Business plan competition awards $22,000 to eager entrepreneurs

This year’s Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition participants put in months of hard work to prepare their perfect pitches for the much-anticipated annual event. Hawk Tank is open to teams led by current college students, recent graduates, and Four Corners area high school students. This year, five Fort Lewis College teams, two San Juan College teams, two recent alumni teams, and two high school teams competed.

Their pitches ranged from outdoor gear companies to luxury streetwear brands and everything in between. The variety of business ideas highlighted the underlying purpose of the Hawk Tank competition—to give students the tools they need to realize their dreams.

Additionally, this Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition was the first held in person since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s exciting to be back in person celebrating student success,” said Micheal Valdez, Fort Lewis College professor of Management, in his opening speech. “It’s amazing to see the collaboration between Fort Lewis College and San Juan College.” 

The Hawk Tank Gala began with a cocktail reception accompanied by the Fort Lewis College Jazz Ensemble. The Gala would see $22,000 in prizes distributed between the four tracks: the FLC track, SLC track, alumni track, and high school track. Participants competed throughout the day by giving their pitches to a panel of judges. 

Before the winners were announced, attendees were treated to a meal and a keynote speech from Jacquelene McHorse (Spanish, ’11), cofounder of Bison Star Naturals, a company that produces natural body care products. McHorse encouraged participants to push past adversity: “Not everybody's going home with a prize,” she said. “If you don't take home a prize, I think that will give you just as much strength. There are a million different ways you can acquire capital for your business, and sometimes adversity is what is going to get you to the next level.”

Throughout the Gala, McHorse’s message rang true. The evening was not just a celebration of the Hawk Tank winners but also all of the participants' forward-thinking, entrepreneurship, and willingness to collaborate and set high expectations. “Hawk Tank is so important because it allows students to use creativity,” said James Sanders III, professor of Communications at San Juan College. “The competition gives students the confidence to come in with only an idea, regardless of whether they’re an English or Biology major, and bring their ideas to life.” 

Faculty weren’t the only ones in the wings to support participants—many industry leaders were also present at the Gala. A bevy of local and nationwide businesses sponsored the 7th annual event, including Swan Global Investments, Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center, the Community Foundation, the San Juan College Foundation, the Wells Group, J Bo’s Pizza & Rib Co., and Durango Hot Springs. The title sponsor for the event was Baird Wealth Management, a multinational investment bank. The number of sponsors at the event increased the visibility of students for recruitment in the future.

"It’s amazing to see all the business leaders here. It's also amazing to see all my teachers here, and I think it is so important just for students of not only the Business program but also every program to get their ideas out there, be able to speak their minds, and put forth what they love into the world."


“It’s amazing to see all the business leaders here,” said Rubie Trotter, a senior studying Biology and Entrepreneurship & Small Business. “It's also amazing to see all my teachers here, and I think it is so important just for students of not only the Business program but also every program to get their ideas out there, be able to speak their minds, and put forth what they love into the world.”

After the keynote speech, there was a brief recognition of the 2021 Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition participants who were unable to celebrate last year in person. The event concluded with the announcement of the Hawk Tank winners:

High School Track:

  • 1st ($500 and scholarships) - Mesa Music, a musical instrument vendor that sells affordable instruments.
  • 2nd ($250 and scholarships) - Grey Hope, a high school designed to specifically assist students’ mental health needs. 

Alumni Track:

  • 1st ($5,000) - Macrame by Pele, an independently owned vendor of macrame art for the home and the office.

SJC Track:

  • 1st ($5,000) - Lux Beauty, a line of beauty products designed with sustainability in mind. 
  • 2nd ($2,500) - Country 6, a clothing line incorporating embroidery inspired by Mexican culture.

FLC Track:

  • 1st ($5,000) - Headwater Hydration, a company dedicated to making on-the-go hydration easier. 
  • 2nd ($2,500) - Mountain Pole Fitness, an outdoor company dedicated to creating sustainable outdoor gear at low cost. 
  • 3rd ($1,000) - Lilith’s Garden, a line of hand-crafted jewelry. 

Grand Prize Winner of SJC and FLC Student Tracks:

  • Headwater Hydration from Fort Lewis College (awarded an additional $5,000 prize)

Steven Elias, dean of the School of Business Administration, gave a few comments at the event's conclusion. “Hawk Tank was amazing,” he said. “What makes it so impactful at the end of the day is that it teaches the next generation to be entrepreneurs.”

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