Entrepreneurs ready to begin ‘mini-MBA’ course

Start Up Intensive students are of diverse ages, backgrounds and interests.

By Jennifer Dorsey

Apr 4, 2018

Tenzing Coburn, seen here last June at Larke La Pass in Nepal, is enrolled in the spring semester of the Start Up Intensive, an entrepreneurship bootcamp.

Tenzing Coburn hopes to start a business that makes it easier for adventure travelers to get ready for their outdoor trips.

To prep for that the 21-year-old college student has enrolled in the spring semester of the Start Up Intensive, offered by Central Wyoming College, and Silicon Couloir, a nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship.

He is one of more than a dozen students who on April 10 will begin the 10-week entrepreneurship course often described as a “mini-MBA” program.

“I would love to develop my business plan and improve my overall knowledge of business ideas and concepts,” Coburn said. “At the end I’d love to be able to pitch my idea to potential investors. If the idea were to get funding I would just hopefully work summers until I graduate and then after college do it year-round.”

He and his Start Up classmates are a diverse group. They include author, speaker and consultant Anne Fish, who at 51 is figuring out the next steps in an already varied career. Nonprofit executive Melissa Thomasma, 32, would like to build on the legacy of her grandfather’s publishing company, and 49-year-old Wren Fialka wants to put the nonprofit she created on a sustainable path (see box on page 10C.)

Coburn envisions providing visitors to Jackson Hole with state-of-the-art equipment for self-guided backcountry travels. The hassle of putting everything together, from tents, packs and sleeping bags to food to bear spray, can be a deterrent for some people, he said.

“I really want to eliminate that stress and create a convenient way for people to go on backpacking trips,” Coburn said. His service will make it easy “for them to get into the outdoors without going through the process of collecting all the items themselves.”

He grew up hiking and camping and has trekked in the Himalayas, so he knows his way around gear. When he finishes college — he has completed several semesters at St. Lawrence and will probably transfer to the University of Montana in Missoula — he will have a degree in finance and accounting. But he wants more specific business education, too, which is why he enrolled in the Start Up Intensive.

Different as all the students are from one another, each will be asked at the beginning of the Start Up Intensive to build a foundation the same way.

“Whether you’re going to be a doctor or a basket weaver or starting the next nonprofit, the pieces that we go through begin with the same questions,” said Sandy Hessler, one of Start Up’s founders and instructors. “What do you want in your life? What are the skills and passions you bring? What does success look like to you?”

.That foundation will give people “an awareness of what they want and what they’re walking into so they are able to have staying power for their businesses,” she said.

Among the other things Start Up students will be asked to consider: What is the motivating factor for people to want to pay for your product or service? Who is your target audience, and how will you speak to those people? Then how do you build your sales, marketing, organizational and staffing strategies around all that?

The group dynamic is part of the “magic,” Hessler said.

“In helping other people you also open up to the awareness of how you can hold strong to your vision but pivot to optimize it,” she said.

The Start Up Intensive will be offered again in the fall. For information on the program visit SiliconCouloir.com.

Different backgrounds, different goals

The Start Up Intensive draws people from all walks of life. Here are three in the spring semester:

– Anne Fish has had many careers: flight attendant, real estate agent, corporate trainer, bike tour leader and teacher, to name some.

Since coming out with a book two years ago, "Riskformation: How Smart Risk Taking Will Transform Your Life," she has given a lot of talks about getting out of your comfort zone and taking chances. She's also a speech coach.

"That's my passion: the public speaking," she said. "There's so much more than I have in my repertoire. I am trying to funnel that and figure out what the next step is in my business."

Through Start Up Intensive she hopes to acquire nuts-and-bolts information about running a business and also explore brand development. Her business name is Flying Fish Ventures LLC, a play on her name and her years as a flight attendant, but she's wondering if that should change.

"People think I am a fly-fishing company," she said, "Maybe I have to rebrand."

– Melissa Thomasma is executive director of Wyoming Wildlife Advocates but also serves "in an advisory capacity" at Grandview Publishing, which was founded in 1987 by her grandfather, author Ken Thomasma.

"What I hope to get out of this program is some insight into how we can take what worked really well for the company so far and modernize it," Melissa Thomasma said. "People are learning about books in new ways now, in social media and online, and they're discussing books in new ways. I'm really hopeful that this course will help me get a better understanding of that."

Grandview Publishing's list includes a book for children that she wrote and Kelly Halpin illustrated; "Birds of Sage and Scree," a book with text by Bert Raynes and paintings by Greg McHuron; and music CDs by Dan Thomasma (Melissa's dad) and Terry Yazzolino.

Also on the list are kids books by Ken Thomasma, all featuring Native American children as the main characters. A new one will be out soon.

"There aren't a lot of books out there that showcase Native American children, especially Native American girls, as a strong protagonist," Melissa Thomasama said. "He was doing that before Katniss, before Hermione, before we had all these really cool girls doing amazing things.

"I think that's a really important part of his legacy that I would like to see continue to expand. We'd love to get his books to new audiences."

– Wren Fialka is a massage therapist, but she has a parallel career running the Spread the Love Commission, a nonprofit she established to offer assistance and advocacy for homeless and displaced people in Jackson Hole and cities elsewhere, including Denver and Salt Lake City.

"I want this to be my full-time job," she said. "It essentially is, but I don't get paid for it."

Fialka majored in psychology and political science in college and doesn't have a business background.

"There's a skill set that I really need to get things done more efficiently," she said. "Also to be put in front of people who can really understand what I'm doing and can help us take it to the next level and want to be involved."

She is grateful that she learned about Start Up through one of her volunteers and that she received a scholarship for the course offered through a partnership with Central Wyoming College and the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole.

"It was a lifeline," she said.

Silicon Couloir