Startups in a downturn: staying optimistic despite challenges

Despite a series of bad news in the business pages, we’re hopeful that economic difficulties won’t damage the entrepreneurial spirit in our community.

Clearly, the economic situation should give pause to anyone thinking about starting a business. The challenge is so much greater today.

Entrepreneurs, by their very nature, are risk takers, filled with an enduring optimism about the success of their business. They are the innovators, seizing on opportunities that no one else sees, adding value and enhancing the lives of those in their community. Their businesses have been and always will be responsible for creating most of the new jobs in our economy.

This past week, we went in search of this spirit. We wanted to speak with new business owners who, even in these difficult times, have the courage and confidence to venture out on their own. It didn’t take very long to find three great examples.

Gathering Grove, a bookstore and coffee house in Everett; JW Photography Studio in Snohomish; and Artfully Yours, a promotional product business in Everett; are three enterprises that were started within the last few months.

Jodi Wilson, owner of JW Photography, believes now is the right opportunity for her to start creating her business. Wilson is a recent college graduate and she won two important student photography awards that have given her the confidence to start her own business.

In order to conserve her resources, she decided to live with her family and she barters for services and equipment by trading photography services for what she needs. She has also developed a strong network with several photographers that allows her to rent space and equipment from them.

Wilson is also taking advantage of free business resources in the community.

She’s forging ahead working with a student marketing team at Everett Community College during winter quarter, which will help her write a marketing plan. In addition, she’s seeking business advice from University of Washington Bothell’s Small Business Development Center.

Steve Kropf, co-owner of Gathering Grove, is well aware of the challenges of launching a new venture in this environment. He and his wife, Shannon, wanted an opportunity to be their own bosses with an idea that they were passionate about.

“Our business is growing, just not as fast as we had anticipated,” Kropf said. “We know it will be rocky for a while, but we are hopeful that things will turn sometime next year.”

Knopf is dealing with the common issues that all start-ups confront, such as getting their name recognized in the community. He is confident about their long-term success.

“We are trying to figure out how to bring more people into our store even in a time when discretionary spending is down,” he said. “We’re focusing on activities, such as musical events, that are held at our store that we think will appeal to people, rather than relying on more traditional print advertising.”

Like Wilson and Knopf, Dennis Sanders, owner of Artfully Yours, is concerned about the local economy’s impact on his fledging enterprise. He is working at the business part-time while he is employed full-time at the Boeing Co.

“There is a lot of bad news in the paper. It seems like people are in a ‘wait and see’ mode in terms of spending money,” Sanders said.

Sanders emphasized that he will be patient in growing his business and is confident things will turn around.

“I love this business because I love working with people, and as someone nearing retirement I am excited about this opportunity to create something on my own,” he said.

Pat Sisneros is the Associate Vice President of Administrative Services at Everett Community College. Lynne Munoz is Director for the School of Business Design. Please send your comments to

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