Entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in valley

America’s great entrepreneurial stories all have a common thread. Individuals believed enough in their product or service or great idea to figure out a way to overcome every obstacle in their path.

Entrepreneurs are the soul of free enterprise because they essentially create something from nothing and we all reap the benefits. They built the United States from the ground up into an economic power. Legendary entrepreneurs — the Henry Fords and Sam Waltons of the world — arguably impact our lives on a scale equal to or greater than U.S. presidents.

That’s why Colorado Mesa University’s annual Entrepreneurship Day is one of our favorite events. It brings business leaders together and reaffirms our collective appreciation for the folks who put it all on the line in pursuit of a dream.

Sit at any table in the luncheon and you’ll hear the “how’s business?” small-talk grow into discussions about the state of the economy, new hires, plans to expand or networking opportunities — all signs of the entrepreneurial spirit at work.

Keynote speakers have included Pete Coors, discussing his giant brewery’s plan to compete with a growing microbrewery industry in Colorado, and Hap Klopp, founder of the North Face outdoor gear company.

This year, we were inspired by the story of Don Stephens, a ranch hand from Olathe who took the spirit of entrepreneurship in a humanitarian direction.

After a life-changing encounter with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Stephens embarked on a mission to launch a specially equipped ship to provide hospital services to African nations.

He was able to convince Italian authorities to sell him a ship for its value as scrap metal, $1 million, and secured a loan from a Swiss bank to create his first floating hospital.

Today his Mercy Ships nonprofit operates in more than 45 nations and includes land-based clinics and support from corporate sponsors and churches worldwide.

Stephens on Wednesday offered a formula for entrepreneurial success: perserverance, integrity, earning trust, having a vision, writing it down and enlisting the help of those who know you and trust you.

That’s the kind of message we need to hear over and over to motivate the next generation of entrepreneurs.

One of the great things about cultivating homegrown entrepreneurs is that they’re usually tied to the area through investment. As their operations grow, we benefit from job creation and the dollars their business circulates into the economy.

Entrepreneurs are critical to economic development efforts and we’re fortunate to have a small-business incubator operating with the support of local governments, foundations and private donors.

CMU’s Entrepreneurship Day provides another crucial ingredient: inspiration.


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