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Posted: June 24, 2009

Entrepreneurs share wisdom at Junior Achievement event

150 Colorado students participated in Junior Achievement Business Week

Carli Auran

If you want to start your own business, “focus on the one thing that you know how to do,” said Darrin Foster, cofounder of Denver-based Oogie’s Gourmet Popcorn.

Foster was among three entrepreneurs who spoke at this year’s Junior Achievement Business Week luncheon on June 11, attended by 150 Colorado students from more than 50 schools. Junior Achievement Business Week, held at Johnson & Wales University, centers around motivating and educating young adults about the world of business and economics through a series workshops, guest speakers and team-building projects.

Foster said his company began with a friend and an idea in the fall of 2005. “I think that's how most companies start,” said Foster, “Just a little bit at a time."

After gaining popularity at a national trade show four years ago, Oogie's Gourmet Popcorn soon went from a couple friends hand-filling bags and sampling their popcorn store to store, to today’s much larger operation. Oogie’s now comes in seven flavors and is sold in supermarkets, including Whole Foods and Vitamin Cottage. Last year, Oogie's was featured on the "Rachel Ray Show" and landed a spot as one of Colorado's 50 best products in 5280 magazine.

When asked what advice he would give to young entrepreneurs, Foster stressed the importance of enjoying your job.

Jim Talaric, founder of mannequin manufacturer Fusion Specialties, offered similar ideas on becoming a successful businessman. “I'm always trying to think of a new and better ways of doing things,” Talaric said.

Talaric described the process of becoming an entrepreneur as starting with an idea or plan, finding the necessary resources and then committing your life to the cause.

He said the secret to his success was not to focus on the sales numbers but to make a better product. Talaric used no salespeople and did little marketing to launch his company. "Our customers were our salesmen," he said. To him, it is more important to focus on cash flow than profitability, Talaric said.

Using plastic materials rather than fiberglass to produce mannequins, Fusion Specialties patented its product and moved from Huntington Beach, Calif. to Broomfield, Colo. Talaric said Fusion Specialties is now the largest mannequin manufacturer in the world. Talaric has since sold his company to pursue photography, but he continues to share his wisdom with hopeful future businessmen and women.

“Being an entrepreneur is not for everybody,” said Talaric. “There's a lot of risk going into something like this.”

Unlike Talaric, who experienced profit even in the first year of starting Fusion Specialties, Colorado State University student and businessman Nick Tart has not yet made a profit with his company.

Every business has expenses up front, Tart said. "But over time, these businesses will grow."

Through a class on entrepreneurship at CSU, Tart developed the website, which helps young people start their own small businesses. "I've put in a lot of work," said Tart of the website. "It's something I've become very passionate about."

Starting has taught him a lot about the business world, he said. Most importantly, Tart said, “The most crucial thing about having a business is how you are going to get your product out there faster than your competition.” 

Mannequin company founder Talaric agreed. He said you have to be smart about what you are doing because not everybody winds up on top. “My opinion is if you're thinking about becoming an entrepreneur try to find your idea in a small industry,” said Talaric, adding that in small industries there is not as much competition.

All three men agreed that one of the most useful tools to success is working with the right people. “You need to surround yourself with people who are not only smart but also dedicated and driven,” Foster said.

“It's essential to have different people with different skills,” Tart said.

Talaric compared being a business owner to acting as an orchestra maestro because one man cannot play all the instruments. “Not any of us have all the skills for everything,” Talaric said. “Bring in the right people for the job.”

Talaric ended his speech with a motivational piece of advice for any aspiring entrepreneur who doubts his or her success. “Think again,” he said. “You can go out and make it happen today.”
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Carli Auran is a senior at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch. She is an intern at ColoradoBiz.

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