Opening a horse care facility has been a goal of Olivia Bratton and Aspen Dean since they were in middle school.
The two, now juniors at Capital High School, have dreamed of their idea for so long that their excitement led to a very inspired pitch at a teen entrepreneur contest hosted by One Montana. With over 80 students participating across the state, Dean and Bratton rose to the top, placing second overall.
"I've been wanting to do this for quite a few years," Bratton said.
She said in middle school she read books on the topic of horse care facilities. Designing the pitch for this contest was second nature. The two checked their local competition, found a good location, determined their startup costs and identified their customer base.
Dean already has equine experience, as she works at Hooves and Stalls Quarter Horse Racing Stables.
Though the process may be long and difficult, both students hope to one day see their idea become reality. Judge Elizabeth Marchi agrees that it could happen.
"Absolutely, their idea is viable as a business," Marchi said.
Marchi said the pair identified not only their customer base, but a competitive space for equine boarding in the Helena Valley. They used Google maps to identify all other equine boarding facilities in Helena and then located an under-served market. They then found a piece of land that needed minimal renovations.
After working through the logistics, the pair came to a total startup cost of approximately $260,000.
"They really thought through how they were going to grow the business," Marchi said. "They were practical and thorough. Their ability to use tech is amazing."
Marchi said the students were judged on a variety of aspects including:
- Did they articulate the market need?
- How their service solves that problem
- Demonstrated a basic understanding of startup costs
- Reasonable plan for production
- Overall sales and marketing
"We just try to get them to look at what they could do faster and better," Marchi said. "Some of the students are really on the ball with their ideas."
Elizabeth Belcourt, business and marketing teacher at Capital High School, said this is the first year she has taught Dean and Bratton.
"It looked like something that fit into everything we were learning," Belcourt said of the One Montana contest. She had both of her small business classes compete as an entrepreneur project.
Belcourt believes that a perfect combination of passion and background led Bratton and Dean to their success.
"As a horse person, you have to consider all the costs associated," Belcourt said.
Students who grew up around horses are exposed to the costs of maintaining and running a ranch, Belcourt said.
As they move forward, Bratton and Dean both have ideas about how to refine their idea.
Bratton said she wants to eventually work with problem horses, but said she first needs an established business.
"It might be a long-term process to get to the startup point, but I'm already looking at options that benefit in the long term," Bratton said.
Her ideas include gaining more experience by working at a stable or earning capital by joining the U.S. Marine Corps.
Dean's idea is to eventually expand the business to horse tack and saddlery. She wants to continue working with Hooves and Stalls, earning more experience, and possibly reach out to potential sponsors for a startup.
The duo received a cash prize for their achievement and will be honored at an awards ceremony hosted by Gov. Steve Bullock on Wednesday.
Bratton and Dean will have an opportunity to hone their skills this summer in a all-expenses-paid entrepreneurship workshop. The four-day program is hosted by One Montana and Montana State University's Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
This marked the fourth year that One Montana hosted the entrepreneur competition. Marchi said the program is looking to expand as it moves forward.