in the U.S. Marine Corps, Dunkleberger said he saw an unmet need, had an idea, formed a business plan, secured financing, and started his own business.
“I talked to John last weekend and he said there were six people signed up, so this is a little more daunting,” Dunkleberger said, adding he attended Stanford with Susanville resident and Lassen Community College board member Rocky Deal’s daughter.
After starting a police force and security agency in Iraq, he saw a lack of job creation.
“Without jobs this kind of security we were setting up, I didn’t feel like it was going to last,” he said. “And so, I went to business school with the hope of coming right back to the same place I was in Iraq and privatizing the textile factory.”
However, by the time he finished business school, the lack of security in Iraq made it impossible to start a business. Dunkleberger found the same need for job creation in Afghanistan and ended up starting a cell phone company Danebarf.
The first thing people mention about his company Danebarf is the word barf, which actually means snow in Dari, one of the two languages in Afghanistan.
“Danebarf means snowflake, and the reason I picked that was that, both in Western cultures and in Afghan cultures the idea that every snowflake is different holds true,” he said. “And so, I wanted to give people the idea that when they have their mobile phone they can be a unique user of their mobile phone.”
However, in Afghanistan, where there is only four to eight hours of electricity a day, a mobile phone may be the only information technology available. Dunkleberger’s cell phone company offered news and information, ring tones based on Afghan music and an Afghan Idol program, and voting for the idol winners remains the company’s most popular product. He eventually sold the business to his partner based in India.
Saying he spent six months writing a business plan, Dunkleberger told the participants there is no shortage of ideas, but there is a shortage of doers to make ideas happen.
He recommended entrepreneurs go through the steps outlined in “The New Business Road Test” by John W. Mullins.
Lassen County District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson, who is also the chairman of the county’s economic development coordinating council, urged participants to contact him, especially if there are any unreasonable stumbling blocks to starting a business in Lassen County.
“We do not intend for them to be there,” Hanson said. “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a permitting process and laws that we all have to comply with … At any rate we certainly want to minimize those stumbling blocks.”
As a marketing expert for Banner Lassen Medical Center, Larrivee said marketing is “everything I do to get my product into the customers hands” and sales is “everything I do to get the money out of the customers’ hands.”
Marketing Consultant Bill Noonberg; Maria Nye and Dorine Beckman, of Plumas Bank also spoke; along with Katy Olson, of Kookies by Katy, one of Susanville’s newest businesses and Al Robbins, of Robbins House of Furniture, one of Susanville’s oldest businesses.
All participants agreed new business owners need to take the time to write a business plan, hire a professional accountant, a lawyer and a find source of funding. Each advised owners not to borrow money from family members.
“Eaton talked about borrowing money from family,” Theobald said. “Don’t go there, unless you don’t like them.”
They also agreed one of the biggest mistakes new business owners make it not paying themselves. If a business owner can’t afford to pay him or herself then the business is not successful, they said.
Tammy Swayze, of Customer Talk Promotional Merchandise said she and her husband, Ed, learned many steps they hadn’t taken in starting their business and they will now take them. Another participant said he found the workshop inspiring.
“I’ve got a few ideas I’m not sure which one to go with yet,” he said, declining to have his name in the paper because he said, “My boss will freak out.”
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